We love names. Names are the ultimate tool for organising our world in known entities, and archaeology does not make exception to that. In Palaeolithic Archaeology, French scholars have been the first in trying to organise lithic artefacts they were finding in a coherent cultural taxonomy, which would have helped in understanding chronological relationships between them. The common approach was using modified artefacts, named as tools, arranged by shape in types. The frequencies, or the presence, of these types were used for discerning between cultures or technocomplexes, units grouping assemblages and sites displaying similar features in a bound chrono-geographical setting. Cultures were also intimately linked to populations. Problems arise when we use these units as monolithic (no pun intended!) entities of human behaviour reflecting coherent population groups: they are not. Speaking of the Aurignacian technocomplex does not equate to speak of the Aurignacians as a single ethno-linguistic group. A modern analogue example would be interpreting owners of a particular brand as part of a single tribe. A possible solution is to shift the focus from typology to technology: lithic technology allows to infer social learning transmission and adaptation processes to environmental condition but anchoring the single assemblage to a particular setting. Technology does not need naming per se, since its epistemological goal is understanding the interaction between raw material and artisan’s goals and way to achieve them.
My PhD will bring together three sites dated to the same time frame and attributed to the same broad cultural context, the early dispersal of Homo sapiens in Europe. Comparisons will allow me to give a better evaluation of shared technological solutions and goals, but without pretending social and ethnic continuity between them.
Text: Jacopo Gennai
Jacopo Gennai is PhD candidate in the B1 project and is currently analysing and comparing lithic assemblages from the early Upper Palaeolithic contexts of Al-Ansab 1 (Jordan), Româneşti-Dumbrăviţa I (Romania) and Grotta di Fumane (Italy).
Schematic process of archaeological interpretation and creation of technocomplexes. (Source: Reynolds & Riede (2019);