Inventing the Palaeolithic, 1859–1872

In Echoed Steps

For more than 50 years there had only been one important question about handaxes and other palaeoliths – had they been made by humans who had lived alongside the mammoth, reindeer and hyaena? This question was about to be emphatically answered in the affirmative. It was not dramatic new evidence that swung the debate, but the renewed intensity with which British scientists pursued it and the impeccable reputation of the geologist that had become its champion. On both sides of the Channel, believers were vindicated, and agnostics were turned, among them scientists whose opinions mattered and who had the clout to influence yet wider opinion. Still, it was less of a bloody revolution and more of a changing of the guard. Drift implements (or St Acheul types as they would quickly become known) were about to enter an entirely different world.

This chapter explores the first dozen years of the new discipline, initially referred to as geological archaeology. It examines how Joseph Prestwich and John Evans presented the evidence to the British scientific world, and the range of new questions that emerged around the freshly discovered deep human past. In keeping with the aims of the book, my focus is on stone tools, particularly handaxes, examining the ways in which they were interpreted and how they contributed, alongside developments in many related disciplines, to the earliest understanding of prehistoric human life. Although this was an age of rapid discovery, my focus is not on documenting individual new finds, but on how archaeologists tried to make sense of this growing data set, on how they framed the past, and on the theories and agendas that would shape the future.

A Question of Design: Joseph Prestwich at the Royal Society

Opening his address to the Royal Society on 26 May 1859, Prestwich (1860a, 1860b) observed that the consensus opinion, which held that humans had not existed until after the latest geological changes and did not co-exist with the extinct megafauna, “had become almost a point of established belief” (1860b, 277). It was one he had, until very recently, held himself. But this opinion, Prestwich went on, rested largely on negative evidence and preconceptions, which, unfortunately, the many dubious claims of the past had done little to dispel. Such cases had, in fact, caused men of science to ignore or disregard several highly creditable claims, the old cave excavations of Schmerling and MacEnery,1 and more recent work by Boucher and Rigollot being particularly noteworthy in this regard. Falconer (who was by now enjoying an extended stay in Florence: G. Prestwich 1899) was credited with re-opening the question, and for instigating the careful work at Brixham, the evidence from which had left Prestwich with just one lingering doubt: had the toolmakers and extinct animals, the evidence for which clearly came from the same strata, really been contemporaries in life or had their bones and relics become mixed at a later date? For Prestwich these doubts had evaporated in the quarries of the Somme, as Falconer had suspected they might, but he now had to convince the assembled fellows.

Prestwich approached the problem as a geologist, defining for his audience the geomorphology and drift geology of the region, and providing detailed and authoritative sections of the pits he had visited at Menchecourt, Moulin Quignon, Porte Mercadé and St Acheul (Figure 3.1). These were accompanied by lists of mammalian and molluscan fauna and records of where handaxes had been found. Only then did he turn to the nature and the value of the evidence, setting up three questions: 1) were the so-called flint implements really of human manufacture? 2) could they have been made recently? and 3) could they be later intrusions into the fossiliferous beds, or were they of the same age?

drawn geological sections showing stratigraphical arrangement of sediments at two gravel pits

Figure 3.1 A geologist’s eye: Joseph Prestwich’s sections from the pits near Rue de Cagny at St Acheul and the Moulin Quignon Pit at Abbeville (after Prestwich 1860b).

In a masterclass of observational science, Prestwich answered these question as “yes”, “no” and “the same age”. The question of whether the handaxes (drift implements) were of human manufacture was not one that even needed to be asked, but aware of remaining objections Prestwich felt obliged to answer it anyway. The question, he declared, was not one of skill but of design, because it was inconceivable that flint, a stone that showed no cleavage or tendency to fracture in any particular direction, would assume these forms through natural causes. Random collisions would create random shapes, and ultimately rounded pebbles. He illustrated his case with examples of handaxes, published as a series of precise and convincing line drawings in the final paper (Figure 3.2), but only as outlines in the abstract (and presumably the presentation) where they are also drawn ‘upside down’. He divided the drift implements into three principal types: lance-shaped, almond-shaped and flat ovoid-shaped. He drew attention to the form of the tip, the convexity of the faces, the sharp edges and frequent presence of an unworked pebble butt in the first two forms and all-round cutting edge in the ovate forms, always in one plane and formed by sequences of parallel blows applied to the edge. Drift implements showed evidence of

finish, form and evident art… [the] regularity of structure surely implying clear design, the application of forethought and an intelligent purpose. One objective is apparent throughout, that of giving to a hard durable substance a shape either sharp-pointed or cutting [edged].

(Prestwich 1860b, 295–296)

Line drawings of bifacially-chipped stone tool and a flake, as used by Evans to illustrate his paper.

Figure 3.2 “Finish, Form and Evident Art”: handaxes from Amiens (top) and Menchecourt (bottom right). The object at bottom left is what would later come to be known as a Levallois flake (after Prestwich 1860b. Scale = 5cm).

Prestwich used the surface condition of the handaxes to answer the second question, noting that the colour of flint implements from each locality closely matched that of the beds from which they were reported to have come, indicating they were an original component of those deposits. He admitted that many had been found by workmen, whose testimony might be suspect, but that he had no valid reason to doubt them. The various accounts from different people working in pits up to 30 miles apart were consistent, and many specimens retained fragments of the original matrix in cavities or adhering to the surface, which invariably matched the sediments at the supposed find-sites. Like the gravels, some handaxes also showed dendritic surface patterning or a calcareous incrustation. Some were abraded, having undergone a period of wear between manufacture and burial, further evidence they were not recent forgeries (1860b, 293). Everything he saw, including the handaxe excavated in his presence, pointed in the same direction.

The final question was answered with a combination of geology and archaeology. He drew attention to the unbroken stratification, which showed no disturbance, and rhinoceros fossils in proper anatomical position which were unlikely to have survived any post-mortem upheaval. Evidence of later disturbance, including Roman burials, was restricted to the upper layers and never penetrated the sands and gravels. There was no evidence of rents or fissures down which the handaxes could have fallen, and they did not occur in piles. They were instead found widely dispersed and lying flat; sometimes, where they lay between two beds, they showed a different staining type on each face. He suggested the implementiferous sands and gravels were mainly of fresh-water origin, molluscs providing the best evidence for this, and that those found at different heights might be nearly synchronous or (more likely) of different ages. He refused to speculate on their absolute age, content with stating that the sediments and all their contents were of Pleistocene date and probably younger than the glacial period that deposited the boulder clay.

drawn geological sections showing stratigraphical arrangement of sediments

Figure 3.3 An English parallel to St Acheul: one the sections recorded by Prestwich at Hoxne in May 1859, a few days after returning from the Somme (after Prestwich 1860b).

This opinion was based on the the fact that the youngest of the implementiferous gravels at Abbeville disappeared underneath the recent alluvium, and on new evidence from another locality in Prestwich’s arsenal – Hoxne in Suffolk. John Evans had rediscovered this site shortly after their return from Abbeville, and the pair had made a quick visit the week before Prestwich’s talk on 26 May (Prestwich 1899, 125). They made a number of subsequent visits, drawing on local knowledge and labour to establish the context and significance of what were locally known as ‘fighting stones’. It was a ‘parallel case’, independent validation from an English source. The Gray’s Inn Road handaxe, brought to Evans’s attention by Augustus Wollaston Franks at the British Museum (Evans 1943), was also dusted off and used in evidence.

Prestwich closed his paper by reminding his audience that the evidence he had presented did not necessarily mean humans must be pushed back into the distant past, but rather that extinct animals belonged to a more recent period. Prestwich then handed over to Evans, whose prepared text Prestwich had forgotten to bring, forcing the antiquarian to present his side of the evidence from memory. The original text was published as an appendix to Prestwich’s paper (1860b, 310) and contains a summary of the key archaeological points Evans was to discuss in his own paper the following week.

“Shaped by Art and Man’s Device”: John Evans at the Society of Antiquaries of London

Evans’s presentation was made on 2 June 1859 at the Society of Antiquaries of London. His audience was somewhat smaller than that which had attended Prestwich’s lecture (a total of 38 fellows plus guests signed in that night: Gamble and Kruszynski 2009) and contained fewer ‘geological nobs’ (Evans 1943, 103). Those present had come to hear more of the antiquarian side of the story.

Evans began by drawing attention to the special relationship between geology and archaeology, both being concerned with recalling “into an ideal existence days long since passed” (Evans 1861, 288). The opening third of his talk then dealt with the historical and geological background already tackled by Prestwich, after which he turned to the stone tools. He posed three questions: 1) how far in material, form and workmanship did the implements of the drift conform to the stone weapons commonly found across Europe? 2) under what circumstances were they found? 3) how old were they? These were basically Prestwich’s questions rephrased, and only the first added significant detail.

Evans was certain that the handaxes were human artefacts, and that anybody who had seen enough of them would surely come to the same conclusion: “There is a uniformity of shape, a correctness of outline, and a sharpness about cutting edges and points, which cannot be due to anything but design” (Evans 1861, 288). The principal material used – flint – was the same as that used in later periods, although quality control was perhaps not as well developed in the drift implements. The other key difference was that the drift implements were never ground or polished like celts.

Evans’s classification scheme was also similar to Prestwich’s, although he lumped them into just two types of shaped implement plus flakes. His first typological statement, based on a combination of form, technology and function (Figure 3.4), thus included:

1. Flint flakes, apparently intended for use as arrowheads or knives with little modification. When fresh these are indistinguishable from flakes of other periods or those produced by natural collision, in which cases context and abundance must be considered.

2. Pointed weapons, some probably lance or spearheads. These occurred in two forms: round-ended and pointed-ended with slightly convex sides. Both were generally more convex on one face, with the domed surface sometimes showing a dorsal ridge. Butts were frequently unworked, and patches of original cortex were not uncommon. The edges, while chipped, were not as sharp as the tips. Evans thought these forms better suited for piercing than cutting, using the pointed end, but thought it unlikely they were inserted into a socket. Some may have been weapons tied to a pole or handle, but many appeared to have been intended for use with no handle, the original rounded shape of the pebble butt instead forming a natural grip. All that was certain was they were not the same tools as the ordinary Stone Age tools (celts) and had different functional edges.

3. Oval or almond-shaped implements, more-or-less pointed at one end and presenting a cutting edge all round. There was considerable variation in form, probably, argued Evans, because of inconsistent raw materials. The quarrymen considered this type to be sling-stones, but Evans thought it more likely they were axes, bound to a haft through the middle, thus explaining the tendency for pointedness at one end. These were the same forms, Evans noted, found by MacEnery at Kent’s Cavern.

line drawing showing frontal and side view of 20 bifacial and other paleoliths

Figure 3.4 “Spearheads, axes, or by whatever name they are to be called”: the plate of handaxes from Evans’s second paper on the drift implements, showing the range of types and technologies recognised by geological archaeologists. Scale: The handaxe top centre is ~17.5cm (after Evans 1863).

