Abbevillian (formerly also Chellean) is a term for the oldest lithic industry found in Europe, dated to between roughly 600,000 and 400,000 years ago.

The original artifacts were collected from road construction sites on the Somme river near Abbeville by a French customs officer, Boucher de Perthes. He published his findings in 1836. Subsequently, Louis Laurent Gabriel de Mortillet (1821–1898), professor of prehistoric anthropology at the School of Anthropology in Paris, published (1882) "Le Prehistorique, antiquité de l'homme", in which he was the first to characterize periods by the name of a site.

Chellean included artifacts discovered at the town of Chelles, a suburb of Paris. They are similar to those found at Abbeville. Later anthropologists substituted Abbevillian for Chellean, the latter which is no longer in use.

Abbevillian tool users were the first archaic humans in Europe, classified as either late Homo erectus[1] as Homo antecessor or as as Homo heidelbergensis.

Bifaz abbevillense
Abbevillian biface flake from the Douro river region near Valladolid, Spain. It is unretouched and is not distinguishable from Olduwan. The one small spot of smaller flaking on one edge may indicate that it is borderline between Olduwan and Acheulean. Both are found in Europe.


The label Abbevillian prevailed until the Leakey family discovered older (yet similar) artifacts at Olduvai Gorge (a.k.a. Oldupai Gorge), starting in 1959, and promoted the African origin of man.[2] Olduwan (or Oldowan) soon replaced Abbevillian in describing African and Asian paleoliths. The term Abbevillian is still used, but it is now restricted to Europe. The label, however, continues to lose popularity as a scientific designation.

Mortillet had portrayed his traditions as chronologically sequential. In the Abbevillian, early Palaeolithic hominins used cores; in the Acheulian, flakes. Olduwan tools, however, indicate that in the earliest Palaeolithic, the distinction between flake and core is less clear. Consequently, there also is a tendency to view Abbevillian as an early phase of Acheulian.

Provenience of the type

The Abbevillian type site is on the 150-foot terrace of the River Somme.[3] Tools found there are rough chipped bifacial handaxes made during the Elsterian Stage of the Pleistocene Ice Age, which covered central Europe between 478,000 and 424,000 years ago.

The Abbevillian is a phase of Olduwan that occurred in Europe near, but not at, the end of the Lower Palaeolithic (2.5 mya. – 250,000 years ago). Those who adopt the Abbevillian scheme refer to it as the middle Acheulian, about 600,000-500,000 years ago. Geologically it occurred in the Middle Pleistocene, younger than about 700,000 years ago.[3] It spanned the Günz-Mindel interglacial period between the Günz and the Mindel, but more recent finds of the East Anglian Palaeolithic push the date back into the Günz, closer to the 700,000 ya mark.[nb 1]

The Abbevillian culture bearers are not believed to have evolved in Europe, but to have entered it from further east. It was thus preceded by the earlier Olduwan of Homo erectus, and the Upper Acheulian, of which Clactonian and Tayacian are considered phases, supplanted it. The Acheulian there went on into the Levalloisian and Mousterian are associated with Neanderthal man.

Abbevillian sites in Europe

To avoid the question of what culture name should be used to describe European artifacts, some, such as Schick and Toth, refer to "non-handaxe" and "handaxe" sites.[4] Handaxes came into use at about the 500,000 ya mark.[nb 2] Non-handaxe sites are often the same sites as handaxe sites, the difference being one of time, or, if geographically different, have no discernible spatial pattern. The physical evidence is summarized in the table below Note that the dates assigned vary widely after 700,000 ya and, except where substantiated by scientific methods, should be viewed as tentative and on the speculative side.

