The Global Culture-History of the Lower Palaeolithic, 1919–1939

“Be Suspicious of Everything”1

While looking forwards to a “revival of scientific study after the bloody battles of the Somme”, Henry Bury also looked backwards to the unanswered Palaeolithic problems sent into abeyance by the war and how they might now be answered (Bury 1919, 81). Nothing was as straight-forward as the pre-war generation had believed.

Bury was concerned that a lack of elementary geological training was a constant stumbling-block for archaeologists. They understood that most of the implementiferous drifts rested on terraces and were water-lain, but they failed to grasp that these were rarely straightforward vertical stacks; rivers had wandered from side to side in their valleys and in doing so had reworked older deposits and rearranged their contents. Neither could one always assume that gravels at higher elevations were older than those at lower elevations, because if rivers underwent climatically driven cycles of erosion, aggradation and re-excavation, as suggested by the 100ft of sediment contained in the buried channel under the modern flood-plain of the Thames, then it was possible for a single terrace to contain deposits from three different periods. The sub-aerial hill-wash and loëss deposits mantling the terraces “like a blanket of snow” (Vayson 1920) were equally difficult to date by geological means.

Archaeology itself offered some resolution, but this too was rarely easy to correlate, particularly when sequences were extrapolated across Europe. Like Reginald Smith at the BM, Bury saw the earliest bona fide Palaeolithic tools as belonging to the so-called Strépyan, which occurred just above the present river in Belgium. The earliest industry in France was the Pre-Chellean, as found in the lowest gravel from the second (Montières) and third (St Acheul) highest terraces of the Somme. In Britain the oldest known industry recognised was likewise a Strépyan or Pre-Chellean assemblage (they hedged their bets), as found in the Lower Gravel of the 100ft terrace at Swanscombe and the 40ft terrace at Rickmansworth (Smith and Dewey 1913, 1915). The Chellean itself had a similarly confusing distribution. It was found in the low terrace of the Seine at Chelles, but in the First, Second and Third Terraces of the Somme, with the material from the lowest terrace now considered to be an evolved form. In the Thames, the Chellean occurred in the 100ft terrace, the sequence here more closely resembling, in Bury’s opinion, the Second Terrace of St Acheul, rather than the third. Either way, the parallels were imperfect. There was, furthermore, no evidence that the low terrace of the Thames had any Chellean or Advanced Chellean at all.

There were, in Bury’s mind, two possible explanations. First, the similarity in lithic industries and sedimentary sequences on any two or more terrace levels, such as the repeated series of two gravels parted by a shelly marl in the Second and Third Terraces of the Somme at Menchecourt and Abbeville, could indicate that they were deposited as part of the same series of events. This required several periods of aggradation and erosion, each deposit attaining a thickness of ~10m, sufficient to overlap the two terrace benches, before being almost entirely removed and replaced by another deposit. Second, the similarity in lithic industries and sedimentary sequences indicated recurrent geological cycles. In this view, the two terraces were separated by a long period of time, during which the river cut down by 10m. To explain the recurrence of the same industries at two different points in time, Bury suggested that the people who made the Pre-Chellean industry did not go extinct, but rather migrated, to be replaced by the Chellean. In the following climactic cycle these two groups reappeared in turn, leaving the same sequence of industries at a lower river level. The first explanation was not impossible, indeed it was the one that was most generally adopted, but Bury thought that the alternative deserved proper consideration.

The Acheulean was no less problematic. Commont’s suggestion that the Acheulean in France was contained exclusively in sub-aerial deposits might have removed the need for a series of diastrophic earth-movements, but it was not applicable in the Thames where the Acheulean-bearing loams at the top of the 100ft terrace at Wansunt and Swanscombe were fluvial, although it was not certain whether they were contemporary with the high terrace or part of a later tributary (Smith and Dewey 1913, 1914; Leach 1913). The Acheulean was also found in fluvial gravel above 100ft at Farnham, Ipswich and Bournemouth. Commont’s interpretation of the loëss was also doubted by Rutot, who thought the Acheulean silts on the Somme terraces were fluvial flood deposits. Bury suggested that workers in Britain should determine the true relationship of the industries to the boulder clay (cf. Kennard 1916) before they tried to correlate the British sequence with Penck’s Alpine system.

French scholars also began the painful process of regeneration. On Commont’s death in 1918 his collection and collecting ground passed to André Vayson de Pradenne (1888–1939). Vayson had known Commont before the war, and his regiment was twice stationed close to Amiens during the fighting (Vayson 1920): he was thus well acquainted with Commont’s materials and his methods. He quickly became critical of Commont’s scheme for the Somme and detected a desperate need to separate fact from theory. He found little evidence for a warm Mousterian in the upper levels at Montières, which he argued contained handaxes and flakes identical to those found in the underlying Chellean. The only difference was the relative proportion of handaxes to flakes, which was extremely variable and bore no relationship to age. Vayson also detected very few differences in the character of the artefacts from the Chellean floor at the workshop and the Pre-Chellean from the base of the lower gravels at Rue de Cagny and Rue de Boves. The workshop assemblage was fresher and contained a greater number of small objects than the lower gravel industry, but such characteristics were easily explicable in terms of the different post-depositional histories and collecting conditions of the two series. For Vayson, Commont’s Palaeolithic sequence for the Somme had been constructed on a priori typological expectations rather than what was found. Commont had ultimately seen only what he expected to see.

Vayson (1922) was doubtful whether the problems could be solved simply by trying to find the right pigeon-holes in which to place the stone industries, for it was clear that there was far too much variation to sustain such naïve evolutionary concepts. The law of progress was true only at the broadest level, he argued, and quickly broke down when the details were examined. Handaxes, for example, hardly changed over vast periods, and variation in space was equal to variation over time. At the Porte de Bois and Champs du Mars sites at Abbeville, two apparently contemporaneous gravels produced different types of handaxes, one assigned to the Chellean, one to the Acheulean. They were probably two facies of the same industry rather than two industries of different ages. Stone tools were thus not good zone fossils and the extrapolation of local sequences on a regional or global scale was a big mistake (Vayson 1922).

Vayson admitted that some archaeologists (but certainly not all) had become wary of using individual tools to classify industries, emphasising instead the character of whole group, but this he thought equally flawed. Most types were not restricted to any one phase, and classification still depended on a few ostensibly diagnostic but very rare pieces. Anything out of the ordinary was usually argued away as a failure, a roughout or a freak.

Vayson (1922, 1) warned that archaeologists had asked too much of stone tools, expecting them to yield information on function, age and culture, to provide an indication of the general level of civilisation of the makers, and to facilitate analogy. They were poorly suited to these requirements. There was no reason to believe that stone tool manufacture had progressed in parallel with other cultural developments or that they could serve as a yardstick to gauge the overall level of a society. In something as simple as stone tools, convergence and co-incidence were only to be expected.

The situation was not hopeless, as Vayson was quick to point out, but much would need to be done afresh and the full picture of geographical and temporal variation built-up site by site, contiguous region by contiguous region (Vayson 1920). To this end, Vayson (1920, 1922) proposed a new methodology for examining stone tools, one based not on shape (which, he noted, did not seem to matter to the Tasmanians and changed if an object was damaged and repaired) but on the character of the working edges. Working edges were examined in terms of geometry (convex, concave, straight) and the character of the retouch used to make different types of scrapers, points and denticulates. Vayson (1920) also introduced the interpretatively neutral term ‘biface’ to describe the Chellean implement arguing that coup de poing was completely inappropriate because in France it popularly meant a brass knuckle-duster, and so invited ridicule. He believed bifaces to be many tools in one (a multitool), the different edge shapes, configurations and angles each serving a unique purpose. In fact, there was little other than bifacial working to unite them: they varied enormously in size and shape; some were retouched with great care, others less so; some were made on flakes, others on nodules. In functional terms, recurrent edge configurations could be observed: the tranchet tips (single and double), a cutting edge on one margin, a cutting edge on two margins, a cutting edge only at the point and so on.

Vayson (1920, 1922) also wanted to move functional analysis beyond analogy. Comparisons based on the form of modern or ethnographic tools provided only the broadest generalisations, and there was little hope of understanding the full range of tasks to which stone tools may have been put, an echo of Lubbock’s position of 1865. There was also no direct analogue for his ‘biface’, which Vayson thought could have been used in numerous different ways, depending on shape and balance (Figure 6.1). They were unlikely to have ever been the universal solution imagined by Mortillet. Analogies based on how humans used the resources in different environments to fulfil their basic biological needs (food, comfort, protection, reproduction) offered a more valid platform for generalisation, especially when combined with traces of macroscopic use-damage and edge-polish. On this basis, he re-interpreted Commont’s workshop as a habitation site, where people had made a range of stone tools for a multitude of purposes. Some showed a gloss like that seen on sickles.

Drawings of bifaces variously hafted to spearshafts or axe handles, or wrapped on one edge to prevent injury to the hand.

Figure 6.1 A common-sense functional approach. Probable modes of hafting a biface, as indicated by industrial logic and ethnographical analogy (after Vayson 1920). Vayson believed modes 3 and 4 to be extremely probable; 5, 7 and 8 to be quite likely; and 1, 2 and 6 to be less likely.

Summing up, Vayson (1922, 38) urged his colleagues not to be discouraged, but to learn the lesson of prudence emerging from the facts, “to work carefully, to be suspicious of everything and not to claim too much”. As we shall see later, many archaeologists of the period had a more rose-tinted outlook on the future, for now.

The Clacton-Mesvinian

Henri Breuil was no stranger to Britain. He had first visited in September 1899, when he made two successive trips, first to the BAAS meeting in Dover and then to London and Nash Mills to see John Evans, on each occasion accompanied by his mentors d’Ault du Mesnil and Capitan (Breuil 1937a). In 1905, he made another trip to London with Obermaier, where they studied the Upper Palaeolithic art in the Christy Collection and had been warmly welcomed by Sir Hercules Read and Reginald Smith. On a third visit in 1912, when he visited Ipswich at the invitation of the arch eolith sympathiser Sir Ray Lankester, discussions took a more ‘violent’ turn (Garrod 1961). Accompanied by fellow eolith-phobe Marcellin Boule, Breuil had been shown a very carefully chosen selection of what Lankester and Moir hoped would be convincing ‘rostro-carinate’ implements (O’Connor 2007, 190–195). The hosts had convinced themselves that these keel-shaped objects, which came from the Early Pleistocene glacial deposits and Tertiary sub-crags of East Anglia, were the earliest shaped stone implements, the diagnostic tool of the pre-Palaeolithic period and the proto-type for the Chellean handaxe (Moir 1910, 1911, 1912, 1913, 1915, 1916; Lankester 1912a, 1912b, 1914; Figure 6.2). The “two hasty foreigners” were unable to share these convictions, much to Lankester’s and Moir’s disgust and annoyance (O’Connor 2007, 193). It was little consolation that a special committee of the Prehistoric Society of East Anglia had come down marginally in their favour (Underwood et al. 1911). However, on a second visit to Ipswich in 1921, made at Burkitt’s request, Breuil changed his mind (Breuil 1921, 1922; Garrod 1961; O’Connor 2007, 196–197). He still rejected the authenticity of the rostro-carinates, but he did now accept that some of the flakes from a ‘nodule bed’ within Pliocene Crag deposits at Foxhall Hall near Ipswich (Moir 1922) showed traces of mechanical fracture consistent with human workmanship.

A series of drawings showing natural boat shaped objects of progressively finer shape.

Figure 6.2 The evolution of rostro-carinate implements into the Chellean handaxe (after Moir 1916).

The (partial) conversion of Breuil (1921, 1922), the ‘highest of authorities’, shocked the evangelical eolith-denouncer Hazzledine Warren (1922a). Warren would never accept that the sub-Crag material showed anything other than natural sub-surface pressure flaking (Warren 1920, 1922a, 1923a, 1923b, 1923c), although Breuil’s visit did provide him with a solution to another problem. On inspecting the enigmatic assemblage Warren had collected from Pleistocene deposits beneath the foreshore at Clacton-on-Sea, Breuil decided that it belonged to the Mesvinian (Warren 1922b, 597, see also Burkitt 1921), the former eolithic industry characterised by flakes, end-scrapers (grattoirs) and side scrapers (racloirs). This designation was subsequently confirmed by “several continental authorities… intimately acquainted with the Mesvinian of Belgium” and was for Warren (ibid.) “obviously correct”. Based on the much larger collection amassed between 1911 and 1916, Warren now defined the Clacton-Mesvinian as a primitive industry dominated by rude flakes, the main tool types being side-choppers or cores/discs, clumsy pointed implements (that might have been unsuccessful attempts to copy the Chellean implement or just long side-choppers) and trimmed flakes (points, end-scrapers and side-scrapers, some of which Warren believed could pass for Mousterian). Warren and Breuil differed, however, in their interpretation of the thick-backed ‘tea-cosy-shaped’ implements with a zig-zag edge from Clacton, the former regarding them as side-choppers or wedges, the latter simply as cores (Figure 6.3).

Line drawing of a chopper core and flake tools from Clacton.

Figure 6.3 The Clacton-Mesvinian toolkit, ca 1922. 1) chopper-core; 2) disc; 3) crude hooked point; 4) side scraper; 5) flake point; 6) trimmed flake (after Warren 1922b). Scale = 5cm.

Despite some extensive sub-surface edge damage, Warren thought that the material from Clacton had not moved far from its original location. At this point, Warren believed the Clacton channel or ‘elephant-bed’ belonged to a small tributary stream of the Thames, cut through the High Terrace. The Clacton-Mesvinian was therefore younger than both the Chel-lean implements in the nearby High Terrace gravel at Weeley and Frinton (at 80ft O.D.) and Smith and Dewey’s Pre-Chellean industry from Swanscombe. The fauna was dominated by thermophilous pre-Mousterian species that included straight-tusked elephant, Merck’s rhinoceros, aurochs, giant deer and beaver, while the botanical evidence indicated a climate somewhat warmer and drier than southern England today (Reid and Chandler 1923). Warren (1922b) correlated the Clacton channel with the Middle Terrace of the Thames, suggesting it was about the same age as the Acheulean, an assessment that agreed with the most recent Continental estimates for Mesvin (Sollas 1915; Rutot 1920).

Aware that other interpretations were available, Warren quickly squashed the idea that the Clacton-Mesvinian represented the waste material of handaxe manufacture, with the final implements having been removed for use elsewhere. Clacton had been a living site by a stream, and everything humans had made from stone, the tools and the waste, was still present. Warren maintained instead that the Clacton-Mesvinian was the precursor of the Mousterian, some of the nuclei perhaps anticipating Levalloisian tortoise-cores. Despite being contemporary, it had no cultural connection to the Acheulean or the Chellean. “As knowledge of the Palaeolithic increases, we are realising more fully the divergence of races and cultures which were living contemporaneously together… it is in this light that the Mesvinian is to be understood”, argued Warren (1922b, 602). Another occurrence was found at Lion Point, Jaywick, about 2km southwest of the original findspot where, once again, there was not a trace of the Chellean or Acheulean pointed and ovate implements2 (Warren 1923d). Expanding his purview and adopting the latest BGS nomenclature, which advocated naming each terrace after a stratigraphical type-site to avoid the problems associated with inconsistently measured altitudes, Warren now attributed the Clacton channel to the Taplow Terrace (formerly the 50ft or Middle Terrace), cutting through the Boyn (or Boyne) Terrace (formerly 100ft or High Terrace).

Elsewhere in the Lower Thames, for example at Stoke Newington and the Crayford-Grays-Thurrock region, the Taplow Terrace had yielded Chellean, Acheulean and Mousterian industries. The mammalian fauna from Clacton was most characteristic of the late Chellean and Early Acheulean, suggesting that it belonged to the earlier part of the Taplow Terrace sequence, while the molluscs placed it between Grays and Crayford. Warren summarised his results in a table (Table 6.1), which clearly divided the archaeological record into two parallel columns with no typological or cultural associations. For Warren (1923d), this conformed to suggestions based on the racial characteristics of the few (and often dubious) associated human skeletons, that the Mousterian and Acheulean had separate origins and were not part of the same biological or cultural lineages. The tortoise core industries, which some (i.e. Obermaier) considered to be Upper Acheulean, were in Warren’s view intermediate between the Mesvinian and the Mousterian proper. This, and the fact that mammoth was absent, seemed to confirm that the Clacton-Mesvinian had existed contemporaneously with the Early Acheulean, and had given rise to the ‘proto-Mousterian’ industries seen at Northfleet and West Thurrock.

Table 6.1 Warren’s correlation of the Lower Thames drifts. Note the parallel phyla of handaxe and non-handaxe industries (after Warren 1923d).



Human Industries

Physical Condition



Elephas antiquus


Base Level


Late Boyne and Early Taplow

Elephas antiquus

Late Chellean and Early Acheulean




Middle Taplow


Late Acheulean




Late Taplow




Ponders End


Further rejuvenation


Buried Channel




Warren’s earlier difficulties in classifying the Clacton industry vanished, “nothing could make a more reasonable evolutionary sequence”, he declared (1924a, 39), although its origins were still “up in the air ”. Warren (ibid.) also saw “nothing inherently improbable about a race of more primitive Mesvinians living contemporaneously with the more advanced Acheuleans. It is only the same conditions of things we find all over the world today”. It all fitted together very neatly, and there was nothing left to explain away (Warren 1923d, 619), although precisely what Warren’s multiracial Palaeolithic meant for the assemblages from Stoke Newington and Caddington, full of handaxes yet assigned to the Mousterian because of supposedly characteristic flake tools, went unasked.

Synchronising the Pleistocene Clocks

If French textbooks and prehistoric journals of the early 1920s are a true reflection (e.g. Capitan 1922; Givenchy 1922, 1923; Boule 1923; Piroutet 1924), Vayson’s cautionary lessons passed unheeded. The goal of most Lower Palaeolithic studies was still to assign sites and their handaxes to the relevant stage of development, and if possible or desirable to use this for tentative correlations with the Alpine Glacial framework.

This was now equally true in Britain where significant new Acheulean and Mousterian finds were given just the same treatment, for example by Cook and Killick (1924) at Frinds-bury, Kent; Sainty (1927) at Whitlingham, Norfolk; Tebbutt et al. (1927) at St Neots, Cambridgeshire, Marsden (1928) at Yiewsley, north-west London; and Dines (1929) at Bapchild, Kent. Signs of frost damage and striations on artefacts once again became important evidence of complex glacial histories (e.g. Boswell and Moir 1923; Sainty 1927). Problems with inconsistent definitions, exceptions and anomalies, such as those outlined by Bury (1919), were fully recognised, but outside a small circle of nascent culture historians, almost all known to each other and to Breuil, the linear model marched on.

The evidence for several boulder clays in East Anglia, presumably relating to separate ice advances, had been well known since the 1870s (Skertchly 1877; Geikie 1877a). Resolving the relationship between the earliest humans and these glacial deposits had been a source of continual worry for the Victorians and had been the main impetus behind the investigations at Hoxne and Hitchin in the 1890s (Evans et al. 1896; Reid 1897). Resolving the relationship between the British glacial deposits and the Alpine glacial sequence demanded yet another look at old sites, through fresh and more receptive eyes.

In 1920, geologist John Marr returned to High Lodge, confirming Skertchly’s observations that the Acheulean and Mousterian artefacts lay between a Lower and an Upper Chalky Boulder Clay (Marr et al. 1921), the latter equating to the Last Glaciation. In 1921, Moir and Boswell (Boswell and Moir 1923; Boswell 1914) re-opened Layard’s site at Foxhall Road, following up on the results of Reginald Smith’s excavations of August 1914 (Smith 1921). Smith had interpreted the site as a river, rather than a lake, and thought that the contorted gravels at the top of the sequence had formed during the last glacial period, which “everyone” (Smith 1921, 16) associated with the Mousterian. He dismissed Layard’s (1904) idea that the material from sloping lower beds and horizontal upper beds were parts of a single assemblage that had sunk to different levels in a muddy pool, and divided them into Acheulean and Mousterian respectively, the latter identification based on his understanding of the stratigraphy more than the artefacts.3 Smith had not seen the Chalky Boulder Clay at the base of the sequence, and while he had no reason to doubt it was there, he threw out a challenge to geologists to determine which one of the many boulder clays was truly present. Boswell and Moir’s work now conclusively demonstrated that the Foxhall Road site lay in a hollow in the Lower (Kimmeridge) Chalky Boulder Clay, the oldest of the East Anglian tills. The sloping beds at Foxhall Road were lacustrine, as suggested by Layard, but the contorted horizontal gravel (Bed 2) at the top of the sequence was fluvio-glacial. Moir assigned the artefacts from this layer to the Mousterian and divided the assemblages from the lower deposits into Early Acheulean (the pointed handaxes from the red gravels) and Late Acheulean (the ovate handaxes from the clays beneath). Like High Lodge, Foxhall Road belonged to the interglacial period between the two boulder clays.

