The first design

Diseños para el futuro Pulse para ampliar Bifaz achelense (Sala 5, vitrina 5.4)


“An object has its own beauty whenever its form is the manifest expression of its function” P. Souriau

The biface is the one of the first objects designed and fashioned by human hands, the product of a laborious process of transforming stone to obtain, based on a preliminary mental design, a tool with the desired shape that would allow our remote ancestors to meet certain basic needs. The first bifaces were made in Africa 1.5 million years ago and made their way to Europe over half a million years ago.

This biface from Cerro de San Isidro (Madrid), roughly 200,000 years old, was knapped on both sides or faces—hence the term “biface”—to create a tough cutting edge along the entire perimeter. It is considered a multi-purpose tool, useful for chopping wood, skinning or butchering animals, hammering, digging up roots, etc. The perfection of its design is the result of a premeditated balance of matter, form and function that attests the intellectual prowess of Palaeolithic men and women. The biface is therefore a reflection of their considerable creative and innovative abilities, as well as their aesthetic sensibility, expressed in the beauty of its functional form, flawless symmetry and the beauty of the chosen materials. Some have even conjectured that early humans deliberately selected special stones for their tools. In this way, they fashioned an object that was both useful and beautiful in their eyes and still strikes us as lovely today, something that may even have evolved into a symbol with greater significance than its mere utility as a tool.

The idea of a practical cutting edge round the whole circumference of an object, like that of the biface, is still very useful today and has inspired the design of other tools like the pizza cutter. As a multi-purpose instrument, the Swiss Army knife can also be considered a descendant of the biface.