Like Prestwich, Evans would not be forced into a “hasty decision” on the actual age of the handaxes, noting that the deposits potentially ranged from preglacial to a point when the Earth had “received its present configuration”. On the length of time needed for such changes to the physical environment he would likewise not be drawn, although he was convinced that the gravels at different heights belonged to different parts of this indefinite timescale. Only one thing was certain: the “spear-heads and slingshots, or axes, or by whatever name they are to be called” (Evans 1861, 293) were made by a group of people who existed long before the makers of the celts.

“A New Field for Antiquarian Research”

Prestwich and Evans brought mostly old evidence to the problem, but they presented it cogently and to their respective audiences their testimony carried weight. Crucially, they won the support of people whose words and deeds had the power to change opinions in the Societies and society. Prestwich (1866) estimated that prior to 1858–1859 fewer than 20 scholars across Europe believed the evidence for deep antiquity. By the end of 1859, influential geologists such as Sir Charles Lyell, Sir Roderick Murchison and Andrew Ramsay had visited the Somme and declared themselves convinced (Lyell 1860; Ramsay 1859; Murchison 1861), as had archaeologists John Lubbock (1834–1913) and John Wickham Flower (1807–1873). Articles in popular journals, such as those published in The Reader, The London Review, The Gentleman’s Journal and Blackwood’s Magazine spread the news further (Evans 1872, 477). At the 1859 British Association for the Advancement of Science meeting, held that September in Aberdeen, Lyell (1860) looked back at the skepticism of the recent past, regretting that it had been taken to extremes and that geologists (himself included) had gone to great lengths to escape the truth, but he also looked forward to Charles Darwin’s forthcoming book and all that it might bring. Going further than Prestwich had dared, Lyell confidently concluded that the drift was separated from the historical period by a ‘vast lapse of ages’.

The same seismic shift was seen in France. Life-long skeptics such as Jules Desnoyers2 (1800–1887) and Alfred Maury quickly changed their views, while others of high standing, including Albert Gaudry (1827–1908) and Georges Pouchet (1833–1894) at the natural history museum in Paris, Abbe Jean Cochet (1812–1865) at Rouen and palaeontologist Édouard Lartet (1801–1871),3 provided further supporting evidence (Cochet 1859; Gaudry 1859; Lartet 1860, 1861; Pouchet 1859, 1860a, 1860b; Prestwich 1860a, 1860b). There were, inevitably and for years afterwards, dissenters of various persuasions (see Grayson 1983), ‘Cuvier’s disciple’ Léonce Élie de Beaumont (1798–1874), who presented a letter from Prestwich to the French Academy of Sciences in October 1859 (Prestwich 1859), chief amongst them. That he despised Boucher did not help sway his opinion of the evidence. But the balance of opinion shifted swiftly and dramatically, and by December 1860 Rigollot’s previously equivocal geologist Hébert wrote to Boucher declaring (perhaps optimistically) that the issue was dead (Grayson 1983, 193).

Three objectives quickly formed within the newborn field of geological archaeology: 1) consolidating the evidence and expanding the corpus of sites, to remove any lingering doubts about contemporaneity; 2) determining the age of the drift and the implements it contained; and 3) resolving the absence of human fossils.

Consolidating the Evidence

This goal was quickly achieved. A revolving coterie of geologists and archaeologists made the pilgrimage to Abbeville, Amiens and Hoxne to see the evidence with their own eyes; further papers were read before the Societies and Associations; news and views on human antiquity occupied the pages of newspapers and magazines; and the search for new localities was taken up with the typical nineteenth-century enthusiasm for novelty (Flower 1860; Lyell 1860; Lubbock 1865, preface). Within two years, additional sites and find spots had been reported from drift deposits in most counties of southern and eastern England and from the Valleys of the Oise, Seine and Ariège in northern and southern France (Gosse 1860; Prestwich 1861; Wyatt 1861, 1862; Dawkins 1862; Evans 1863; Evans 1864a). The evidence was becoming irresistible, although fakes and forgeries were never too far away (Evans 1863).

Édouard Lartet soon found a way to remove any lingering doubts about whether the arte-fact makers and animals had been true in vivo contemporaries, identifying cutmarks and breaks on the bones of extinct animals that could only have been made by a tool-equipped human when the bone was still fresh and pliable (Lartet 1861). That he used specimens from Cuvier’s own collections to achieve this probably carried other messages (Grayson 1983). 1863 saw the publication of Sir Charles Lyell’s Geological Evidences for the Antiquity of Man, the first major synthesis of the new geological archaeology. As well as rehabilitating most of the old cave sites and summarising the evidence from the main drift occurrences, Lyell set the human antiquity question in a broader theoretical and geological context, spending over half of his 24 chapters discussing glaciation, fossil skulls and the theory of natural selection. As a result, some reviewers found it unfocussed (see Grayson 1983). Darwin was disappointed at Lyell’s reluctance to make a clear and positive pronouncement on evolution – to “go the whole orang” (Lyell to Huxley 17 June 1859, cited in Van Wyhe and Kjærgaard 2015) – suggesting that the equivocal treatment given to natural selection in the book just left the public in a fog (Darwin to Lyell 6 March 1863). More ignominiously, several of Lyell’s friends and colleagues felt that their work had been freely used without appropriate acknowledgement or credit (e.g. Lubbock 1865, preface to the first impression; Falconer 1863, in Falconer 1868). But it was extremely popular in the clubs, parlours and reading rooms of the educated classes, and its tone left little doubt that the world’s most famous geologist was not there to debate the question but to report with authority the fact of deep antiquity.

Occurring too late to appear in Lyell’s book, from 1863, Édouard Lartet, assisted and funded by the English banker Henry Christy (1810–1865), excavated in several caves and rock shelters in the Dordogne, including Le Moustier, La Madeleine, Les Eyzies, Laugerie Haute, Laugerie Basse and Cro-Magnon (Lartet and Christy 1864, 1865–1875). These provided unparalleled new evidence about the sequence and relative ages of artefacts, animals and human fossils in the caves that would transform the way in which archaeologists organised the past.

The Age of the Drift Implements

There were three main ways to measure the age of the drift: 1) its absolute age, in calendar years; 2) its age relative to other deposits; and 3) the relative age of its constituent parts. The first was attempted using diverse methods, including the length of time required to produce different human racial characteristics, the time required for rivers to have eroded their present valleys and the rate of accumulation of peat (Grayson 1983; Van Riper 1993), but none could produce anything approaching a reliable or convincing date. This did not stop Lyell from promoting a long chronology involving hundreds of thousands of years (Lyell 1860, 1863), nor Prestwich (1864) a short one, although he steadfastly refused to state a precise length of time.

In relative terms, the drift belonged to a period intermediate between the recent epoch and the deposition of the final Tertiaries, variously referred to as the Quaternary (Desnoyers 1829), the Pleistocene (Lyell 1838), the Post-Pliocene (Lyell 1863) and, less formally, the Ice Age (e.g. Agassiz 1840). John Phillips (1800–1874), Professor of Geology at Oxford, had subdivided the period (hereafter Pleistocene) into three phases – preglacial, glacial and postglacial – distinguished largely on the basis of stratigraphy and fauna (Phillips 1855).

Further unravelling the faunal sequence, and thereby the finer subdivisions of the Pleistocene, had been Falconer’s key objective when he instigated investigations at the virgin cave at Brixham. As a direct result of his actions here and abroad, humans had, at last, been admitted to the Pleistocene bestiary, but the evidence still suggested that they were relative latecomers. Indeed, based on the presence of boulder clay beneath the archaeological layers at Hoxne, Prestwich (1861) concluded that humans there were postglacial. It was not long before further complexity was recognised in the postglacial record. Lartet (1861) used the fauna from drift and cave sites to establish the first biostratigraphical framework, arguing that the ‘age of primitive humanity’ could be divided into four ages based on the dominant species (major overlap was acknowledged) – from oldest to youngest: 1) the Age of the Great Cave Bear; 2) the Age of the Elephant and Rhinoceros; 3) the Age of the Reindeer; 4) the Age of the Aurochs. His co-worker, Christy (1865; Lartet and Christy 1864), loosely tied this framework to the stone tools, recognising three periods: 1) the Drift Period, associated with mammoth and rhinoceros and containing only handaxes and other ‘coarser’ implements; 2) the Cave Period, associated with reindeer and containing long bladed ‘knives’, grattoirs (end-scrapers) and arrowheads alongside bone and antler implements, some decorated with carvings of wild animals; and, 3) the Surface Period, with ground stone axes. There was, however, considerable variation in the archaeology of the Cave Period.

The sites at Aurignac, Laugerie Haute and la Madeleine each had very distinctive toolkits, despite having essentially the same reindeer fauna. It is today far from clear whether at this point Lartet and Christy believed these flint industries to reflect differences in the age, race or the types of activity represented, but the cave of Le Moustier, first excavated in November 1863, was quickly seen as an oddity. Le Moustier showed a relative paucity of reindeer in comparison to other caves and yielded an artefact assemblage consisting of handaxes (“spear-head type convex on two faces”) and broad scrapers (“big spears with a plane or slightly convex face”) but lacking the more typical range of reindeer period forms (Lartet and Christy 1864, 284; Evans 1864b; Lubbock 1865; see Figure 3.5). The handaxes looked similar to those from the drift at Abbeville and Amiens, but they were more triangular, showed more refined workmanship, and “shaded off insensibly” into another form that had never been found in the gravel (Evans 1864b, 176; Lubbock 1865). This was the first hint of a cultural phase between the drift period and the reindeer period although Lartet and Christy were cautious. They saw few differences between the handaxes of Le Moustier and those of St Acheul and warned against drawing the rash conclusion that the assemblages from the rivers and caves were necessarily of different ages, they might have just been used for different purposes. Evans (1864b, 176) thought it “safest to suspend our opinions at present”.

Line drawing of a scraper and biface of similar pointed-oval form

Figure 3.5 Typical cave implements from Le Moustier. Top: a ‘broad flake worked into lanceolate form’ (a Mousterian Point, length 122mm). Bottom: ‘Implement of ovate-lanceolate form, equally convex on both faces, smaller and more finely made than those from the drift’ (length = 90mm; after Lartet and Christy 1865).