Moir also led the British Association excavations at Hoxne between 1923 and 1926. The investigations of the nineteenth century had established a climatic cycle of cold-warm-cold prior to the arrival of humans, but John Evans, Clement Reid and their colleagues (Evans et al. 1896) had been guarded in their conclusions, although it was clear they believed the Hoxne deposits to lie above the latest boulder clay (Moir 1926, 141). Moir concluded that this was a gross oversimplification, and that the Hoxne sequence (Figure 6.4) contained evidence for several climatic fluctuations:

1. A period of intense cold during which an ice advance had laid down boulder clay at Hoxne, equated with the Lower Chalky Boulder Clay

2. A period of full interglacial conditions during which the Hoxne Lake Beds had been deposited

3. A very cold period, marked by arctic plants

4. Brickearths showing a gradual return to temperate conditions

5. Unstratified deposits equated with the Upper Chalky Boulder Clay

Annotated photograph of Oakley Park Pit showing glacial beds overlying brickearth, the section capped by sand and gravel. Also shown is a schematic drawn section of Hoxne with a side-column showing the archaeology found in the different bed.

Figure 6.4 ements (not to Reid Moir at Hoxne. Composite section of the Hoxne Beds according to Moir, showing climatic changes and horizons of flint impl scale), with photograph of the west face at Oakley Park Pit (after Moir 1926).

The famous Hoxne stone tools had come from brickearths above the Arctic Bed, and Moir now divided them into two series based on handaxe and flake-tool typology: a Late Acheulean from cool climate gravel seams and an Early Mousterian floor with temperate plants and animals. Humans at Hoxne were neither postglacial or preglacial (as Hinton and Kennard would have it), they were interglacial, just as they were at Foxhall Road and High Lodge. Which interglacial remained to be determined. In his presidential address to the PSEA, Marr (1920, see also Marr et al. 1921) had equated the (Upper) Chalky Boulder Clay with the maximum cold of the last continental glaciation, the Würm, which would suggest these sites were all last interglacial, Riss-Würm. This had sparked considerable debate in the pages of the journal Man, running under the loose title of Man and the Ice Age from about 1920 to 1925, Burkitt, Moir, Peake, Marr and Warren all contributing a variety of opinions. After the Hoxne excavations, Boswell (in Moir 1926, 162) thought it wise to keep an “open mind on the question as to which were the second and third (or fourth) Interglacial Periods in East Anglia”. Warren’s chart of comparative Pleistocene classifications (Warren 1924b, Figure 6.5), for which I make no apologies, amply illustrates the confusing range of chronologies on offer, some long, some short, and together all fairly bewildering.

A frankly unintelligible table comparing different archaeological and geological schemes of the early 1920s.

Figure 6.5 Warre’s (1924 b) Table of comparative Pleistocene classifications. Key: O = preglacial;–= unnamed glacial; X = temperate stage; XX = postglacial; Sic = Sicilian HSL; Wür, Ris, Min and Gün = Würm, Riss, Mindel and Gunz Glacial; Bühl = Bühlstadium; Heavy stars = deposits transferred to Mousterian or Magdalenian.

River Terraces, Global Sea Levels and the Archaeological Record

The Depéret or Lamothe-Depéret system offered another way of synchronising the river terraces with Pleistocene time (Osborn and Reed 1922; Warren 1924b; Beckinsale and Chorley 2003). Since the turn of the century, General Léon de Lamothe (1849–1936) and Professor Charles Depéret (1858–1929) had, separately but not entirely independently (see Beckinsale and Chorley 2003), been mapping the marine deposits (raised beaches and marine platforms) around the Mediterranean coast, which they correlated with river terraces and glacio-fluvial formations inland. Unlike most archaeologists, who saw diastrophic earth movements as the key mechanism behind the formation of river terraces at different heights, geologists Lamothe and Depéret argued that river terraces formed in relation to eustatic changes in global sea level, which controlled the base-level and profile of equilibrium of the rivers (Lamothe 1916, 1918; Depéret 1918–1922, 1923, 1926). Marine benches, fluvial terraces and glacio-fluvial formations of the same age would therefore maintain a constant height relative to each other because they were all responding to the same controlling factor: sea level. Rivers eroded their valleys when sea level was low and filled them when sea levels were high. Furthermore, as each maximum level would tend to mask former levels, the existing benches must therefore represent regularly decreasing base levels, in other words, they all became older the higher they were, relatively, above modern sea level.

Depéret’s scheme recognised four high-sea-level events, named after sites on the western Mediterranean coast, which could be correlated with rivers such as the Somme, Seine and Thames, and with the Alpine Glacial system:

· 80–100m: Sicilian–Günz

· 55–60m: Milazzian–Mindel

· 35m: Tyrrhenian–Riss

· 15m: Monastirian–Würm

Deposits of the two oldest HSL events, the Sicilian and Milazzian, had produced no indisputable stone tool industries or any other evidence that humans were present in Europe at the time. Evidence for humans was only found in fluvial deposits below 35m relative altitude and were of Riss age or younger. This was in concord with estimates arrived at by other geological, palaeontological or archaeological means, and was more or less in harmony with Commont’s framework for the Somme Valley: Chellean in the fluvial gravels of the 30m Terrace, Advanced Chellean in the gravels of the 15m terrace and Acheulean/Mousterian in the younger sub-aerial brickearths that mantled both (see also Sollas 1915). At the same time, it meant that the Chellean type-industry from Chelles-sur-Marne, which came from gravels of the lowest terrace of the Seine, must be younger than the Chellean assemblages from the 30m terrace at St Acheul by an entire climatic cycle.

Based on the current thinking, the fauna at Chelles was also more advanced than that at St Acheul (Mayet 1925). This was not an insurmountable problem. One could restore order by re-assigning the lower industry at Chelles to a facies of the Acheulean (cf. Sollas 1924; Breuil 1929), although this slippery solution could hardly have inspired faith in the robustness of the archaeological system as a whole. Summarising the implications of Depéret’s findings for the Société préhistorique in Paris, Lucien Mayet (1874–1949) decisively stated that it was not possible to date a handaxe or any stone tool solely on its morphology (Mayet 1921, 1925). The Chellean finds on the gravels of the 30m terrace were very variable, and it was their location that determined their age, not their form. Dating depended on an understanding of the geology, stratigraphy and palaeontology, so any attempt to date a flint that did not have a secure context was pure folly. Depéret also saw little value in the term Chellean, which was simply invented to capture variation in frequencies of handaxes and flake tools, a solution to a problem that no longer existed, and which could easily be subsumed onto the Acheulean family of industries.

Until his death in 1929, Déperet’s eustatic model was treated with reverence by geologists in France, who at worst expressed only ‘discrete reservations’ (Beckinsale and Chorley 2003, 85). American and British scholars were less convinced, however, doubting that sea level alone could explain all the observed phenomena (Osborn and Reed 1922; Beckinsale and Chorley 2003). In a survey of the Pleistocene of the Hampshire Basin, presented as his own presidential address to the PSEA, Bury (1924, 16) noted that the ideas of Lamothe and Depéret had been strangely neglected in Britain, but when he failed to find a simple match between environmental context, altitude and the expected sequence of stone tools he concluded that local tectonic, climatic or geomorphological factors must have caused other adjustments to base level.

Warren (1924b, 269) deemed his own attempts to apply the Depéret system to southern Britain not very satisfactory, having “the effect of throwing the relative date of our English deposits out of their true sequence”. He concluded that “even supposing that the Depéret system is substantially sound, it is not easy to disentangle the complications which arise from such irregularities of earth movement”. Palmer and Cook’s (1923) survey of the raised beaches and associated deposits around Portsmouth, and Marr’s (1926) review of the deposits of the Lower Ouse basin, similarly relied on a series of earth movements to accommodate the expected pattern of industries, although they ignored Depéret’s eustatic models entirely. Even after linear cultural models had been abandoned, British and French researchers would continue to rely on diastrophic mechanisms.

Delegates at the second meeting of the Commission on Pliocene and Pleistocene Terraces, held at the 1930 Union Geographique Internationale in Florence, reached little consensus on the relative importance of eustatic sea level fluctuations versus local tectonic, seismic and volcanic influences (Sandford 1932). Sandford suggested that more fruitful results might be obtained if the fundamental link between sea level and ice volume (and therefore global climate) was better appreciated, but it was clear that sea level was not the main driver in terrace formation. Not long after Depéret’s death his friend and colleague, Maurice Gignoux (1881–1959) sardonically commented that if the eustatic model had been correct, then all one would have needed to solve some of the most complex questions in geology was an altimeter on the handlebar of one’s bicycle (Beckinsale and Chorley 2003, 85).

European Cultural Streams

Breuil took home another important message from his fieldtrips to England. In the company of Moir, Chandler, Dewey, Sandford, Warren and Marr, he had become familiar with the Quaternary deposits of Norfolk, Suffolk, the Thames Valley, Essex, Sussex, Oxfordshire and Cambridgeshire. He would later credit himself with drawing together the scattered insights of these excellent but myopic local researchers (Breuil 1937a), but he did acknowledge that he owed to them and his experiences in England, in more than one point, the rejuvenation of his ideas on the Lower Palaeolithic. While the non-glaciated regions of France and Spain contained archaeological riches beyond parallel, they lacked the direct geological evidence to tie them to the Glacial chronology. In England, on the other hand, a variety of glacial deposits and periglacial phenomena (variously known as soliflution, contorted drift, head, trail, coombe rock, etc.) allowed a more direct correlation of archaeology and glacial geology, although this had not prevented equally disparate views about how, if at all, the British evidence aligned with the continent or indeed itself.

Breuil now saw the glacial and periglacial formations as providing the key to more satisfactory correlations (Breuil 1929, 1931b) and armed with a new understanding of the British sequence, he returned to the Somme, where as a youth in the 1890s he had been mentored by d’Ault du Mesnil, and where as a rising star in the early 1900s he had assisted newcomer Victor Commont (Garrod 1961; Brodrick 1963). Breuil now found the unilinear schemes developed by these workers inadequate to express the true complexity of the record, proposing instead a model that, despite claims of priority (e.g. Breuil 1936), clearly owed much to his discussions with Obermaier.

Breuil observed that the Levallois industries, long considered to be contemporaneous with the Mousterian of the caves, had a much longer history extending back beyond the Riss glaciation. At Baker’s Hole, Northfleet, an industry of large and heavy Levallois flakes was found within a coombe rock deposit (a chalky ‘sludge’) that Breuil believed had been formed on a plateau (not a terrace) during the height of the Riss glaciation. The same type of industry occurred in low chalky gravels at Montières, deposits that Breuil thought had “no doubt” formed from the washing of a similar chalky sludge of the same age (Breuil 1926, 176). Both therefore predated the Riss maximum. The upper clays and gravels of the Low Terrace at Montières contained a younger, blade-like Levallois industry associated with straight-tusked elephant and showing traces of subsequent frost-fracturing. This was Com-mont’s ‘warm Mousterian’, which Breuil suggested belonged to the Riss-Würm interglacial, although at Crayford a similar industry underlay the interglacial ‘Corbicula’ bed (containing large numbers of the freshwater cockle Corbicula fluminalis) and was associated with a cold fauna. This type of Levallois must have thus developed at the end of the Riss glaciation and lasted into the Riss-Würm. A more recent Levallois industry still was found in the recent loëss of Würmian age.

In short, there was a “whole cycle of industries of Levallois type” spanning the period from the early Riss to the Würm, which Breuil christened the Levalloisian or Montièrian (Breuil 1926, 177). Careful preparation of striking platforms was critical to Breuil’s definition of this group, the antecedents of which he traced to the Mesvinian of Belgium. This was not, however, the same Mesvinian to which he had five-years earlier assigned the Clacton industry. Breuil had now decided that the Mesvinian contained two industries, one a form of Levallois, primitive but with tortoise-cores and striking platform preparation, the other more ancient and lacking these characteristics. Only the former, the root of the Levallois lineage, could properly be called Mesvinian, and the Clacton industry, which resembled the second group, could no longer be known by that name (Breuil 1926, footnote p178). The Clacton material, along with the Mousterian scraper industry from High Lodge (Marr et al. 1921) and the Lower Gravel assemblage from Swanscombe (Smith and Dewey 1913) thus represented another unnamed cultural stream.

The Chellean-Acheulean formed a third cultural stream, one that Moir had pushed back to the time of the Cromer Forest Beds of England, correlated with the first Günz-Mindel inter-glacial or the Late Pliocene. Its relationship with the Swanscombe-High Lodge flake industries was not a simple evolutionary one. At Swanscombe the non-Levallois flake industry occurred beneath the Chellean, which was just about explicable within existing frameworks if one considered it Pre-Chellean, but at High Lodge Mousterian-type scrapers sat beneath the Upper Acheulean, both industries lying between two boulder clays. The presence of two glacials might no longer have been a problem, but the archaeological succession was still the reverse of the expected order. Marr et al. (1921) and others had explained the problem away, arguing that the handaxes in the gravels had been reworked from earlier deposits, such as those found at Warren Hill. Breuil’s model offered a radical, culture historical alternative.

The Acheulean had a similarly interwoven relationship with the Levalloisian. At Montières, two final Acheulean (Micoquian) levels were separated by a horizon of Levalloisian with warm fauna, all dating to the last interglacial. In England, Breuil identified Micoquian handaxes at the Traveller’s Rest Pits in Cambridgeshire (Marr and Burkitt 1919), where they were apparently sandwiched between boulder clays belonging to the Riss and Würm. They were also found with a warm (straight-tusked elephant) fauna at the base of the Wolvercote Channel in Oxfordshire (Bell 1894, 1904; Sandford 1924, 1927; Figure 6.6), beneath a peat layer containing temperate-alpine plants.4

Drawing of a fine plano-convex biface

Figure 6.6 A Micoquian handaxe from Wolvercote, Oxfordshire (after Roe 1981). Scale = 5cm.

In Sandford’s (1924) original scheme for the Upper Thames (Table 6.2) the Wolvercote Channel deposits had been younger than the Wolvercote Terrace gravel (the third or 40ft terrace) into which they were emplaced, but older than the next Summertown-Radley Terrace. Simply counting cold events should have placed the Channel in the Mindel-Riss interglacial, yet in Breuil’s scheme it was situated in the younger Riss-Würm, contemporary with the Cambridgeshire and Picardy sites. This agreed with Sandford’s revised opinion that the Wolvercote Channel was in fact younger than the Summertown-Radley Terrace (Sandford 1925), a change of mind reportedly brought about by a re-assessment of the Pleistocene elephant succession of Oxfordshire; although one might be excused for asking how much this had been influenced by Breuil’s opinions on the Micoquian.

Table 6.2 Sandford’s framework for the Upper Thames (after Sandford 1924)

Upper Thames Deposit

Physical History


Implements and Stage of Man

Plateau Drift



High (Handborough) TerraceE. antiquus

Erosion, amount doubtfulDeposition, about 18ft


None. Chellean?

Wolvercote Terrace

Erosion, about 35ftDeposition, about 8ft


Rolled Chellean only

Wolvercote ChannelE. antiquusTemperate-Alpine Plants

Erosion, about 14ft Deposition about 14ft

Base = warmSand = warm-temperateClays = temperate to coldWarp (non-fluvial) = moist, cold

Unrolled Acheulean and Upper Acheulean. MicoqueIncoming Mousterian

Summertown-Radley TerraceE. primigeniusE. antiquus Hippopotamus

Erosion about 35ftDeposition ? feetSlight erosion, then deposition about 10ft

Probably coldWarm

Rolled Chellean and Acheulean only

Sunk Channels and Flood PlainE. primigenius (?)

Erosion, about 40ftDeposition, about 25ftErosion, about 10ft

Cold. Arctic in part (?)

Upper Palaeolithic. No evidence found in this area


Deposition very variable, still liable to floods

As nowadays

Neolithic and later

Either way, the Wolvercote Micoquian was younger than the Rissian Levallois industries at Crayford and Northfleet (Baker’s Hole) in the Lower Thames in Kent. The reverse was true at Sturry, on the 120ft terrace of the Kentish River Stour (Dewey and Smith 1925), where a Northfleet-type Levallois was found in fluvial sands overlying the Upper and Lower Acheulean (Breuil 1926, 177). The higher terrace at Fordwich contained only Chellean material (Dewey and Smith 1925; Smith 1933). Putting the British sites together, then, Breuil found the same succession of industries to that recorded in France. Had he included Layard’s (1920) Stoke Tunnel site at Ipswich, where she reported Levalloisian with a temperate fauna that included red deer, aurochs and the obligate thermophile the European pond-terrapin (Emys orbicularis), his composite sequence would have been complete and identical.

Breuil’s scheme offered a much longer chronology than most of the alternatives and completely overturned simple linear models. In their place he postulated the co-existence of several cultural streams, each with a characteristic toolkit, that had developed parallel to one another throughout several climatic cycles. The inter-stratification of different industries reflected the comings-and-goings of different peoples, before they eventually merged to produce the Mousterian. The Combe-Capelle phase, in which very late ovate handaxes co-occurred with Levallois flakes (Bourlon 1906), neatly captured this blending of lineages.

In Essex, Warren (1926) had been equally busy developing his own, albeit slightly different, ideas on Palaeolithic cultural groups, which he presented in his presidential address to the geological section of the South-Eastern Union of Scientific Societies. Warren noted that Palaeolithic succession was now much more complex than it had appeared when Commont started his work. It was certainly not a straight-forward evolutionary sequence that could be described using sequence dates, as he had once hoped (Warren 1902).

On the contrary, whether we view it from the study of the races of men themselves, or from the study of the cultural sequences, the Palaeolithic would appear to represent the evolution of several distinct races… and, further, that these races came into contemporary contact at certain times, with mutual influences and modifications of culture.

(Warren 1926, 39–40)

Warren’s model recognised two cultural streams within the Lower Palaeolithic, the Chellean-Acheulean stream, which made handaxes (although Warren still rejected this term, because they were not axes), and the Mesvinian- Proto-Mousterian/Levalloisian-Mousterian stream, which generally did not make handaxes. He thus combined Breuil’s Levalloisian and pre-Mousterian into a single evolutionary lineage, the presence of handaxes in the Mousterian, as found on the floor at Stoke Newington, was perhaps just evidence that these two groups had met and shared ideas, not necessarily that they had completely fused. It was while Warren’s paper was in press, that Breuil announced he no longer correlated the Clacton industry with the Mesvinian, leaving Warren free to add a footnote formally naming it the Clactonian (Warren 1926, 47), its modern designation. Breuil (1929) would nonetheless later claim credit for naming the ‘La Clactonienne’ (before switching its gender to Le Clactonien, e.g. 1932a).

With the Acheulean now being subdivided into three, four or possibly five stages, the Chellean was becoming redundant, Warren suggested. Indeed, there was a current trend for the classical Chellean implements–as found at the type site and Gray’s Inn Lane–to be classified (or reclassified) as Acheulean (e.g. Sollas 1924; Breuil 1929). Warren doubted the future utility of either term. So, rather than adding to the existing confusion with another numerical system (Acheulean I, II, III, etc.), Warren multiplied the existing confusion by introducing an entirely new terminology based on British type-sites or characteristic forms (Figure 6.7). Although thankfully never adopted by anybody else, these were, from oldest to youngest:

1. The oldest class of Worthington Smith, crude, rolled and stained handaxes from depths of ~30ft at Stoke Newington.

2. The Gray’s Inn Lane group–dominated by pointed handaxes, the ovate forms tending towards limandes. Found in the earlier parts of the Taplow and later parts of the Boyn Hill terraces.

3. The Dovercourt group–dominated by well-made pointed-ovates (cordiforms). In Essex associated with gravel at 50–70ft.

4. The Smooth twisted-ovate group–dominated by twisted ovates but with non-twisted forms present. These were post-Grays Inn Lane and probably earlier than the Dover-court group, but they were definitely older than the Mousterian.

Drawing of stone tools of different shape used to illustrate Warren’s groups.

Figure 6.7 Variations of the Boucher and its associates (after Warren 1926). Representatives of the Oldest Class (1), the Gray’s Inn Lane Group (2 and 3), the Dovercourt Group (4 and 5) and the twisted ovate group (5 and 6); 7 is a Clacton-Mesvinian chopper, 8 a Mousterian handaxe.

Closing his address, Warren reminded his audience that the study of stone tools was not, nor could it ever hope to be, a pure science. “We are dealing with the interactions between the varying intentions of the human mind. The more or less skilful training of the human muscle, and the uncertain flaking quality of the flint used” (Warren 1926, 48).

Global Parallel Phyla

Another presidential address,5 this one to the Prehistoric Society of East Anglia, saw Dorothy Garrod (1892–1968), a former student of Breuil’s at the IPH in Paris, make a plea to the largely British membership for the wider adoption of these new cultural methods (Garrod 1927). Despite the many people now engaged in Palaeolithic research, Garrod (1927, 260) felt that the subject had once again begun to stagnate (cf. Sturge 1908), most publications being repetitive exercises in description and classification. This is certainly the impression one takes today from many papers of this period, on both sides of the Channel. Furthermore, while existing frameworks might have been adequate for Western Europe, they did not adapt themselves very well to the emerging evidence from the rest of the world. It was not the frameworks themselves that were at fault, but the unfounded assumptions that the origins of each stage lay in Europe and that they were universally applicable. It seemed more likely, as suggested by Boule, that Western Europe was a cul-de-sac where successive waves of humans had come and gone, each bringing cultural innovations that had originated and evolved elsewhere. Europe was not where cultures were born, but where they went to die.

