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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.
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.
Abbevillian is a currently obsolescent name for a tool tradition that is increasingly coming to be called Oldowan (or Olduwan). 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, antiquit de l'homme", in which he was the first to characterize periods by the name of a site. Many of his names are still in use. His first two were Chellean and Acheulean.

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.



The label Abbevillian prevailed until the Leakey family discovered older (yet similar) artifacts at Olduvai Gorge (a.k.a. Oldupai Gorge) and promoted the African origin of man. 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. Tools found there are rough chipped bifacial handaxes made during the Elsterian Stage of the Pleistocene Ice Age, which covered central Europe between and 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 Acheulian scheme refer to it as the middle Acheulian, about - years ago. Geologically it occurred in the Middle Pleistocene, younger than about 700,000 years ago. It spanned the interglacial between the G nz and the Mindel, but more recent finds of the East Anglian Palaeolithic push the date back into the G nz, closer to the ya mark.

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 was supplanted by the classical Acheulian, of which Clactonian and Tayacian are considered phases. The Acheulian there went on into the Levalloisian and Mousterian associated with Neanderthal man.

Abbevillian tool users

Abbevillian tool users were the first Hominin inhabitants of Europe. They are generally conceded to be the immediate ancestors of Neanderthal Man, whose classification, though not entirely undisputed, is most often given as Homo sapiens neanderthalensis; that is, Neanderthal Man is a subspecies of modern man. Our own subspecies has for many generations been fixed at Homo sapiens sapiens.

Beyond these basic concessions, there is a dispute of a purely semantic nature. Three points of view are emergent:

  • The first European men are late variants of Homo erectus; that is, not modern at all. And yet, those who hold and present this view make such concessions as:[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."
  • The first European men are a set of distinct species intermediary between Homo erectus and Neanderthal Man, such as Homo heidelbergensis (Heidelberg Man) and Homo antecessor (Atapuerca man).
  • The first European men are early varieties of modern man, Homo sapiens:[2]
"In Europe there are, as yet, no hominid[3] fossils classified definitely as typical Homo erectus remains; all of the more compete skulls have been classified by most authorities as forms of archaic Homo sapiens."

Early hominids of Europe

The Abbevillian became the European Acheulean and the Clactonian at about 500,000 ya. To avoid the question of what culture name should be used to describe European artifacts, some, such as Schick and Toth,[4] refer to "non-handaxe" and "handaxe" sites. Handaxes came into use at about the 500,000 ya mark.[5] 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 hominins therefore are the same. The physical evidence is summarized in the table below, with links to the appropriate Wikipedia and other articles. 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 Names Notes Links
Arago Cave near the village of Tautavel in the Languedoc-Roussillon region of France. Arago Man;
Tautavel Man;
Homo erectus tautavelensis;
Archaic Homo sapiens;
Homo heidelbergensis;
Arago n, where n is a catalog number assigned to the bone.
A community of about 100 individuals discovered over the years in the ongoing excavations of the cave by a team of the Centre Europ en de Recherches Pr historiques 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. Prehistoric Man, Active x site with sound and animation.
The Tautavel Man
Nature, various articles and abstracts.
A New Look at the Human Past
Barnfield Pit near Swanscombe in Kent, England Swanscombe Man (female);
Homo sapiens;
Homo swanscombensis;
Homo heidelbergensis;
Homo erectus;
Archaic Homo sapiens;
Acheulean Man
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. Swanscombe
Barnfield Pit
Prehistoric Dartford
Boxgrove, outside Chichester, Great Britain. Homo heidelbergensis Shin bone & two teeth found in 1994, 1996 in a quarry, with butchered animal bones & handaxes, ca. 500,000 ya. Boxgrove
Homo antecessor
Boxgrove Home Page
Mauer near Heidelberg, Germany Homo Heidelbergensis;
Heidelberg Man;
Mauer Jaw
Lower jaw & tooth discovered 1907 in a gravel pit. Dated to 600,000-250,000 ya. Homo heidelbergensis
Homo antecessor
Mauer 1
Archaic Homo sapiens
Heidelberg Man
Homo heidelbergensis
Petralona in Chalcidice, Greece. Homo heidelbergensis;
Homo neanderthalensis;
Archanthropus mausoleum;
Archanthropus europaeus petralonsiensis;
Homo erectus petralonensis;
Petralona 1.
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 range circa 700,000-800,000.[6][7] Aris Poulianos
Spilaio Archantropon Petralona
Petralona Cave
Petralona 1
ESR-dating of the fossil hominid cranium from Petralona...
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 Homo heidelbergensis About 4000 hominin bones from which about 30 individuals have been reconstructed since the mid-1970s. Bones of carnivores are mixed in. A handaxe was found in 1998. Date is 500,000-350,000 ya. Atapuerca
The First Europeans
Infants, cannibals, and the pit of bones
Disaster may have killed ancients
Steinheim an der Murr, north of Stuttgart, Germany. Homo heidelbergensis;
Homo steinheimensis;
Steinheim Man;
Archaic Homo sapiens;
Homo sapiens praesapius.
Skull found in 1933 by Karl Sigrist, currently dated to about 250,000 ya. Steinheim an der Murr
Steinheim Skull
Lower Palaeolithic
V rtessz l s,
V rtessz l s,
near Budapest
Homo erectus paleohungaricus;
Homo sapiens paleohungaricus;
V rtessz l s Man;
Occipital bone and a few teeth excavated 1964-65 in a quarry by L szl V rtes. The site was in the open and used for butchery. Human fossils were with a hearth, dwelling, tools, footprints, plant and animal fossils. V rtessz l s
V rtessz l s prehistoric man colony


  1. George W. Rohrer, The First Settlers in France, Old World Archaeologist Winter 1983
  2. Kathy D. Schick and Nicholas Toth, Making Silent Stones Speak, Simon & Schuster, 1993, ISBN 0-671-69371-9, Page 269.
  3. Wikipedia has altered Hominid to Hominin in accordance with the latest genetic classifications.
  4. op. cit.
  5. Acheulean or later Acheulean, dated to 500,000-100,000 ya.
  6. ''Faunal sequence in Petralona cave''. Par Bjorn Kurten, du D partement de G ologie, Universit de Helsinki, Finlande. 1983.
  7. ''Faunal and tool distribution in the layers of petralona cave''. Par Aris N. Poulianos, dans Journal of Human Evolution, volume 12, issue 8, pp. 743 746. D cembre 1983.

See also

  • Timeline of glaciation
  • List of human fossils


To be supplied.

External links

ar: ca:Abbevil li cs:Abbevillien de:Abbevillien et:Abbeville'i kultuur es:Abbevilliense fr:Chell en it:Cultura abbevilliana lt:Abevilio kult ra hu:Chelles-i kult ra ml: nl:Abbevillien pl:Kultura abwilska ro:Abbevilian ru: sk:Abbevillien sr: fi:Abbevillen kulttuuri sv:Abbevillienkulturen tr:Abevilyen zh:

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