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The Acheulean Handaxe Technological Persistence: A Case of Preferred Cultural Conservatism?

  • Meir Finkel (a1) and Ran Barkai (a1)
Abstract

One of the unsolved ‘paradoxes’ in prehistoric archaeology is that of the gap between the considerable advances in human biological and cultural evolution during the Lower Palaeolithic period, and the over one million years of ‘stagnation’ of the Acheulean handaxe. Most of the research on this topic has focused on innovation – why it was delayed or failed to take place – while overlooking the fact that innovation had occurred in many other fields during the same period. We suggest that practical, social, and adaptive mechanisms were in force in certain areas of human behaviour and led to enhanced innovation, while conservatism was preferred in handaxe technology and use. In this study we emphasise the dependency of Acheulean groups on calories obtained from large mammals, and especially megafauna, as well as the central role of handaxes in processing large carcasses. It is our contention that the handaxe’s role in Acheulean adaptation was pivotal and it thus became fixed in human society, probably through the psychological bias towards majority imitation, which subsequently became a social norm or tradition. In brief, we suggest that the technological persistence of the Acheulean handaxe played an adaptive role that was based on a preferred cultural conservatism and led to the successful survival of Lower Palaeolithic populations over hundreds of thousands of years in the Old World.

Le hachereau acheuléen persistance technologique: Un cas de préférence du conservatisme culturel? de Meir Finkel et Ran Barkai

L’un des ‘paradoxes‘ non résolus de l’archéologie préhistorique est l’écart entre les considérables avancées dans l’évolution humaine biologique et culturelle au cours de la période du paléolithique inférieur et le million et quelques d’années de ‘stagnation‘ du hachereau herculéen. La plupart des recherches sur ce sujet se sont concentrées sur l’innovation: pourquoi a-t-elle été retardée ou a-t-elle échoué à se mettre en place, tout en négligeant le fait que des innovations avaient eu lieu dans bien d’autres domaines au cours de la même période. Nous proposons que des mécanismes pratiques, sociaux et d’adaptation étaient présents dans certaines secteurs du comportement humain et conduisaient à une innovation rehaussée tandis que le conservatisme avait la faveur en matière de technologie et d’usage du hachereau. Dans cette étude nous insistons sur la dépendance des groupes acheuléens sur les calories provenant des gros mammifères, en particulier de la mégafaune, ainsi que le rôle central des hachereaux dans la transformation des grosses carcasses. C’est notre point de vue que le rôle du hachereau dans l’adaptation acheuléenne était primordial et il s’en est trouvé fixé dans la société humaine probablement à travers un penchant psychologique vers une imitation de la majorité, ce qui est devenu par la suite une norme ou une tradition sociale. En bref, nous proposons que la persistance technologique du hachereau acheuléen a joué un rôle d’adaptation qui reposait sur une préférence pour un conservatisme culturel et a conduit au succès de leur survie les populations du paléolithique inférieur sur des centaines de milliers d’années dans l’Ancien Monde.

Die technologische Beständigkeit des Faustkeils des Acheuléen: Ein Fall bevorzugten kulturellen Konservatismus? von Meir Finkel und Ran Barkai

Eines der ungelösten „Paradoxe“ der prähistorischen Archäologie ist das der Kluft zwischen den erheblichen Fortschritten der menschlichen biologischen und kulturellen Evolution während des Altpaläolithikums und der mehr als eine Million Jahre dauernden „Stagnation“ des Acheuléen-Faustkeils. Meist fokussierte die Forschung auf die Frage der Innovation – warum sie sich verzögerte oder gar nicht erst stattfand –, während die Tatsache übersehen wurde, dass in der gleichen Epoche in vielen anderen Bereichen Innovationen auftraten. Wir schlussfolgern deshalb, dass praktische, soziale und adaptive Mechanismen in bestimmten Bereichen menschlichen Verhaltens in Kraft waren und zu erhöhter Innovation führten, während in der Faustkeiltechnologie und seiner Nutzung ein Konservatismus bevorzugt wurde. In dieser Untersuchung stellen wir die Abhängigkeit der Menschengruppen des Acheuléen von Kalorien, die sie von Großsäugern erlangten, heraus, insbesondere von Megafauna, sowie die zentrale Rolle von Faustkeilen in der Verarbeitung großer Tierkörper. Es ist unsere Überzeugung, dass die Rolle des Faustkeils für die Adaption während des Acheuléen entscheidend war und er deshalb in der menschlichen Gesellschaft festgeschrieben wurde, möglicherweise durch eine psychologische Neigung zur Majoritäts-Imitation,woraus nach und nach eine soziale Norm oder Tradition wurde. Kurz gesagt gehen wir davon aus, dass die technologische Beständigkeit des Faustkeils des Acheuléen eine adaptive Rolle spielte, die auf einem bevorzugten kulturellen Konservatismus basierte und zum erfolgreichen Überleben altpaläolithischer Gruppen während hunderttausender Jahre in der Alten Welt führte.

La persistencia tecnológica de los bifaces achelenses: ¿un caso de conservadurismo cultural? por Meir Finkel y Ran Barkai

Una de las paradojas sin resolver en arqueología prehistórica es el lapso temporal existente entre los considerables avances en evolución biológica y cultural durante el Paleolítico Inferior, y el ‘estancamiento’ durante más de un millón de años de los bifaces achelenses. La mayor parte de la investigación relacionada con este aspecto se ha centrado en la innovación -porqué se retrasó o no se llevó a cabo- mientras se ignora el hecho de que estas innovaciones se produjeron en muchos otros campos durante el mismo período. Nosotros sugerimos que los mecanismos prácticos, sociales y adaptativos estuvieron vigentes en ciertas áreas del comportamiento humano y condujeron a una mayor innovación, mientras que el conservadurismo se impuso en la tecnología y uso de los bifaces. En este estudio destacamos la dependencia de los grupos achelenses de las calorías obtenidas de los grandes mamíferos, especialmente la megafauna, así como el papel central de los bifaces en el procesado de las grandes carcasas. Siguiendo esta línea argumental, el papel del bifaz achelense en los procesos de adaptación fue fundamental y, por tanto, quedó fijado en la sociedad, probablemente en el ámbito psicológico a través de la imitación, llegando posteriormente a convertirse en una norma o tradición social. En resumen, sugerimos que la persistencia tecnológica de las hachas achelenses jugó un rol adaptativo basado en un conservadurismo cultural y condujo a la supervivencia de las poblaciones del Paleolítico Inferior durante cientos de miles de años en el Viejo Mundo.

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Corresponding author
Meir Finkel (Corresponding author): finkel2010@gmail.com
References
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Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society
  • ISSN: 0079-497X
  • EISSN: 2050-2729
  • URL: /core/journals/proceedings-of-the-prehistoric-society
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