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Handmade over a Million Years Ago!

This resource is part of the Museum Snapshot collection - a collection of smaller resources perfect for starters, plenaries or spare moments to explore something fascinating.


Curriculum Links

  • KS2 Science: Uses of everyday materials
  • KS2 History: The achievements of the earliest civilizations
  • KS2 Design and Technology: Understand how key events and individuals in design and technology have helped shape the world
  • KS2 Geography: Locational knowledge


Palaeolithic handaxe made from a pinkish stone.  It has one rounded end and a more pointed end with a sharp edge.
Palaeolithic handaxe

This handaxe, found in Somalia in East Africa would have been made about 1.5 million years ago. From this beginning the skills in making these objects spread out from Africa and examples dating from about 1 million years ago have been found all over Europe. 

Handaxes were amongst the first tools that early people made and would have enabled them to cut meat or scrape bark or, using the sharp end, to make a hole in the ground. Unlike a modern axe there is no wooden handle. 
The axe is made of quartzite, a hard stone that the maker would have found on the ground. By using other rocks as hammers the shape would have been formed into something that fitted the hand but whose sharp edges and point would act as a useful tool. It is sometimes referred to as the Swiss Army Knife (a multi-purpose tool) of Palaeolithic people.

In A History of the World in a Hundred Objects, Neil McGregor, the Director of the British Museum talked about how scientists have discovered that the part of the brain that is active when a handaxe is created overlaps with the area that controls the power of speech. This might have been the moment when Early Man was able to talk to others.

Discussion Ideas

  • If you were looking for an example of a handaxe, how would you identify it from all the other rocks around it - how would it be different?
  • Give an example of a hand tool that we have in use today.
  • It must have been hard to survive in Palaeolithic times without the modern tools and gadgets that we take for granted. What modern tool would you miss most and why? (Phones, TV and computers don’t count!)
  • What might have been the immediate benefits for Early Man of being able to communicate?


Activity Ideas

  • Name all the ways you think the making of the handaxe would have helped Early Man in his daily life and how he might have used it.  Clothing?  Shelters?
  • Look at where Somalia is on the Google map below and see how far it is from the Equator. What other countries are its neighbours?

Internal Links

More resources on My Learning related to this subject area include:

Neolithic Handaxe

Star Carr Deer Antlers