Taking a broader survey of French and English rivers, Prestwich (1864, read in 1862) divided the drift into High-Level Valley Gravel (St Acheul, Hoxne, hereafter HLVG) and Low-Level Valley Gravel (Menchecourt, Montières, hereafter LLVG), although he added these could not always be clearly differentiated. Prestwich reasoned that the HLVG could not have been produced by the modern rivers in flood but represented relicts of older more torrential rivers flowing at different elevations, the deposits becoming younger with decreasing height above the valley floor as the river gradually downcut and filled its valley (Lyell 1863 largely agreed; Alfred Tylor 1866, 1868a, 1868b, had another interpretation, see Chapter 4). The faunal evidence suggested that the climate was generally cool, but with hints of a gradual amelioration through time. The character and origin of the overlying loëss deposits, particularly in the Somme Valley, was also a significant concern, as these too had produced fauna and artefacts. Prestwich thought they were deposited by rivers in flood, directly linking them in age to the implementiferous gravels they overlay.4

Evans (1863) could “not help thinking” that differences would eventually be established between the stone implements contained within these two gravel bodies, and that this might form the basis for comparisons between sites. He tentatively offered some observations from the Somme, where it seemed to him that pointed handaxes were more frequent in the HLVG, whereas well-made ovate handaxes and flakes that had been carefully shaped prior to removal from their parent core (i.e. what would later become known as Levallois flakes) were more common in the LLVG. Lyell (1863, 376–377) appeared to agree, stressing how little material culture had changed during the “vast lapses of time” separating the two formations, the only difference being a dominance of ovate forms in the younger deposits. A cultural sequence was slowly taking shape.

The Absence of a Human Fossil Record

The want of human fossils from the drift was puzzling and frustrating, but while they were unquestionably essential for answering the sensitive question of human evolution (Huxley 1863), their absence was by no means fatal to claims for deep antiquity. Evans (1861) and Lyell (1863) both pointed to the long-disputed skeletal material from caves, although this held few clues as to the makers of the handaxes and other drift implements. Most cave specimens, including those soon to be unearthed in the Dordogne (Lartet and Christy 1865–1875), were anatomically modern. Thomas Huxley (1825–1895) could detect no primitive features in the adult skull from Engis, at this point finally accepted as genuinely ‘antediluvian’, which he quipped could as easily have belonged to a philosopher as to a savage (Huxley 1863). The notable exception was the partial human skeleton found in 1856 in the Feldhofer Cave, Neander Valley, western Germany, but little was known of the precise provenience and associations of this find. Huxley (1825–1895) declared the Neanderthal skull to be the most ape-like human he had ever seen, showing stark anatomical differences from modern humans, but it had a large brain and his knowledge of variation among ethnographical groups prevented him from declaring it a different ‘race’. This did not stop anatomist William King from assigning the Feldhofer specimen to a different human species, Homo neanderthalensis, at the 1863 BAAS meeting in Newcastle. Lyell (1863, 89) neatly summarised the problem: Engis was ancient but obviously of modern type, the Neander Valley had “no claim to antiquity [but] departed from the normal standard of humanity”. If ancient, the Neander specimen might provide critical evidence of transmutation, if young, it might be a result of atavism. When another Neanderthal skull was reported from Gibraltar in 1864, it suffered from a similarly ambiguous context and date (Busk 1865).

Evans (1861) thought it possible that human fossils were absent from the drift because Palaeolithic people buried their dead, meaning their bodies would not have been left exposed like those of other animals and would therefore not have been so readily incorporated into the drift. As there was no evidence that the drift represented a catastrophic deluge, there was also no reason to expect it to contain large numbers of human casualties. Lubbock (1865, 282) agreed that mortuary practices could help to explain the absence, but equally emphasised natural preservation biases. The St Acheul gravel had yielded only the larger and more robust bones of larger animals, with nothing as small as a human ever having been reported. He also reasoned that, just like living hunter-gatherers, Palaeolithic hunters would have existed in extremely small numbers compared to their prey, making their bones “many hundred times” rarer (ibid., 283). Human fossils were still of the greatest rarity in the much younger Danish shell middens, locations where worked flints were “a thousand times more plentiful than in the St. Acheul gravel” (ibid., 281). Lyell (1863) was convinced it was only a matter of time before the necessary fossils would be found, a prediction fulfilled in March 1863, the month after his book was published.

Sadly, when that time came, in the form of the Moulin Quignon jaw (Figure 3.6), it turned out to be a hoax perpetrated on Boucher by the workmen at the eponymous quarry (Falconer et al. 1863; Boucher de Perthes 1864; more comprehensive summaries than I can provide here are found in Grayson 1983; Van Riper 1993; McNabb 2012a). Boucher had naïvely offered a reward of 200 francs for the first human fossil brought to him from the local quarries (Mortillet 1883), and the workmen had fraudulently obliged. When news that a human jaw had been discovered in the Somme reached England, a delegation of Falconer, Evans, Prestwich and geologist Alfred Tylor (1824–1884) went to inspect the find, but initial excitement turned to suspicion. On seeing the evidence, the British contingent concluded that the jawbone and associated handaxes were modern forgeries planted by the workmen (Falconer 1863, 1868; Prestwich 1863; Falconer et al. 1863; Milne-Edwards 1863). French scholars, including Lartet, Desnoyers, Gaudry, Pictet, Armand de Quatrefages (1810–1892, chair of anthropology and ethnography at the Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle) and, of course, Boucher, could not agree. An ad hoc committee of English and French scientists met in Paris and Abbeville from 9–13 May, but no concord could be reached, only Prestwich was willing to give ground, after seeing a genuine handaxe from the quarry. A month later, Evans (who had missed the first ‘Trial of the Jaw’) obtained Boucher’s blessing to send the experienced excavator Henry Keeping to work at the site, where he quickly realised the other workmen were seeding the site with handaxes and human bones. The Englishmen’s suspicions were confirmed: the workmen had made the handaxes themselves, in marvellous numbers and for luxurious reward (Falconer 1863), and robbed bones from the nearby cemetery, remains of people now known to date from the thirteenth to eighteenth centuries AD (Vialet et al. 2016).

Line drawing of a human jawbone and the geological section showing where it was planted

Figure 3.6 Bounty hunted: the Moulin Quignon Jaw and a section from the site showing the supposed find location (after Boucher de Perthes 1864).

This episode could have been highly damaging for the new geological archaeology and the case for deep antiquity, but the openness of the debate, much of it playing out in influential and upmarket periodicals such as The Athenaeum and The Times, and the fact that the find was rejected rather than seized upon uncritically, worked to enhance the value of the original testimonies (Van Riper 1993). Science would have to wait until 1886 for a convincingly ancient Neanderthal, when Marcel de Luydt and Maximin Lohest discovered the skeletons of two neanderthal individuals at Spy Cave, Belgium, in a secure context and in association with a ‘mammoth fauna’ (Fraipont and Lohest 1887), and a genuine human fossil would not be found in Pleistocene fluvial deposits of Europe until 1907, when a mandible was recovered from sands of the River Necker at Mauer, near Heidelberg, Germany (Schöetensack 1908). For now, the people of the drift would have to be known only by their works.

Ecce Homo

The main agenda items for the young geological archaeology were largely geological in focus, but from the outset antiquarian concerns were highly visible. Scholars had quickly organised handaxes according to shape, developing rudimentary typologies that included only two or three types (Prestwich 1860b; Evans 1861, 1863, see preceding), well aware of the variation that existed around these basic forms. Evans (1863) noted that while the extremes were well marked, every intermediate permutation existed between them, forming a continuum of variation. Such variation could be seen in edges, butts, tips and level of working, with some handaxes barely changed from the original pebble. Much of this, thought Evans, was likely to have been accidental, because not every toolmaking episode would have gone according to plan. Nonetheless, they all showed some evidence of judgement in the choice of flints, and skill and design in manufacture. He had a similar artisanal approach to the rougher forms, which he regarded as fruitless attempts to imitate more refined handaxes or those made in haste, the makers paying little attention to symmetry while concentrating on quickly attaining a cutting edge or point. Still, as noted earlier, he predicted that one day a distinction between implements at different heights would emerge, with different drift periods distinguishable by the position of their beds and the character of the implements they contained.

For now though, and despite some declaring it pointless to speculate on their probable uses – “who would care to describe the exact use of a knife?” asked Lubbock (1865, 280) – early workers nonetheless interpreted the different forms in functional terms. Pointed implements were regarded as probable spear- or lance-heads, the oval forms sling-shots or axes (Evans 1861, 1863; Lubbock 1865). Flakes were initially interpreted as arrowheads (Evans 1861), but this was quickly revised to knives (Evans 1863): they were in any case only ambiguous indicators of age or level of technology. Lubbock (1865, 280) regarded the known types of drift implement to represent the “whole contents of the workshop”, thinking it a very limited choice of ‘weapons’.5 Yet with this small number of forms, Early Palaeolithic humans may have cut down trees, scooped out canoes, grubbed up roots, attacked their enemies, hunted animals, cut up food, made holes in the ice, prepared firewood and so on (Lubbock 1865). Few in France or Britain were quite sure yet whether handaxes were intended to be hafted or hand-held (see Chapter 4).

Small observations added further detail to the picture of ancient humans. Flower (1860) noted that the handaxes from St Acheul seemed to be made on previously waterworn flint, showing that raw materials had been procured from secondary sources at or near the surface, not quarried from the Chalk. A lack of sufficient technology (iron) and poor-quality flint, rather than a lack of intelligence, was blamed on this failure to procure better resources, as was the crudeness of the implements (Flower 1860, 1869). Evans (1863) reported the same use of local materials, but noted how cleverly these had been used, pebbles being chosen because they had a natural handle that could be incorporated into the design. It wasn’t long before the first giant handaxes were announced, technologically accomplished and visually ostentatious, as well as handaxes made on different raw materials, such as quartzite and diorite (Flower 1869). Flower thought that each locality may have had its own workmen, or that different shapes served different requirements.

