Refining our understanding of the African Acheulean from records outside Africa

Parth R. Chauhan1

  1. Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Mohali Punjab, India;


The Acheulean techno-complex is the most prominent archaeological entity in early prehistory. Recent research and discoveries have led to new interpretations and hypotheses about its technological innovations, dispersals within and outside Africa and general lifeways including subsistence strategies and other behaviors. For example, the earliest African Acheulean (1.8-1.7 Ma) is now known from multiple sites, and the technology reached India by at least 1.5 Ma – both suggesting rapid dispersal soon after its innovation. Not only was this technology adapted by multiple hominin species during its longevity, but it appears to have reached as far as East Asia (though some of these cultural affinities are debated). Nevertheless, there are many questions and issues that need to be addressed, and which require more focused thematic research targets. For instance, what were the ecological, adaptive, biological and cognitive underpinnings for its seemingly sudden appearance in the geological record? What were its transitional relationships with the preceding and succeeding technologies? How many Acheulean dispersals were there out of, and possibly, back into Africa? Also, why does the Large Flake Acheulean / Late Acheulean persist longer in some regions (e.g. India) and how was the African Acheulean able to penetrate/survive in Europe during the peak of Neanderthal occupation? Were factors that were responsible for Acheulean transitions regionally similar or diverse? Why are Acheulean assemblages absent at varying levels in central Africa, eastern Europe, Central and Southeast Asia and specific parts of the Indian Subcontinent? Most importantly, new debates have challenged the validity of the Acheulean as a widespread homogenous tradition/culture, given the regional diversity of Mode 2 bifaces across the Old World. By synthesizing these various issues this paper demonstrates how the African, European and Asian behavioral records are complementary to one another and driven by species differences, rates of dispersal, population levels, ecological diversity, raw material constraints and other factors.

Subject Communication
Language of text English
Topics AFR.001: Recent Advances in Early Stone Age Studies in Africa, New Insights on the Oldowan and the Acheulian Stone Technology
Keywords Acheulean; Africa; Eurasia; dispersals; transitions; paradigm shift;
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