Stone tools are durable reminders of the activities, skills and customs of early humans, and have distinctive morphologies that reflect the development of technological skills during the Pleistocene epoch. In Africa, large cutting tools (hand-axes and bifacial chopping tools) became part of Palaeolithic technology during the Early Pleistocene (~1.5Myr ago). However, in Europe this change had not been documented until the Middle Pleistocene (<0.5 Myr ago). Here we report dates for two western Mediterranean hand-axe sites that are nearly twice the age of the supposed earliest Acheulian in western Europe. Palaeomagnetic analysis of these two sites in southeastern Spain found reverse polarity magnetozones, showing that hand-axes were already in Europe as early as 0.9Myr ago. This expanded antiquity for European hand-axe culture supports a wide geographic distribution of Palaeolithic bifacial technology outside of Africa during the Early Pleistocene.