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The Early Acheulian of north-western Europe

Abstract : The introduction of biface technology in the Lower Palaeolithic arguably marked a fundamental change in how early hominins dealt with their world. It is suggested to reflect changes not just in tool form and innovative shaping, but also in planning depth, landscape use and social structures. This paper examines in detail the chronology of the first Acheulian industries in north-west Europe with the earliest sites from c. 700 ka through to later sites at c. 400 ka. It asks whether evidence from these sites can further our understanding of how the Acheulian and the bifacial technology emerged in this region, but more critically whether it was the underlying behavioural changes that enabled the more sustained occupation of northern latitudes. In particular the paper assesses whether cultural signatures can be identified and whether this reflects changes in group dynamics and social structures that could be a fundamental aspect of surviving in more seasonal, cooler climates. To achieve this, the industries are examined in their chronological and biogeographical framework and compared over time and with the south European sites. The study discusses the influencing factors on variability such as raw material, site function, palaeogeography and questions regarding the background conditions for the introduction of the bifacial technology in Europe. The flexibility in behaviour makes the identification of cultural traditions across Europe difficult due to the situational responses of the early hominins. The large geographical area, the long time period, the fragmented record and a chronology, that still needs improvement, all mean that only glimpses of traditions can be identified, usually at a very local level. However, due to the more extreme climatic cycles of northern Europe, compared to southern Europe, it seems inevitable that populations colonized repeatedly from south to north as climate warmed and retreated or populations became locally extinct as climate cooled. Although there are broad similarities in technology, attempts to identify cultural links have been hampered by the greater variety of raw materials in the south compared to the generally better quality siliceous raw materials in the north. Broad patterns over time might be discernible, with perhaps a refinement through time, but there are also many exceptions to this observation. What seems clearer are other technological innovations from 600 to 500 ka that seem part of an Acheulian package and might reflect other changes in human cultures and societies. It is suggested that these developments were a critical part of more sustained occupation of northern latitudes.
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Marie-Hélène Moncel, Nick Ashton, Agnès Lamotte, Alain Tuffreau, Dominique Cliquet, et al.. The Early Acheulian of north-western Europe. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, Elsevier, 2015, 40, pp.302-331. ⟨10.1016/j.jaa.2015.09.005⟩. ⟨hal-02100039⟩



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