The sharpness of their humanly fashioned edges also showed that some handaxes had not moved far from their point of origin (Flower 1860). The handaxes were in the gravel, but they were not of the gravel (Flower 1869). Furthermore, they did not occur evenly throughout the gravel bodies but were concentrated in particular horizons and spots, perhaps those were humans had easiest access to materials. Instead of being necessarily transported, some might have lain on the surface and been overwhelmed by other agencies or just aqueously rearranged. Such taphonomic reasoning helped to fix humans in the same landscapes and at the same time as the extinct animals, as Lartet had done with cut-marked bones in France. The handaxe makers must therefore have been able to survive the cold climates indicated by the drift faunas (Lyell 1863; Prestwich 1864), which included living arctic species such as the musk ox and reindeer. As the rivers probably froze annually, Lyell wondered whether a lifestyle analogous to ethnographic societies living north of Hudson Bay (i.e. Eskimo) would be appropriate. Perhaps the handaxe makers had used the pointed forms to cut holes in the ice to fish and thrown the waste flakes and badly made pieces into the water, where they became folded into the gravel. Occasionally a decent implement would be accidentally lost in the same manner. Prestwich (1864) also fancied that the pointed implements had been used as ice-chisels, for obtaining water or for fishing, noting they were most common in the HLVG, which contained a flora and fauna indicative of very cold conditions, and were less commonly used during the milder conditions evinced by the LLVG. Regardless of the specifics, handaxe makers were already assumed to have been hunter-fisher-gatherers, and the idea that humans had been responsible for the extinction of the megafauna quickly entered circulation (Lyell 1863). Lyell was also favourably disposed to the perforated stone spheres found by Rigollot at Amiens, which had been interpreted as beads. The handaxe makers might thus have adorned themselves with items of jewellery.

As Flower proclaimed in June 1859:

We should all desire to know something more concerning the persons by whom, and the purposes for which, [the implements] were fabricated, – how it happened that so many of them were brought together in so small a space…. These, however, are speculations which seem to belong to the province of archaeology rather than to that of geology; and they are only now alluded to by way of suggestion that topics of such importance and interest are well deserving the investigation of archaeologists.

(Flower 1860, 192)

Such interpretative aspirations were shared by Scottish archaeologist Daniel Wilson (1824–1892), since 1853 Chair of History and English Literature at University College, Toronto (Kehoe 1998; Trigger 1999). Wilson’s long-held vision of the past was informed by the people of the New World, a “laboratory for the study of European prehistory” (Wilson 1851; Trigger 1999, 84), and founded on beliefs derived from Christian tradition and Scottish Enlightenment philosophy that all humans were descended from common ancestors and shared a number of essential common instincts. He was not, and nor would he ever be, a strong supporter of Darwin (Trigger 1999, 88), but, in his 1862 Prehistoric Man, Wilson argued that to understand the “natural condition” of humanity one had to look to the past, before the development of the social and moral shackles of civilisation. Conversely, to understand the evidence from the past, one needed to look at modern primitive societies, which could be found living in “every phase of transition,… [between] savage and civilised life” (Wilson 1862, 6). Wilson therefore merged archaeology and ethnography to better understand both. Taking evidence from both the Old and New Worlds, he explored, in a meandering, poetic and somewhat cosmologically fashion, the basic human instincts of language, religion, fire, watercraft, art, tools/technology, metallurgy and architecture. Different levels of cultural development were found because societies developed at different rates, depending on environmental factors such as climate, diet, health, rank, education and free time. Migration and mixing were also key to cultural evolution, the general rule being that more advanced societies eradicated and assimilated more primitive ones. Certain centres at certain times had been hotbeds of cultural development, while others had been seats of degeneration. For Wilson, the Stone Age was the base level, the oldest stage of development and one to which other societies occasionally declined, but sadly he barely touched upon the significance of the recently accepted drift implements, content to note that they were “memorials of an age of ruder strength and still more infantile skill” (Wilson 1862, 105), presumably ones expressing the same human instincts.

John Lubbock’s Palaeolithic Period

It was John Lubbock’s Pre-historic Times, as Illustrated by Ancient Remains and the Manners and Customs of Modern Savages, published in 1865, that properly popularised ethno-graphical analogy as a way of understanding the deep past. Bringing together a collection of previously published essays, revised and reprinted in monograph form with new material and additional chapters, Pre-historic Times summarised the first five years of geological archaeology, and in doing so gave the young science both a new name and a more interpretative framework.

Lubbock accepted the universal validity of the Danish Three-Age System of stone-bronze and iron, which although over 30 years old was still controversial (Rowley-Conwy 2007), and in his opening chapter proposed a new subdivision for the Stone Age, suggesting that the period represented by the drift and cave implements might be called the Palaeolithic or Archaeolithic,6 while the much younger celts of the surface period could be referred to as the Neolithic. These new terms formalised an already widely accepted chronological sequence. Similarly, his division of the new Palaeolithic age into the younger ‘cave or reindeer period’ and the older ‘drift period’, reflected, with caveats, the emerging understanding of several important scholars (Lartet and Christy 1864; Evans 1864b).

In the spring of 1864 Lubbock had spent time with Henry Christy in the Dordogne, examining the caves and their contents. The differences between the archaeology in the caves and the drift were becoming increasingly clear. The caves of the reindeer period contained fine and varied tools of stone, bone and antler; evidence of human burial; and works of art, including representations of extinct species. The drift period had only handaxes, rough scrapers and flakes of flint. The cave at Le Moustier was, as previously mentioned, somewhat different to the other caves. It was not dominated by the typical reindeer period fauna and it contained handaxes that Lartet and Christy found difficult to distinguish from those contained in the drift. Lubbock, however, detected differences in the workmanship, form and function of these cave handaxes, noting that similar forms had been found by William Boyd Dawkins (1837–1929) at Wookey Hole, Somersetshire (Dawkins 1862). Their flaking was more refined (or ‘less bold’), and they often showed a peculiar flat edge (Figure 3.7): he thought they might have derived from ‘cutters’, and bore only an accidental resemblance to the handaxes from St Acheul. While they were certainly the oldest of the cave implements, he advised exercising due caution before correlating them with the drift forms. Conversely, Lubbock suggested that the leaf-shaped ‘lanceheads’ from Laugerie [Haute] and Badegoule, which resembled those of later periods in Denmark, represented the youngest Palaeolithic occupants of the region.

A watercolour of a large stained biface from the drift, with a smaller oval biface from Le Moustier Cave

Figure 3.7 Implements of the Drift and of the Caves: handaxes from Somme fluvial deposits at Abbeville (left) and from the cave sediments at Le Moustier (right). Lubbock wondered whether, despite similarities in form and technique, the two were unrelated. Scale: the largest handaxe is 165mm in length (after Lubbock 1865).

Lubbock shared the belief that artefacts held the potential to reveal much about the ‘conditions of man in primeval times’, their societies, mental condition, technologies, customs and habits (Lubbock 1865, vi). The tools did not speak for themselves, however, and their meaning needed to be revealed, which he attempted, like Wilson7 (1862) and anthropologist E.B. Tylor (1865), through comparisons with modern ‘primitive’ peoples. Lubbock gave almost a third of the volume to a discussion of primitive societies from Africa, North America, South America, the Pacific Islands, Australasia and the Arctic, the arrangement geographical rather than evolutionary (Trigger 1989, 115). The set of paintings by Ernest Griset (1844–1907), which Lubbock commissioned to illustrate the Stone Age, neatly capture the essence of Lubbock’s Pre-historic Times (Murray 2009, Figure 3.8).

Two Watercolor Drawings. One of stone age people huddled around a fire in a cave, a hunted deer lying nearby; the other stoe age people hunting a wooly mammoth near a cliff edge.

Figure 3.8 Imag(in)ing the Palaeolithic. Two of 19 surviving drawings commissioned by John Lubbock for display at his home in High Elms and executed by popular artist and cartoonist Ernest Griset (© Lord Avebury and Bromley Museums Services).

Pre-historic Times was also the first major and popular work to situate prehistory firmly within a Darwinian framework, albeit one tinged with imperialist overtones (Trigger 1989). Lubbock (1865, 491) believed that, in humans, natural selection had acted more on the mind than on the body. His thinking was here influenced by the philosophy of fellow X-Club8 member Herbert Spencer (1820–1903), whose First Principles (1862) had argued that all natural phenomena, including human morals, conformed to natural laws, and that these natural laws inexorably led to progress. In Lubbock’s view, all peoples had originally existed in the same primitive state. Europe had been a hotbed of cultural and biological developments, and modern Europeans were consequently more evolved in both spheres compared to their ethnographical counterparts, on a trajectory to still greater levels of cultural advancement and happiness. Modern primitive societies were thus not degenerate relicts of once civilised peoples, but races who had evolved at a slower pace, perhaps because of different biological capacities for culture (see also Lubbock 1868). Their fate was to be overwhelmed by the more evolved, more civilised Europeans. Nonetheless, as the pre-metallic peoples described in his last four chapters had never left the Stone Age they could theoretically provide ideal analogies for what prehistoric life was like, living examples of the types of human society behind the prehistoric artefacts.

Assuming a common origin for all humans, and decrying degeneracy, Lubbock, like Tylor, reasoned that those primitive societies still in existence must be in a state “at least as advanced” as prehistoric humans (Lubbock 1865, 474). This was a pretty wretched existence in Lubbock’s eyes. Modern savages led dirty lives, were morally deficient and had the intelligence of children. Yet their present habits did not represent exactly those of the earliest humans and there was no one-to-one correlation between any modern and ancient group (Lubbock 1865, 563). To understand the ancestral, prehistoric condition, Lubbock looked for universal traits, the lowest common denominators that appeared to characterise the most primitive state of existence. It was mostly a list of absences: no pottery, no bows or arrows, only the rudest of boats, no clothing, the inability to count above ten, no agriculture or domestic animals other than the dog, and no weapons except spears, clubs and knives. At times Lubbock could barely disguise his revulsion at the practices and peoples he described, feelings no doubt shared by many among his Victorian readership.

While the Esquimaux provided Lubbock with a number of useful parallels from which to interpret the culturally rich reindeer period, the ethnographic record had less to tell him about the people of the drift. He was disappointed with the general paucity of ethnographic information on the manufacture and use of stone tools, as well as the specific absence of a suitable analogue for the handaxe. He could offer no suggestions as to the specific function of handaxes or other tools, and his range of possible activities is simply a list of ‘ten things to do with a hatchet’. The great resemblance of stone implements from different parts of the world he thought could be satisfactorily explained by the similarity of the materials and simplicity of the forms (1865, 33). His treatment of the drift period rarely strayed, in fact, beyond a description of famous sites and select artefacts that owed much to Evans, his interpretative narrative reaching the underwhelming conclusion that the primitive humans of the drift period were more primitive than the most primitive of modern primitives.

In theory, Lubbock’s ethnographical approach could lead to a better understanding of the people of the past through their artefacts, but in practice the evidence was just not good enough, from any quarter. This notwithstanding, the book brought the past to life more than any other of the time. It was extremely popular and highly influential, success no doubt helped along by Lubbock’s membership of all the key Societies, as well as informal fellowships such as the notorious X-Club (Barton 1990, 1998) and the Evans-Lubbock network9 (McNabb 2012a; Owen 2013), both of which sought to change British science and increase its social influence. But it was another framework, soon to be developed in Paris, that really set the agenda for the next 30 years of Palaeolithic studies.