Garrod saw that to fully embrace the new ideas of Breuil, Obermaier and Boule required new ways of thinking about the past and a new vocabulary to describe it. It was no longer useful to view the Palaeolithic record as a geological section, each cultural horizon succeeding the next in the same order across the globe. Stone tools industries were more like the phyla of palaeontologists, contemporary branches on “a family tree, showing the inter-relation of Palaeolithic cultures, and their relative importance and significance” (Garrod 1927, 261). Garrod’s tentative global synthesis (Figure 6.8) identified two main stems. The shorter stem consisted of the Upper Palaeolithic of Africa, Europe and the Levant. This lineage first emerged during the Riss-Würm, originating in North Africa or Asia, and was associated with modern humans. An older and much longer stem incorporated the Chellean-Acheulean of Mortillet/Commont, the Levalloisian of Breuil and the Pre-Mousterian of Obermaier, three branches loosely associated with the Neanderthals which eventually merged into the highly variable Mousterian. The origins and geographical scope of each culture group remained to be resolved. The Chellean, the most monotonous and widespread culture could be traced worldwide as far back as the Günz-Mindel interglacial, but here the trail went cold. The Chellean-Acheulean was also absent from Central Europe in all but its final stages, this region being home to pre-Mousterian groups for most of the Pleistocene. Garrod presumed the pre-Mousterian had been made by members of the Heidelberg race and, pace Breuil, linked it with the flake-industries at Clacton and Swanscombe, and with the scrapers at High Lodge. These ‘puzzling’ flake-industries therefore represented early penetrations into Britain from Central Europe (Garrod 1927, 267). Compared to the other two groups, the Levalloisian appeared to be a later arrival.

Sketch of a simple phylogenetic tree showing historical relationship of global palaeolithic industries

Figure 6.8 Garrod’s tentative phylogeny for the global Palaeolithic (after Garrod 1927). Note the three parallel lines of development in Europe, Africa and China, and the diversification of cultures in Europe during the Riss glacial.

Garrod’s third stem contained only the recent finds made by Licent and Teilhard de Char-din in China (Boule et al. 1928), which were not typical of anything seen in the West. Garrod wondered if it might not represent the far side of a Central Asian centre of dispersal, only distantly related to the Upper Palaeolithic cultures of Europe.

Despite Garrod’s plea, Breuil’s extensive personal networks and, with hindsight, the shape of things to come, early advocates of the new cultural paradigm were a remarkably rare breed (cf. O’Connor 2007). Of those who knew of it at all, many found it an unwelcome complication that was practically unworkable given the state of current knowledge. In a paper read on his behalf at the 1930 BAAS meeting in Bristol, BGS geologist P.G.H. Boswell (1930) expressed an almost unshakable faith in the standard French scheme, which he thought provided a much more satisfactory method of dating and correlating sites than fauna, river terraces or Penck’s glacial system (see Table 6.3; Boswell 1931). This provoked a quick response from the curator of Newbury Museum, Harold Peake (1867–1946), who as an archaeologist was all too aware of the problems associated with artefact-based frameworks as well as the implications of multiple cultural streams (Peake 1930, 382). As seductively simple as they were, the existing linear divisions of the Chellean, Acheulean and Mousterian “no longer held good”, argued Peake (ibid.), expressing more faith in geology than in his own subject. On learning of the possible existence of multiple and contemporaneous cultural groups, Boswell’s faith was so shaken he “despaired of a solution” (Boswell 1931, 107).

Table 6.3 Boswell’s (1931) glacial and archaeological sequence for Britain. One of the last linear models of human cultural development.


Industries Identified by Mr ReidMoir

Hunstanton boulder clay

Upper Palaeolithic. Late Aurignacian and (?) Magdalenian

Hill-washes and valley deposits of Ipswich district



Late Mousterian

Upper chalky boulder clay, gravels

Derived Early Mousterian points, etc.

Sands and gravels

Derived Acheulean and Early Mousterian Levallois and points

Levallois types

Brickearth and gravels,

Lower Mousterian

Hoxne temperate and arctic beds

Upper Acheulean

Lower Acheulean

Chalky-jurassic boulder clay

Glacial sands and gravels and brickearths

Implements claimed to be rostro-carinates

Rolled Early Chellean

Norwich brickearth

Cromer forest-bed

Implements identified as Early Chellean but may be Pre-Chellean

Weybourn, chillesford and norwich crag

Red crag

Pre-Palaeolithic scrapers, points, borers and choppers

Stone bed below red and norwich crag

Pre-Palaeolithc; rostro-carinates, flakes, borers, points, choppers

For others, however, the cultural history approach provided an enriched understanding of the archaeological record and an explanation for apparent anomalies. R.H. Chandler had gone over Swanscombe with Breuil on several occasions, most recently in 1925 and 1928 (Chandler 1930). At their last meeting, Breuil had told Chandler that he had seen flakes identical to those which characterised the Lower Gravel industry at several localities, including Clacton, the Somme, the Rhone and the Observation Grotto in Monaco, and that he thought they represented a distinct industry of Mindel-Riss age, one that currently did not have a name. He dubbed it the Clactonienne (Breuil 1929) and seems to have been genuinely unaware of Warren’s footnote in the obscure 1926 paper. Chandler came to the conclusion that the handaxes from the Middle Gravels at Swanscombe were Acheulean not Chellean and divided the Clactonian industry from the Lower Gravels into two series, one fresh (the contemporary series) and one rolled (the derived series). The two groups differed not only in physical condition but also in the inner flaking angle of the flake (between the striking platform and the ventral (bulbar) face (Warren 1914), which inconveniently ran contrary to prior expectations that flaking angles decreased over time. Both series showed high angles (~110°), prominent bulbs of percussion and unfacetted striking platforms on thick, wide flakes. Flakes were rarely retouched into tools, but Chandler thought that the weight, form and sinuous (zig-zag) edges on many cores, some of which showed bruising from repeated heavy-usage, suggested that they might have been designed to function as choppers, agreeing with Warren (1932, see more later in the chapter) over Breuil, who thought they were simply waste nuclei from flake production. Chandler considered the contemporary series to be Clactonian, implying they were the same age as the industry at Clacton, although he was perplexed by the difference in height (~90ft at Swanscombe, sea level at Clacton). Following Breuil and Garrod, he thought High Lodge represented an evolved Clactonian.

Breuil used his inaugural lecture as Professor of Prehistory at the College de France to explain more fully his vision of the distant past (Breuil 1929). Prehistory depended on ‘anonymous debris’, the accepted classification of which could not be generalised even across Europe without major regional adjustments. The fact remained, however, that northern France and southern England were a single Palaeolithic ‘country’. Archaeology needed to build on this regional approach, borrowing methods from human and physical geography to understand the relationship of human groups to each other and to their physical environment. Archaeologists needed to differentiate between continuity and convergence, between in situ invention and external influences, between gentle assimilation and mass migration.

It was still too early to write this cross-continental narrative, but Breuil suggested that India, Western Asia, Western Europe and all parts of Africa had passed through homologous phases of cultural development which, despite ‘notable variations’ and ‘diverse combinations’, were all related to one another. Other variants had probably emerged in Siberia and northern China, where Choukoutien (Zhoukoudian) Cave near Beijing had recently yielded the tooth of a Pleistocene human, assigned by Canadian anatomist Davidson Black (1884–1934) to a new species, Sinanthopus pekinensis (Black 1926, 1927; now Homo erectus). Europe was divided into two zones during the Lower Palaeolithic, a western zone (Spain, France, England, Italy) where handaxes were common and an eastern zone (north of the Alps and east of the Rhine) where they were largely absent. The Mousterian was the work of the last generations of an ancient race.

Fresh Light From the Dark Continent

The corpus of palaeoliths from Africa had been steadily growing since the 1860s and by the 1920s examples were known from Algeria (Lubbock 1881; Boule 1900), Tunisia (Collignon 1886; Morgan et al. 1911), Egypt (Pitt Rivers 1882; Seligman 1921), Kenya (Gregory 1921), Uganda (Wayland 1924a, 1924b), Somaliland (Seton-Karr 1896), Zambia (Feilden 1905; Balfour 1906; Lamplugh 1906), Zimbabwe (Southern Rhodesia) (Jones 1923) and South Africa, Dunn 1879; Gooch 1882; Feilden 1884; Péringuey 1911; Collins 1915; Smith 1919; Jones 1920; Jansen 1926). Finds were generally confined to European protectorates, where socio-political infrastructures and felicitous overseas postings of Colonial representatives fostered the means, opportunity, epistomological context and networks for archaeo-logical discovery and reporting (Gowlett 1990; Deacon 1990). Ironically, the frequent wars involving these same European colonialists often had the same effect (see Collins 1915 for a description of artefacts found in the trenches of the Boer War), while the rush of diamond prospection facilitated discovery in the South African fluvial deposits from the late 1860s onwards (Underhill 2011). Specimens were frequently sent home to museums and individuals who would then publish them (e.g. Lubbock 1881; Smith 1919; cf. Deacon 1990), and while many of these were surface finds and quite possibly the work of more recent hunter-gatherers, the recipients were quick to spot similarities with Chellean, Acheulean and Mousterian types, which, despite cautionary tales, served to fuel nineteenth-century notions that the European epochs were globally applicable. Boule (1900) considered the range of handaxes from Lake Karar in Algeria, which could be dated to the Pleistocene using the associated vertebrate fossils, to be almost identical to that from the Somme (Capitan 1901). It was “a remarkable and far-reaching fact” (Boule in Capitan 1901, 565). It also meant that geography was largely incidental to the study of the Palaeolithic (Gowlett 1990).

Southern Africa had by now also begun to yield archaic hominin fossils, none yet firmly associated with a stone tool industry. In 1921, a neanderthal-like skull had been found in a cave in the Zambesi Basin at Kabwe (Woodward 1921; Boule 1923; LeBel 1922). Boule (1923) considered it to be getting closer to the modern human form and supposed that the Neanderthal race, which had disappeared from Europe by evolution or extinction, had survived in Africa until a relatively recent period without appreciable physical development. The accompanying faunal remains contained nothing that contradicted this suggestion. Putting together the European and African evidence Peake (1922) and Burkitt (1921) argued that with the onset of the Würm, the descendants of the original Chellean people, now using an Acheulean culture, moved back into sub-Saharan Africa, where they saw out the glaciation. The Mousterians, deriving from Central Europe (i.e. Taubach) then moved into France, whence they spread as far south as Algeria and the Nile. At the opposite end of the time scale was Dart’s discovery of an infant hominin skull, jaw and brain endocast at Taung (Dart 1925). Dart referred the specimen to a new species Australopithcus africanus, which he suggested was a man-ape, intermediate between humans and the extant apes, although this was not widely accepted, especially by those invested in England’s fraudulent Piltdown man (Keith et al. 1925; Keith 1925).

The days of such myopic Eurocentrism were ending, however. Since 1910, Palaeolithic archaeology in the newly constituted Union of South Africa had been changing from a casual pastime for enthusiasts to a systematic scientific study (Balfour 1930). With better collections and greater recognition of the importance of context and association, South African archaeologists had begun the task of ordering the materials into a relative order of antiquity. Direct comparisons with the European sequences soon broke down. Louis Péringuey (1855–1924), who had emigrated to South Africa from France in 1879, emphasised the similarities between European and African handaxes, which he thought were so alike they could not have been independently invented, but here the similarity with the Mortillet scheme ended (Péringuey 1911; cf. Péringuey 1906). There was no way of determining whether finds were contemporary with their European counterparts, and there were no equivalents to the European Upper Palaeolithic or Neolithic. The Stone Age in Africa was “not yet an age of the past” (ibid., 8).

Péringuey (1911) argued that handaxes (bouchers) most probably originated and evolved in Africa, the homeland of humanity, and spread into Europe during a period of favourably warm climate, that is, during the Chellean (see also Obermaier 1916). The animals they had encountered on entering Europe were either the same species or ecological equivalents. It was a home from home for mobile hunters. The same principles would hold if the migration had happened in the other direction. There were also Acheulean and Mousterian tools in South Africa, but the combination of types on any given site made it difficult to argue that they belonged to discrete stages. In fact, the Early Palaeolithic in South Africa was better described as a Chelleo-Mousterian, which, of course, d’Acy and Salmon had long ago suggested for Europe. Within this Péringuey identified two regional handaxes groups: the Stellenbosch type, named after the town near Bosman’s Crossing on the Eerste River, 50km east of Cape Town, and the Orange River type, after the major E-W flowing drainage system that ran across the middle of the state. The former type was coarse, sinuous edged and often thick, the latter better made and thinner. The African record was also characterised by a greater number of unifacial handaxes made on flakes, and cleavers with broad tips obliquely or transversely orientated to the long axis. Other peculiar forms included polyhedral or spherical objects which may have served as projectiles.

Before Péringuey’s death in 1924, he had encouraged Pietermaritzburg-born archaeolo-gist Astley J.H. Goodwin (1900–1959), research assistant (and later the first Lecturer in Archaeology) at the University of Cape Town and former student of Burkitt and Haddon at Cambridge, to re-examine the collections at the South African Museum. On completing his study of the ~300 artefacts at Cape Town, Goodwin turned his attention to finds housed in other museums at Kimberley, Grahamstown and the Transvaal (Goodwin 1927). By systematically logging the type and the frequency of ‘conventional forms’, completely ignoring the non-conventional pieces found on each and every site, Goodwin was able to identify consistently recurring groups, from which he quickly realised the “absolute necessity for evolving an entirely new cultural terminology for Southern Africa” (Goodwin 1927, 1958, 25).

At the South African Association for the Advancement of Science held in Pretoria in 1926, a group of “the keenest students of stone tools” came together to agree a new nomenclature for the South African Stone Age (Goodwin 1926, 784). In addition to Goodwin, those present included Clarence (Peter) van Riet Lowe (1894–1956), originally a civil engineer from the Orange Free State but from 1935 first Director of the South African Bureau of Archaeology (later Archaeological Survey),6 and Dr Egbert van Hoepen (1884–1966), director of the Museum at Bloemfontein. This group of keeners unanimously agreed that the African record should be split into the Early Stone Age and the Late Stone Age, the latter only ending in the 1870s. The Middle Stone Age was added a year later, at the insistence of missionary Neville Jones in Zimbabwe (Southern Rhodesia) and Cambridge-educated Maria Wilman, first director of the McGregor Museum at Kimberley (Deacon 1990). There was no direct dating evidence, and there were many sites where these periods seemed to overlap, but where strati-graphic controls existed the anticipated chronological relationship generally held.

The Early Stone Age contained three distinct industries: Stellenbosch, Victoria West and Fauresmith (Goodwin 1926; Goodwin and Riet Lowe 1929; Goodwin 1931, 1933) (Figure 6.9). The Stellenbosch industry was characterised by handaxes, wedge-shaped cleavers and rough discoids (worked-out hammerstones, instruments rather than implements), and subsumed Péringuey’s Orange River Type, the differences between handaxes in the Vaal and Cape regions being explained by differences in available raw materials rather than as the products of two separate culture centres. Goodwin and Riet Lowe (1929, 11) identified six types of Stellenbosch handaxe (Figure 6.9), all but one (c1) showing a ‘desire’ for symmetry across the midline. As all the known sites were apparently workshops or factories the percentage of well-made handaxes was low, as might be expected, but there was nevertheless a tendency towards a “neat, well-shaped, evenly worked implement ”, demonstrating “the early presence of artistic pride in South Africa” (ibid.).

Photographs and drawings of South African biface forms.

Figure 6.9 A Stellenbosch coup-de-poing and cleaver (left and centre), and a Fauresmith handaxe (right). Silhouettes show the “variety of coup-de-poing shapes found in the Stellenbosch industry of South Africa”: a) pear-shaped; b) almond-shaped; c) leaf-shaped (bi-pointed); c1) lunate or half-moon shaped bi-pointed; d) oval; e) circular (rare) (after Goodwin and Riet Lowe 1929).

Another characteristic of the Stellenbosch industry was the cleaver, similar to the handaxe but having a broad transverse tip rather than a point. Goodwin and Riet Lowe did not consider these to be tools, however, but rather a stage in the manufacture of handaxes, abandoned rough-outs, a contention supported by the fact that they were generally a little larger than handaxes. Despite their resemblance to an axe, they warned against reaching hasty conclusions.

Like their European counterparts, most Stellenbosch handaxes were made from cobbles, although some were made from large flakes struck from a boulder, and others were made on flakes struck from even larger flakes, thus possessing two ventral surfaces (an early description of the Kombewa technique cf. Owen 1938). The last was common at Pneil, where it formed the basis of van Hoepen’s Pneil Culture, but Goodwin and Riet Lowe (ibid., 36) concluded that the techniques used in different locations varied with the “materials used and the mode of occurrence of that material”. They similarly found no evidence for a South African Chellean or Acheulean sequence paralleling that in Europe, as claimed by Jones (1926). In fact, they admitted that they did “not know much” about the chronology of the Stellenbosch industry or whether the shapes fell into any order, although they felt confident that time would prove they did. It seemed highly unlikely that South Africa could have seen a single invasion that had ceased to develop further or that had repelled successive “suggestions and impacts from more northerly evolving people (if such there were)” (Goodwin and Riet Lowe 1929, 46).

The Victoria West industry, named after a village in the Northern Cape, was first discovered by Resident Magistrate F. Jansen (1926). At several localities in the region Jansen had found rough dolerite handaxes associated with an unusual series of high-backed cores, of variable size and shape, but worked using a similar method (Figure 6.10). The general degree of weathering made technical details difficult to establish, but the production of these objects had always involved the preparation of two separate surfaces. The high-backed surface was formed by removing flakes from a circular striking platform that ran around the edge of the implement. The other face was formed by a single negative flake scar, with about a third of the edge forming a lip, which retained the minor negative scars produced in the preparation of this surface. Three ‘norms’ were evident (Goodwin and Riet Lowe 1929, 56), the hoenderbek (fowl beak) that came to a point at one end, the ‘horse-hoof’ which was round with a flat back, and the ‘skilpad’ (tortoise-shaped), although the main aim in each had been the removal of one ‘main’ flake that always maintained a constant ratio to the whole of the face, of about 3:4. A similar technique had been described by Reygasse (1923) from the site of Tachengit in Algeria.

Drawings of different types of Victoria West core.

Figure 6.10 Three variations of the Victoria West technique (after Jansen 1926). Uncinate = Goodwin and Riet Lowe’s hoenderbek or fowl-beaked. Scale = 5cm.

Jansen believed the cores to be a new type of tool with regional variation, the final flakes being waste, but Reginald Smith (1919), who had received some of Jansen’s material at the British Museum, compared them with European Levallois cores. Noting the considerable debate Smith’s conclusions had instigated, Goodwin and Riet Lowe (1929, 68) decided to reserve final judgement until the final flakes had been identified and their purpose determined, noting that this was currently impossible given the poor condition of the material (which had also led some to doubt its anthropogenic origins). The function of the Victoria West type notwithstanding, the presence of a much better-made handaxe at the School Site either showed that the Victoria West knappers were perfectly capable of making finer tools given the right materials or that they had been “sufficiently friendly with the Stellenbosch industry group to trade with them, and to appreciate the neater implements so obtained” (1929, 62–63). This implied that the two groups were contemporaneous and sometimes interacted with each other. Breuil (1930b) thought that Victoria West was a form of proto-Levallois, a precursor to proper Levallois.

The final culture of the Early Stone Age of South Africa was the Fauresmith, which was limited to the south and southwestern Orange Free State, neighbouring Kimberley and Herbert and typical of the Karroo geological system. It was closely allied to the Stellenbosch and might have been either an evolved or specialised form, due at least in part to superior raw materials, or the first appearance in South Africa of the race who later made the more advanced Middle Stone Age. The Fauresmith was defined by finely made handaxes of a superior standard, invariably made on lydianite (indurated shale), the most “tractable and amenable” material available in South Africa (Goodwin and Riet Lowe 1929, 71). They were usually a neat, flat almond-shape, smaller than Stellenbosch types and invariably made on large flakes. Some had twisted edges. On his visit to South Africa in 1927, Miles Burkitt had compared them to the European Micoquian. Associated with the handaxes were side-scrapers, end-scrapers and distinctive hooked-scrapers, trimmed points, discs, cleavers and polyhedrons. The flaking technique used for the flake tools frequently involved the use of facetted striking platforms, like Levallois, which Goodwin and Riet Lowe attributed to a Mousterian influence. The cleavers on the other hand showed such “execrable workmanship” (ibid., 77) on such coarse material, that Goodwin (1927) questioned whether they might not be an earlier intrusion from the Stellenbosch, or from a period before the local materials had been mastered. Although the Faure-smith appeared more advanced than the Stellenbosch they admitted that there was no evidence to show whether they formed a sequence or were contemporaneous.

