EOLITHS: STONES OF CONTENTION
Eoliths of the Kent Plateau,
Discoveries by J. Reid Moir
in East Anglia
Two Famous Debunkers of
Recent Examples of Eolithic
Implements from the Americas
George Carter and the Texas
Louis Leakey and the Calico
Toca da Esperanga, Brazil
Monte Verde, Chile
Recent Pakistan Finds
Siberia and India
Who Made the Eolithic
Nineteenth-century scientists found many
stone tools and weapons in
Early Pleistocene, Pliocene, Miocene, and older strata. They were
reported in standard scientific journals, and they were discussed at
scientific congresses. But today hardly anyone has heard of them.
Whole categories of facts have disappeared from view.
We have, however, managed to recover a vast hoard of such "buried"
evidence, and our review of it shall take us from the hills of Kent
in England to the valley of the Irrawady in Burma. Researchers of
the late twentieth century have also discovered anomalously old
The anomalous stone-tool industries we shall consider fall into
three basic divisions: (1) eoliths, (2) crude paleoliths, and (3)
advanced paleoliths and neoliths.
According to some authorities, eoliths (or dawn stones) are stones
with edges naturally suited for certain kinds of uses. These, it was
said, were selected by humans and used as tools with little or no
further modification. To the untrained eye, Eolithic stone
implements are often indistinguishable from ordinary broken rocks,
but specialists developed criteria for identifying upon them signs
of human modification and usage. At the very least, unmistakable
marks of usage should be present in order for a specimen to qualify
as an eolith.
In the case of more sophisticated stone tools, called crude
paleoliths, the signs of human manufacture are more obvious,
involving an attempt to form the whole of the stone into a
recognizable tool shape. Questions about such implements center
mainly upon the determination of their correct age.
Our third division, advanced paleoliths and neoliths, refers to
anomalously old stone tools that resemble the very finely chipped or
smoothly polished stone industries of the standard Late Paleolithic
and Neolithic periods.
For most researchers, eoliths would be the oldest implements,
followed in turn by the paleoliths and neoliths. But we will use
these terms mainly to indicate degrees of workmanship.
impossible to assign ages to stone tools simply on the basis of
EOLITHS OF THE KENT PLATEAU, ENGLAND
The small town of Ightham, in Kent, is situated about twenty-seven
miles southeast of London. During the Victorian era, Benjamin
Harrison kept a grocery shop in Ightham. On holidays he roamed the
nearby hills and valleys, collecting flint implements which, though
now long forgotten, were for decades the center of protracted
controversy in the scientific community.
Harrison did much of his work in close consultation with Sir John Prestwich, the famous English geologist, who lived in the vicinity.
Harrison also corresponded regularly with other scientists involved
in paleoanthropological research and carefully catalogued and mapped
his finds, according to standard procedures. Harrison's first finds
were polished stone artifacts of the Neolithic type. According to
modern opinion, Neolithic cultures date back only about 10,000
years, and are associated with agriculture and pottery. Harrison
found neoliths scattered over the present land surfaces around
Later, he began to find paleoliths in ancient river gravels. These
Paleolithic implements, although cruder than Neolithic implements,
are still easily recognized as objects of human manufacture.
How old were the these Paleolithic tools? Prestwich and Harrison
considered some of the stone implements found near Ightham to be
Pliocene in age. Twentieth-century geologists, such as Francis H.
Edmunds of the Geological Survey of Great Britain, have also said
that the gravels in which many of the implements were found are
Pliocene. Hugo Obermaier, a leading paleoanthropologist of the early
twentieth century, stated that the flint implements collected by
Harrison from the Kent Plateau belong to the Middle Pliocene.
or Middle Pliocene date for the implements of the Kent Plateau would
give them an age of 2-4 million years. Modern paleoanthropologists
attribute the Paleolithic implements of the Somme region of France
to Homo erectus, and date them at just .5-.7 million years ago. The
oldest currently recognized implements in England are about .4
million years old.
Among the Paleolithic implements collected by Benjamin Harrison from
the Kent Plateau were some that appeared to belong to an even more
primitive level of culture. These were the eoliths, or dawn stones.
The Paleolithic implements discovered by Harrison, although somewhat
crude in appearance, had been extensively worked in order to bring
them into definite tool and weapon shapes.