Gabriel de Mortillet’s Acheulean Epoch

Louis Laurent Gabriel de Mortillet (1821–1898) was a political radical and materialist who had been forced to spend 15 years exiled in Italy during the Second Empire (1848–1870), only thinking it safe to return to France in 1864. He was anti-clerical, and it has been argued that he weaponised archaeology as a means of promulgating his deep-seated beliefs in secular human progress (Hammond 1980; Richard 2009). In 1868, Mortillet was appointed conservator of prehistory at the new Musée des Antiquités Nationales in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, on the western suburbs of Paris (Richard 2009). Here he was faced with unsorted crates of prehistoric artefacts from the Somme, Dordogne and other locations, many of which lacked information about geological context and associated fauna (Richard 2012), and it was up to him to classify, arrange and explain this mass of material in a manner suitable for display in his two prehistoric galleries.

Mortillet was more than up to the task. He was already editor of Les matériaux pour l’histoire positive et philosophy de l’homme, the first journal dedicated to the study of pre-history, and in 1867 had been part of the organising committee for the Stone Age Halls at the Universal Exposition in Paris, for which Lartet acted as president (Richard 2009). In the arrangement of finds and the guidebook he authored to accompany the exhibition, Promenades Prehistorique (Mortillet 1867), Mortillet had, more by obligation than desire (Mortillet 1873), adopted Lartet’s mammalian chronology for the cave sites, but his descriptions also revealed the beginnings of a more archaeologically orientated scheme. Like Lartet and others he thought that Le Moustier was the oldest of the cave sites, drawing special attention to its characteristic ‘Moustierian points’ (Figure 3.9). He also saw the assemblages from Aurignac, with bone points, and Solutré, with laurel-leaf stone points, as distinct both from each other and from sites belonging to the younger part of the reindeer period, as found at La Madeleine. The drift period was arranged separately and presented first.

Line drawing of a Mousterian point

Figure 3.9 Walking through the Stone Age: Mousterian point illustrated in Promenades Prehistorique (after Mortillet 1867).

Among the exhibits at the Paris Exposition were finds from the sand pits at Levallois-Perret, a suburb of Paris, which had been explored from 1859 onwards by the largely forgotten pioneer Jules Reboux (d. 1886) (Schlanger 2013). By 1867, Reboux had described three distinct stone tool industries from Levallois-Perret, each coming from a discrete stratigraphical horizon, which he had termed, from the base upwards: pierre éclatée (flaked stone), pierre taillée (worked stone) and pierre polie (polished stone) (Reboux 1867, 1873 Figure 3.10). The oldest industry contained none of the St Acheul types, which were only found in the middle pierre taillée horizon, but was instead dominated by large elongated flakes with retouched edges, illustrations of which show them to be what would later become known as Levallois flakes (Hamy 1870; Mortillet 1883). Technologically it was not an illogical succession, the simplest flake industries occurred at the base, which developed into more sophisticated chipped-stone axes (hafted tools, in Reboux’s opinion) and finally into polished axes. Reboux’s proposals attracted many critics, with many nursing fundamental doubts as to whether stone implements could be used to divide the Palaeolithic into distinct epochs and rejecting outright the idea that simple flakes could be used to define any particular period (Leguay, Worsaae, Mortillet & Ronjou, in Reboux 1867). Mortillet, who questioned whether the Levallois-Perret workmen’s accounts had ever been independantly verified by Reboux, accepted none of his groups, merely telling visitors to the exhibition that the site of Levallois-Perret was dominated by blades and that St Acheul types were rare, only three being known, all of which were badly weathered and rolled (Mortillet 1867).

Line drawing of the geological column with drawings of representative fauna from the main levels shown up one side, stone tools up te other.

Figure 3.10 Levallois-Perret, 1873: Section at Préault Quarry, Levallois-Perret. Left: Stone Industries: 1) pierre polie (polished stone) of the Neolithic epoch; 2) pierre taillée (worked or knapped stone) of the Mesolithic epoch; 3) pierre éclatée (flaked stone) of the Palaeolithic epoch. Right: Mammals of the Mammoth and Cave Bear Age; 4) Bos primigenius (aurochs); 5) Hippopotamus amphibius; 6) Rhinoceros tichorhinus (Coelodonta antiquus, woolly rhino).

In his own museum (Figure 3.11), Mortillet was free to develop his own system. He quickly abandoned Lartet’s methods, arguing that prehistorians should follow archaeologists of the historical periods, and use characteristic artefacts and technologies as the basis for classification (Mortillet 1869a, 1873; Richard 2012). Time had shown that the archaeological divisions of the Iron Age, Bronze Age and Stone Age were robust and global, as was the separation of chipped stone and polished stone, but the faunal sequence was already unravelling (Mortillet 1873). The characteristic species were long-lived, and none were confined to the stage that bore their name, as Lartet had long acknowledged. Certain species might be found in greater abundance in some sites than others, but this could simply reflect ecological or habitat differences. Furthermore, Pleistocene animals were not uniformly distributed across Europe but showed regional differences like modern species: the caves of Baoussé Roussé (Grimaldi) between Ventimiglia and Menton on the Mediterranean coast of northern Italy, for example, had an archaeological assemblage clearly dating from the reindeer period, but the region had no record of reindeer (Mortillet 1873). The new approach was essentially an evolutionary one, but while Lubbock followed Darwin, Mortillet was more Lamarckian, reflecting the Parisian intellectual circles in which he operated (Richard 2012, 17). He was, however, equally influenced by Spencer in seeing a co-evolutionary relationship between biology and culture. For Mortillet, technological and biological evolution had both been driven by climate change, which had determined the direction of humanity’s physical, mental and cultural developments. There had been no local variation or degeneration: cultural developments had been entirely progressive, entirely linear and universal. On this he could not have been any clearer: “Progress is the law of the Universe, the law of humanity” (1875a, 117).

Photograph of a 19th Century Museum Gallery with wooden and glass cabinets and cases.

Figure 3.11 Salle No 1 at the Museé de Saint-Germain, Paris (after Reinach 1889).

The catalogue published in the year of Mortillet’s arrival at Saint-Germain (Mortillet 1868a) reveals a museum still structured around Lartet’s methods, but by 1869 he had a working draft of his new archaeological scheme (Table 3.1), which he presented to the learned societies as talks and papers and delivered to the general public in the form of the museum’s arrangement and explanatory guidebook (Mortillet 1869a, 1869b, 1869c). The inaugural version (Mortillet 1869a) identified four ‘epochs’ or universal cultural phases – Moustiers, Solutré, Aurignac and la Madeleine – each defined by one or more fossiles directeurs (normative or characteristic artefacts) and each named after the most representative ‘type’ site,10 the chosen localities being the same four Mortillet had highlighted two years earlier. To demonstrate that these were widespread and not isolated occurrences, other sites in each epoch were noted. Within Mortillet’s framework then, the epochs were both periods of time and stages of culture (industry), but culture was employed in the singular, in the sense of universal cultural traits that developed over time (Vander Linden and Roberts 2011).

Table 3.1 Mortillet’s first classification for the Palaeolithic (after Mortillet 1869a).


Fossiles Directeurs


1: du Moustiers

Almond shape handaxes or langues de chat; unifacial ‘Moustier’ points; (bone tools almost absent)

Le Moustier; Gravels of the Somme and the Seine, Caves of Pey-de-l’Azé, Martière, l’Ermitage, Chez Pouré, Coenove

2: de Solutré

Handaxes disappear. Finely made points, worked on both sides and both ends, the perfection of the Moustier point

Solutré; Làugerie-Haute, Pont-a-Lesse (Belgium)

3: d’Aurignac

Split-based bone points, angular casse-tête

Aurignac; Grotte d’Enfer, Cro-Magnon, Châtel-Perron, La Chaise

4: de la Madeleine

Bone harpoons, bone and antler points, engraved and sculpted animal

La Madeleine; Laugerie-Basse; Bruniquel; Massat; Savléve; Furfooz (Belgium), Schussenried (Wurtemberg/Germany)

As the type site for his earliest epoch, a period characterised by almond-shaped handaxes and unifacial ‘Moustier’ points, Mortillet chose Le Moustier, despite the fact that St Acheul was by far the more famous locality and already the de facto type site for the ‘St Acheul type’ (Figure 3.12). The key reason for this appears to have been the desire to keep the whole framework within the well-known cave sequence. This allowed him to exploit established stratigraphical relationships while avoiding potential criticisms about whether the various toolkits represented different activities, rather than discrete periods of time. It seamlessly bridged the gap between the ‘indoor’ and ‘outdoor’ locations, both spatially and temporally.

Some unskilled line drawings of bifacial tools

Figure 3.12 Fossiles directeurs: drawings of hâches used to illustrate Mortillet’s first two catalogues. These were first used to define the epoch of Le Moustier, alongside Mousterian points, and later used as the unique marker fossil of the Acheulean (1873) (after Mortillet 1869a, 1873). The quality of Mortillet’s illustrations improved markedly when the task of drawing was taken by his son, Adrien, a very able draftsman. Scale: The handaxe on the right is ~18cm.

Evans generally agreed with Mortillet’s artefact-based approach, but he was not satisfied with the details or the apparent disregard for fauna. He preferred alternative type sites (Cro-Magnon and Laugerie Haute instead of Aurignac and Solutré) and a different chronological order, although he admitted the stratigraphy seemed to support Mortillet’s arrangement (Evans 1872, 435). Ernest-Théodore Hamy (1842–1908), an anthropologist at the Ecole practique des hautes études in Paris, under the direction of anatomist Paul Broca (1824–1880), went further, rejecting Mortillet’s entire type concept (Hamy 1870). For Mortillet, a type referred to a specific tool, whereas Hamy regarded types as the characteristic ‘ensemble of instruments’ found at a ‘station’, basically types of lithic assemblages.

In Hamy’s own classification (Table 3.2), the tools of the earliest period, the Age of Mammoth and Cave Bear, could be divided into those worked on both sides (axes, discs, the latter probably subsuming discoidal handaxes, discoidal cores and Levallois cores) and those worked on one side (scrapers, points, blades, Levallois flakes). These could be found together in many assemblages, but differences in relative frequencies and presence/absences could be used to distinguish different assemblage types: the St Acheul type with high frequencies of hâches, the Levallois-Perret type dominated by Levallois flakes/points and blades, and the Moustier type in which scrapers and points were common. It was largely a technological and functional arrangement.

Table 3.2 The classification of E.-T. Hamy (1870), just one example of the many alternative (and failed) early chronological schemes (sites in italics = type stations).


