Figure 1. Hand Ax. Egypt, Lower Paleolithic Period (300,000- 100,000 BCE). Flint. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
Found in Egypt during the Lower Paleolithic Period (300,000- 100,000 BCE), the Hand Ax is a remarkable object. Being the oldest item in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, it shows the historical background of what is considered art. This object was used in ancient Egypt as a tool, weapon, or other useful object. Although not seen as an art form in the traditional sense this and other objects of its kind provide a backdrop for western art. It shows a historical basis for further tools and objects of later creation. The shape and texture have not only a functional purpose, but also a historical meaning. The grove edges could have been used to cut or crush other objects. Additionally, the grove edges could have been created to allow the hand to fit around the ax comfortably making the ax more functional. Now, a fully functional object is considered a form of artistic expression. It set an artistic background for ceramics, pottery, and other crafts to come about. The Hand Ax proved art can be both beautiful and functional.
The primitive men were creators, investors, and artists. As there is no historical writings from the time period, there is only speculation about the Hand Ax. It is fascinating because it shows the first steps in technological advances. It shows the homo sapiens curiosity with the world around them and their need to create objects for survival. They created this object and others like it not only to use but also to last. Hundreds of thousands of years later the Hand Ax is still in existence. It was not built for temporary use; it was built as a tool of survival. This work of art provides somewhat of a beginning for the definition of art, and allows us insight into the mind of those who came before us. This ax was a catalyst for minds to continue to grow and invent new objects that show the history of man. Human curiosity in art was shown as early as 300,000,000 BCE, and is continually shown throughout the remainder of art history. Technology continued to grow and evolve as the human race grew and evolved. Humans looked at the past for inspiration for the future and the ax shows that connection. It is a work of art, a tool, and a reminder of the capacity of the human mind.