Hoepen (in Goodwin 1926 addendum), whose own typological method expected to find a gradual improvement of technique over time, almost immediately proposed dividing the Stellenbosch culture into an earlier Pretoria Phase and a later Vaal River Phase based on technological differences. The Pniel culture, which contained Levallois flakes and handaxes, also awaited full description. It was agreed to leave these for later discussions, although “little more was heard of these cultures” (Goodwin 1935, 335), largely because Goodwin and Riet Lowe attributed the variation to raw materials. The Late Stone Age was composed of the Still Bay, Wilton and Smithfield industries, the first showing evidence of pressure flaking on foliate bifacial pieces, the others containing crescents, pottery and ostrich eggshell beads.

For Nathan Schlanger (2003, 11), the taint of nationalism was not far behind this “defiant” alternative framework, part of a wider and deliberate movement for the ‘South-Africanisation’ of science that went to the very top of the socio-political sphere and included the once and future prime minister Jan Smuts. It was a geo-political device that facilitated cross-continental correlations and “repositioned South Africa and Europe on a single plane of scientific merit and prestige” (ibid.). Cambridge prehistorian Miles Burkitt’s well-organised but whistle-stop of South Africa in 1927 (at the invitation of the University of Cape Town) was thus primarily intended as an ambassadorial visit to promote the country’s scientific status, although Neville Jones had wanted Breuil instead (Schlanger 2003, 10).

That said, the theoretical framework within which Goodwin and Lowe situated their work could hardly have been more colonial in outlook (Deacon 1990). Sub-Saharan Africa was “a pocket from which nothing tangible returned” (Goodwin and Riet Lowe 1929, 3), preventing the regressively simple African cultures from moving north, but allowing more developed cultures from Europe to pass south. The subcontinent was the recipient of wave upon wave of more advanced migrants, the latest being the recent Dutch and British settlers.

On the boat home, Burkitt turned his South African notes into a sole-authored book, South Africa’s History in Stone and Paint (1928). This move apparently shocked Goodwin and colleagues, who then rushed to produce their own definitive account of South African prehis-tory, as already detailed (Goodwin and Riet Lowe 1929; see Schrire et al. 1986), although contemporary correspondence between Burkitt and his former student shows that Goodwin knew of the book, provided information on request and thought the final product to be generally excellent, barring the retention of the term Lower Palaeolithic in place of the Early Stone Age (Schlanger 2003). Goodwin’s resentment only appears to have surfaced later (Goodwin 1958), with the real race to publication being run against van Hoepen’s alternative methods and classification (Goodwin 1958; Schlanger 2003). As a populariser and synthesiser, Burkitt had form in this regard. His earlier book Prehistory (1921) had introduced Breuil’s nascent culture-historical model and Mesvinian status of the Clacton industry to a wide readership several years before either the Abbé or Warren had committed these ideas to print.

By the time Breuil finally visited South Africa in 1929, at the invitation of prime minister General Hertzog and as part of the delegation attending the BAAS in Cape Town, the continent was home to different species and different culture groups to those he was familiar with in Europe. Breuil nonetheless saw in the South African Stone Age the three major lines of evolution he had identified in the Palaeolithic of Europe, Western Asia, India and North Africa (Breuil 1930a, 1930b). They were all part of the same Palaeolithic world, “in which Europe is the north-west corner and India the south-east corner” (Breuil 1930b, 216).

The Palaeolithic Societies of Europe: Abbé Breuil Style

Breuil consolidated his ideas in a series of papers published between 1930 and 1934, four of which, published under the same title, Études de stratigraphie Paléolithique dans le nord de la France, La Belgique et L’Angleterre, were co-authored with Leon Koslowski (1882–1950) of the Univeristy of Lwów7 (then in Poland, now Lviv in Ukraine). Several years before V. Gordon Childe (Childe 1929), Koslowski had attempted to establish what was meant by an archaeological culture, a term that had been in use for nearly two decades without definition, and which had been appropriated for nationalist purposes by scholars such as Kossinna (Kobyliński 2006). In 1922, he defined archaeological cultures as being “characterised by a certain number of features. These are implements, pottery, ornamental objects, burial rites, way of life, house forms, religious ideas and several other features” (Kobyliński 2006, 216). One needed to consider everything, even the smallest lithics. Kosloswki was also more cautious in using ethnicity as an explanation of culture change. He was the perfect (and practically indiscernible) partner in Breuil’s culture historical magnum opus.

Breuil’s (Breuil and Koslowski 1931, 1932, 1934; Breuil 1932a, 1932b, 1939a) starting point was the evolutionary scheme worked out by Commont in the Somme, cursorily dismissing Vayson’s (1920) damning criticisms as being based on misunderstandings and misconceptions.8 The school master from St Acheul had unfortunately not, however, lived long enough to publish the full results of his Lower Palaeolithic studies, as he had managed for the reindeer period (Commont 1913), leaving only sketches of a synthesis (e.g. Com-mont 1912b). Armed with a newfound appreciation of cold-climate sedimentary processes, the Alpine chronology and his culture historical model, Breuil set about re-interpreting the stratigraphy, fauna and artefacts of the Somme, before turning his attention to the complementary records of neighbouring Belgium and England.

Breuil recognised four terraces in the Somme Valley (Figure 6.11), each containing a complex stack of fluviatile, solifluxion and sub-aerial deposits (formed by rainwash, spring melts, wind and the disintegration of the valley sides) laid down at different times. In places the clay and loëss at the top of each terrace almost reached the height of the next step up the staircase. Like Commont, Breuil argued that the different terraces and their fluvial deposits had not been formed in a progressive (downwards) fashion (Breuil and Koslowski 1931, 1932; Breuil 1939a).

Terrace Staircase showing Breuil’s interpretation of the Somme Valley deposits.

Figure 6.11 Breuil’s schematic staircase through the terraces of the Somme Valley. Key: L) gravels of different ages; D) ancient loëss; B) recent loëss; A) recent silts and peats. On the 10m terrace, the ancient loëss is only present as a derived (rain-washed) red silt (after Breuil and Koslowski 1931).

In Breuil’s scheme, the highest (40m) bench was created during the first (Günz) glacial period, with the lower fluvial gravels of the 40m terrace belonging to the succeeding Günz-Mindel interglacial and containing the oldest archaeology. Breuil now saw the Mindel glaciation as a complex of two cold episodes, divided by two warm interglacials. During the first Mindel cold stage the river had cut down to the 30m level, and a basal coombe rock had formed on the newly exposed slopes. The upper fluviatile sands and gravels of the 40m terrace and the lower gravels of the 30m terrace were then laid down during the first Mindel-Riss warm stage. This was followed by a second Mindel cold episode, which saw the river cut a deep channel almost reaching its modern depth, and a second Mindel-Riss interglacial during which the red sands of the 30m terrace, the fluvial deposits preserved at the outer edge of the 10m terrace, and the solifluction at the base of the 5m terrace were all formed.

On the lower terraces of the Somme, much of the evidence for the second Mindel-Riss aggradation had been destroyed during the Riss glaciation, when the river re-excavated its channel down to the 5m level, leaving only isolated patches of the older sediment. Other remnants of the second Mindel-Riss interglacial were preserved in the low terrace at Chelles, which were therefore not the oldest in the Seine-Marne as believed by older workers, leaving Chelles-sur-Marne as an entirely inappropriate type-site for the oldest handaxe industries. In any case, Breuil saw no evidence that the handaxes it contained were crude, hard-hammer struck and ancient (Breuil and Koslowski 1931; Breuil 1939b). Breuil (1932b, 1939a, 1939b) suggested a new type-site based on the material from the lower gravels of the 40m terrace at Abbeville, renaming the epoch ‘Abbevillian’. Finally, the Riss-Würm interglacial was represented by the sands and gravels on the inner edge of the 10m terrace, and on the outer edge of the 5m terrace. The current channel had been cut during the Würm and was filled with postglacial sediments that contained Upper Palaeolithic artefacts.

Breuil interpreted the older and recent loësses in the Somme as essentially wind-blown deposits formed during the cooling phase and maximum of each glaciation. The recent loëss was divided into two units, but both mantled all four Pleistocene terraces and therefore belonged to the last glaciation, the Würm. Breuil refined this date using the archaeology each contained: Final Levalloisian in the recent loëss 1 and Upper Palaeolithic in the recent loëss 2. The older loëss was found in situ only above the 10m terrace and dated to the penunltimate Riss glaciation. It contained Middle Acheulean IV and V and provided a useful terminus ante quem for the fluviatile and solifluction deposits beneath, which must all therefore be pre-Rissian.

By pushing the Somme sequence as far back as the Günz, Breuil gave himself a greater number of climatic fluctuations to play with. He was thus far less constrained than Com-mont had been by the climatic tolerances of the mammalian fauna. The presence of the straight-tusked elephant, for example, no longer demanded an early date as it was found in every interglacial period (Table 6.4). His cultural approach similarly removed the need for a strictly linear sequence of Acheulean-Levalloisian-Mousterian, while his liberal attitude to solifluction deposits and artefact condition provided a useful way of explaining any remaining anomalies. Britain and Belgium similarly fell into place. In his sole authored paper on the Clactonian, Breuil (1932a) provided a definitive summary of the Lower and Middle Palaeolithic of north-west Europe (Figure 6.12).

Brueil’s Phylogenetic table showing relationshiops between various biface and non-biface industries in Europe.

Figure 6.12 Magnum Opus. Breuil’s (1932a) Culture-History for north-west Europe, showing two main traditions and five parallel cultural branches.

Table 6.4 Breuil’s table showing deposits, industries, fauna and glacial correlations for the Somme Valley. Note that all artefacts in solifluction are generally derived examples of the industry immediately preceding them. (NB. R. tichorinus = C. antiquitatis = wooly rhinoceros; R. merkii = S. kirchbergensis = Merck’s rhinoceros).

Solufluxions (S) Fluviatile Deposits (F)

Sub-Aerial Deposits

Industries (brackets = derived)



S1(40m Terrace)

Sub-aerial deposits of this age have been totally destroyed or are only to be found as rafts dragged into lower levels by


F1 (40m Terrace)

AbbevillianClactonian I

E. meridionalisR. etruscus

S2 (40m Terrace)

[Abbevillian][Clactonian I]


F2 (40m Terrace)


Acheul I

E. antiquusR. merckii

S3 (40m and 30m Terrace)

[Acheul I]

Mindel I

F3 (30m Terrace)

Acheul II

E. antiquusR. merckii

S4 (40m and 30m Terrace)

[Acheul II]

Mindel II

F4 (30m Terrace)

Pockets of partially washed out clay (30m)

Acheul IIIClactonian II/III

E. antiquusR. merckii

S5 (All Terraces)

[Levallois I]

Mammoth R. tichorinus

Riss I

F5 (30m Terrace

Very old loëss, weathered to reddish sandPartially washed out clayHumic earth

Acheul IV

E. antiquus

S6 All Terraces

Old loëss (40–30m terrace) Peaty clays (30m) Partially washed out clay

[Levallois II]Acheul V

MammothR. tichorinusReindeer

Riss II

S7 (Slight, All Terraces)

[Levallois III]

MammothR. tichorinusReindeer


F4(Lower Terraces)

Fissured red clay on all terraces except the lowest, often part washed outClay with Succinea (lower terrace)

Acheul VI and VIILevallois IV

E. antiquus, R. merckii, Hippo; later Mammoth, R. tichorinus

S8 (All Levels)

Humic earthRecent loëss I

[Levallois IV] Levallois V

MammothR. tichorinus

Würm I

S9 (All Levels)

Humicearth Recent loëss I

[Levallois V]Levallois VI


Würm II

S10(All Levels)

Humic earthRecent loëss III

[Levallois VI]Levallois VII

S11(All levels)

Very recent loëss VI and brickearthHumic earth

[Levallois VII]Upper Palaeolithic Mesolithic Neolithic

idemPresent fauna

Würm VIPostglacial

Building on the 1926 paper, Breuil now defined two main industries (used synonymously with tradition), one flake-based the other handaxe-based, each of which went through several stages of cultural evolution. The roots of the flake industries lay in Moir’s pre-crag material from Ipswich. This had given rise to the Clactonian (Breuil 1930c, 1932a), which in turn had evolved into two separate branches, the Mesvinian-Levalloisian (with prepared cores) and the Tayacian-Mousterian (with non-prepared cores). The Clactonian was not a parochial English phenomenon. It was found on the 40m terrace at St Acheul, Abbeville and Liercourt, and was often mixed with the Acheulean on the 30m terrace. Clactonian industries were also known from the Drome, the Rhone, the Normandy beaches at Le Havre, under the final Acheulean at Combe Capelle and La Micoque, as well as in Spain, Monaco, Egypt and South Africa. Rare Clactonian artefacts had also been recovered from Hundisberg in northern Germany. It was a global culture group. Breuil defined three evolutionary stages, each containing supposedly characteristic core and flake types (Table 6.5).

Table 6.5 Summary of Breuil’s industrial stages.

Handaxe Industries

Unprepared Flake Industries

Abbevillian: Rough irregular handaxes with pebble butts. Made using the anvil technique

Clacton I: Voluminous pyramidal, rectangular and amorphous cores, large retouched flakes, asymmetrical flakes with one sharp edge and one rounded (hinged), end-scrapers and points. Some cores superficially resemble bifaces

Early Acheulean:Acheulean I: Crude oval and pointed forms, frequent pebble buttsAcheulean II: Better-made lanceolate, oval and triangular form

Clacton II: Discoidal, unifacial and bifacial cores, asymmetrical flakes, retouched blades, points

Middle Acheulean:Acheulean III: ‘advanced’ cordiforms, limandes and triangular handaxes with thicker butts. One illustrated handaxe is twisted Acheulean IV: ‘evolved’ cordiforms, limandes and twisted ovate. Usually thin with an edge all-round

Late Acheulean:Acheulean V: large cordiforms, as found in the older loëssAcheulean VI: Micoquian, small pointed handaxes worked all roundAcheulean VII: Final Micoquian, with fine lanceolate handaxes

Clacton III: Discoidal cores with flakes from both surfaces, some laminar cores, large retouched flakes, end scrapers, asymmetrical flakes

The handaxe industries contained two main cultures, the crude Abbevillian (formerly Chellean), followed by seven sub-stages of the Acheulean (I–VII). The bases of these subdivisions were both typological and technological, and they unsurprisingly conformed to Breuil’s stratigraphical scheme for the Somme. Each subdivision contained a range of handaxe shapes and other stone tools, but there were characteristic types or combinations of types that clearly differentiated one from another (Table 6.5). The seven sub-stages also described a progressive development in techniques and workmanship, with handaxes of all shapes becoming better-made and more refined over time.

Regrettably, for anybody who did not have the Abbé’s ear, and despite many hundreds of pages of description and discussion, Breuil never provided clear and precise definitions for his handaxe sub-stages. Instead he tended to use illustrations of characteristic types to show the main differences (mostly taken from Commont), with descriptions that relied on rather unhelpful adjectives and/or equivalencies between his own and Commont’s schemes (Table 6.6). These were almost certainly intended to serve as graphical definitions, with the passage between the old and new nomenclature eased by direct cross-reference and the adoption of an easily transferable and easy-to-remember numerical system. Yet, while Breuil may have been supremely confident in his ability to distinguish between, for example, the more advanced (avancé) Middle Acheulean III and the more evolved (evolue) Middle Acheulean IV, based principally on undefined and qualitative criteria such as ‘thinness’, it is hard to see how his results could have been replicated by others with any certainty or consistency. Revealingly, stratigraphical considerations obliged Breuil to elevate the in situ material from Commont’s workshop from Early Acheulean I (where a direct transferal from Commont’s Chellean classification would have put it) to Middle Acheulean III, because it inconveniently sat above Acheulean II.

Table 6.6 Equivalents in the sequences described by Henri Breuil and Victor Commont in the Somme Valley.

Breuil’s Stages

Equivalent in Commont’s Terms

Levallois V-VI

Cold Mousterian

Levallois III-IV

Warm Mousterian

Acheulean VII

Upper Acheulean

Acheulean VI


Acheulean V

Upper Acheulean

Acheulean IV

Lower Acheulean (at Rue de Cagny)

Acheulean in

Lower Acheulean (or Chellean) at Commont’s Workshop

Acheulean II

Advanced Chellean

Acheulean I




The typological tables Breuil occasionally deigned to publish did provide some quantification, but they still employed subjective categories and the samples were rarely statistically meaningful. They do, however, provide an example of the typological schemes Breuil was using, his study of quartzite artefacts in the Garonne listing no fewer than 18 types of core, ten types of unifacial handaxe made on split pebbles, 18 types of handaxes made from whole nodules, 16 types of handaxes made on flakes and 23 types of other retouched flake tools (Breuil 1937b).

Breuil’s substages of the Levalloisian were equally vague. They were distinguished by the shape of the predetermined flakes, blades or points, the form of the cores, the presence/absence of handaxes, associated flake tools and type of retouch. One clearly had to be a highly experienced connoisseur of the primary collections to fully appreciate the differences, although there was some geological basis. The earliest Levalloisian I and II of pre-Riss and Riss age comprised large tortoise cores and rectangular flakes similar to Baker’s Hole and Montières. Levalloisian III–IV included the blades from Crayford and the warm (Riss-Würm) Mousterian with blades from Montières, while Levallois V and VI contained cordiform and sub-triangular handaxes. This was all well worked out in the Somme, where sufficient collections existed to account for internal variation, but whether small groups or individual types could be considered characteristic of any individual stage remained moot.

Table 6.7 Breuil’s (1926) stages for the Levalloisian culture.

Levalloisian VII

No Handaxes

Würm III

Levalloisian VI

Frequent well-made handaxes


Levalloisian V

Rare, poorly made handaxes


Levalloisian IV


Levalloisian in

Blade Levallois


Levalloisian II

Large tortoise core Levallois


Levalloisian I

Large tortoise core Levallois

Pre-Riss cold episode, Riss I

Subjective typological classification had, of course, underpinned every Palaeolithic framework since the beginning, but thanks to the work of experimental archaeologist Léon Coutier (1929; Cabriol and Coutier 1931), Breuil was able to put them on more secure technological foundations. The significance of Coutier’s observations regarding the relationship between handaxe form and modes of percussion can hardly be overstated.9 In a series of experiments lasting several months, Coutier (1929) had replicated the different tools, cores and flakes found in the Palaeolithic, using the collections at Breuil’s home institution, the IPH in Paris, as a reference. He concluded that Chellean handaxes had been made with no prior preparation of the stone block, which thus needed to be carefully selected so that they lent themselves to the shape of the desired object. Large flakes were detached at an oblique angle by striking the object-stone against an anvil-stone situated on the ground. Direct manual percussion, where both the object stone was held in one hand and struck with a hammerstone in the other, was not practiced. In the Advanced Chellean, the blows tended to be delivered more vertically to the edge of the biface, producing shallower flakes, but knappers resorted to oblique blows if the piece proved difficult to work. Blades were absent from the Chellean because the ‘brutality’ of the technique tended to break them. The accuracy of flaking continued to improve during the Acheulean, enhanced by the development of platform preparation, the process of ablating the edge of the biface to ensure a firmer contact. Acheulean handaxes also showed finer secondary working using manual stone-hammer percussion. By the Upper Acheulean the use of soft (wooden) hammers had developed, allowing hominins to produce thinner flakes that ‘spun’ further across the surface of the handaxe. In the final Acheulean prepared core techniques developed, the Levallois flake being detached using an anvil with the core prepared using manual percussion.

Breuil’s Lower Palaeolithic traditions co-existed for a long time, regularly overlapping or replacing each other, but from the Riss-Würm they began to show greater mutual influences and several eventually merged. The Tayacian, a diminuitive, non-handaxe industry defined by Peyrony’s discoveries at La Micoque (Peyrony 1938), was degenerate, but via contact with the Levalloisian it had given rise to the typical Mousterian. The handaxe facies of the Mousterian, Peyrony’s (1930) Mousterian of Acheulean Tradition (MTA) or Breuil’s (1932a) Combe Capelle I and II, emerged later, from the fusion of the typical Mousterian and final Acheulean. The typical Mousterian and MTA were inter-stratified at Le Moustier, which suggested to Peyrony that they represented two tribes of Neanderthals who had overlapped and occupied the shelter at different times.

Breuil’s European cultural framework was quickly embraced, most eagerly in Britain (Sackett 1991), but to a lesser extent also in France (Blanc and Bourgon 1933). It was also Breuil’s simplified version of Coutier’s results (Breuil and Koslowski 1931, footnote p458), which baldly equated anvil-technique and hard-hammer percussion with the Chellean/Abbevillian, and the use of wooden hammers with the Acheulean, that became the most well-known and widely applied technological distinction between the two cultural stages of the handaxe tradition. By the end of the decade, Breuil (1939a) was mapping his complex, chronologically overlapping subdivisions onto the equally complex climatic sequence revealed by the Milankovitch solar radiation curve. It was a runaway success.

