Up to thirty years ago there was no evidence that man came to Sicily until the last great advance of the polar icecap and the Alpine glaciers in Europe was more than half over. This was approximately 30,000 years ago. The oldest known Sicilian flint tools from the rock shelter of Fontana Nuova (Marina di Ragusa) consisted of the sturdy blades, gravers, burins (pointed gravers) and scrapers that also characterize the opening phase of the Upper Palaeolithic in France (where the typological sequence used throughout Europe was developed).
During the excavation of the classical site of Heraclea Minoa at the mouth of the Platani River on the southern coast in the 1960s numerous flakes from prehistoric flintworking were found to have been employed as temper in the sundried brick of the city’s fortifications. And just outside the walls flint tools were collected on the surface. Like the flakes which had found their way into the mud bricks, the tools belonged to a Lower Palaeolithic industry, and among them there was an amygdaloid hand ax, an object fashioned from a flint core, in shape like a pear with an extended neck, in size and weight approximating the head of a small sledge hammer. With this discovery (which has been extended by further finds ofhand axes in various locations), the prehistory of Sicily leapt back half a million years.
At the same time Gerlando Bianchini, a bank manager from Agrigento, was patiently combing the countryside for traces of early man. His persistence and dedication were crowned by a series of discoveries which eclipsed even the Heraclea hand ax. At various sites Bianchini found the earliest form of tool lying on the surface of the ground. They are called ‘chopping-tools’ and consist of smoothed rocks from ancient beaches, large enough to fit the palm conveniently and intentionally chipped along one side (figure 1). The material is limestone or quartzite, as well as flint. The flaking is rudimentary, although it may either be in one direction or result from two operations carried out in opposing directions. ‘Chopping-tools’ antedate modern man, his Middle Palaeolithic cousin the Neanderthal, and their predecessor, Homo Erectus, who used amygdaloid hand axes. The ‘chopping-tools’ belong to an earlier era, extending back at least 2 million years, when beside the members of that slender lineage which led to modern man there were tool-using hominids known generically as Australopithecans.
Figure 1 Chopping-tool