Stone cleaver

Lower Palaeolithic, about 1 million years old
From Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania

Variation on the handaxe form

Cleavers resemble handaxes in all but their tips which are straight instead of round or pointed. This example is typical of many made about one million years ago, during the Lower Palaeolithic period. It was created from a giant flake, struck off an even bigger lump of quartz. This required a lot of force and was a hazardous operation. It shows that toolmakers of the period were becoming more ambitious in their use of raw materials. They searched for and exploited massive pieces of lava and quartz rather than choosing the small cobbles used to make earlier chopping tools. The flake used for this piece had a straight cleaver tip but the toolmaker thinned and straightened the edges on each side and around the end by alternately striking flakes off both faces.

Like handaxes, cleavers first appeared about 1.5 million years ago in Olduvai Gorge. They were still in use there some 500,000 years ago by which time their manufacture and use had spread throughout Africa, western Asia and Europe. Cleavers may have been used as wedges, chisels or choppers.

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More information


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)


Length: 208.000 mm
Width: 112.000 mm
Thickness: 69.000 mm

Museum number

P&E PRB 1934.12-14.63



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