African designs, £9.99
Diameter: 62.000 mm
P&E PRB 1947.10-6.11
Prehistory and Europe
Lower Palaeolithic, about 1.2 million years
Found in Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania
Weapon or tool?
Stone balls or spheroids are often found with handaxes and cleavers after about 1.5 million years ago. This example is made of quartz. Its nice round shape was created from an angular pebble that was repeatedly bashed against another stone. The effort required to make such pieces has led to speculation that they had some special or valued purpose. The archaeologist Louis Leakey thought they might have been tied to a leather thong and used in hunting to trip up and bring down game. Alternatively, they might have been thrown at hyaenas or vultures to drive them from carcasses.
Tool-making experiments show that the stone balls may have had a more ordinary use. Repeatedly using a lump of quartz as a hammerstone to make handaxes gradually produces the round shape. It suggests that toolmakers may have had their own preferred hammerstones which they might have carried around or left at sites which they visited frequently. They were certainly using the same hammers over and over again to produce these ball shapes.
L.S.B. Leakey, Olduvai Gorge (Cambridge, University Press, 1951)
K.D. Schick and N. Schick, Making silent stones speak. Hu (London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1993)