The Eolithic implements, however, were natural flint flakes
displaying only retouching along the edges. Such tools are still
employed today by primitive tribal people in various parts of the
world, who pick up a stone flake, chip one of the edges, and then
use it for a scraper or cutter.
Critics claimed Harrison's eoliths were just figments of his
imagination—merely broken pieces of flint. But Leland W. Patterson,
a modern authority on stone tools, believes it is possible to
distinguish even very crude intentional work from natural action.
"It would be difficult," said Patterson, "to visualize how random
applications of force could create uniform, unidirectional retouch
along a significant length of a flake edge."
Unifacial tools, with regular chipping confined to one side of a
surface, formed a large part of the eoliths gathered by Harrison.
According to Patterson's criterion, these would have to be accepted
as objects of human manufacture. On September 18, 1889, A. M. Bell,
a Fellow of the Geological Society, wrote to Harrison:
to be something more in the uniform though rude chipping than mere
accidental attrition would have produced. . . . having made my
conclusion, I hold it with all firmness."
On November 2, 1891, Alfred Russell Wallace, one of the most famous
scientists of his time, paid an unannounced visit to Benjamin
Harrison at his grocery shop in Ightham. Harrison showed Wallace his
collection of stone tools and took him to some of the sites. Wallace
accepted the tools as genuine and asked Harrison to write a thorough
report on them.
Sir John Prestwich, one of England's foremost authorities on stone
tools, also accepted Harrison's find as genuine. Answering the
charge that the eoliths were perhaps nature facts rather than
artifacts, Prestwich stated in 1895:
"Challenged to show any such
natural specimens, those who have made the assertion have been
unable, although nearly three years have elapsed since the challenge
was given, to bring forward a single such specimen. . . . So far
from running water having this constructive power, the tendency of
it is to wear off all angles, and reduce the flint to a more or less
In another article, published in 1892, Prestwich made this important
"Even modern savage work, such as exhibited for example
by the stone implements of the Australian natives, show, when
divested of their mounting, an amount of work no greater or more
distinct, than do these early palaeolithic specimens."
Therefore, we need not attribute the Plateau eoliths to a primitive
race of ape-men. Since the eoliths are practically identical to
stone tools made by Homo sapiens sapiens, it is possible that the
eoliths (and the paleoliths) may have been made by humans of the
fully modern type in England during the Middle or Late Pliocene. As
we shall see in Chapter 7, scientists of the nineteenth century made
several discoveries of skeletal remains of anatomically modern human
beings in strata of Pliocene age.
Interestingly, modern experts accept tools exactly resembling
Harrison's eoliths as genuine human artifacts. For example, the
cobble and flake tools of the lower levels of Olduvai Gorge are
extremely crude. But scientists have not challenged their status as
intentionally manufactured objects.
Some critics thought that even if Harrison's tools were made by
humans, they might not be of Pliocene age. They might have been
dropped in the Pliocene gravels during fairly recent times.
In order to resolve the controversy over the age of the eoliths, the
British Association, a prestigious scientific society, financed
excavations in the high-level Plateau gravels and other localities
in close proximity to Ightham. The purpose was to show definitively
that eoliths were to be found not only on the surface but in situ,
deep within the Pliocene pre-glacial gravels.
Harrison had already
found some eoliths in situ (such as some from post holes), but this
excavation, financed by the respected British Association, would be
more conclusive. The British Association selected Harrison himself
to supervise the Plateau excavations, under the direction of a
committee of scientists. Harrison recorded in his notebooks that he
found many examples of eoliths in situ, including "thirty
In 1895, Harrison was invited to exhibit his eoliths at a meeting of
the Royal Society. Some of the scientists remained skeptical.
Others, however, were quite impressed. Among them was E. T. Newton,
a Fellow of the Royal Society and member of the Geological Survey of
Great Britain, who wrote to Harrison on December 24, 1895 about the
"Some of them, to say the least, show human work. . . .
they have been done intentionally, and, therefore, by the only
intellectual being we know of, Man."