“Straining Our Eyes to the East” 10

China did not seem part of this world. Père Émile Licent (1876–1952), a French Jesuit trained in natural history, had initiated research on the prehistory of China in 1914, one of his first acts being the setting up of a museum at Tianjin (Terra 1962). His earliest Palaeolithic discoveries, seven stone tools taken from loéss deposits near Qingyang City, were made in 1920 (Bar-Yosef and Wang 2012), and by 1923 he had been joined by fellow Jesuit and geologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881–1955). After finishing his theological training in 1912, the final four years of which had been spent at Ore Place in Hastings (where he had become involved in the Piltdown excavations: Raven 1962), Teilhard de Chardin had studied for two years at the IPH in Paris where he met Boule, Breuil, Obermaier, Burkitt and other global thinkers. He returned to Paris after the war to complete a doctorate on the evolution of the Tertiary mammals in France, working under Boule at the palaeontology laboratory of the Museum national d’Histoire naturelle (Terra 1962). The degree was awarded in 1922, the same year Licent invited him to go to China.

Teilhard arrived in China in April 1923 and by June was surveying the Ordos region with Licent (Cowell ND). At the Shuidonggou site (Ningxia), the two priests found a stone tool industry consisting of large blades reminiscent of the late Middle and early Upper Palaeolithic in Europe, leading to interpretations of large-scale diffusion from the west (Boule et al. 1928; Bar-Yosef and Wang 2012; see Garrod preceding). During their second field season in May 1924, they surveyed the Gobi Desert of Eastern Mongolia, where they recovered more Upper Palaeolithic-type artefacts at Saluwasa. Teilhard was then called back to France by his Order, to answer questions about some unorthodox and potentially heretical essays on original sin, but returned to China in 1926, where he was allowed to reside for the next 20 years (Cowell ND), possibly in an effort to keep him far out of harm’s way. Almost immediately on arrival, Davidson Black invited Teilhard to join the research team at Choukoutien Cave. The initial excavations here, by Austrian palaeontologist Otto Zdansky (1894–1988) between 1921 and 1923, had produced the teeth of an archaic human species, Homo sinanthropus (Black 1926, 1927; Zdansky 1926), and the discoverer of the site, A.G. Anderson, had noted fragments of quartz that did not naturally occur in the cave (Breuil 1932c). These early finds encouraged Black to instigate international multidisciplinary excavations under the supervision of Chinese archaeologist Li Jie (1894–1977), for which he managed to secure funding from the Rockefeller Foundation (Bar-Yosef and Wang 2012). Black also established (in 1928) the Cenozoic Research Laboratory of the Geological Survey of China, located in his own institution, the Peking Union Medical School. Over the next decade, the cave produced more human fossils including five partial skull caps, Pleistocene fauna, fragments of quartz and ash horizons (Teilhard de Chardin 1931; Breuil 1931a, 1932c; Pei 1937). When Black died in his office in 1934, he was replaced as honorary director of the Laboratory by the German anatomist Franz Weidenreich (1873–1948).

On a visit to Paris in October 1930, Teilhard visited Breuil at the IPH, taking with him an antler from the hominin-layers at Choukoutien that appeared to have been shaped and used as a hammer, before ending up in a fire (Breuil 1932c). Excited by these discoveries, Breuil visited the site a year later, by which time the excavations had revealed several clear ash horizons, possibly the remains of hearths, with Geological Survey scientists Young Chung Chien (1897–1979) and Pei Wenzhong (1902–1982) identifying small but obviously knapped pieces of quartz (Figure 6.13). An area of 3.6m × 10m in the main hominin layer (Horizon 2) produced more than 2,000 such lithics (Breuil 1932c). Breuil confirmed that the quartz objects had been humanly worked, and was able to discern among them typological points, scrapers, awls and notches. They were similar to those on the same raw material from La Chapelle-aux-Saints and La Portel in France. Rare pieces of fine-quality quartz had allowed the makers to produce neater objects, Breuil particularly noting two pretty points with bifacial working.11 He also recognised a series of larger tools made on lava, which were too degraded to properly identify but which had lenticular sections reminiscent of bifaces. Sinanthropus had transported some weighty blocks of quartz to the cave, the largest the size of an adult human head, evidence that it had served as a long-term, well-provisioned residence. This was consistent with the notion that the thickness of the breccia-like burnt horizon showed that once lit, the fire had been kept burning for a considerable period.

Drawing of a hominuin skull and unrefined quartz artefacts

Figure 6.13 Sinanthropus pekinensis and quartz fragments from Choukoutien (after Weidenreich 1937a; Elliot Smith 1932. Scale: The largest artefact (top) is ~6.5cm in length).

Breuil saw no point in trying to apply the European classification to the Chinese lithics, although he suggested that they were closest to a crude Mousterian. He noted that in areas of Europe where the available stone was particularly poor, humans had resorted to using bone as a raw material–animal-stone, as he called it (Breuil 1938)–and from his analysis of the faunal remains from the cave concluded that the humans at Choukoutien had routinely done the same. Antler hammers had been pre-treated in the fire to make them easier to cut, deer jaws had been snapped and used as rasps or saws, long bones were deliberately broken and shaped into points. He was aware that nature could produce very similar results, but Breuil (1938) detected apparent use-related damage, polish caused by repetitive rubbing, and interpreted cut-marks as resulting from manufacture, or the use of bones as chopping boards. He suggested that the culture dated to pre-Würm times, perhaps contemporary with the entire European Chellean to Levalloisian, surviving for a long period before it was replaced by the ‘Moustero-Aurignacian’ found by Teilhard further north. But was it, Breuil asked, Sinanthropus who had made the tools, who had lit the fires and who had hunted the animals, or were they too primitive? Was another, more advanced species of human the real author of the Chinese Lower Palaeolithic, one that had not yet been found? After all, he reminded his readers, Rutot had refused to accept that the Neanderthals could have made the Mousterian, thinking that they had been kept as slaves by the real artisans, modern humans.

Breuil’s questions were of course rhetorical. In his opinion Sinanthropus had done all these things and it was likely that Pithecanthropus had been just as capable. Sinanthropus was possibly the ancestor of the Neanderthals, and related to Homo heidelbergensis of Mauer, where the first artefacts from the hominin layer (Lower Mauer Sands), disputed chert flake tools, had been found by Karl Friedrich Hormuth in 1924 (Beinhauer et al. 1992; Fiedler et al. 2019).

Further finds of Pithecanthropus fossils on Java (Mojokerto, Sangiran, Ngandong) in deposits believed to be of Middle Pleistocene age (Stein Callenfels 1936) left little doubt the Chinese and Indonesian hominins were the same species (Weidenreich 1936, 1937a, 1937b), although significantly they had used different material cultures. Claims of Palaeolithic bone tools from Java had been met with significant skepticism, but genuine tools made on silicified limestone, tuff and fossilised wood were later recovered from gently folded (and therefore old) conglomerate deposits at the site of Pajitan (Koenigswald 1936). They included scrapers, points, flakes, choppers and handaxes which G.H. Ralph van Koenigswald (1902–1982) compared to Chellean and Clactonian types in Europe (Figure 6.14), additionally noting that there was no justification for regarding these as two separate cultures on Java or to suppose that the Chellean on Java was not the same age as occurrences elsewhere. An aged and embittered Eugene Dubois, on the other hand, now believed his discovery to be a giant gibbon (Dubois 1937; cf. Le Gros Clark 1937).

Photography of stone tools from Java.

Figure 6.14 Artefacts from Java. Chopper, bifaces, cores and flakes associated with the Early Palaeolithic Patjitan culture of Java (after Koenigswald 1936). Scale = 5cm.

The Stone Age Cultures of East Africa

On being appointed Director of the Geological Survey of Uganda, British-born Edward J. Wayland (1888–1966) spent what spare time he had pursuing his interest in archaeology. Wayland (1924a) was struck by the diversity of prehistoric stone tools found in Uganda, nearly all of them identical to north-west European types and occurring in remarkably similar groupings. In high level gravels of the Kafu River, he found a primitive industry (later named the Kafuan) characterised by simple choppers and scrapers, often of small size, which he compared to the Pre-Chellean of Europe and to some earlier finds in Sri Lanka (Wayland 1924a, 1926, 1927, 1934). The Chelleo-Acheulean was represented by ovate handaxes and large scrapers, the industry from Sango Bay, at the mouth of the Kagera River, providing the type-site for the local ‘Sangoan’ facies. This was characterised by picks, push-planes, handaxes and scrapers, and Wayland (1927, 1934) variously attributed it to a Chelleo-Acheulean facies, a local Mousterian, a mixture of Pre-Chellean and Chellean and a distinct ‘hill-culture’ contemporaneous with the Acheulean ‘valley-culture’.

Dating evidence was largely absent, but based on terrace stratigraphy, the relict shorelines of Lake Victoria and the regional history of uplift and folding, Wayland concluded that they also fell in the expected order. The key to this was the fluctuating shorelines, which Wayland (1924a, 1924b) suggested had been formed not (or not solely) by tectonic movements, but also by the alternation of relatively wet ‘pluvial’ periods and relatively dry ‘interpluvial’ periods. Brooks (1914) had earlier suggested that periods of heavy precipitation had occurred all over tropics and subtropics each time Europe was in the grip of a glaciation, a consequence of large anticyclones sitting above the ice caps in both hemispheres driving moist air towards the equator. Wayland now recognised evidence for three pluvials corresponding with the Mindel, Riss and Würm glaciations, the Kafuan probably belonging to the oldest of these. Wayland’s local names were widely adopted, although definitions were elusive, and the anthropogenic origin of the pebble tool culture was frequently challenged (e.g. Breuil 1934; Bishop 1959; Gowlett 1990).

Kenyan-born Cambridge graduate Louis Leakey (1903–1972) began his work in East Africa in 1926, the start of an ambitious eight-year East African Archaeological Expedition that saw investigations at the now famous sites of Kariandusi, Kanam, Kanjera and Olduvai. Through his initial surveys, Leakey (1929, 1931a) confirmed the existence of four Pleistocene pluvials and constructed a ‘fairly complete’ cultural sequence for Kenya. It closely matched the pattern, if not the details, of the sequence found in Europe.

Leakey (1929, 1931a) eschewed the profligate introduction of new terms and in his classification employed a mixture of European and South African names, following the rules of precedence adopted in other sciences. So, new names were given only to entirely new industries (e.g. Elmenteitan, Nanyukian12), not regional variations of old ones. In Leakey’s view, the Stellenbosch and Fauresmith industries were simply regional variants of the Chellean-Acheulean and Levalloisian, while Wayland’s Sangoan was a mixture of all three (Leakey 1931a, Leakey and Solomon 1929). To clearly differentiate regional variations from the European originals, Leakey used an adjectival prefix (e.g. Kenyan Acheulean), but he was clear that these labels did not imply they were of similar age or had any direct cultural connections (1931a, 27–28). Each described a “culture phase, within which there may be differences of detail in different areas” (Leakey 1931a, 27).

Leakey’s methods certainly had the advantage of familiarity, and avoided a profusion of regional names, but his old mentor A.C. Haddon (1888–1966), who at the first BAAS visit to South Africa in 1905 had argued that even the terms Palaeolithic and Neolithic were inappropriate for Africa (Haddon 1905), described this new system as “rash and in every way undesirable” (Haddon, cited in Coles 1975, 69). Wayland warned against making over-confident correlations at this early juncture, especially with regard to the number and timing of the pluvials (Leakey and Solomon 1929, 1931b; Wayland 1929a, 1929b, 1930).

An unrepentant Leakey (1931a) had a more important question in mind. How did one, within a culture historical framework, explain the apparently identical development from Chellean to Late Acheulean in Europe, East Africa and South Africa? Over such vast distances, Leakey considered that a combination of diffusion and local innovations seemed the most plausible answer. He imagined an early hominin stock with a Pre-Chellean or Chellean culture that had spread from Africa to other parts of the world. The different regional groups had then developed along independent but essentially parallel lines into the later Chellean and Acheulean. Indeed, for Leakey, the Acheulean was the natural and almost inevitable development of the Chellean, while the Mousterian the natural evolution of the Acheulean. Cultures may have developed at different paces in different regions, so similar assemblages were not necessarily contemporaneous. It was still just not possible to correlate the different continents reliably; fundamental disagreements over the relationship of human industries with the ice age sequence in Europe left any correlation with the Kenyan cultural phases open to question, even if the tentative pluvial-glacial correlations were correct. Even the Chellean of Europe could not be assumed to be the same age everywhere, Leakey argued, for it must have appeared in southern Spain before it arrived in England. Leakey regretted the fact that no human fossils were associated with the Chellean-Acheulean line in Africa, Asia or Europe, but predicted that they would be of non-sapiens type, probably Neanderthal-oid like Mauer and Kabwe. There might have been a separate line of flake-tool cultures in Europe, but nothing similar had yet been found in Africa: he presciently predicted that such a culture would eventually be found.

Table 6.8 Leakey’s (1931) framework forpluvials and cultural phases for East Africa compared with Europe (extrapolated from data and tables in Leakey 1931a).

Height of Water in Lake Nakuru Basin Above Present Level

Pluvial Period

1931 Nomenclature

European Glacial Scheme

Kenyan Culture Phase

145 +/− ft

Second post-pluvial wet phase


Wet period ca 850 BC

Najoran}Gumban A} contemporary?Gumban B}

Period of aridity and deposition of aeolian sand

Climatic optimum

375 +/− ft

First post-pluvial wet phase


Bühl Stadium

2) Kenya Wilton1) Elmenteitan

Period of intense aridity marked by deposition of aeolian sands, reddening of all exposed land surface and formation of kunkar Decline of Upper Gamblian

Achen Retreat

Lower Late Aurignacian} contemporaryKenya Still Bay}

510 +/− ft

Later second major pluvial

Upper Gamblian


Upper Kenya Aurignacian} contemporaryUpper Kenya Mousterian}

300 +/− ft

Decreased rainfall

Fall of Lake Level


700 +/− ft

Early second major pluvial

Lower Gamblian (ex-Enderian)


Lower Kenya Aurignacian} contemporaryLower Kenya Mousterian}

Long periods of earth movements, faulting, volcanic eruptions and erosion. Dry



First major pluvial

Kamasian LateMiddleEarly


2) Kenya Acheulean1) Upper Kenya ChelleanLower Kenya Chellean ?

By 1931 Leakey had turned his attention to Olduvai Gorge, at the southern end of the African Rift Valley in Tanzania, a country that had passed from German to British control in 1922 as a condition of the Treaty of Versailles. Just prior to World War I, German palaeontologist Hans Reck (1886–1937) had discovered an intact modern human burial (Olduvai H1) in Bed II, one of the oldest Pleistocene beds at the site (Reck 1914), but Leakey (1931a) had cast doubt on whether such an advanced human type could be contemporaneous with the deposit and its associated extinct fauna, suggesting it may have been an intrusive burial. Reck had also failed to recognise the stone tools that littered the Gorge, not expecting them to be of local volcanic rocks but of flint.

In a new joint venture between the two fieldworkers, it took Leakey less than 24 hours to find an handaxe, lying in situ in Bed IV. Their original primary objective, determining a precise context and age for the OH1 skeleton, was also quickly resolved (see more on this later in the chapter), replaced by the quest to find as many sites as possible with a view to establishing the cultural sequence within the Gorge, its geological history and any links with pluvial and inter-pluvial periods documented elsewhere. In the first season Leakey established a basic archaeological sequence at Olduvai, which further work enhanced rather than radically altered (Leakey et al. 1931; Leakey 1936; cf. Gowlett 1990):

· Bed I–Pre-Chellean, associated with extinct species such as Deinotherium and Hipparion

· Bed II–Early Chellean

· Bed III–transition from Chellean to Acheulean

· Bed IV–Lower = Early Acheulean; Upper = Advanced Acheulean

· Bed V–Hiatus, followed by Kenyan Aurignacian

Beds I to IV were argued to be Lower and Middle Pleistocene in age, based on their fauna and stratigraphy, and showed a sequence of Pre-Chellean–Chellean–Acheulean, one of the most “complete evolutionary sequences” of the handaxe cultures that had ever been found (Leakey 1936, 41). Fulfilling his earlier prediction, Bed I contained a primitive, non-handaxe industry characterised by chopping tools made on pebbles and lumps of rock. Leakey et al. (1931) initially described it as Pre-Chellean, yet by 1932 had decided that it was more like an advanced form of Wayland’s Kafuan pebble-tool industry (Leakey 1936). When Way-land disagreed, Leakey assigned it a new name, the Oldowan (Leakey 1934a, 1934b), but suspected there was no justification for this and that the name would eventually be dropped in favour of Developed Kafuan (Leakey 1936, 40). As it transpired, it was the Kafuan that was abandoned, when archaeologists decided that the finds from the type exposures were all natural (Clark 1958a; Bishop 1959). Leakey also detected signs of a contemporaneous flake-tool culture in East Africa, in both Olduvai and Uganda, but somewhat uncharacteristically, decided to wait for more evidence.

Leakey (1936) suggested that the Oldowan culture was the parent of the later handaxe industries at Olduvai and showed a gradual in situ development over time. Towards the top of Bed I the pebble tools showed

a tendency to be trimmed in such a way as to leave a cutting edge on both sides, and in the lowest part of Bed II this tendency becomes a dominant characteristic… the trimming of two sides of a pebble leads to the making of very crude and simple hand-axes… the first true stage of the Chellean culture.


The next stage of the Chellean saw the development of clumsy pointed implements, not entirely dissimilar to some of the East Anglia rostro-carinates, being keeled on one side and flat on the other. In the third stage, the keeled surface was greatly reduced in thickness, and the tools took on a more typical handaxe shape, while in the fourth and fifth stages the flatness was eliminated and handaxes became biconvex in section and tended to be trimmed all the way round. Many of the handaxes in the final Chellean of Bed III were already of Early Acheulean type, although they were made using the Chellean (hard-hammer) technique. Leakey suggested that they were transitional, although he regarded the division between Chellean and Acheulean as one of convenience rather than reality. The emergence of the Acheulean, with both typical Acheulean forms and technique (i.e. soft-hammer), was also marked by the appearance of cleavers. Leakey defined five subdivisions for the Chellean and six for the Acheulean, based on differences in shape, size and workmanship (see Table 6.9). At the top of the East African sequence, Leakey noted the existence of four distinct culture groups, the Late Acheulean and several derivatives of the Levalloisian, the Sangoan-Still-bay and Levalloisian-Nanyukian, paralleling in some respects the sequence seen in Europe. There was no obvious local ancestor for the Aurignacian, although Leakey speculated that it was derived from the final Acheulean.

Table 6.9 Cultures of the Lower and Middle Pleistocene in East Africa (after Leakey 1936).

End of Kamasian Pluvial = End of Middle Pleistocene

Acheulean 6

Early Aurignacian

Pseudo-Still Bay


Acheulean 5


Acheulean 4


Early Levalloisian

Acheulean 3

Acheulean 2

Acheulean 1

Chellean 5 (or transitional)

Early Sangoan

Chellean 4

Chellean 3

Chellean 2

Chellean 1

Oldowan (or Pre-Chellean)

End of Lower Pleistocene

Developed Kafuan

Traces of a crude flake culture

Earliest Kafuan

End of Pliocene and beginning of Pleistocene

Leakey’s Luck

Inspecting the complex geology at the OH1 findspot, Leakey concluded that Reck had been correct, the skeleton could not have been a modern intrusion because the area was sealed by a hard crust of steppe-limestone. It must have been buried while the red deposit above it, which Reck and Leakey identified as Bed III, was being formed, meaning that anatomically modern humans using a handaxe industry had existed in the Middle Pleistocene in Africa. In a typically impetuous move, Leakey, Reck and their faunal-specialist A.T. Hopwood quickly announced their findings in Nature (Leakey et al. 1931), followed by articles in the Times (Coles 1975). When Wayland examined the site, however, he concluded that due to erosion Beds III and IV were locally missing, and that Bed II had formed a land-surface at a much later period, probably more-or-less contemporary with the Aurignacian or Elmenteitan (Wayland 1932; Wayland unpublished manuscript cited in Coles 1975, 88). When Leakey provided geological samples to P.G.H. Boswell at Imperial College London, the latter’s trademark trace-mineral analysis supported Wayland’s suspicions (Leakey et al. 1933), as did Mollison’s chemical analysis of bones from the site, which showed Olduvai H1 to be a recent specimen in a different state of preservation to the fauna from Beds II-IV (Leakey 1932). Mollison concluded it was no younger than the Magdalenian period (ibid.). Leakey would soon suffer further embarrassment at Boswell’s hands over his claims for Lower and Middle Pleistocene aged Homo sapiens remains from Kanam and Kanjera in Kenya. When Boswell (1935) attempted to field-truth Leakey’s observations neither site could be re-located, photographs that had accompanied an exhibit at the Royal College of Surgeons were found to be of different localities and the deposits were not clays, as described, but volcanic agglomerate. Leakey was left looking incompetent, in contrast to Wayland, who was praised for his sound judgement. The makers of the Lower Palaeolithic in Africa thus remained in a suspense account.

