|Clockwise from lower left: tortoise core, ventral flake, Levallois point, proximal points.|
Bordes, François. 1980. Le débitage Levallois et ses variantes. Bulletin de la Société préhistorique française 77:45-49.
These Bordesian types are idealized (if not reified) categories. In an earlier post I argued that the Levallois ‘blades’ from Qesem Cave in Israel were anything but ideally shaped. Nor were they, evidently, uniformly shaped. The story is much the same for the other eight Levallois flake ‘types’ that Bordes bequeathed to us. As opposed to the stereotyped images shown above, the reality is much more complex and includes far less regularity than Bordes’ classification would suggest. So complex and so variable are the products of the Levallois technique that one wonders how many Prof. Bordes needed to look at before deciding on just those nine shapes as emblems of what the Middle Palaeolithic (MP) hominids were aiming for. I can suggest that he searched his own experience of the world to settle on those nine types, as shapes that just might approximate shapes that would be useful to a modern human–e.g. a projectile point, a knife, an ‘ulu,’ a scraper.
Do me a favour and scrutinize the objects displayed below, which are some of the Levallois cores recovered at Douara Cave, in Syria. The presumed desired outcome–the final, ‘Levallois,’ flake removals–are outlined in red. See how many you can assign to one of the nine Bordesian types shown above. Difficult? That’s an understatement! ‘Impossible’ gets my vote.
|Levallois cores from Douara Cave (Credit Akazawa in Suzuki and Takai 1974).|
I suppose you could argue, as many no doubt would, that the Doura Cave Levallois cores aren’t good Levallois cores, and say that only those that conform to Bordes’ typology can be called good Levallois cores. I hope you can see why I think such a view would be begging the question. [‘Begging the question,’ for those of you who didn’t take that Critical Thinking course at university, is A.K.A. ‘circular argument.’]
Just to show you that I’m not cherry-picking my evidence, have a look at the following illustration from a paper by Vallin et al. published in Paleo dealing with Levallois flake variability. This is an assemblage-level comparison of flake outlines that have been identified as Levallois flakes. You don’t have to be a statistician to see that there isn’t one dominant outline, much less evidence of any of the nine that Bordes ‘identified.’ It’s clear to me, at least, that you’d have to be thinking like a Neanderthal to see the variability in products of the Levallois technique as anything other than continuous.
|Outline of unbroken Levallois flakes from Hermies-Le Tio Marché ; hinged flakes in red, plunging flakes in green (CAD : L. Vallin).|
With all due respect to François Bordes and Eric Boëda, the Levallois technique is nothing but the product of some very elastic modern human minds, and, contrary to received wisdom, was never the incredibly wasteful and counter-intuitive behaviour of MP hominids. A GREAT deal of modern human brainpower went into its creation as an archaeological construct, and I fear that a great deal more will be expended before a counter-argument such as mine meets wide acceptance.
Some would call that job security. I can’t see any up-side in that. I’d call my project Sisyphean in proportion, and in its likely outcome.