In 1896, Prestwich died, but Harrison, in his prominent patron's
absence, continued with the Plateau excavations and answered the
doubters. Ray E. Lankester, who was a director of the British Museum
(Natural History), became a supporter of Harrison's Kent Plateau
One may question the necessity of giving such a detailed treatment
of the Harrison eoliths. One reason is to show that evidence of this
kind was not always of a marginal, crackpot nature. Rather anomalous
evidence was quite often the center of serious, longstanding
controversy within the very heart of elite scientific circles, with
advocates holding scientific credentials and positions just as
prestigious as those of the opponents. By presenting detailed
accounts of the interplay of conflicting opinion, we hope to give
the reader a chance to answer for himself or herself the crucial
question—was the evidence actually rejected on purely objective
grounds, or was it dropped from consideration and forgotten simply
because it did not lie within the parameters of certain
Harrison died in 1921, and his body was buried on the grounds of the
parish church, St. Peter's, in Ightham. A memorial tablet, set in
the north wall of St. Peter's on July 10, 1926, bears this
"IN MEMORIAM.—Benjamin Harrison of Ightham, 1837-1921,
the village grocer and archaeologist whose discoveries of eolithic
flint implements around Ightham opened a fruitful field of
scientific investigation into the greater antiquity of man."
But the fruitful field of scientific investigation into the greater
antiquity of man opened by the eoliths of the Kent Plateau was
buried along with Harrison. Here is what appears to have taken
place. In the 1890s, Eugene Dubois discovered and promoted the
famous, yet dubious, Java ape-man (Chapter 8). Many scientists
accepted Java man, found unaccompanied by stone tools, as a genuine
But because Java man was found in Middle Pleistocene
strata, the extensive evidence for tool-making hominids in the far
earlier Pliocene and Miocene periods no longer received much serious
attention. How could such tool-making hominids have appeared long
before their supposed ape-man ancestors?
Such a thing would be
impossible; so better to ignore and forget any discoveries that fell
outside the bounds of theoretical expectations.
DISCOVERIES BY J. REID MOIR IN EAST ANGLIA
Our journey of exploration now takes us to the southeast coast of
England and the discoveries of J. Reid Moir, a fellow of the Royal
Anthropological Institute and president of the Prehistoric Society
of East Anglia. Starting in 1909, Moir found flint implements in and
beneath the Red and Coralline Crags.
The Red Crag formation, in which Moir made some of his most
significant discoveries, is composed of the shelly sands of a sea
that once washed the shores of East Anglia. At some places beneath
the Red Crag is found a similar formation called the Coralline Crag.
After studying modern geological reports, we have arrived at an age
of at least 2.0-2.5 million years for the Red Crag. The Coralline
Crag would thus be older. Below the Red and Coralline Crags of East
Anglia there are detritus beds, sometimes called bone beds. These
are composed of a mixture of materials—sands, gravels, shells, and
bones derived from a variety of older formations, including the
Eocene London Clay.
J. Reid Moir found in the sub-Crag detritus beds stone tools,
showing varying degrees of intentional work. Having concluded that
the cruder tools were from as far back as the Eocene, Moir said
becomes necessary to recognize a much higher antiquity for the human
race than has hitherto been supposed."
At the very least, Moir's implements are Late Pliocene in age. But
according to present evolutionary theory one should not expect to
find signs of tool-making humans in England at 2-3 million years
Moir thought that the makers of his oldest and crudest tools must
"represent an early and brutal stage in human evolution." But even
today, modern tribal people are known to manufacture very primitive
stone tools. It is thus possible that beings very much like Homo
sapiens sapiens could have made even the crudest of the implements
recovered by Moir from below the Red Crag.
The implements themselves were a matter of extreme controversy. Many
scientists thought them to be products of natural forces rather than
of human work. Nevertheless, Moir had many influential supporters.
These included Henri Breuil, who personally investigated the sites.
He found in Moir's collection an apparent sling stone from below the
Another supporter was Archibald Geikie, a respected
geologist and president of the Royal Society. Yet another was Sir
Ray Lankester, a director of the British Museum. Lankester
identified from among Moir's specimens a representative type of
implement he named rostro-carinate. This word calls attention to two
prominent characteristics of the tools. "Rostro" refers to the
beaklike shape of the working portion of the implements, and
"carinate" refers to the sharp keel-like prominence running along
part of their dorsal surface.