Site Notes
Arago Cave near the village of Tautavel in the Languedoc-Roussillon region of France. A community of about 100 individuals discovered over the years in the ongoing excavations of the cave by a team of the Centre Européen de Recherches Préhistoriques de Tautavel under the direction of Henry de Lumley. Excavations began in 1964, the first mandible came to light in 1969, and the first "Tautavel Man" in 1971, though in fact many subsequent Tautavel men and women appeared. The date range is a fairly secure 690,000-300,000 years ago by many methods. The prevailing view is that the fossils are intermediary to the Neanderthals. Tools were found as well.
Barnfield Pit near Swanscombe in Kent, England Portions of a skull excavated from a gravel pit by Alvin T. Marston in 1935-36 along with handaxes and animal bones. Two more pieces and some charcoal were found in 1955 by John Wymer. Estimated date 250,000 ya.
Boxgrove, outside Chichester, Great Britain. Shin bone & two teeth found in 1994 and 1996 in a quarry, with butchered animal bones and handaxes, ca. 500,000 ya.
Mauer near Heidelberg, Germany Mauer 1 (lower jaw & tooth) discovered 1907 in a gravel pit.[5] Dated to 600,000-250,000 ya.
Petralona cave in Chalcidice, Greece. Skull found in a cave with animal bones, stone tools and evidence of fire in 1960. Studied by Aris Poulianos, given various dates. ESR date range is 240,000-160,000, but all other fossils associated indicate a much older date circa 800,000.[6][7][8]
Sima de los huesos, "pit of bones", a chimney site in a cave, one of many fossil hominin sites in the hills of Atapuerca, Castile-Leon, Spain About 4,000 Hominin bones from which about 30 individuals have been reconstructed since the mid-1970s. Bones of carnivores are mixed in and a handaxe was found in 1998. Date is 500,000-350,000 ya.
Steinheim an der Murr, north of Stuttgart, Germany. Skull found in 1933[9] by Karl Sigrist, currently dated to about 250,000 ya.
near Budapest
Occipital bone and a few teeth excavated 1964-65 in a quarry site that was in the open and used for butchery by László Vértes. Human fossils were with a hearth, dwelling, tools, footprints, plant and animal fossils.


  1. ^ An important point to remember is that tool-makers advanced at different rates throughout the globe. For example, the style of tool-making that is called Abbevillian was practiced at a different time period in Africa than in Europe.
  2. ^ Acheulean or later Acheulean, dated to 500,000-100,000 ya.


  1. ^ Rohrer 1983, p. 1 "While the type is identified as Homo erectus, there are modifications that suggest it is filling a gap between Homo erectus and the Neanderthal."
  2. ^ Daniel 1973, p. 105
  3. ^ a b Hoiberg 2010, p. 11
  4. ^ Schick & Toth 1993
  5. ^ Cohen 1998, p. 1920
  6. ^ Kurtén 1983, p. 58
  7. ^ Poulianos 1983
  8. ^ Cohen 1998a, p. 2418
  9. ^ Cohen 1998b, p. 3020


  • Cohen, Saul B., ed. (1998). "Mauer". The Columbia Gazetteer of the World. 2: H to O. New York, NY: Columbia University Press. ISBN 978-0-231-11040-2. LCCN 98071262.
  • Cohen, Saul B., ed. (1998a). "Petralona Cave". The Columbia Gazetteer of the World. 3: P to Z. New York, NY: Columbia University Press. ISBN 978-0-231-11040-2. LCCN 98071262.
  • Cohen, Saul B., ed. (1998b). "Steinheim an der Murr". The Columbia Gazetteer of the World. 3: P to Z. New York, NY: Columbia University Press. ISBN 978-0-231-11040-2. LCCN 98071262.
  • Daniel, Glyn (1973). Gillispie, Charles Coulston, ed. Dictionary of Scientific Biography. VIII: Jonathon Homer Lane - Pierre Joseph Macquer. New York, NY: Charles Scribner's Sons. ISBN 978-0-684-10119-4. LCCN 69018090.
  • Hoiberg, Dale H., ed. (2010). "Abbevillian". Encyclopædia Britannica. 1: A-ak Bayes (15th ed.). Chicago, IL: Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. ISBN 978-1-5933-9837-8. LCCN 2008934270.
  • Kurtén, Björn (1983). "Faunal Sequence in Petralona Cave" (PDF). Anthropos. 10: 53–59. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2015-05-12. Retrieved 2012-02-25.
  • Poulianos, N. Aris (December 1983). "Faunal and Tool Distribution in the Layers of Petralona Cave". Journal of Human Evolution. 12 (8): 743–746. doi:10.1016/S0047-2484(83)80129-8. (Subscription required (help)).
  • Rohrer, George W. (Winter 1983). "The First Settlers in France" (PDF). Old World Archaeologist: 1–9. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2015-05-12.
  • Schick, Kathy Diane; Toth, Nicholas (1993). Making Silent Stones Speak: Human Evolution and the Dawn of Technology. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-0-671-69371-8. LCCN 92035337.