Leakey’s work at Olduvai potentially provided the standard reference section for the development of the Lower Palaeolithic in other parts of East Africa, worked out in a single locality, rather than put together piecemeal from widely separated exposures (O’Brien 1939). In practice, however, the lack of published details, local variation in stone tools and different opinions on the value of the pluvial clock made such correlations unreliable. Wayland (1932, 1934) was concerned that Leakey’s correlations between the Olduvai beds and African pluvial/interpluvial sequence created a mismatch between the cultures on either side of Lake Victoria. Wayland thought that Leakey had made everything too old, the proposed sequence of Pre-Chellean to Acheulean during the Kamasian, which was supposed to represent the first major pluvial and span the Günz and Mindel glaciations in Europe, really belonged to the second major pluvial. This was a critical difference. Leakey’s chronological and cultural framework neatly paralleled the European sequence as espoused by Breuil (see more on this later in the chapter), but by placing the East African Chellean-Acheulean in the second pluvial, equated with the period spanning the late Riss to early Würm, Wayland (1934) put Africa out of phase with the dominant thinking in Europe (Table 6.10).

Table 6.10 Correlation of the African archaeological sequence with the European glacial dating framework (after Wayland 1934).

Pluvial Period

Cultural Fades

Glacial Equivalents to Pluvials

Geological Period

Post Pluvial


Bühl Stadium(Small moraines on Mts Ruwenzori, Elgon, Kenya and Kilimanjaro)


Achen Retreat (?)

Pluvial II

Part 2

Wurm (?)(Glaciers No 3 on Mts Ruwenzori, Elgon, Kenya and Kilimanjaro)

Intra-pluvial oscillation

Recession of glaciers

Part 1

Riss (?)(Glaciers No 2 on Mts Ruwenzori, Elgon, Kenya and Kilimanjaro)


Recession of glaciers

Early Middle Pleistocene

Pluvial 1

Part 2

Late Kafuan

Mindel (?)(Glaciers No 1 on Mts Ruwenzori, Elgon, Kenya and Kilimanjaro)

Intra-pluvial oscillation

Recession of glaciers

Part 1

Early Kafuan

Gunz (?)(Glacial deposits on Mts Kenya and Kilimanjaro)

Early Pleistocene Plio-Pleistocene



By this point, though, Wayland had also begun to doubt both the intensity of the wet and dry periods and their simple association with major glacial and interglacial cycles in the Northern hemisphere; he had certainly underestimated the degree to which tectonic movements had created many of the phenomena he attributed to heavy rainfall (O’Brien 1939, 40). When Leakey’s own geologist, J.D. Solomon,13 also found no well-defined evidence for the expected climatic events, the “chief prop of the East African scaffolding” was removed (O’Brien 1939, 292). The difficulty could be resolved, however, by ignoring the idea of pluvials and treating the deposits not as meteorological phenomena but as geological deposits formed by normal geomorphological processes. In most cases it provided a “simpler and more satisfying explanation” (ibid., 293). Archaeological correlations also broke down within East Africa, Uganda proving to have been “extraordinarily independent” of its neigh-bours, and while there was certainly a general similarity, the multiplicity of lithic remains were “obstinately incapable” of correlation period for period (ibid.).

O’Brien’s cultural framework (Table 6.11) contained several industries not seen at Olduvai and several overlapping phyla (Kafuan, Oldowan, Chelleo-Acheulean, Tumbian and Levalloisian) rather than one continuously evolving lineage that only split towards the end of the Pleistocene (Figure 6.15). There were certainly no grounds to believe that the Oldowan was the African ‘mother-culture’ of all other industries. In some instances, O’Brien saw stronger affinities with South Africa, but noted that the Chellean-Acheulean sequences were different in each country. Uganda in turn lacked a late Oldowan and Nanyukian, and had provided a different environment and different raw materials; regardless of Leakey’s opinion to the contrary, O’Brien maintained that handaxes made on obsidian from Kenya were not directly comparable to those made on quartzite and lava from Uganda, while the rolling uplands of Kenya had presented different challenges and opportunities to the low lying swamps and forests of Uganda. As Wayland (1934, 333) noted at the time,

the realm of the prehistorian has widened much of late, and the prehistory of a country is no longer in the main a study and description of culture sequences and human types, it now involves such important matters as the physical conditions that obtained and the changes they underwent in the days of early man, and the effects of these upon his various activities.

Composite photograph showng six sets of stone tools, each belonging to a different industry.

Figure 6.15 Implements of the Stone Age cultures of Uganda (after O’Brien 1936a).

Table 6.11 O’Bnen’s cultural-chronological scheme for Uganda (after O’Brien 1939, Table 1). The Tumbian was of West African origin, named after the type-site at Tumba on the Lower Congo. It was derived from the local Late Acheulean and characterised by long, narrow ‘laurel leaf’-type bifaces that may have given rise to the similar Aterian industry of North Africa. The Walasi was a local Still Bay (leaf-point) type industry formed by the merging of the late Tumbian and Upper Levalloisian. The Upper Oldowan was absorbed into the Early Middle Acheulean.


Cultural Lineage

Upper Pleistocene


Still Bay

Late Tumbian (Mesolithic)

Upper Levallois

Middle Pleistocene

Upper Tumbian Hiatus

Middle Levallois

Upper Kafuan


Lower Levallois

Middle Kafuan

Upper Oldowan

Upper Acheulean

Middle Acheulean

Lower Pleistocene

Early Middle Acheulean

Early Acheulean

Lower Kafuan

Lower Oldowan


Lower Kafuan?

Lower Oldowan ?

This made correlations with Europe even more tenuous. Technological and typological similarities in objects like handaxes might provide valid reason to group them together, unless one assumed that they were independently invented, but this was only as “members of a single expanded cultural” entity (O’Brien 1939, 51). Simpler industries, such the core-and-flake Clactonian, could not safely be linked to the Clactonian of Europe, however, because any similarities were most likely the accidental outcome of using elementary and unspecialised techniques. The origin of the East African Levalloisian, whether European or South African, was unclear, although the use of Victoria West and similar techniques to produce handaxes and cleavers was present in Upper Stellenbosch times, and probably earlier. If these gradually evolved into a pure Levalloisian culture, by dropping the handaxes and cleavers and intensifying the preparation of the flake, then Europe’s claim to the earliest Levallois looked insecure. O’Brien (ibid., 295) argued that the time had come to stop looking to Europe or the Near East for the source of all cultural innovations and variations. The African Stone Age had developed along African lines, in an African environment, using African materials, despite the use of European names. In that realisation, O’Brien (ibid.) suggested, lay a “promise of tremendous significance in the future of African archaeology and for the solution of racial and kindred anthropological problems in that continent”.

Halfway between the south and east African Palaeolithic heartlands lay Victoria Falls, Zambia, where the Rhodesia Archaeological Expedition led by Leslie Armstrong and Neville Jones (1936), with the omnipresent Breuil, managed to secure a small European enclave. Based entirely on typology and with minimal stratigraphical support, they identified a Pre-Chellean, Chellean, Acheulean, Clactonian, Levelloisian and Mousterian all, apparently, falling in the correct order of succession. Only the earliest industry, Jones’s (1929) Hope Fountain (a non-handaxe facies of the Lower Palaeolithic), and the latest, the Bambatan (a derivative of the local Mousterian), were deemed sufficiently distinct to warrant a local designation. The cleaver, which defined the Lower Palaeolithic in many areas of Africa (including, now, Nigeria: Balfour 1934) was conspicuously absent.

The Caves of the Holy Land

The countries of the Levant occupied a key geographical position for understanding the cultural and evolutionary relationship between Europe and Africa. Both as part of a declining Ottoman empire before World War I and under French or British mandates after it, the development of Palaeolithic archaeology in the Levant followed a similar pattern to that seen in Africa. Most discoveries had been casual surface finds picked up by European visitors and ex-patriots (e.g. Burkhalter and Baudouin 1930; Clark 1933), many of which were uncritically referred to the prevailing European classification (or the version preferred by the reporting author). A more systematic and extensive survey of the surface or near-surface Palaeolithic of the region, conducted by Paul Karge of Münster University between 1909 and 1911, only confirmed the expected fit with Europe, finding all stages of the Palaeolithic present and correct (Karge 1917).

Systematic excavations began in 1925, when British archaeologist Francis Turville-Petre (1901–1942) excavated at the sites of Mugharet el-Emirah and Mugharet el-Zuttiyeh near the Sea of Galilee, receiving a small grant of £20 from the British School in Jerusalem’s Palestine Exploration Fund to finance the dig. At Zuttiyeh, Turville-Petre discovered a partial skull of Neanderthal-type human associated with a Mousterian industry containing handaxes, triangular points, side-scrapers and discs, alongside a highly developed technique for producing blades (Turville-Petre 1925, 1927a, 1927b, 1932). The last suggested a fairly late stage in the Mousterian. As the first human remains associated with the Middle Palaeolithic outside of Europe, the find received sensationalist coverage in the British press, with a two-page pictorial spread in The Times appearing on August 14 1925. This ‘touched off’ more widespread European interest in the Palaeolithic of the region, which was otherwise dominated by Biblical archaeology (Garrod 1962).

Financed by grants from the IPH in Paris, the French Consul in Jerusalem René Neuville (1899–1952) carried out excavations at the Acheulean site of Oumm Qatafa in the Judean Desert and at the cave of Jebel Qafzeh, on the Lower Galilee south of Nazareth (Neuville 1931, 1934, 1951). His most significant finds were four human skeletons in the Lower Levalloisian layers at Qafzeh, made in August–September 1934, which palaeontologist Henri Vallois (1889–1981) quickly recognised as a possible transitional form between Homo sapiens and the Neanderthals (Vandermeersch 2007).

Following her work at the Natufian type-site at Shuqba Cave, Wadi Natuf in 1928 (Garrod 1928; Garrod and Bate 1942), Dorothy Garrod (a contemporary of Turville-Petre at Oxford) was appointed director of excavations at Wadi el-Mughara, a project co-organised by the British School in Jerusalem and the American School of Prehistoric Research. Over seven seasons (totalling 22 months), Garrod and her team, largely made up of local women, excavated four caves in the Mount Carmel Range near Haifa: Tabun, El Wad, El Skhūl and El Jamal (Garrod 1934, 1935, 1936; Garrod and Bate 1937). The last had been almost emptied of its contents but together the others provided an overlapping, almost unbroken record stretching from the late Lower Palaeolithic to the Upper Palaeolithic, from the Tayacian to the Aurignacian.

Although closely conforming to the European scheme, the Mount Carmel sites contained several regional variations, some of which had African affinities (Figure 6.16). Tabun E contained four facies of an industry that Garrod initially saw as transitional between the Acheulean and Mousterian, but she later decided that the large side-scrapers were Lower Palaeolithic and re-attributed the entire group to the Upper Acheulean/Micoquian (Garrod 1936, 1937), before settling on Final Acheulean (Garrod 1938). The presence of blades in Tabun Eb was particularly notable (Figure 6.17), suggesting to Garrod contact with a very early Aurignacian (Garrod 1934, 9).

Summary geological section for the Levant, showing correlation of the main levels at Tabun, Skuhl and El Wad, and a complete archaeological sequence.

Figure 6.16 Garrod’s Composite Sequence for the Levant (after Garrod 1934).Drawing of Yabrudian artefacts

Figure 6.17 Yabrudian artefacts from Layer Eb at Tabun (after Garrod and Bate 1937). 1–5 = Amudian Blades. Scale: The handaxe bottom-centre is ~12.5cm in length.

Burials of a ‘transitional’ human form similar to those at Qafzeh were found at El Skhūl, while Tabun C produced an atypical Neanderthal skeleton (McCown and Keith 1939). All three were older than most Neanderthal skeletons in Europe and all had used a similar Levalloisian toolkit (Garrod 1934). The associated fauna from Tabun layers C and D and Skhūl layer B suggested that both groups had occupied the region during a period of warm-wet conditions, which Garrod (1934) equated with the Riss-Würm in Europe and a dry inter-pluvial phase in Africa that saw several species (including hippopotamus, crocodile and humans) disperse northwards into the Levant. She thought the entire sequence spanned a period of some 100,000 years. The Chellean was absent from the caves, just as it was from caves in Europe.

Table 6.12 Summary of Garrod’s cultural succession for the caves at Mount Carmel, Wadi el-Mughara (Garrod 1934,1936,1938).





Upper Mousterian

Levallois tradition with oval Levallois flakes, points and scrapers


Lower Mousterian

Levallois tradition with oval Levallois flakes, less abundant triangular flakes and points


Lower Mousterian

Levallois tradition with triangular Levallois flakes, equal numbers of points and scrapers



This contained handaxes and Clactonian type flakes resembling those at High Lodge. The handaxes were generally rougher than ‘true’ Acheulean forms and were frequently made with a hard-hammer. It was divided into four facies: a) large and well-made handaxes, mostly pear shaped, b) with implements of Upper Palaeolithic type including ‘Chatelperron’ points. c) with small triangular Micoque-type handaxes. d) the smallest and least well-made handaxes, mostly pear shaped



Pear shaped and ovate handaxes, some of the later better made than those from Layer E



A flake industry of ‘miserable’ appearance. Similar to Peyrony’s discoveries in the Middle Layers of La Micoque. Breuil placed the Tayacian at the beginning of the Riss-Würm, Garrod thought Tabun might be slightly younger

Alfred Rust’s (1900–1982) coetaneous discoveries in Syria revealed further regional variation. Rust was an amateur archaeologist who had enrolled on a night course in prehis-tory at the Volkshochschule zur Archäologie in Hamburg. In September 1930, Rust and a friend set off from Hamburg on a bike tour, travelling through Central Europe, the Balkans, Turkey, Syria, Palestine and finishing in Alexandria in Egypt. Sick and exhausted, Rust was hospitalised for several months in Nebek, near Damascus, time he spent exploring the local environs, which he found to be littered with Acheulean handaxes. Excavations in Yabrud Cave I revealed a series of four cultures beneath the Mousterian, three of them previously unknown: the Acheulean, the Yabrudian, the Acheulo-Yabrudian and the Pre-Aurignacian (later Amudian), which he suggested paralleled those at Tabun (Rust 1950, Figure 6.17). Rust’s Yabrudian was characterised by an abundance of heavy scrapers with stepped retouch and extremely low numbers, even an absence, of handaxes, while the pre-Aurignacian, as the name implies, was characterised by delicate nibbled blades and end-scrapers indistinguishable from the early Upper Palaeolithic in Europe. Rust (1933) and Garrod (1938) agreed that sequences at Tabun and Yabrud were highly complementary, the pre-Aurignacian equating with Tabun Eb, and the Yabrudian with the Micoquian facies of Tabun Ec, but the delayed publication of Yabrud meant that it would be over 20 years before the true complexity became apparent (Garrod 1956, 1962).

Overall, it was exactly what Breuil would have expected to find at the interface of Europe and Africa, familiar culture groups coming and going in response to climatic fluctuations, with a mixing of cultures and genes at the point of contact.

Breuil’s Multicultural Britain

In Britain, Boswell (1931) despaired at the damage the rise of culture history had done to his otherwise perfectly logical Pleistocene sequence. Henry Dewey (1930), during his tenure as president of the PPSEA, had likewise argued that the use of the same French terms to express totally different meanings had rendered them meaningless, however familiar they might be, and that they were best abandoned. Warren (1932), who had long promoted a cultural approach, was as equally unconvinced by Breuil’s new nomenclature as he had been by Commont’s original, preferring an idiosyncratic method based on local names. For many, however, Breuil’s culture history provided an enticing sandpit in which they could develop fresh ideas and resolve some old issues.

Bury (1935) found it easy to transfer his earlier interpretation of the Farnham Palaeolithic sequence onto Breuil’s cultural sequence (Table 6.13), even though this meant inverting the entire terrace staircase. His revised interpretation still saw the Chellean and Early Acheulean I and II industries of Terrace A as the oldest, but the presence of Acheulean III in Terrace D required the river to have cut down directly to this level, before gradually aggrading back to the level of Terrace A, leaving progressively younger deposits and artefacts on Terraces D, C, B and A in that order. A second major downcutting event back to the level of Terrace D occurred during Acheulean V or Levalloisian III times, with characteristic artefacts occurring in fluvial gravels on Terrace D and coombe rock on Terraces B and C.

Table 6.13 Bury’s revised cultural sequence for the Farnham Way (after Bury 1935).

Bury 1916, Based on Commont

Bury 1935, Based on Breuil

Terrace A

Early Acheulean in surface pocketsAdvanced Chellean in later channelsChellean in plateau gravels

Rolled Chellean (Abbevillian) in plateau gravelsAcheulean I, n and III in later channelsAcheulean IV on surface

Terrace B

Upper AcheuleanEarly Acheulean

Acheulean V in coombe rockAcheul IV with Micoque (Acheul VI) tendenciesClactonian III

Terrace C

Mousterian (Levalloisian)Advanced Chellean

Levalloisian or Acheulean V in coombe rockAcheul IV with Micoque (Acheul VI) tendenciesClactonian III

Terrace D

Upper Acheulean or Mousterian (Levalloisian) with cold fauna

Acheulean IIIAcheulean V or Levalloisian III with cold fauna

King and Oakley (1936) made an equally uncompromising bid to correlate the Lower and Middle Thames sequences with Breuil’s “great refinement” (ibid., 53) in the classification of the Palaeolithic, which had already shown a “practical identity” between Britain and Northern France. Although both William King (1889–1963) and Kenneth Oakley (1911–1981) were geologists by profession (King became the Woodwardian Professor of Geology at Cambridge in 1943), they prioritised Breuil’s archaeological method above all else, arguing that rivers did not behave predictably, and fossils and plants were better for climatic and environmental reconstruction than for dating purposes. The rapid recurrence of similar conditions had simply not provided enough time for evolution to have occurred, and the different periods often contained the same suite of species. In some lineages, such as the elephants, minor changes may have occurred between climatic cycles, but it was far from certain whether these represented evolutionary stages rather than the normal range of variation within a species. Small mammals evolved more rapidly (Hinton 1910, 1926) and some species could be used as zone fossils, within limits.

Like Bury, King and Oakley therefore used the sequence of Palaeolithic industries to reconstruct the Pleistocene history of the river, which had not been progressively downwards, but which had involved frequent adjustments to base level, both up and down. Downcutting sometimes took place during cold periods, sometimes during warm ones. Their idealised sections for the Lower and Middle Thames described 17 stages in the development of the terrace staircases, marked by cycles of uplift and erosion, submergence and aggradation, weathering and solifluxion, each invoked to keep the archaeological sequence in the correct order. These are presented in annotated form in Table 6.14. Lacaille’s (1936, 1939, 1940) interpretations of the Pleistocene history of the Middle Thames around Iver, Burnham and Maidenhead districts, was likewise conditioned by the ideas of Breuil, who sometimes accompanied him in the field.

Table 6.14 Figure 6.18. A) Stages I-XIII of King and Oakley’s scheme for the Lower Thames. B) King and Oakley’s scheme for the Middle Thames (after King and Oakley 1936).




Events and Deposits


Deposition of gravels between 300-400ft


None found. Assume Clactonian I, Abbevillian, Achuelean I and n in derived conditon in Boyn Hill and Taplow were made here



Lower chalky boulder clay deposits north of Thames.Glacial gravels of Middle Thames may belong here


Erosion boulder clay and associated outwash gravels


Derived Clactonina IFresh Clactonian II

Depostion of lower gravel and lower loam at Swanscombe, also seen at Greenhithe, Burnham-on-Crouch.Fauna indicates warm temperate climate and rich riparian environment bordered by forests


Uplift, followed by downcutting of 20ft and formation of the Clacton Channel. Surface of lower loam at Swanscombe weathered


Clactonian II

Prolonged aggradation due to swamping of lower reaches of the river, deposits sands and gravels and estuarine beds at Clacton. Also seen at Little Thurrock, Dovercourt Microtine and molluscan fauna at Ilford probably represents the later part of this aggradation, the fineness of the sediments indicative of ponding. Climate warm and dry


Middle AcheuleanIII Middle Acheulean IV Clactonian III (at Stoke Newington) Derived Abbevillian inDHG

Final stage of aggradation during which floodplain raised beyond that of Stage V. Middle gravels at Barnfield. Stoke Newington Floor. Dartford Heath gravel (older?). Fauna and flora indicate temperate conditions


Late Acheulean Early Levalloisian (I and II) made a Baker’s Hole

Uplift and erosion, creating steep river cliffs. Formation of a sunk channel that dipped below modern levels, seen at Wansunt and Globe Pit, Greenhithe. Temporary cessation of downcutting and lateral erosion creating shelf at 30ft OD


Covers the Levalloisian I and II workshop Baker’s Hole

Formation of Coombe Rock at Baker’s Hole. Deposition of upper gravel at Swanscombe.Channelling and contortion of top of Ilford brickearths. Cold climate fauna


Abraded Early Levalloisian Middle Levalloisian TTT floor at Crayford

Aggradation of well-bedded gravels.Mammalian fauna and flora suggestive of cold climate.Molluscs rare and uninformative


Levalloisian III

Accumulation of thick and widespread lower brickearth deposits. Flood loams and loëssic materials. Steppic mainly cold fauna. Overlain by fluviatile sands with temperate molluscan fauna and intrusive (nesting) cold climate ground squirrels. Upper brickearths are loëssic and contain a cold fauna


Downcutting to level of modern floodplain. Channel incision




Events and Deposits


Burnham: derived and abraded Abbevillian and Early Acheulean.Contemporary Middle Acheulean and evolved ClactonianFurze Platt: contemporary Middle Acheulean and evolved Clactonian

Aggradation of bedded gravels and sand at Furze Platt, Lent Rise and Burnham, burying two benches separated by 20ft.The upper bench was formed during the pre-Boyn Hill downcutting, the lower bench during the inter-Boyn Hill downcutting.Furze Platt and Lent Rise lie on lower bench. They are older, not younger than Burnham on the upper bench

IX A.1

IX A.2

Advanced Middle Acheulean (VI) in rolled condition. Early Levallosian

Aggradation of gravels in Iver and West Drayton districts


Uplift and down-cutting. At the end of this period, marked increase in solifluxion, forming wherever chalk was exposed.Equivalent to Baker’s Hole coombe rock


Levalloisian III-IV

Aggradation of the Taplow Terrace gravels.Accumulation of Langley brickearth

Line drawings of stone tools, with arrows marking the direction of flaking for each flaking facet.

