7115 The First Commodity: Handaxes

Saturday, February 18, 2012: 2:00 PM
Room 215-216 (VCC West Building)
Mimi E. Lam , University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada
I argue that the ability to build portable, durable artefacts may trace the evolution of human cognition. Hominins evolved a complex suite of stone tools, which reflected both emerging individual cognition and embodied knowledge. The manufacture of robust, standardized artefacts may have enabled their trade and imbued them, over time, with cultural meaning within hominin social groups. Here, the longevity, ubiquity, durability, and stability in design of Acheulean handaxes is explained by viewing handaxe construction in three temporal phases, co-evolving with the human niche: first, as iconic multipurpose functional tools, fashioned by ancestral hominins; second, as standard indexical commodities exchanged in social relationships, perhaps as a paleocurrency among pre-linguistic hominins; and third, as symbolic of cultural power, carried and exchanged as gifts by modern humans within socially constructed niches, now filled with shared meanings and language
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