A hand axe is a handheld tool with a sharp edge that was primarily used by prehistoric man during the Stone Age. Usually, these tools were made from flint, quartz, coarse rocks, or other stones that did not break easily. A hand axe tool was probably used for a range of tasks, such as chopping wood and cutting meat. Hand axes were made in a variety of shapes, with the most common being an almond shape. Some axes were rounder or more triangular in form.
By some archeological estimates, the hand axe has been the longest-used cutting device in human history. The use of hand axe tools is estimated to date back as far as the lower Paleolithic (Acheulean) and the middle Paleolithic (Mousterian) eras. Evidence of ancient hand axes has been found primarily in Europe, Africa, and Northern Asia.
Hand axes vary in size – from a couple of inches in length (approximately five cm) to a foot or longer (about 30 cm). Most hand axes, however, are about six or seven inches long (approximately 15 to 18 cm). A hand axe was usually designed with an eccentric center of gravity; in other words, it had an off-center of gravity. It also had a sharp border around all or the majority of its edges.
Originally, a hand axe was probably formed by pounding a rock with a stone hammer. These early examples are often thicker with more sinuous edges. Later on, these axes were likely shaped using hard wood. Later axes are usually thinner and more symmetrical with a straighter edge.
Hand axes are believed to have been used by primitive Stone Age people much like a modern Swiss army knife is used today. Generally, a hand axe blade was used in food preparation, primarily for scraping animal skins and cutting meat, marrow, and tough root vegetables. Chopping or hammering at wood and bone and digging holes are other possible functions. The tool may also have been used as a defense mechanism against wild animals or in ritualistic ceremonies.
Hand axes are distinct from wood-handled axes, which are widely used in modern times. A wood-handled axe is a device that comes in many shapes and sizes but usually consists of an axe head made out of steel that is attached to a wooden handle. It has a range of uses, although it is primarily used to cut down timber or chop up wood. Wood-handled axes are also often considered a ceremonial symbol and were used as weapons in battle.