Figure 6.18 Flaking diagrams of a Mousterian point and a St Acheul ovate implement (after Moir 1917).

The report of the Swanscombe skull committee (Hinton et al. 1938) also followed King and Oakley, but A.T. Marston (1889–1971), the Clapham dentist who had found the two portions of the primitive but modern looking human skull in the Upper Middle Gravels in June 1935 and March 1936, had a different interpretation. He regarded the handaxes from the LMG as Abbevillian, those from the UMG as Acheulean I and III, dating each horizon on the youngest types present (Marston 1937). The key difference was the use of hard hammer percussion in the earlier industry and soft hammer in the later one, although this was disputed by Hinton et al. It is unsurprising that the Swanscombe Committee followed King and Oakley in the interpretation of the Swanscombe sequence, given that both men were on the panel, but Marston’s classification had apparently come directly from Breuil. The culture histories erected in Britain during this period had very shaky foundations.

These were not isolated cases either. At Warsash in Hampshire, Burkitt et al. (1939) divided poorly provenanced material into Early Acheulean, Middle Acheulean, Micoquian and Levalloisian based on condition, typology and technology, and used this to reconstruct the culture history of the region. Calkin (1934) described Clactonian I, Chellean, Early Acheulean and Late Acheulean within and on top of the 135ft raised beach deposits at Slindon in West Sussex, close to the now famous site of Boxgrove. The presence of early Clactonian material in the 80m raised beach at Aldingbourne demanded that it date to Clacton I times, that is, older than the higher 135ft raised beach. At Brundon in Suffolk, Moir and Hopwood (1939) found what they thought to be a mixed assemblage with elements of Early and Late Acheulean, Clacton III and Levalloisian I–III, while at Warren Hill Leakey’s geologist, J.D. Solomon (1933), described a highly abraded Abbevillian (Chellean), a slightly rolled Late Acheulean with ovates and an unrolled final Acheulean with cordiform handaxes of Combe Capelle type and cleavers approaching those from Stellenbosch. He also identified an unrolled, unpatinated Clactonian III, similar to High Lodge.

On Negative Evidence

Breuil transformed Warren’s Clactonian industry from a parochial anomaly to the common ancestor for several global stone tool traditions. Unlike other traditions, however, the Clactonian was constructed almost entirely on negative evidence. It was defined not on any one or more characteristic types, but on the absence of characteristic types seen in other industries, specifically handaxes (Table 6.15). The tools that were found in Clactonian I-III assemblages–various types of non-prepared cores / choppers, large flakes, asymmetrical flakes, scrapers, blades and points, were hardly unique to those industries.

Table 6.15 1920s and 1930s British typologies for the Clactonian. Part of the variation stems from whether the author believed the Clactonian to be a core-tool industry or a flake-tool industry.

Warren (1922b, 1923d, 1924a)

Chandler (1930)

Oakley and Leakey (1937)

Paterson (1937)

Large flake

Flakes - wide and thick, high flaking angle, prominent bulbs, unfaceted platforms

Flakes (as Chandler)






Discoidal cores

Peculiar tortoise cores




Pointed implements

Rough handaxes

Trimmed flakes

Strépy points

Nosed scrapersTrilobed hollow scrapersDiscoidal and quadrilateral scrapersButt endscrapersTriangular PointsBeaked Points

Nosed scrapers Side scrapers Notches, single and double Pointed tools Multiple tools Tools made on cores



Working at the type-site, Warren (1932) could not agree with Breuil that the Clactonian was a primitive core and flake industry. The key implement was the side-chopper, and these were not mere cores. He noted that they were always flaked to produce a zig-zagged edge that sat opposite a natural and balanced handgrip, and that the flakes produced would have been rather useless. The Clactonian people were well-acquainted with other techniques that produced larger flakes and would have had little use for the waste products of choppers. They were also distinguished by their lower flaking angle. Even if the purpose of these objects was open to doubt, they were the most important feature of the Clactonian and Warren suggested it was convenient to give them a name. Other common forms included ‘barbarous imitations’ of handaxes, axe-edged implements, discoids, side scrapers, trimmed flakes resembling Mousterian points and notches. For Warren, though, it was not the presence or form of individual types that was important, it was the character of the entire assemblage. Compared to the type-site, the Swanscombe material was generally thicker, heavier, more primitive and amorphous, altogether more Clactonian than Clacton itself (Warren 1932).

Chandler’s (1930, 1932a, 1932b) inventory of Clactonian tools from Swanscombe made little of the flake tools, defining the industry as being flakes, chopping tools, anvils and cores, some of which resembled crude handaxes or rough Levallois cores. He took greater care, however, to provide the flaking angles and technological characteristic of Clactonian flakes. These were typically thick and wide in proportion to length with large unfacetted platforms. They had prominent cones of percussion and large bulbs, with high internal flaking angles (the angle between the striking platform and the bulb), in the fresh Clactonian II series ranging between 115° and 140°. They were entirely different to Acheulean flakes (Chandler 1935).

Excavations by Mary Leakey and Kenneth Oakley at Jaywick Sands sampled an inland southwesterly continuation of the Clacton Channel (Oakley and Leakey 1937). Flooding prevented the excavation from reaching the highly organic ‘elephant bed’ but they did recover the first Clacton-on-Sea assemblage from a controlled stratigraphical context. Of the 190 artefacts excavated from the gravel and 90 collected from the foreshore at adjacent Lion Point only 40 could be classed as tools. These included five types of scraper (nosed-, hollow-, discoidal-, quadrilateral, butt-ended) plus triangular and beaked points. The cores were mostly of chopper or bi-pyramidal form, both of which Oakley and Leakey interpreted as the waste product of flake production, even if some of them may have been later used expediently for other purposes. It was, however, untrue to say that bifaces were entirely lacking from the Clactonian, but they were a subsidiary element and those reported by Warren and Chandler were different from “handaxes proper, associated with the Abbevillian and Acheulean family of cultures” (Oakley and Leakey 1937, 235).

Oakley (ibid., 20) opined that the character of the flakes supported Coutier’s conclusion that they must have been struck by powerfully swinging the core against an anvil, where nothing (such as a leg or hand) acted to muffle the shock of the percussive force. By contrast the often-delicate retouch showed the use of small hammers and fine finger control. The presence of some artefacts made on non-local fresh Chalk flint further suggested that flint was transported over considerable distances, perhaps several tens of miles. They wondered if it had been bartered, and why Clactonian humans had chosen a locality that sat on London Clay. Perhaps it was the fact that it was a watering hole for animals, surrounded by rich parklands and woods, they suggested.

Even though they could detect no evolution in the material from Clacton, which formed one homogenous assemblage, Oakley and Leakey followed others in seeing the contemporary material from Swanscombe as more primitive and therefore older (King and Oakley 1936; Warren 1932). As Breuil had already assigned the derived industry from Swanscombe to Clactonian I and the High Lodge scraper industry to Clactonian III, Oakley and Leakey subdivided Clactonian II into IIa (Swanscombe) and IIb (Clacton). There were also hints that the Clactonian from the Lower Loam approached, but not did not quite reach, Clactonian III. Marston (1937) had detected finer divisions in the Swanscombe Lower Gravel, which he suggested contained three distinct Clactonian industries, separable mostly by size and condition, with another present in the Lower Loam, but these conclusions were rejected by the Swanscombe Committee (Hinton et al. 1938), which adopted the classification of Oakley.

Oakley and Leakey took an overtly culture historical view of the British Palaeolithic. The sequence at Swanscombe suggested that the Clactonian IIa phase predated the reappearance of the Acheulean, which had disappeared from Britain during the preceding glacial period. The Clactonian and Acheulean peoples were different races, the Clactonian originating in Asia and evolving into the Mousterian. The presence of evolved Clactonian III scrapers in Late Acheulean assemblages, however, showed either that these co-existing races had overlapped territorially, sharing the same hunting grounds, or that the Acheulean had adopted the Clactonian scraper. “With the existence of parallel cultures, mutual influence and borrowing of ideas [were] only to be expected” (Oakley and Leakey 1937, 241).

One might therefore reasonably expect to find provincial variation within culture groups. At Barnham St Gregory, Suffolk, T.T. Paterson (1909–1994) described the local evolution of the Brecklandian, a regional variant of the Clactonian (Paterson 1937). Excavating the site using 3–4 inch (~10cm) spits, Paterson recovered over 1,500 lithic artefacts, from which he constructed six industries, divided by context, condition, colour and form. The heavily rolled and striated Industry A was spread throughout the entire depth of gravel, while the slightly worn and creamy coloured Industries B and C were largely confined to the upper 2ft. Industries D and E were in fresh condition and occurred at the top of the gravel. An Acheulean with twisted ovates formed Industry F, which was restricted from the brickearth above the gravel beds (ibid.).

Employing his own method of classification, which relied on the form and number of worked edges, Paterson (1937) defined a series of 11 single tools (e.g. straight retouched edge, concave retouched edge) and nine multiple tools (e.g. straight-edged and notched). Over time there had been several improvements in technique, he argued. Core working became increasingly intensive, producing flakes with more complex dorsal surfaces and occasional simple faceting. Tools became better shaped with finer retouch; stepped flaking to produce strong convex edges became more common in industries D and E. Flaking angles and the curve of the bulb decreased through time, perhaps revealing the development of new knapping techniques, anvils giving way to manual hard-hammer percussion and finally to the use of wooden hammers. This was accompanied by a change in cores, from bi-conical forms to flatter types approaching Levallois. There were many similarities with the industries from Clacton and Swanscombe, but Paterson thought overall the sequence of development differed from that described by Breuil and doubted that the small facetted flakes of the final Breckland Clactonian (E) could be the precursor to large Levalloisian I flakes. East Anglia had been a different cultural province, more closely related to Belgium and Germany than southern England and France, although contacts between these provinces were many. The Brecklandian showed a pure local sequence, uncontaminated by culture contact.

However, at the site of Elveden, 6km west of Barnham, Paterson (Paterson and Fagg 1940) found a rich Acheulean industry containing six types of handaxe, including twisted forms, plus eight types of core, including bi-pyramidal and simple Levallois forms, that he saw as a fusion between the Acheulean and Breckland Clactonian. As Paterson believed that new tool forms would have been more quickly assimilated and reproduced than new techniques, and as most stages of handaxe manufacture at Elveden was conducted using the Acheulean (i.e. soft hammer) rather than Clactonian (hard-hammer) technique, he concluded that an Acheulean group had come into contact with a Clacton group and absorbed some of their core and flake tools. To support this interpretation, Paterson noted that the core element was technically degenerate and that a number of handaxes had been made on flakes struck from large cores. He termed this hybrid assemblage the Brecklandian Acheul.

Other than the spurious use of flaking angles, none of these studies employed statistical or metrical methods, and there was little sign of a coherent techno-typological definition beyond the fact that the Clactonian definitively lacked handaxes. These methods certainly existed. Moir (1917) had described a graphical method of examining flaking patterns, which could be used to compare techniques between periods (Figure 6.18), very similar to the diacritical diagrams later used by the French Technology schools. Barnes (1929) had proposed a statistical method for differentiating stone tools, largely based on length, width and thickness, from which he calculated various means and shape indices presented as histograms and box plots. When applied to several British sites, clear metrical differences were apparent, but these generally conformed to the subjective impressions made at much lesser cost of labour. Barnes (1930) had also demonstrated metrical differences between Peyrony’s typical Mousterian and MTA at le Moustier, and noted a cyclical pattern in changes to the size of handaxes over time, which he vaguely interpreted as relating to prevailing Pleistocene environments, rather than tribal practices or the size of the raw materials.

Warren (in Hinton et al. 1938) was at pains to distance himself from serial subdivisions and saw no value in the frequently used internal flake angle, which was not the angle the knapper saw on the edge of the core. Kelley (1937) even felt it necessary to remind archaeologists that while independent flake cultures were now widely recognised, the handaxe cultures had also used flake tools of very similar form, manufacture and retouch. They could be distinguished only on the basis of their stratigraphical position and association. The old debates between Mortillet, d’Acy and others had been forgotten or deemed irrelevant in the new multicultural Palaeolithic.

A Warning From Later Prehistory

Such a state of affairs was almost exactly what V. Gordon Childe (1935) had feared in his review of archaeological methods, presented at the first meeting of the nationalised Prehistoric Society, parts of which should have provided the Palaeolithic old guard with much to think about. Childe acknowledged that in geology, zone fossils were used to describe long periods of time that were assumed to be contemporaneous across the globe. The resolution of the record made it impossible to discriminate further. But telescoping or collapsing time in this manner was unacceptable when humans were involved. If archaeologists were ever going to write real ‘prehistories’, then the periods must be meaningful. They should not compress thousands of years, the whole of written history, into a single period. Mortillet’s analogy was false.

For Childe, prehistory should not be content with abstract histories. It might never be able to reach individuals, but it could reach groupings such as nations, cultural differences created by different social institutions. Typologies, though, were regional, abstract and ignored internal variation. Archaeologists should not just describe artefacts, but needed to learn how they were made, and where the materials came from, to better understand how prehistoric humans interacted with their world. They needed to develop different concepts of time, more refined chronological units and a better appreciation of how the arrival or disappearance of a culture might happen at different times in different parts of the world. In India the motor car could be found alongside the same type of ox-driven wagons used at Ur 5,000 years ago, he noted. Ideas surrounding the diffusion of cultures and cultural traits were useful but needed treating with care and respect. Used without diligent definition, diffusion could be taken to mean the movement of people (from individual artisans to large numbers), techniques, things or ideas. One had to be certain that two similar objects or techniques were not independently invented, and to do this one had to be certain of their chronological relationship, paying absolute attention to stratigraphical principles. There was a real danger in the Quaternary, as T.H. Huxley had warned, of mistaking homotaxis (a similarity in succession) with synchronicity, forgetting the potential time lags between regions (Boswell 1936).

In his famously marxist and functionalist formulation of culture (Trigger 1989), Childe declared:

Our dumb relics and monuments can never reveal the names of prehistoric chieftains, the dreams of seers or the issues of individual battles. But they can be made to disclose the economic organization of a people and a period. We can determine how a given group got its food, how far labour was specialized, what part commerce played in the community’s life, what geological, botanical and chemical knowledge the hunters, farmers, and craftsmen were applying in their several pursuits. That is what is disclosed when we study a culture, not as a dead group of fossils or curios but as a living, functioning organism … material culture as an adaptation to an environment.

(Childe 1935, 10)

Humans used clothes, tools and architecture to take the place of furs, claws and dens. Tools were extra-corporeal limbs, material culture “the assemblage of devices that a community has invented or learnt to enable it to survive” (ibid., 11).

Archaeological cultures were not to be imposed onto the world but were to be observed from the facts:

The traits of a culture are thus presented together to the archaeologist because they are the creation of a single people, adjustments to its environment approved by its collective experience; they thus express the individuality of a human group by common social traditions. With this idea prehistory vindicates its character as a human, in contrast to a natural, science.

(Childe 1935, 3)

It was cultures that should be classified chronologically, not individual objects.

The culture concept had been slow coming to Britain and had only very recently been applied to the Palaeolithic. Childe noted that earlier linear models had been upset by global patterns, although evolutionary ideas had by no means been abandoned. Breuil and Garrod had helped ‘turn the tide’ and recent textbooks such as Burkitt’s The Old Stone Age (1933) and Leakey’s (1934b) Adam’s Ancestors had taken a human-historical rather than naturalistic-evolutionary view. He still felt that the implications of a cultural approach had not been fully grasped by everybody, however: types could not serve as both a characteristic of a culture and a marker for a particular time period. Micoquian handaxes marked the Micoquian culture, not the Micoquian period. To some extent this could be seen as useful shorthand. The use of the term Roman period to describe the dominant culture in Britain between the first and fourth centuries CE was perfectly acceptable, contemporaneous native cultures could still be assigned to the period without confusion. But where any risk of confusing the cultural with the chronological, this should be discouraged, Childe insisted. Geological or climatic periods should be used to define time, archaeological industries to define a culture.

This seriously complicated the chief task of archaeology, classifying the past in chronological order, he acknowledged, and would, of course, require fine-grained environmental reconstructions. Childe pointed to recent developments in the techniques of pollen analysis as a powerful tool. While the study of pollen began with the first microscopes in the seventeenth century, the use of pollen to reconstruct past environments and the historical development of plant communities is usually credited to Lennart Von Post (1884–1951) of Stockholm University, who published his first paper on the subject, in Swedish, in 1916 (Von Post 1916 cited in Manten 1967). The technique became more widely known and used after 1921, following the publication of Gunnar Erdtman’s (1897–1973) doctoral thesis in German, a more accessible language for most scholars (Faegri 1973). By the beginning of the 1930s it had been applied across Europe, the USSR and New Zealand (ibid.). Members of the Prehistoric Society would also have been aware of the work of the Fenland Research Committee, if only through the reports that Cambridge botanist Harry Godwin and colleagues had published in their own proceedings (Godwin et al. 1934).

Palaeolithic archaeologists in the audience could justifiably have asked Childe whether he fully understood the time scales within which they were forced to work. There were no Early Palaeolithic pollen diagrams, existing studies were all postglacial. How could hominin groups be anything other than time-averaged abstractions? That notwithstanding, Childe was right to be concerned about how cultural approaches were being applied to the Palaeolithic.

Milankovitch’s Solar Radiation Curve

It was relatively straightforward for archaeologists to construct regional culture histories based on artefacts, using preconceived ideas of evolutionary developments in separate but overlapping traditions of stone tool manufacture. It was also not difficult to correlate the human industries with the stratigraphical, faunal and climatic sequences, as long as those sequences could be bent to fit the archaeology. Putting these regional stories together into a global culture history was also possible, but to raise it above antiquarianism, Palaeolithic archaeology needed independent verification of the age of the deposits. Happily, across the globe geologists continued to refine their local Pleistocene sequences and correlate them with local evidence for the Alpine climatic cycles. It was only unfortunate that few of these regional sequences could be made to match.

Paul Woldstedt (1888–1973) of the Prussian Geological Survey established a local Pleistocene succession for Germany, which he correlated with deposits in Poland, Russia and the Ukraine. He found evidence of three glacial advances, the Weichsel (Würm), Saale (Riss) and Elster (Mindel), the moraines of the Günz, as long suspected, being absent in Germany (Woldstedt 1929, 1935). The maximum extent of the Weichsel and Saale ice advances had crossed the North Sea basin and corresponded to the Hunstanton and Lower Chalky Boulder Clays of England. This made these glacials an entire climatic cycle younger than that usually accepted and led to discrepancies between the human industries found in Britain and those in Central Europe, as pointed out by Boswell (1936) in one of his many attempts to use archaeology to reconcile the geological record. Something was clearly wrong with the archaeological sequences, the geological sequences, their suggested correlations, or quite possibly all three.

The answer, according to Frederick Zeuner (1905–1963), a German geologist who moved from Freiburg to London in 1934 (working at the NHM before taking up a lectureship at the newly founded Institute of Archaeology in Regents Park in 1936) was to be found in the new solar radiation curve calculated by Serbian mathematician Milutin Milankovitch (1879–1958: Zeuner 1935). Like James Croll before him, Milankovitch argued that the cycle of ice ages had been caused by variations in three orbital properties, which together determined how the Sun’s radiation was distributed over the Earth’s surface: 1) the tilt of the axis of rotation, 2) the eccentricity of the orbit and 3) the precession of the equinoxes (the Earth’s rotational wobble on its axis), each of which had different periodicities (e.g. Milankovitch 1930). Croll’s model had been heavily promoted in the 1870s and 1880s by James Geikie, who saw it as providing independent confirmatory evidence for multiple glacials and inter-glacials (Chapter 3), yet it had all but been abandoned by 1900 (Imbrie and Imbrie 1986). Critical to its demise was the fact that Croll’s calculations, which had been based only on eccentricity and precession, were increasingly at variance with the geological record, particularly the evidence from North America that showed the last ice age did not end some 80,000 years ago as predicted by Croll, but as recently as 10,000 years ago.