See also

Further reading

  • Hennig, G. J.; Herr, W.; Weber, E.; Xirotiris, N. I. (August 6, 1981). "ESR-Dating of the Fossil Hominid Cranium from Petralona Cave, Greece". Nature. 292 (5823): 533–536. doi:10.1038/292533a0.
  • Wintle, A. G. (July 14, 1983). "Hominid Evolution: Dating Tautavel Man". Nature. 304 (5922): 118–119. doi:10.1038/304118b0. ISSN 0028-0836.

External links


Abbeville (French pronunciation: [ab.vil] (listen)) is a commune in the Somme department and in Hauts-de-France region in northern France.

It is the chef-lieu of one of the arrondissements of Somme. Located on the River Somme, it was the capital of Ponthieu. Its inhabitants are called the Abbevillois.


Acheulean (; also Acheulian and Mode II), from the French acheuléen, is an archaeological industry of stone tool manufacture characterized by distinctive oval and pear-shaped "hand-axes" associated with Homo erectus and derived species such as Homo heidelbergensis.

Acheulean tools were produced during the Lower Palaeolithic era across Africa and much of West Asia, South Asia, and Europe, and are typically found with Homo erectus remains. It is thought that Acheulean technologies first developed about 1.76 million years ago, derived from the more primitive Oldowan technology associated with Homo habilis.

The Acheulean includes at least the early part of the Middle Paleolithic. Its end is not well defined, depending on whether Sangoan (also known as "Epi-Achaeulean") is included, it may be taken to last until as late as 130,000 years ago. In Europe and Western Asia, early Neanderthals adopted Achaeulean technology, transitioning to Mousterian by about 160,000 years ago.


Boneland is a 2012 novel by Alan Garner, a sequel to The Weirdstone of Brisingamen and The Moon of Gomrath. The boy Colin from the earlier novels is now an adult, still living near the top of Alderley Edge but now a Professor working at the nearby Jodrell Bank Observatory. His solitary home is a kit-built hut ("A Bergli") in a quarry. He has a form of amnesia which means he remembers nothing from before the age of 13, including his twin sister and his childhood adventures. He visits a psychotherapist and the gradual uncovering of his past forms the main story.

Interleaved with Colin's tale is another story set in the same part of England but at a distant time. A lone Stone-Age cave dweller leaves "Ludcruck" (the chasm of Ludchurch) in search of companionship.

Garner says that the focus of his research for the book was "the universal myth of the sleeping hero". He has written his own experience of psychotherapy into the novel. "Go to the pain," he was told by his therapist, "go to where it hurts the most, and say whatever it tells you". An important item towards the end of the book is a Lower Palaeolithic hand axe. Garner keeps such an axe in his study, although his is from the Acheulean culture while the one in the book is from the even older Abbevillian culture.


The Chelleo-Acheulean is a Palaeolithic stone tool industry that marks a transitional stage between the Chellean (Abbevillian or Oldowan) and the Acheulean. Louis Leakey identified eleven stages of development in the Chelleo-Acheulean "hand axe culture" in Africa.


In geology, and archeology, Chellian or Chellean was the name given by the French anthropologist G. de Mortillet to the first epoch of the Quaternary period when the earliest human remains were discovered. The word is derived from the French town Chelles in the department of Seine-et-Marne.