Types in the Alluvium

Types in the Caves and Rockshelters

Mammoth and Great Bear

Hoxne, Thetford, St Acheul, Abbeville, Levallois, etc.

Le Moustier, Chez-Pouré

Lherm, Bouichéta, Arcy, Bèdeillac, LaNaulette


Transition: Trou-du-Sureau



Grenelle, Pontlevoy

Aurignac, Châtelperron, Gorge-d'Enfer Transitions by:

La Chaise, Bize


Reindeer 1

Schussenried, Boulounais

Les Eyzies, Massat, La Vache, Savigné etc.

Laugerie-Haute, Pont-à-lesse


La Madeleine, Bruniquel, Goyet, Salève etc.


Reindeer 2

Chaleux, Furfooz, Loudes


At the Sixth International Congress of Prehistoric Archaeology and Anthropology, held in Brussels in the summer of 1872, Mortillet dramatically revised his original framework11 (Mortillet 1873; Table 3.3), but not in a way that really addressed his key critics. The Moustiérien was relegated to the second oldest epoch and was now defined only by scrapers and Moustier points. Handaxes became the definitive tool of a new epoch, ‘the Acheuléen’ (hereafter Acheulean), the oldest and longest phase of Palaeolithic cultural development. Mortillet acknowledged that handaxes had persisted into the Mousterian before finally falling out of use, and that Mousterian points had already begun to make an appearance in the Acheulean, but he insisted that handaxes and scrapers were never found together. In this way, Mortillet managed to maintain the unique characteristics of each epoch while forging evolutionary links between them. At the same time, he drew clear chronological and typological connections between the drift and the caves, confounding those who had expressed doubts on these points. Levallois, whether in Reboux’s or Hamys’ terms, was subsumed within the Mousterian, particularly the early part.

Table 3.3 Mortillet’s 1872 framework for the Palaeolithic (Mortillet 1873). NB: Aungnac was removed because Mortillet could not reconcile its contents and position with the evidence from the Solutrean. Aurignac had uninspiring lithics but sophisticated bone points, whereas Solutre had no bone tools but very refined leafpoints. He decided the epoch of d’Aurignac did not exist.

Ancient Division

Industrial Division

Epochs Based on Industry

Principal Characteristic Sites

Geology and Meteorology


Polished Stone or Neolithic

Polished Stone


Robenhausen etc.

Current Climate

Domesticated Animals, Diverse Human Races

Chipped stones tools: Archaeolithic or Palaeolithic

Chipped stone tools with bone implements

MAGDALÉNIEN: barbed bone arrowheads [harpoons] and flint blades

Caves and rock-shelters: La Madeleine, Les Eyzies, Laugerie-Basse, Bmniquel, Massat, Montrejeau, Auransan, Murcient, les Morts, le Plucard, Arcy, Salève, le Scé, Baoussé Roussé, Furfooz, Open-air: Schussenried


Reindeer, aurochs and bison very abundant in the ‘habitation waste’ in France and Belgium, mammoth, hyaena, large felids

SOLUTRÉEN: bifacial laurel-leaf flint points

Open air, caves and rock-shelters: Solutré, Laugerie-Haute, Badegols, Saint-Martin d’Excideuil

Cold and dry climate

Brachiocephalic and mesaticephalic man, close to the modern races. La Laisse, Cro-Magnon, Laugerie Basse, Baoussé Roussé, Solutré (part)

Chipped stone tools only

MOUSTIÉRIEN: unifacial flint points and scrapers

Caves and open sites: Le Moustier, Chez Pourré, La Martinière, L’Ermitage, La Mère Grand, Buoux, Néron

Glacial. Cold and humid climate

Cave bear, rhinoceros, Dolichocephalic man, of inferior type (Engis, l’Olmo)

Low Level alluvium: Grenelle, Levallois, Clichy, Le Pecq, Montguillan.

ACHEULÉEN: large almond-shaped stone tools

High Level alluvium: St Acheul, Abbeville, Thenne, Sotteville en Rouen, Vaudricourt, San Isidro (Spain)

Preglacial temperate climate

Hippopotamus, Elephas antiquus. Man of the most inferior type (Neanderthal, Eguisheim, La Naulette, Denize)

Plateaux: Beaumont, Tilly, La Ganterie, Sausse and Ceillone Valleys

Mortillet’s audience in Brussels immediately raised new concerns (Mortillet 1873, 444–459). Augustus W. Franks and M. Abbe Bourgeois (1819–1878) both pointed out that tool types other than handaxes occurred in the drift, while several of those present questioned whether the scheme could or should be applied outside France. Many felt the framework was too absolute. Mortillet took these in his stride, and in the subsequent discussion was remarkably accommodating. He accepted that the divisions were not impermeable but insisted that any archaeological groupings must be well-defined and based on rational observation, which his were. He suggested that many reports of admixture were caused by inadequate attention to stratigraphy. He was also aware that drift or cave implements had been found at sites near Madras, India (Foote 1866, 1869), San Isidro, Spain (Verneuil and Lartet 1863), Castelluccio di Sora, Italy (Nicolucci 1868, 1871), and the Cape of South Africa (Lubbock 1869b), but however much these suggested a global Palaeolithic, he conceded that the scheme might not apply universally. It certainly held in France, Belgium, Switzerland and England, but even here there were caveats. Mortillet generally placed the Acheulean in the preglacial period, owing largely to the associated warm-adapted mammals such as the hippopotamus and straight-tusked elephant (Palaeoloxodon antiquus), but at Hoxne, then the most ancient location in England, handaxes occurred above the boulder clay and were clearly postglacial. Mortillet explained this as either the local persistence of the Acheulean, or, more likely, evidence that North Sea ice had invaded England earlier than the mountain glaciers had expanded into France and Switzerland. By explaining geology in reference to the archaeology, he was setting a dangerous precedent.

Mortillet assured the audience that his scheme was not a “fixed or rigid framework” but a heuristic that “should simply be considered as a cabinet with drawers, in which are placed easily and conveniently, at different levels, all facts and all observations” (Mortillet 1873, 448, my translation). Nonetheless the introduction of the Acheulean, here as a universal epoch with a single important tool, is a landmark moment, albeit one that has resulted in much confusion and trouble.

The Christy Collection and Other Public Displays

Mortillet was not the only curator faced with presenting the growing Palaeolithic evidence in an engaging and understandable manner. Following Henry Christy’s untimely death in May 1865, his collection of archaeological and ethnographic artefacts was given to the British Museum, who set it up in a temporary exhibition in Christy’s London apartments at 103 Victoria Street12 (Franks 1868). An earlier exhibition of the Christy Collection (Steinhauer 1862) had been limited to just 26 stone implements from Abbeville and St Acheul, plus a cast of a piece from Icklingham, Norfolk. For the 1868 exhibition, the Museum’s first Keeper of Prehistoric and Medieval Antiquities and Ethnography, A.W. Franks, was able to fill two large and two small display cases with drift implements from France, England, Spain, India and Palestine, plus another two large cases with artefacts from the caverns of the Dordogne. Handaxes from the drift dominated the first four cases, which might imply he thought them older, but Franks remained silent on the relationship between the drift and the caverns. In the latter, however, he detected a ‘convenient’ chronological series, from oldest to youngest: 1) Le Moustier, 2) Gorge d’Enfer (also Aurignac), 3) Les Eyzies/La Madeleine and 4) Laugerie Haute. This was the same arrangement preferred by Evans (1872), with whose assistance it may well have been devised. Franks added four cases of modern artefacts from Greenland and the north-west coast of America to the room, “in order to illustrate the remains found in the caves of France” (Franks 1868, 11, my emphasis).

Visitors to the Blackmore Museum in Salisbury, which opened in 1867 (Evans 1868; Stevens 1870), would have found largely the same display, with an open acknowledgement to both Mortillet’s work at the 1867 Paris Exposition and the structure Franks had planned for the Christy Collection. In the museum guidebook, Flint Chips, the honorary director Edward Stevens (1828–1878) recognised seven types of drift implement: flakes, scrapers, oval handaxes, pear-shaped handaxes and three new forms – heart-shaped, discoid and slipper-shaped implements – which he suggested may have been used as spear heads, missiles and adzes. The number of distinctive types was growing (albeit pending Evans’ seal of approval), as was the number of different tasks they were each designed to serve. What distinguished these British displays, if their guidebooks are anything to go by, was that the emphasis was on the objects, which were described in terms of form and purpose, with occasional technological observations and cross-reference to modern ethnographic examples in other cabinets. The law of progress drove Stevens’ arrangement (Stevens 1870, preface), but the formal division of time into discrete parcels, each marking a new level of human attainment, was a secondary concern explored with some hesitation. Stevens (1870, x) dealt in “facts, rather than… speculative theories”, but he recognised the value of practical ethnographic analogies, particularly when dealing with later periods of prehistory. In both exhibitions the influence of Lubbock and Evans was not hard to find.

For Mortillet, on the other hand, it was all about the framework (whether or not other socio-political motivations lay behind it, e.g. Hammond 1980; Richard 2009). His museum was a public outlet for the research agenda he was actively driving forward at academic gatherings and publishing in his own journal (Mortillet 1867, 1868b, 1869a, 1869b, 1869c, 1872, 1873). Savants may have nursed reservations, but for the interested lay person, for the workmen in quarries and for the hundreds of local enthusiasts who made so many of the early discoveries, it offered a comfortably familiar narrative. The past was already known by a series of periods, each with its own characteristic relics – the Celtic, Roman, Merovingian, Carolingian, Medieval and Renaissance periods, to cite Mortillet’s (1873) examples. With Mortillet, people could now just as easily talk of the Magdalenian, Solutrean, Mousterian and the Acheulean, each of which evoked a set of distinctive types and an increasingly inferior stage of civilisation. And being based on artefact forms that could be easily learnt or looked up in a book, it had another advantage over the use of fauna, which required higher levels of specialist knowledge and access to reference collections. It was the perfect tool for communicating the Palaeolithic at all levels. Mortillet would later extend his reach beyond the readers of his journal and visitors to his galleries, using Musée préhistorique (Mortillet and Mortillet 1881), with 1,269 superb illustrations and text following the then current framework, as a portable paper museum (Richard 2012). If you were interested in prehistory, then Mortillet’s framework practically came to you. Given all of this, it is hardly surprising that it became the dominant paradigm or that it remained so, with several revisions, for the rest of the century (see Chapter 4). Still, the lack of a significant ethnographical collection meant that, in order to imagine what life might have been like for the handaxe makers, one had to seek inspiration elsewhere, perhaps in the ethnographies of Lubbock (1865, 1869a, 1870, 1872) or Edward Burnett Tylor (1865), or the expansive interpretations and tableau vivant of the popular writer Louis Figuier (1870; Figure 3.13).