Milankovitch’s model differed in two key respects. First, it employed more recent astronomical calculations that included estimates of tilt, thereby accounting for all three orbital properties. Second, but of no less significance, was the realisation by Wladimir Köppen (1846–1940), climatologist and head of the Naval Meteorological Observatory at Hamburg, that ice ages were not triggered by a reduction of winter radiation as assumed by Croll, but by a reduction in summer radiation (Imbrie and Imbrie 1986). Changes in winter temperature would have little effect on annual snow budget because the polar regions were cold enough for snow to form today. It was the intensity of summer melts in high latitudes that controlled global ice volume (Köppen and Wegener 1924). With encouragement from Köppen and geologists at Freiberg, Milankovitch extended his model to cover the past 600,000 years. Rather than the four ice ages identified by Penck and Brückner, Milankovitch found evidence for no fewer than nine glacial episodes. He also provided the first convincing calendrical dates for each climatic cycle.

Milankovitch’s predictions had already been successfully tested by Zeuner’s former colleagues at Freiburg (Soergel 1924, 1925; Knauer 1928; Zeuner 1935). In a re-examination of the Swiss terraces Penck and Brückner had used to construct their climatic model, Wolfgang Soergal and Barthel Eberl found them to be compound structures made up of several gravel bodies of different ages (Imbrie and Imbrie 1986). In the Ilm Valley (Thüringia) Germany, Soergel (1925) found evidence, in the form of boulder clays and loësses, for up to ten glaciations. It was the same in other German rivers: the Günz, Mindel and Riss glaciations each consisted of two terraces marking two cold episodes, while the Würm contained three. The geological observations fitted well with Milankovitch’s predictions, the long period of warm conditions from ~420,000 years ago equating perfectly with the Great Mindel-Riss interglacial. As Soergel (1925) concluded:

Rarely have two attempts at solving the same problem, completely independent of each other and undertaken with completely different starting points, led to such complementary results. Therein lies the guarantee of the correctness of the analysis of the ice age done in these systems; they support each other. I consider the astronomical analysis of the ice age to be proven and the problem of the absolute chronology of that period to be solved.

Introducing these models to an English-speaking audience, Zeuner (1935) was quick to dismiss two commonly perceived problems, one geological, the other more psychological. The geological concern was that correlating Milankovitch cycles with the German geological record relied on a climatic interpretation of river terrace formation. In this, terraces were cut during the warming phases of glacial-interglacial cycles, when rivers became charged with meltwater and abrasive gravel loads. River gravels were mostly deposited after the optimum of each interglacial period, as rivers reduced in size, while loësses formed during the arid glacial maxima. This stood in contrast to most archaeological interpretations, which relied on random periods of tectonic movement or localised ponding to make the records tally. These phenomena could and did occur, Zeuner insisted, but only the climatically accumulated gravels contained evidence of the climatic sequence. In countries where tectonic movements interfered with “the climatic rhythm of erosion and accumulation” (ibid., 365), it was extremely difficult to determine a clear sequence of events from river terraces alone.

The second objection was that the ‘average’ geological sequence showed far fewer climatic oscillations than predicted. Zeuner reminded his reader that this was only to be expected. The geological record was not complete anywhere and not every cold event would have equal local expression, in terms of the formation and/or survival of characteristic landforms and sediments. Simply put, of course local sequences had gaps. The key issue was how to correlate these fragmentary local records with the more complete and globally applicable Milankovitch cycles.

Zeuner’s solution (Table 6.16) was not to everybody’s satisfaction, perhaps not even his own. In his published table for Central Europe, Zeuner followed Soergal’s correlations of the German boulder clays and attributed the Abbevillian (Chellean) to the period spanning the late Mindel to the early Riss glaciations, the Acheulean to the late Riss, the Mousterian to the end of the Riss-Würm and the early Würm, and the Aurignacian to the mild interval between Würm I and II. The Homo heidelbergensis mandible from Mauer was placed in the first Günz-Mindel interglacial. Zeuner had not, for obvious reasons, found it easy to apply the standard French scheme to the Central European lithic record. Mauer was older than the Chellean. The Mindel-aged industry from Achenheim was characterised by scrapers, and the primitive handaxe industry from Wangen, which sat on a terrace dated to Riss 1, probably belonged to the Early Acheulean. The Late Acheulean was represented in Saale (Riss 2) deposits at Achenheim and Markkleeberg, although classifications of the latter material ranged from the eolithic to Mousterian (Grahmann 1936). From a purely geological perspective, Taubach and Ehringsdorf dated to the Riss-Würm interglacial; they were not Lower Palaeolithic, but equivalent to the early (warm) Mousterian. He hoped that eventually the palaeontology could be properly tied to this framework, and suggested that archaeology provided an important dating aid, but only once the geology had been independently established.

Table 6.16 Summary of Zeuner’s correlation of the glacial geology and archaeology of Central Europe with the solar radiation curve, compared to Boswell s correlation for Britain and Breuil’s for the Somme Valley (after Zeuner 1935).

Calendrical Age in approximate years before present

Milankovitch Nomenclature

Thuringian River Terraces

North German Moraines

Alpine Moraines & Fluviogladal Terraces

Zeuner’s 1935 Human Industries

Boswell’s (1936) East Anglian/ Alpine Correlation VI

Boswell’s (1936) East Anglian/ Alpine Correlation V2

BreuiVs (1932, 1939) Scheme


Würm IV: Upper Palaeolithic



Thalweg gravels


Würm III

Levalloisian VII

Würm 2/3





Würm 2

Younger loess 2 on gravel Terrace 6


Würm II


4th Hunstanton Glaciation

Upper Palaeolithic

5th Hunstanton Glaciation


Levalloisian VI

Würm 1/2




Würm 1

Younger loëss 1 on gravel Terrace 5


Würm I

Mousterian Neanderthals

4th Upper Chalky Boulder Clay Glaciation

Mousterian Levalloisian

Typical Mousterian Levalloisian V


Riss-Würm Interglacial


3rd Interglacial

Upper Palaeolithic

Late Acheulean Clactonian III

Ancient Mousterian Acheulean VI and VII Levallois III-IV Clactonian III





Riss 2

Saale moraine on Glacial Terrace 3


Riss II


3rd Upper Chalky Boulder Clay Glaciation


3rd Great (Lower) Chalky Boulder Clay Glaciation


Acheulean V Levallois II


Acheulean IV



Glacial Terrace 2


? Acheulean

Levallois I


Mindel-Riss Interglacial

? Acheulean

2nd ‘Great’ Interglacial

Middle-Late Acheulean & Clactonian III

Early-Middle Acheulean Clactonian II

Acheulean III Clactonian II and III


Glacial Terrace 1

? Chellean


? Chellean


Minde1 2

Elster moraine on preglacial Terrace 1


Mindel II


2nd Great (Lower) Chalky Boulder Clay Glaciation

? Early-Middle Acheulean and Clactonian II

2nd North Sea Drift Glaciation

Abbevillian Clactonian I

Acheulean II

Mindel 1-2


Minde1 1

Preglacial Terrace II

Minde1 I


Acheulean II


Günz-Mindel interglacial

Mauer Mandible

1st interglacial

? Early Acheulean & Clactonian I

Acheulean I


Günz 2

Preglacial Terrace III

Günz II

North Sea Drift Glaciation

? Chellean

1st Later Crags Glaciation

Abbevillian Clactonian I

Günz 1/2

Günz I/II

Cromer Forest Bed Crag Deposits

Abbevillian Pre-Chellean of Moir


Günz 1

Günz I

Moir’s Ipswich Group

At the Prehistoric Society, Boswell (1936) was quick to point out the contradictions between Zeuner’s Central European framework and the established British sequence. Zeuner’s model made the archaeological cultures far too young, if the British and Alpine glacial stratigraphy were to be synchronised. In what was largely a thought experiment, Boswell resolved the conflict by regarding the youngest two glacial tills (the Hunstanton and Upper CBC) as two sub-stages of the Würm glaciation and accepting the cold molluscs and erratics in the Red Crag as evidence for the Günz glaciation. This, however, had the unfortunate effect of knocking the British and French archaeological records out of alignment, as it made the Lower Chalky Boulder Clay a whole glaciation too young, and still left no time for Breuil’s extended evolution of the Levalloisian before the appearance of the Mousterian. The latter gave Boswell further cause for concern because its definition was so variable, or at least variably applied. Moir (1926) had attributed the industries from Hoxne to Late Acheulean and the early Mousterian, which fitted with the proposed chronology, but this classification was pre-Breuil. Now that the Levallois technique was no longer a defining characteristic of the Mousterian, and with fine flake tools found in Clactonian and Acheulean assemblages everywhere, Boswell suggested that all supposed Mousterian assemblages needed to be re-examined and possibly re-classified. It was nonetheless an important factor in Boswell’s self-confessed experimental arrangement.

Keen to reconcile all three regions, if only to prove the validity of the Milankovitch cycles, Zeuner (1937) later adopted a modified version of Boswell’s scheme (Figure 6.19). Zeuner admitted that his original proposal had suffered from the paucity of Lower Palaeolithic sites in Central Europe, the evidence for the Chellean/Abbevillian being “chiefly negative”. His primary data thus had little to contribute to the earlier periods, although the Late Middle and Upper Palaeolithic records were arguably more tightly constrained than in France or Britain. To redress the imbalance, he accepted Breuil’s correlations for the Somme and the Thames, pushed the Abbevillian into the Günz, accepting the Boyn Hill terrace at Swanscombe (and its French equivalents) as belonging to the Great Mindel-Riss interglacial, and extended the chronology of the Levalloisian lineage into the Riss 1 glaciation. The final Levalloisian overlapped with the earliest Aurignacian, which appeared in Germany during the cold conditions of Würm II. In this way, Zeuner brought Germany, England and France into near-perfect alignment, summarising his conclusions in a novel graphical format that mapped the chronological ranges of archaeological cultures onto the Milankovitch solar radiation cycles.

A graph showing climatic fluctuations predicted by Milankovitch’s modelling, correlated with Alpine Glacial sequence and the European Palaeolithic industries.

Figure 6.19 Zeuner’s Compromise. A revised correlation of the Milankovitch Curve with the alpine and archaeological record (after Zeuner 1937), taking into account Boswell’s problems with the earlier version. G = Günz, M = Mindel etc.

This was not achieved without some measure of special pleading. The boulder clays at Hoxne were correlated with the Würm I and Riss 2 glacials, with the arctic beds assigned to the pre-Würm cold stage predicted by Milankovitch. The human industries at Hoxne therefore belonged to the last warm stage of the Riss-Würm interglacial, in keeping with Moir’s classification of the stone tools and placing them in the same climatic cycle as the Mousterian at Ehringsdorf. This ignored Boswell’s misgivings about the classification of the industries and did not fit with Breuil’s (1936) Acheulean IV assessment of the Hoxne handaxes, which implied a Mindel-Riss interglacial age similar to Swanscombe. The relative age of Swanscombe was inviolable. It was constrained not only by the artefacts but by its position in the Thames terrace staircase, a diagnostic interglacial fauna, the presence of erratics in the Lower Gravels and the occurrence of till just north of the Thames at Hornchurch that was usually interpreted as marking the maximum advance of the Lower Chalky Boulder Clay (Mindel) glaciation.

To resolve this tension, Zeuner was compelled to divorce the Thames Valley glaciogenic deposits from the Lower Chalky Boulder Clays of East Anglia and correlate them instead with deposits from an older ice advance, variously described as North Sea Drift or Norwich Brickearth (Table 6.16). These deposits were petrologically different to the Thames glacial deposits, but this was conveniently explained as the result of the different source materials the ice sheet had entrained as it moved southwards.

The Levalloisian in Britain, as Boswell (1936) pointed out, also remained a problem for Zeuner’s chronology. In Breuil’s (1926, 1931b) scheme, derived Levallois I in Riss solifluction deposits in the Somme dated the beginnings of this long-lived lineage to a pre-Riss warm stage. The famous early Levalloisian material from the main coombe rock at Baker’s Hole marked the same period. But Zeuner equated the Upper Chalky Boulder Clay (and by inference the solifluction event responsible for the Baker’s Hole coombe rock) with the much later Würm I glaciation. One possible solution lay in Burchell’s (1932, 1933, 1935, 1936a, 1936b) reports that at least three additional cold stages were evident in the Northfleet region, all younger than the main coombe rock under which “Baker’s Hole was supposed to be buried” (Zeuner 1937, 154, my italics). If these corresponded to Würm II, Würm I and Riss 2, and the main coombe rock to Riss I, then Baker’s Hole could still be made to conform to Breuil’s scheme, but it had also been suggested (on the presence of handaxes) that the site was not early Levalloisian at all, but a later substage (Levalloisian V). A definitive classification was urgently required for both Hoxne and Baker’s Hole, but this merely underlined the degree to which entire regional frameworks were affected by the idiosyncratic classifications of different workers.

These difficulties notwithstanding, Zeuner concluded that Germany, England and France were in closer agreement than might have hitherto been suspected. The Milankovitch curve was compatible with King and Oakley’s interpretation for the Thames, and Breuil (1939a) would later use the greater number of climatic fluctuations it offered to full effect when interpreting the cultural and geological sequences in the Somme (Table 6.16). It was supported by the faunal evidence (Zeuner 1937, 149) and provided an absolute chronology in calendrical years. There was much cause to be optimistic, provided one trusted the archaeologists to be consistent, accurate and unbiased in their classification of the stone tool industries. Unfortunately, that trust was often misplaced.

Naming the Past

An extremely well-mannered debate conducted in the pages of the journal Man showcased the taxonomic problems now faced by Palaeolithic archaeologists worldwide. In the opinion of Miles Burkitt (1936a), archaeologists needed to exercise greater caution when naming industries, because those names often carried unwanted connotations. Typological similarities meant little, and it was certainly no longer possible to assume that two similarly shaped objects from different continents belonged to the same culture. The current faith in technological similarities was no safer. The thick flakes that characterised the Clactonian were so simple and so unspecialised that archaeologists had no right to use them to recognise a culture group. Highly specialised artefacts should be used to define a culture, not a basic manufacturing technique. Reports of Clactonian and Mousterian artefacts in Uganda and India (e.g. Todd 1939) had turned the terms into dustbins. Levalloisian was going the same way. He pleaded with workers such as O’Brien, Solomon, Leakey in Africa and Paterson in India (Terra and Paterson 1938) to think twice before using European terms. Only if entire cultural sequences were found to be the same, as seemed to be the case in Western Europe and Kenya, was it legitimate to conclude that the same cultural group was involved. Otherwise, local names would cause less confusion.

O’Brien (1936b, 1939) agreed that the Clactonian and Mousterian had become meaningless, but still thought something as highly specialised and distinctive as Levallois had value (the fact that it took over nearly 40 years to associate Levallois flakes with their parent cores notwithstanding). There was a danger that local names would lead to unnecessary splitting, by confusing fleeting local variations in style with changes in culture or trading routes. Local names also had a habit of rapidly becoming cultural designations in their own right. O’Brien thought it best to keep the original terms and append a local variation, like a genus and a species, as Leakey (1929, 1931a) had also advocated.

Riet Lowe (1936) agreed with them both, up to a point. Much confusion and misunderstanding had been sown by the liberal usage of European terms, which is why, he reminded everybody, South Africa had abandoned them ten years earlier. This decision had attracted much scorn and criticism, but Riet Lowe still thought it had been a wise one. He agreed with Burkitt that European flint typologies were not transferable, especially to non-flint regions; similarities in form did not automatically imply cultural affinities. But he agreed with O’Brien that techniques, which could be determined everywhere regardless of materials, did reveal cultural affinities. It might therefore be appropriate to retain well known and readily understandable terms that described a technique, such as Levalloisian and Abbevillian (= hard-hammer flaking). Beyond these technical similarities, though, the African and European assemblages were fundamentally different.

The Stellenbosch culture subsumed a series of five cultural horizons, the first of which compared ‘favourably’ well with the European Chellean/Abbevillian (terms that were still in transition, see Breuil preceding). Calling this industry Abbevillian would be inappropriate, however, because it showed a greater variety of forms made using two inextricably linked techniques, Clactonian and Abbevillian. These were not separate cultural streams, as they were in Europe. Similarly, the makers of Stellenbosch II had used Abbevillian and Tachengit technique, while Stellenbosch III used proto-Levallois (Victoria West). It was also important to remember that terms like Levallois should be used to show affinities to European parallels but not to infer any evolutionary relationship. One could certainly not assume, as O’Brien had, that the European Levalloisian was the prototype for prepared core techniques used in Africa. It was more likely that Levallois emerged from an African prototype, the Victoria West, Tachengit and Tabelbala techniques that had been used to produce large flakes for handaxe and cleaver manufacture. In Africa these were all deeply stratified beneath more advanced Acheul and Micoque types (in their non-adjectival form). Furthermore, the three-stage sequence of development in the Victoria West culture simply had no parallel in the paleoarctic region.

Burkitt’s (1936b) response cut straight to the core of the issue. The same archaeological terms were being used to describe very different properties. Taking the example of the short thick Clactonian flake, Burkitt (1936b, 216) observed that the simple anvil-technique used to make it might be called

Clactonian, but the industries from a typological point of view might not, of course, be similar or in any way culturally related to the true Clactonian. Thus, personally, I fear I remain somewhat impenitent as to the use of cultural names, unless an actual cultural similarity or connexion is intended or implied by the author. I feel that the use of cultural names merely to denote similar simple techniques, especially where the types present are either too elementary to furnish much evidence either way, or are not particularly similar is surely liable to create erroneous ideas in the minds of readers.

So, terms originally coined to describe archaeological stages were now being employed as shorthand for an industry or culture, for a technique, and, by adding a suffix, for a stage of development and/or well-defined time period. Burkitt wondered whether the problem could be solved by

describing techniques in terms derived from the methods of manufacture used or the appearance resulting from them, as in our old friends ‘pressure’, ‘resolved’ and ‘step’ flaking or ‘tortoise’ core and chapeau-de-gendarme striking platform, while reserving place names to denote an actual or postulated cultural connection.


It was a significant point, but authors of the period are rarely explicit on which particular combination of meanings they were using. Global events would soon render such semantic problems rather insignificant.


· 1 Vayson 1922, 38.

· 2 Warren seems to have avoided using the term handaxe in the sense of Smith (1911a), but this may show little more than the general antipathy the two men felt towards each other (see O’Connor 2007).

· 3 The material from the horizontal beds at Foxhall Road is typologically and technologically identical to that from the sloping beds. The horizontal beds visibly truncate the sloping beds and it seems highly likely that the artefacts in the former have been derived from the primary context occurrences in the latter (White and Plunkett 2004).

· 4 Palaeoliths are remarkably scarce in the Upper Thames Valley, and Wolvercote remains the only primary-context Lower Palaeolithic site upstream of the Goring Gap. Why this stretch should be so barren compared to the Middle and Lower reaches also remains something of a mystery. Sandford wondered whether it might have been swampy and thus less attractive or unsuitable for human occupation.

· 5 Dorothy Garrod was the second female president of the Society, after Nina Layard in 1921.

· 6 Riet Lowe’s appointment to this new government position, which was coveted by Goodwin himself, probably owed much to his status as a World War I veteran, like the SA Prime Minister Jan Smuts (Deacon 1990).

· 7 As well as his academic work, Koslowski was also heavily involved in politics, serving as Prime Minister of Poland in 1934–1935.

· 8 It is worth noting, however, that Breuil did adopt ‘biface’, Vayson’s suggested neutral term for the coup de poing.

· 9 In North America Holmes (1894) had a different approach to experimental archaeology, one developed from and having a more profound effect on the later prehistory of North America, but which, in the form of the reduction models, would have a major impact on Palaeolithic archaeology in the 1980s and 1990s (see Chapter 8).

· 10 Lubbock 1865, 268.

· 11 He was also amused to find gold nuggets in two quartz flakes, in which the Lower Palaeolithic humans of China seemingly had little interest.

· 12 The Nanyukian is a variant of the Kenyan Acheulean with tendencies towards Mousterian forms. It was characterised by flat triangular handaxes, ovate handaxes, discs, cleavers, points, scrapers and rough balls of stone, a description that strikes me as being almost identical to the Fauresmith. Its introduction thus seems to jar with Leakey’s general philosophy on nomenclature.

· 13 Leakey’s palaeontologist A.T. Hopwood (1935, 46) had become equally disenchanted, thinking that “speculation had run a long way ahead of the facts… edifices created by countless writers resemble nothing so much as a huge inverted pyramid of which little except the apex represents the fact”’.

If you find an error or have any questions, please email us at admin@erenow.net. Thank you!