Hand axe

A hand axe (or handaxe) is a prehistoric stone tool with two faces that is the longest-used tool in human history. It is usually made from flint or chert. It is characteristic of the lower Acheulean and middle Palaeolithic (Mousterian) periods. Its technical name (biface) comes from the fact that the archetypical model is generally bifacial Lithic flake and almond-shaped (amygdaloidal). Hand axes tend to be symmetrical along their longitudinal axis and formed by pressure or percussion. The most common hand axes have a pointed end and rounded base, which gives them their characteristic shape, and both faces have been knapped to remove the natural cortex, at least partially. Hand axes are a type of the somewhat wider biface group of two-faced tools or weapons.

Hand axes were the first prehistoric tools to be recognized as such: the first published representation of a hand axe was drawn by John Frere and appeared in a British publication in 1800. Until that time, their origins were thought to be natural or supernatural. They were called thunderstones, because popular tradition held that they had fallen from the sky during storms or were formed inside the earth by a lightning strike and then appeared at the surface. They are used in some rural areas as an amulet to protect against storms.

Hand axe tools were possibly used to butcher animals; to dig for tubers, animals and water; to chop wood and remove tree bark; to throw at prey; and as a source for flake tools.

Louis Burkhalter

Louis Burkhalter was a French Archaeologist and former delegate of the Société préhistorique française (French Prehistoric Society).He was notable for his exploration and documentation of prehistoric sites in Lebanon and Syria. He made notable collections of Acheulean and Abbevillian bifaces from around the valleys and coasts and compiled an early list of prehistoric sites published by the National Museum of Beirut.He is also notable in some fringe circles for suggesting the existence of giants as a "scientific fact" in the Acheulean period when commenting on the gigantic lithic finds of Denis Saurat at Sasnych in Syria. Later review of his suggestion notes that large lithics found could have been used for stunning and traps and present no evidence for giant populations.

Lower Paleolithic

The Lower Paleolithic (or Lower Palaeolithic) is the earliest subdivision of the Paleolithic or Old Stone Age. It spans the time from around 3.3 million years ago when the first evidence for stone tool production and use by hominins appears in the current archaeological record, until around 300,000 years ago, spanning the Oldowan ("mode 1") and Acheulean ("mode 2") lithics industries.

In African archaeology, the time period roughly corresponds to the Early Stone Age, the earliest finds dating back to 3.3 million years ago, with Lomekwian stone tool technology, spanning Mode 1 stone tool technology, which begins roughly 2.6 million years ago and ends between 400,000 and 250,000 years ago, with Mode 2 technology.The Middle Paleolithic followed the Lower Paleolithic and recorded the appearance of the more advanced prepared-core tool-making technologies such as the Mousterian. Whether the earliest control of fire by hominins dates to the Lower or to the Middle Paleolithic remains an open question.


The Oldowan (or Mode I) is the earliest widespread stone tool archaeological industry (style) in prehistory. These early tools were simple, usually made with one or a few flakes chipped off with another stone. Oldowan tools were used during the Lower Paleolithic period, 2.6 million years ago up until 1.7 million years ago, by ancient hominids (early humans) across much of Africa, South Asia, the Middle East and Europe. This technological industry was followed by the more sophisticated Acheulean industry.

Oldowan is pre-dated by Lomekwian tools at a single site dated to 3.3 mya (million years ago). It is not clear if the Lomekwian industry bears any relation to the Oldowan.The term Oldowan is taken from the site of Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania, where the first Oldowan lithics were discovered by the archaeologist Louis Leakey in the 1930s. However, some contemporary archaeologists and palaeoanthropologists prefer to use the term Mode 1 tools to designate pebble tool industries (including Oldowan), with Mode 2 designating bifacially worked tools (including Acheulean handaxes), Mode 3 designating prepared-core tools, and so forth.Classification of Oldowan tools is still somewhat contentious. Mary Leakey was the first to create a system to classify Oldowan assemblages, and built her system based on prescribed use. The system included choppers, scrapers, and pounders. However, more recent classifications of Oldowan assemblages have been made that focus primarily on manufacture due to the problematic nature of assuming use from stone artefacts. An example is Isaac et al.'s tri-modal categories of "Flaked Pieces" (cores/choppers), "Detached Pieces" (flakes and fragments), "Pounded Pieces" (cobbles utilized as hammerstones, etc.) and "Unmodified Pieces" (manuports, stones transported to sites). Oldowan tools are sometimes called "pebble tools", so named because the blanks chosen for their production already resemble, in pebble form, the final product.It is not known for sure which hominin species created and used Oldowan tools. Its emergence is often associated with the species Australopithecus garhi and its flourishing with early species of Homo such as H. habilis and H. ergaster. Early Homo erectus appears to inherit Oldowan technology and refines it into the Acheulean industry beginning 1.7 million years ago.