Lankester presented a detailed analysis of what he called "the
Norwich test specimen." A particularly good example of the
rostro-carinate type of implement, it was discovered beneath the Red
Crag at Whitlingham, near Norwich. If the Norwich test specimen is
from below the Red Crag, it would be over 2.5 million years old. The
Norwich test specimen combined a good demonstration of intentional
work with clear stratigraphic position.
Lankester wrote in a Royal
Anthropological Institute report in 1914:
"It is not possible for
anyone acquainted with flint-workmanship and also with the non-human
fracture of flint to maintain that it is even in a remote degree
possible that the sculpturing of this Norwich test flint was
produced by other than human agency."
Lankester thought tools of
this type might be of Miocene age.
An important set of discoveries by Moir occurred at Foxhall, where
he found stone tools in the middle of the Late Pliocene Red Crag
formation. The Foxhall implements would thus be over 2.0 million
years old. Moir wrote in 1927:
"The finds consisted of the debris of
a flint workshop, and included hammer-stones, cores from which
flakes had been struck, finished implements, numerous flakes, and
several calcined stones showing that fires had been lighted at this
spot. . . . if the famous Foxhall human jaw-bone, which was
apparently not very primitive in form, was, indeed, derived from the
old land surface now buried deep beneath the Crag and a great
thickness of Glacial Gravel, we can form the definite opinion that
these ancient people were not very unlike ourselves in bodily
The jaw spoken of by Moir has an interesting history (see Chapter
7). Some scientists who examined it considered it like that of a
modern human being. It is unfortunate that the Foxhall jaw is not
available for further study, for it might offer additional
confirmation that the flint implements from Foxhall were of human
manufacture. But even without the jaw, the tools themselves point
strongly to a human presence in England during the Late Pliocene,
perhaps 2.0-2.5 million years ago.
In 1921, the American paleontologist Henry Fairfield Osborn came out
strongly in favor of the implements and argued for a Pliocene date.
He said that proofs of humans in the Pliocene
"now rest on the firm
foundation of the Foxhall flints in which human handiwork cannot be
According to Osborn, the Foxhall specimens included
borers, arrowhead-like pointed implements, scrapers, and side
Osborn backed not only the Foxhall flints but the rest of Moir's
work as well:
"The discoveries of J. Reid Moir of evidences of the
existence of Pliocene man in East Anglia open a new epoch in
archaeology . . . they bring indubitable evidence of the existence
of man in southeast Britain, man of sufficient intelligence to
fashion flints and to build a fire, before the close of the Pliocene
time and before the advent of the First Glaciation."
Another scientist won over by the Foxhall finds was
previously a consistent and vocal opponent of Eolithic discoveries.
Obermaier was one of those scientists who believed that eoliths were
produced by natural forces similar to the forces operating in cement
and chalk mills. But Obermaier wrote in 1924:
"This discovery of Foxhall is the first evidence we have of the existence of Tertiary
The Tertiary epoch extends from the Eocene through the
Moir also made discoveries in the more recent Cromer Forest Bed of
Norfolk. These tools would be about .4 million years to about .8
million years old. Some estimates for the age of the lower part of
the Cromer Forest Bed formation go up to 1.75 million years.
But many scientists continued to refuse to accept Moir's specimens
as genuine tools. They argued that the objects had been produced by
purely natural forces. For example, S. Hazzledine Warren said they
were produced by geological pressure that crushed pieces of flint
against hard beds of chalk. As proof, he referred to some specimens
of chipped stone from the Bullhead Bed, an Eocene site in England.
About one such object, Warren said in a 1920 report to the
Geological Society of London:
"This, a good example of a
trimmed-flake point, is the most remarkable specimen of the group.
If considered by itself, upon its own apparent merits, and away from
its associates and the circumstances of its discovery, its
Mousterian affinities could scarcely be questioned."
is an accepted stone-tool industry of the later Pleistocene. Warren
thought it impossible that one could find tools in Eocene strata.
But those free from such prejudices might wonder whether Warren had
actually discovered, in the Eocene strata of Essex, a genuine
In the discussion following Warren's report to the Geological
Society, one of the scientists present pointed out that in some
cases the Moir's tools were found in the middle of Tertiary
sedimentary beds and not directly on the hard chalk. This would rule
out the particular pressure explanation given by Warren.
