Monday, May 14, 2012

The Artist Formerly Known as Abbevillian

The word Abbevillian was formerly associated with a tool culture that existed in Europe deep in the Paleolithic. It was the tool set of the first "men" in Europe. The term Abbevillian was coined by Louis Laurent Gabriel de Mortillet, a 19th century French anthropologist. It has fallen out of usage because it was put forth back in the days when people had a Eurocentric view of the origins of man, which we discussed on episode 2 of the podcast. Today, the tool culture associated with the first "men" of Europe is labeled Oldowan, after the Olduvai Gorge, nicknamed "The Cradle of Mankind". It has this monicker because Homo habilis lived there around 1.9 million years ago. The tools found there match those found in Abbeville, France from where the name Abbevillian comes from.

The Oldowan tools found in France have created some argument over who used them. Basically though the argument is over labels and not really much more than a staring contest between archeological theories.

First, there is the thought that the first Europeans were late Homo Erectus specimens, which would mean basically that the tools weren't used by "men" at all, at least not modern men.

The second point of view states that, the first men in Europe were their own species like Homo heidelbergensis or Homo antecessor.  These two homos were intermediate species between Homo Erectus and Homo Sapien  Neanderthalensis (us, being Homo sapien sapiens are sub-species of Homo sapiens and thus, closely related to Neanderthals).

The third theory regarding who was the first "man" in Europe states that all these skeletal remains we had hitherto classified as late Homo erectus, are actually early modern humans in archaic form. The Archaics include Homo heidelbergensis and sometimes Homo antecessor, so the difference between the second and third theory is basically rhetorical in nature.

But, however they were classified somebody that resembled us was hanging out near modern day Abbevillian about 600,000 years ago, with Oldowan tools, like this handaxe. He probably looked a bit like Louis Laurent Gabriel de Mortillet who found him.

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