The Unity of Acheulean Culture

Ceri Shipton

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


    This chapter examines the issue of whether the Acheulean is a genuine homologous cultural entity, descended via a chain of social reproduction from a common ‘ancestor’, or whether it was a technological phase that was repeatedly independently invented. An anecdotal experiment is used to determine the relative ease of inventing biface knapping from scratch, versus transmitting it with one bout of social observation. Handaxe and cleaver elongation is compared between East African and Indian Acheulean assemblages to determine if there are systematic differences that might reflect different lineages of social transmission. The age of the first appearance of the Acheulean in various parts of the world is modelled to determine if spread from a single source or independent inventions best fits the timing of its distribution. The issue of whether Pleistocene bifaces from East Asia are homologous with the Acheulean or were independently invented is examined by comparing the extent of bifacial shaping between East Asian and western Acheulean assemblages. The chapter concludes with the following contentions. Acheulean bifaces are hard to invent, or even emulate, but easy to imitate. Pleistocene East Asian bifaces are an example of parallelism; that is, not de novo independent invention, but invention from the same Oldowan substrate as the Acheulean. The western Acheulean is however a coherent cultural entity that seems to have spread from a single source region, and with regionally consistent variations suggesting it was maintained through social transmission.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationCulture History and Convergent Evolution
    Editors Huw S. Groucutt
    Place of PublicationSWITZERLAND
    PublisherSpringer Nature Switzerland AG
    ISBN (Print)978-3-030-46125-6
    Publication statusPublished - 2020


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