Engraving showing four stone age men fighting a bear at the entrance to its den. They are clothed in hide drapes and armed with stone tools. Mammoth roam in the background.

Figure 3.13 ‘Man in the Great Bear and Mammoth Epoch’ (after Figuier 1870). Note that the people wielding the hafted drift implements or hâches in this image are anatomically modern.

The Ancient Stone Implements and Weapons of Great Britain

The freshly minted Acheulean epoch did not appear in John Evans’s (1872) long-awaited Ancient Stone Implements, Weapons and Ornaments of Great Britain, which had already gone to press by the time Mortillet announced his revised scheme. In any event, Evans is unlikely to have had much time for it. While he reluctantly accepted Mortillet’s “sort of chronological succession” for the caverns (Evans 1872, 434–439), and even attempted to correlate the results of the BAAS excavations at Kent’s Cavern (Pengelly 1866, 1867, 1868b, 1869b, 1870, 1871) with the Frenchman’s scheme (ibid., 465), his book followed an older and simpler framework, beginning with implements of the Neolithic, before moving to those of the Palaeolithic, which he divided into chapters on Cave Implements and Implements of the Drift. Despite the order of their presentation implying that the drift implements were the oldest, Evans thought that some of the cave finds were probably the same age, the differences in the ‘facies’ of implements in the two contexts related to the different conditions under which they were deposited (ibid., 426–427). Caves contained more of the smaller stone tools because they were living sites where such tools were more frequently discarded and where gentle burial in fine-grained sediments was conducive to both preservation and recovery. Such minute objects were unlikely to survive or to be noticed in a mass of river gravel. Conversely, the rarity of handaxes in cave sites related to their primary use as ‘out-of-doors’ tools, with such handaxes that were found in caves often showing certain peculiarities but generally being indistinguishable from drift forms (ibid., 427, 469). Further evidence of chronological overlap came from High Lodge, Mildenhall, Suffolk, where Evans and his friend Canon William Greenwell (1820–1918) had collected finely worked Le Moustier-type scrapers from a clay deposit that sat beneath an implementiferous gravel containing ovate handaxes (ibid., 493). In many respects, Evans was describing Mortillet’s original formulation of the Mousterien, although he did not embrace this. He was no more convinced by elaborate faunal frameworks, doubting the validity of Lartet’s four ages and preferring Dupont’s (1871) ‘safer’ scheme, which recognised only an age of mammoth and an age of reindeer, with permeable boundaries.

Evans undeniably had a pessimistic outlook on chronology and chronological sequences. His prediction that the implements from the HLVG and LLVG would prove to have different characteristics (Evans 1863) had not come to pass, and he could go no further than his tentative 1862 suggestion that there was a preponderance of pointed handaxes in the higher deposits and ovate handaxes in the lower ones. He was though, fairly confident that humans had appeared only after the Glacial Period, because this had been geologically proven at several sites where implementiferous gravels were situated above boulder clay. Dawkins’s (1867, 1869) extensive palaeontological survey of British cavern and drift sites, which he mapped onto Phillips’s preglacial, glacial and postglacial periods, had likewise found no evidence of humans with his preglacial faunas, characterised by thermophilous species that included Pliocene relicts and modern survivors, nor with his transitional faunas of the Thames Valley that marked the passage from warm to glacial conditions. Humans appeared as part of the postglacial faunas, which showed a mixture of cold-adapted (mammoth, reindeer, musk-ox), warm-adapted (hippopotamus, hyaena, staight-tusked elephant) and temperate (horse, bison) mammals, living and extinct. In explaining the absence of handaxes from Scotland and northern England, Evans (1872, 612) likewise followed Dawkins, supposing that these areas had still been covered by an “ice-mantle, at the same time that the mammoth, reindeer and other Post-Glacial mammals were living in the lower and less inclement districts”. But Evans still thought it hopeless to attempt to date the Drift Period. There were not enough facts, and too many variables. Lyell’s (1866) preferred age of 800,000 years, and Lubbock’s (1869a) of 200,000 years, both of which were based on James Croll’s (1821–1890) astronomical calculations (Croll 1864), were just two of many possible dates, cited to emphasis the point.

Chronology was not Evans’s main concern, however. He was far more interested in what we could learn from the artefacts themselves, but as he was hardly a man for idle speculation, he largely restricted himself to technological and typological inferences that could be supported through experiment and observation. In the decade since Abbeville, Evans had become the voice of authority on stone tools, particularly those of the Palaeolithic, and he did himself little justice in describing his topic as “one which does not lend itself to lively description” and his book as “of necessity dull” (Evans 1872, preface). One cannot deny that it was essentially a gazetteer of British finds but, among the object-by-object descriptions, Evans laid some of the foundations for experimental and techno-typological approaches to stone tools.13

An entire chapter (II) was devoted to stone tool manufacture. Evans had spent time with working flint-knappers at Icklingham and Brandon in Suffolk (ibid., 14; Evans 1869), developing an understanding that helped him ‘read’ stone tools, mentally reconstructing the actions and decisions that had gone into their manufacture. He recognised two basic types of knapping, one aimed at detaching flakes from a block of flint for use or modification, the cores being waste (what we would now call débitage), the other at shaping a block of flint into a specific form, with the flakes produced in the process being the waste (in today’s terms façonnage). He was, by 1863 at the latest, a fairly accomplished knapper capable of producing a decent handaxe (Lyell 1863, 118 perhaps describes the handaxes shown in Figure 3.14), which he made not with the Suffolk knappers’ anachronistic iron hammer, but a historically authentic cobble of quartzite or flint.

Photograph of a replica biface, oval in outline.

Figure 3.14 Authenticity matters: experimental handaxe made by Sir John Evans using a hand-held stone hammer (from White 2001, courtesy Ashmolean Museum).

Evans described the techniques used to detach gunflint blanks from a nucleus or core, how the core was held and supported, how the blows were prepared and organised, and the characteristic features of human flaking. He refitted a sequence of ~25 blades to their parent core, which he illustrated to better show the process (Figure 3.15), and noted the different types of blades created at different stages of production. He also provided a detailed description of how stone axes were made:

the hatchets seem to have been rough hewn by detaching a series of flakes, chips or splinters from a block of flint by means of a hammer stone, and these rough-hewn implements were subsequently worked into a more finished form by detaching smaller splinters, also probably by means of a hammer…. In most cases one half of the hatchet was first roughed out, and then by a series of blows, given at proper intervals, along the margin of the face, the general shape was given, and the other face chipped out. This is proved by the fact that in most of the roughly chipped hatchets found in Britain the depressions of the bulbs of percussion of the flakes struck off occur in a perfect state only on one face, having been partly removed on the face by subsequent chipping.

(Evans 1872, 29)

He could find no evidence that British stone axes had been manufactured with the aid of a punch or set.

Line drawing of a modern prismatic blade core refitted to show how it was made.

Figure 3.15 Experiments in refitting: an experimental blade core reassembled by John Evans in order to better understand the technological processes involved (after Evans 1872).

Evans devoted just two chapters (XXIII and XXIV) to the Drift Period, 100 of his 640 pages. The Thames had yet to give up its riches and despite over ten years of discovery (e.g. Evans 1863, 1868; Blackmore 1865; Flower 1867, 1869; Prigg 1869; Lane-Fox 1870; Codrington 1870), he was still able to mention practically every known find, find-spot and finder. Evans led the reader on a tour of English waterways, travelling clockwise from the Great Ouse, at each stop individually describing interesting handaxes and flake tools in techno-typological terms and putting them in geological and palaeontological context. The bulk of the flakes and cores were deemed insignificant in comparison.

He was satisfied that his original distinction between pointed and oval implements (Evans 1861) still held true for both Britain and France, but now recognised more variation within each class. Pointed handaxes came in many forms, all essentially tongue-shaped, according to Evans14 (1872, 564–566). Tips could be rounded or pointed; butts could be worked or unworked, round or truncated; edges concave, straight or convex. Levels of symmetry also varied, in all directions. Most handaxes were biconvex in section, but some were plano-convex or slipper-shaped, being flat on one side. Some were very crudely worked indeed, presenting only a sharp tip, while others were worked all round and passed imperceptibly into the ovate forms. They were difficult to classify, but there were “some characteristic types, to attain which would seem to be the aim” (ibid., 564). The large pull-out plate used for his 1863 paper (Figure 3.4) again served to illustrate some of these characteristic forms. The ovate handaxes showed similar levels of variation, occurring as ovates (broader at one end), almonds (pointed one end), ovals (similar at both ends), heart-shapes, sub-triangulates, lozenges, lunates, perch-backs and discs, each worked all-round and thin in section (ibid., 566–567). In several examples, Evans detected the deliberate retention of a flat space on the edge, presumably designed to accommodate the hand or thumb, a belief he shared with Mortillet. He also recognised asymmetrical crescents and cleavers as possible distinct types.

But Evans did not insist on these types. There appeared to be target forms, but they blended into others. Many might simply reflect how the flint happened to flake during manufacture or the skill and workmanship possessed by the knapper (ibid., 567). Other forms were ‘in some measure’ determined by the shape of the original flint (ibid., 507), like the many crude handaxes made on long nodules, which were made quickly using little effort and quickly thrown away. Other distinctive forms, such as twisted ovates, may have been accidents of technology, rather than deliberate types intended to serve specific functions, although some seemed too exaggerated to be unintentional (ibid., 502, 520). The ‘shoe-shaped’ forms, flat on one side and tapered on the other, were often made on ‘large spalls of flint’ so were naturally flat, like a large, trimmed flake (ibid., 565). However many subtypes one might find, there were really two main forms – points for piercing, boring, digging or use as hunting weapons, and ovates for cutting and scraping – inferences that could be partly supported by macroscopic abrasions and damage to parts of the edges. He no longer thought handaxes were hafted, mounted as spears or used as sling-shots; they were most easily used in the hand. The evidence of handaxes from India also militated against Prestwich’s idea that pointed handaxes were ice chisels.

Evans was also aware that most sites tended to show a predominance of certain forms, with others being entirely absent. Three sites in gravels of the Little Ouse – Santon Downham, Redhill and Bromehill in descending elevation above the river – each contained a characteristic set of handaxe shapes, those from the highest gravels being lauded as the finest expression of workmanship not only in this valley but the whole of England and France (ibid., 505). Still, the overlap between sites was enormous, and Evans was evasive on what these ‘facies’ might mean.

