Photograph of Dr Ran Barkai.

The elephant in the handaxe: Lower Palaeolithic ontologies and representations

5:00pm - 6:00pm / Thursday 30th September 2021
Type: Webinar / Category: Department / Series: Archaeology, Classics and Egyptology Seminar Series
  • Suitable for: Everyone.
  • Admission: Free.
  • Add this event to my calendar

    Create a calendar file

    Click on "Create a calendar file" and your browser will download a .ics file for this event.

    Microsoft Outlook: Download the file, double-click it to open it in Outlook, then click on "Save & Close" to save it to your calendar. If that doesn't work go into Outlook, click on the File tab, then on Open & Export, then Open Calendar. Select your .ics file then click on "Save & Close".

    Google Calendar: download the file, then go into your calendar. On the left where it says "Other calendars" click on the arrow icon and then click on Import calendar. Click on Browse and select the .ics file, then click on Import.

    Apple Calendar: The file may open automatically with an option to save it to your calendar. If not, download the file, then you can either drag it to Calendar or import the file by going to File >Import > Import and choosing the .ics file.

Humans and Proboscideans (the taxonomic order of elephants as well as several extinct animals such as mammoth) have shared habitats across the Old and New Worlds during the past two million years, starting with the appearance of the Genus Homo in Africa and following the dispersals of humans to other continents. Proboscideans were included in the human diet starting from the Lower Paleolithic and continued until the final stages of the Pleistocene, providing humans with both meat and, especially, fat. Meat eating, large-game hunting and food-sharing appeared in Africa some two million years ago and these practices were accompanied and supported by growing social complexity and cooperation. This argument emphasizes the dependency of early humans on calories derived from mega herbivores through the hunting of large and medium-sized animals as a fundamental and very early adaptation mode of Lower Palaeolithic humans, and the possible emergence of social and behavioral mechanisms that appeared at these early times. Moreover, elephants and mammoths probably also had cosmological and ontological significance for humans, as their bones were used to produce artifacts resembling the iconic Lower Paleolithic stone handaxe, in addition to their representations in Upper Paleolithic "art". Elephants and mammoths were not only habitat companions, most probably conceived as non-human persons, but were also included in the human diet, beginning with the emergence of Homo erectus in Africa and up until the final stages of the Pleistocene with the extinction of proboscideans in Europe, America and most parts of Asia
Dr Ran Barkai will suggest a possible nexus between the two iconic hallmarks of the Lower Palaeolithic period: the elephant and the handaxe and will discuss its significance in understanding human adaptation, lifeways and cosmology.

In affiliation with Tel Aviv University.

Zoom registration information: contact Lucy Timbrell on