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Durham e-Theses
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Early Neanderthal social and behavioural complexity during
the Purfleet Interglacial: handaxes in the latest Lower

DALE, LUKE,CHRISTOPHER (2022) Early Neanderthal social and behavioural complexity during
the Purfleet Interglacial: handaxes in the latest Lower
Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

PDF (PDF of post-examination thesis with appendices. ) - Accepted Version


Only a handful of ‘flagship’ sites from the Purfleet Interglacial (Marine Isotope Stage 9, c. 350-290,000 years ago) have been properly examined, but the archaeological succession at the proposed type-site at Purfleet suggests a period of complexity and transition, with three techno-cultural groups represented in Britain. The first was a simple toolkit lacking handaxes (the Clactonian), and
the last a more sophisticated technology presaging the coming Middle Palaeolithic (simple prepared core or proto-Levallois technology). Sandwiched between were Acheulean groups, whose handaxes comprise the great majority of the extant archaeological record of the period – these are the focus of this study. It has previously been suggested that some features of the Acheulean in the Purfleet Interglacial were chronologically restricted, particularly the co-occurrence of ficrons and cleavers. These distinctive forms may have exceeded pure functionality and were perhaps imbued with a deeper social and cultural meaning. This study supports both the previously suggested preference for narrow, pointed morphologies, and the chronologically restricted pairing of ficrons and cleavers. By drawing on a wide spatial and temporal range of sites these patterns could be identified beyond the handful of ‘flagship’ sites
previously studied. Hypertrophic ‘giants’ have now also been identified as a chronologically restricted form. Greater metrical variability was found than had been anticipated, leading to the creation of two new sub-groups (IA and IB) which are tentatively suggested to represent spatial and
perhaps temporal patterning. The picture in the far west of Britain remains unclear, but the possibility of different Acheulean groups operating in the Solent area, and a late survival of the Acheulean, are both suggested. Handaxes with backing and macroscopic asymmetry may represent prehensile or ergonomic considerations not commonly found on handaxes from earlier interglacial periods. It is argued that these forms anticipate similar developments in the Late Middle Palaeolithic in an example of convergent evolution.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:Lower Palaeolithic, handaxe, Acheulean, Neanderthal, MIS 9
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Social Sciences and Health > Archaeology, Department of
Thesis Date:2022
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:03 May 2022 19:10

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