Prehistory of France

Prehistoric France is the period in the human occupation (including early hominins) of the geographical area covered by present-day France which extended through prehistory and ended in the Iron Age with the Celtic "La Tène culture".

Stone tools indicate that early humans were present in France at least 1.57 million years ago.

Ras Beirut

Ras Beirut ("Tip of Beirut") is an upscale residential neighborhood of Beirut. It has a mixed population of Christians, Muslims, Druze, and secular individuals. Ras Beirut is home to some of Beirut's historically prominent families, such as the Rebeiz family, the Daouk family, the Itani family, the Sinno family,the Sidani family, the Beyhum family and others. Included in the area are a number of international schools and universities, including the American University of Beirut (AUB) and International College Beirut (IC).

Samu (fossil)

Samu is the nickname given to a fragmentary human occipital bone (also known as "Vertesszolos man", or "Vertesszolos occipital") found in Vértesszőlős, Central Transdanubia, Hungary.

The discovery was made on 21 August 1965 during a dig led by László Vértes, and the fossil was named Sámuel, 21 August being the name day of biblical judge Samuel in Hungarian tradition.

It has since become widely known as Samu, a Hungarian short form of the name.

Hungarian anthropologist Andor Thoma (1928–2003) initially described it as Homo erectus seu sapiens paleohungaricus. The fossil at the time was believed to be about 500,000 years old, and some literature of the 1970s classifies it as Homo erectus.

Analyses performed in the 1990s have revealed a significantly younger age, at between 250,000 and 300,000 years old (Mindel glaciation), and the fossil is now classified as Homo heidelbergensis.The Vértesszőlős archaeological site itself had been discovered by Márton Pécsi in 1962. Also found at the site were two child teeth, Abbevillian stone tools and a fireplace. The site is now open to the public.

A replica of the Samu occipital bone is on exhibit in the local museum (the original is kept in the Hungarian National Museum), as well as associated tools and fossilized animal footprints."Samu" has become a common name for plastic skeletons shown in biology classes in Hungarian student slang.

Stone Age

The Stone Age was a broad prehistoric period during which stone was widely used to make implements with an edge, a point, or a percussion surface. The period lasted roughly 3.4 million years and ended between 8700 BCE and 2000 BCE with the advent of metalworking.Stone Age artifacts include tools used by modern humans and by their predecessor species in the genus Homo, and possibly by the earlier partly contemporaneous genera Australopithecus and Paranthropus. Bone tools were used during this period as well but are rarely preserved in the archaeological record. The Stone Age is further subdivided by the types of stone tools in use.

The Stone Age is the first period in the three-age system of archaeology, which divides human technological prehistory into three periods:

The Stone Age

The Bronze Age

The Iron Age

Type site

In archaeology a type site (also known as a type-site or typesite) is a site that is considered the model of a particular archaeological culture. For example, the type site of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A culture is Jericho, in the West Bank. A type site is also often the eponym (the site after which the culture is named). For example, the type site of the pre-Celtic/Celtic Bronze Age Hallstatt culture is the lakeside village of Hallstatt, Austria.

In geology the term is used similarly for a site considered to be typical of a particular rock formation etc.

A type site contains artifacts, in an assemblage, that are typical of that culture. Type sites are often the first or foundational site discovered about the culture they represent. The use of this term is therefore similar to that of the specimen type in biology (see biological types) or locus typicus (type locality) in geology.

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