Discovery of giant hand axes suggest a prehistoric ‘Game of Thrones’ scenario in the old Europe

The large instruments in accordance with a culture known as the Acheulean. (Credit: Eduardo Mendez Quintas)

Even our earliest ancestors made and used in technology — something that we can look back on thanks to the durable character of stone tools.

An exceptionally high density of giant hand axes.d.d 200.000-300.000 years ago has been discovered on an archaeological site in Galicia, northwest Spain.

The discovery of these hand-axes suggests that alternative forms of stone tool technologies were simultaneously used by different populations in this area — the support of the idea that a prehistoric Game of Thrones scenario, the existed as Neanderthals originated in Europe.

Additional evidence for this idea comes from fossil records, showing that multiple human generations lived in the south-west of Europe around the same period.


Porto Maior is located near the city of As Neves (Pontevedra, Galcia) on a terrace 34m above the current level of the River Miño, which is bordered in the north of Portugal and Spain.

The archaeological site of Porto Maior retains an old stone tool culture known as the Acheulean. Characterized by a symmetrical knapped stone or large flakes (known as bifaces), the Acheulean is the first advanced handaxe technology known in the beginning of the human settlement record of Europe.

While Acheulean sites are widely distributed on the continent, Porto Maior represents Europe’s first large build-up of large cutting tools (LCTs) in the Acheulean tradition. Until now, such high densities of LCTs had only found in Africa. This new finding reinforces an African origin for the Acheulean in Europe, and confirms an overlap in the time-frames of distinctly different stone tool cultures of the continent.

Around the same time that the hand axes were used at Porto Maior, another stone tool tradition (the Beginning of the Middle Paleolithic) and was present in Iberia, for example, at Ambrona and Cuesta de la Bajada. In central and eastern Europe — where the tools were only made on small flakes — the Acheulean tradition is never found.



Porto Maior introduces further to the complexity of these overlapping technological pattern, and suggests that different early human populations of different geographical origin included during the Mid-Pleistocene (between 773,000 and 125,000 years ago).


A total of 3698 discarded objects were recovered from the river sediments at the site, with 290 of these of the studied assemblage reported in our new paper.

The stone tool assemblage is composed of 101 LCTs in the original position, and who are on average 18cm long, with a maximum length of 27cm. This handaxe dimensions are exceptionally large European Acheulean standards (usually only 8-15cm long). The assembly also contains large cleavers, a type of tool that are typically found in the African sites.

Laboratory analyses indicate that the tools were used for the processing of hard materials such as wood and bone, in activities that may include the break-up of the carcasses of animals.

The Spanish site of Porto Maior clearly seems to be extensive accumulations of very large tools, previously only seen in Africa and the Near East. These agreements are to strengthen the idea of an African origin for the Acheulean tradition of south-west Europe.

They also raise new questions about the origin and the mobility of prehistoric human populations, the ancestors of the Neanderthals — which the European continent during the Middle-Pleistocene period before the arrival of our own species, Homo sapiens.


The Acheulean toolmaking tradition, originated in Africa about 1.7 million years ago, and disappeared on the continent by 500,000 years ago. The specific type of Acheulean tools described in Porto Maior is exclusive to south-west Europe, which suggests that the technology was in the region by a “pushy” people.

The age of Porto Maior is consistent with previous findings of Iberia, which suggest that the Acheulean culture experienced an expansion in the region of between 400,000 to 200,000 years ago.

This latest discovery supports the increasingly complex narrative development of the ongoing studies of human fossils from Europe; namely, that the human groups of potentially various origins and evolutionary stages covered the entire continent in a time when the emergence of the Neanderthals was.

While it is clear that more human fossil and stone tool sites should be reliably dated in the region, a picture emerged of a turbulent Game of Thrones – style scenario of hominin evolution in Eurasia during the Middle-Pleistocene period.

This story was previously published in the

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