In concluding his review of the Drift Period, Evans was rather downbeat: “of what was the condition and stage of civilisation of the men of the time, it is probable that the implements by themselves afford but insufficient means for judging” (ibid., 574). He made a desultory comparison between the tools found in the drift and those used by modern Australian aborigines and argued that if parts of Kent’s Cavern were the same age as the drift, then we might infer that people were nomadic hunters who lived by the chase and transported the spoils of the hunt back to natural shelters. Once more, the negative evidence contained more information: the handaxes makers had possessed no metals, no pottery, no agriculture, no domestic animals and no woven materials, among many other things.

Evans’s book was described by an anonymous reviewer in The North American Review as “a monument”. It was indeed a monument to the pioneering age of Palaeolithic research, which comprehensively documented existing findspots and provided detailed techno-typo-logical descriptions of selected artefacts, all based on experiment and observation. It made limited use of ethnographic analogy, and then only to illustrate how a flint artefact might have been used or hafted. It ignored the social, mental and spiritual comparisons made by Wilson, Lubbock and Tylor, and was ambivalent on existing chronologies, distrusting the rigid, artificial boundaries they imposed. It gave similar opinions on the validity of different types and their inferred functions. Overall, it took an extremely cautious approach.

McNabb (2012a) has suggested that because he held such a pre-eminent position in prehistoric circles, the tenor of Evans’s book derailed the more theoretical and interpretative agendas of Lubbock and Tylor and set in motion decades of more cautious, highly descriptive archaeology. Of this I think there is little doubt. Evans’s opinions held enormous influence, both in the Societies and in the writings of ‘professional’ and ‘amateur’ geologists and prehistorians, many of whom courted his opinion, approval and support.

It is equally true that Evans advocated a way of conducting Palaeolithic archaeology that was content to describe only what could be scientifically observed and to reserve judgement on the more speculative aspects of interpretation and chronology until sufficient facts were available. Consequently his descriptions never date – such detailed technological approaches (which he certainly never formulated into a coherent method or agenda) still dominate lithic research to this day. It is also true that Evans’s thinking stalled in the mid-1860s and that his ‘suspense account’ would always be full: there simply never would be enough data to overcome his natural reticence and he would ever be ‘the little St Thomas’, an epithet given him in 1880 by palaeontologist Giovanni Cappellini (1833–1922) (see Ribeiro 1880, 98).

Lubbock, though, was more of a household name (Owen 2008), and while both men moved in the same scientific and social worlds, sharing an overlapping set of friends, societies15 and clubs (Owen 2008, 2013; McNabb 2012a), his appeal was more popular. The 1870s alone saw two further editions of Pre-historic Times (the third and fourth, Lubbock 1872, 1878) plus two editions of the Origins of Civilisation (Lubbock 1870, 1875) to grace the growing number of public libraries that gave free access to ‘self-improvement’ regardless of class or wealth. His 1882 book on ants, bees and wasps sold better than all of these. He was vice-chancellor of the University of London from 1872 and from 1871 a Member of Parliament. After his Bank Holiday Bill passed into law that same year, “by which he endowed the country with four days of idleness a year and thus diminished the work without improving the morals of the community, he was popularly nicknamed ‘Saint Lubbock’” (Vanity Fair, Statesmen No 267). It was Lubbock’s opinions on the Use and Pleasures of Life and on which books to read16 that Victorian society eagerly devoured, and that his childhood neighbour and mentor had been Charles Darwin only added to his brand.

Yet Lubbock had presented himself with his own set of obstacles to archaeological progress. His first edition of Pre-historic Times had provided the alpha and omega of the ethnographical approach to archaeology at that time. Anecdotal ethnographies and travellers’ tales had provided him with “nine and sixty ways of constructing tribal lays” (Kipling 1892) and he had already pointed out the ‘right’ prehistoric parallels (“every single one of them” according to Kipling). Subsequent editions of Pre-historic Times updated facts and figures, but was fundamentally the same book. Nothing from 1865 onwards shows any great leap forwards in Lubbock’s thinking or in his use of the ethnographical approach (Pettitt and White 2013). This might have been because from the early 1870s his time and energy were being exhausted by other projects, natural history and his career as an MP chief amongst them. As for Edward Tylor, he only ever had the most passing acquaintance with the archaeological record to begin with, and his philosophical approach never really had much practical application.

None of this, however, stopped others in the decades to come from going much further than any of these authorities ever dared.


· 1 The ‘hatchets’ shown on MacEnery’s Plate T (Figure 2.3) were singled out as closely approaching the forms of hâches found at Abbeville, which he had come to talk about.

· 2 Desnoyers was a geologist and librarian at the Natural History Museum in Paris. In 1829 he suggested the name ‘Quaternary’ to capture the most recent Tertiary sediments in the Paris basin.

· 3 Lartet had apparently written to Boucher in February 1959, two months before Prestwich’s visit, describing his complementary results in the Dordogne (Aufrère 1936, 1940; Evans 1949).

· 4 Loëss is a wind-blown deposit formed during cold, arid periods. They can be of very different ages to the deposits they mantle. By associating loëss with fluvial activity, and assuming both the deposit and their contained artefacts were of similar age, Prestwich was unwittingly mixing the archaeological and palaeontological record and obscuring evolutionary patterns. The true nature of loëss was not identified until later, and then was slow to be adopted (Frechen 2011).

· 5 I suspect that Lubbock used this somewhat loaded term as shorthand, in just the same way he would use tool or implement, without necessarily meaning that they were actually used as weapons.

· 6 Lubbock used the term ‘Archaeolithic’ twice in the first edition of Pre-historic Times. Evans (1868) also used it for his talk at the opening of the Blackmore Museum in September 1867. It is gone from the 1869 second edition of Pre-historic Times. In his 1872 International Congress talk in Brussels, Mortillet (1873) stated that it had been abandoned, although several members of his audience then go on to use it in the discussion.

· 7 While Lubbock and Lyell were busy accusing each other of plagiarism, Wilson was similarly put out by Lubbock’s rather liberal use of his North American examples (Kehoe 1998).

· 8 The X-Club, established ostensibly as a dining club in 1864, was an exclusive yet powerful fellowship of eminent scientists and Darwinists. Other than Lubbock, it included Joseph Hooker (botanist), Herbert Spencer (philosopher and journalist), William Spottiswode (mathemetician), George Busk (British Naval Surgeon, zoologist and palaeontologist), John Tyndall (physicist), Edward Frankland (chemist), Thomas Hirst (mathematician) and ‘Darwin’s Bulldog’ Thomas Huxley. The membership drew on existing relationships between the constituent members, and was based on exceptional intellect; its influence extended across all sectors of Victorian society including the city, government, medicine, industry, the Church and University of London. Lubbock had met most of the X-Clubbers during the 1850s through his association with Darwin and, other than his scientific credentials as an entomologist and archaeologist, brought to this ‘Darwinian Masonic Lodge’ access to the newly emerged wealthy industrialists and, later, his influence in Parliament. One of the key targets of the X-Club was the transformation of the Royal Society from what their Darwinist brethren saw as a ‘dangerously conservative organization’ to a visionary powerhouse of science. Between 1860 and 1888 there was just a single year (1868–1869) when the Council of the Royal Society did not include an X-Clubber, and they dominated the presidency from 1873–1885 with successive terms for Hooker, Spottiswode and Huxley. Lubbock himself sat on the council in 1870–1871 and was vice president in 1872; while John Evans was treasurer for 20 years (1878–1898). See Barton 1990, 1998; Owen 2013.

· 9 The Evans-Lubbock network was a more informal group of like-minded archaeologists and friends that included Augustus Lane-Fox (later Pitt Rivers), Augustus Wollaston Franks, and William Boyd Dawkins. The Evans-Lubbock network – most members of which were also Fellows of the Royal Society – had aspirations to transform the Society of Antiquaries of London and the Archaeological Institute into more professional institutions.

· 10 Mortillet borrowed these two practices from geology, although that science had openly taken the idea of type fossils from eighteenth-century antiquarians (cf. Rudwick 2005).

· 11 One has to ask whether Mortillet’s use of the terms pierre tiallée and pierre polie but omission of pierre éclatée, was pointedly aimed at Jules Reboux.

· 12 The collection was bequeathed to four trustees – John Lubbock, Augustus Wollaston Franks, Joseph Hooker (1817–1911, botanist, X-Club member) and Daniel Hanbury (1825–1875, botanist, pharmacologist and husband of Christy’s cousin, Rachael, see Burke 1852) – with instructions that it was to be given in whole or part to an existing institution or a new institution set up for the purpose (Franks 1868). They quickly offered it to the British Museum, with the proviso that it hosted an exhibition and produced a guidebook. Mindful of the cramped conditions in the main building at Bloomsbury, they further suggested that temporary alternative accommodation might be sought (Franks 1868; www.britishmuseum.org/research/search_the_collection_database/term_details.aspx?bioId=40853, accessed 18 February 2019).

· 13 This is a sentiment that I expressed in a much earlier paper (White 2001) and which I have subsequently feared was rather naive. Revisiting Evans 20 years later, however, I am still enormously impressed with the detailed observation and carefully considered technological inferences he made, although these were somewhat selective and anecdotal rather than a systematic method or framework, and in the wider intellectual vortex of the times not necessarily original to him.

· 14 The comparison between the shape of handaxes and a cat’s tongue intrigued Mortillet (1883, 147) as much as it does me. It may have been in reference to the French biscuit of the same name, but Stevens’ (1870) pear-shaped seems a much better fit, although Evans was openly dismissive of this, insisting they were tongue-shaped.

· 15 Lubbock was the first president of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain (1871–1873), Evans the fourth (1877–1879), with both men serving as vice-president when not in the Chair. Evans was president of the Geological Society from 1874 to 1876, Lubbock vice president of the Royal Society in 1872. Evans presided over the Geology section (C) of the BAAS in 1878, Lubbock was vice president of the whole Association in 1872, and president in 1881.

· 16 Appearing as Chapter 4 of 1887’s The Pleasures of Life, Sir John Lubbock’s ‘List of 100 Books’ provided the world’s first must-read bucket-list. It was initially drawn up as books to be recommended to the Working Men’s College of London, of which he was principle from 1883–1899. Lubbock believed it would be the working classes, rather than the mentally exhausted clerks, lawyers and doctors, who would form the next generation of readers, but that they really could not be trusted to make an informed choice entirely on their own – many bought books at railway stations where the title or even the mere binding might affect their decision. Equally, at the other end of the social scale, it was ‘one thing to own a library’ but ‘quite another to use it wisely’ (Lubbock 1887, 74). It was not a list of his favourite books, rather a selection of those that would lead the reader on a journey of self-improvement, like the book in which it appeared.

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