At this point, the controversy over Moir's discoveries was submitted
to an international commission of scientists for resolution. The
commission, formed at the request of the International Institute of
Anthropology, was composed of eight prominent European and American
anthropologists, geologists, and archeologists. This group supported
They concluded that the flints from the base of
the Red Crag near Ipswich were in undisturbed strata, at least
Pliocene in age. Furthermore, the flaking on the flints was
undoubtedly of human origin. Members of the commission also carried
out four excavations into the detritus bed below the Red Crag and
themselves found five typical specimens. These tools would be at
least 2.5 million years old. And because the detritus bed contains
materials from ancient Eocene land surfaces, the tools might be up
to 55 million years old.
Commission member Louis Capitan stated:
"There exist at the base of
the Crag, in undisturbed strata, worked flints (we have observed
them ourselves). These are not made by anything other than a human
or hominid which existed in the Tertiary epoch. This fact is found
by us prehistorians to be absolutely demonstrated."
Surprisingly, even after the commission report, Moir's opponents,
such as Warren, persisted in attempting to show that the flint
implements were the product of natural pressure flaking. Warren said
that the flints may have been crushed by icebergs against the ocean
bottom along the coast. But to our knowledge no one has shown that
icebergs can produce the numerous bulbs of percussion and elaborate
retouching reported on Moir's implements.
Furthermore, many of the
Red Crag specimens are lying in the middle of sediments and not on
hard rock surfaces against which an iceberg might have crushed them.
In addition, J. M. Coles, an English archeologist, reported that at Foxhall implements occur in layers of sediment that appear to
represent land surfaces and not beach deposits. This would also rule
out the iceberg action imagined by Warren.
After Warren put forward his iceberg explanation, the controversy
faded. Coles wrote in 1968:
"That . . . the scientific world did not
see fit to accept either side without considerable uncertainty must
account for the quite remarkable inattention that this East Anglian
problem has received since the days of active controversy."
be in part true, but there is another possible explanation—that
elements of the scientific community decided silence was a better
way to bury Moir's discoveries than active and vocal dissent. By the
1950s, scientific opinion was lining up solidly behind an Early
Pleistocene African center for human evolution. Therefore, there
would have been little point, and perhaps some embarrassment and
harm, in continually trying to disprove evidence for a theoretically
impossible Pliocene habitation of England.
That would have kept both
sides of the controversy too much alive. The policy of silence,
deliberate or not, did in fact prove highly successful in removing Moir's evidence from view. There was no need to defeat something
that was beneath notice, and little to gain from defending or
supporting it either.
Coles provides an exception to the usual instinctive rejection of
Moir's discoveries (or complete silence about them). He felt it
"unjust to dismiss all this material without some consideration" and
in a 1968 report hesitantly accepted some of the implements as
Although most modern authorities do not even mention Moir's
discoveries, a rare notice of dismissal may be found in The Ice Age
in Britain, by B. W. Sparks and R. G. West:
"Early in this century
many flints from the Lower Pleistocene Crags were described as being
artifacts, such as the flints, some flaked bifacially, in the Red
Crag near Ipswich, and the so-called rostro-carinates from the base
of the Norwich Crag near Norwich. All are now thought to be natural
They do not satisfy the requirements for identification as
a tool, namely, that the object conforms to a set and regular
pattern, that it is found in a geologically possible habitation
site, preferably with other signs of man's activities (e.g.
chipping, killing, or burial site), and that it shows signs of
flaking from two or three directions at right angles."
West, of Cambridge University, are experts on the Pleistocene in
Briefly responding to Sparks and West, we may note that Moir and
other authorities, such as Osborn and Capitan, were able to classify
the Crag specimens into definite tool types (hand axes, borers,
scrapers, etc.) comparable to those included in accepted Paleolithic
industries, including the Mousterian. The Foxhall site, with the
Foxhall jaw, was taken by many authorities to represent a
geologically possible habitation site.
Moir considered it to be a
workshop area and noted signs of fire having been used there. As far
as flaking from several directions at right angles is concerned,
this is not the only criterion that might be applied for judging
human workmanship upon stone objects. Even so, M. C. Burkitt of
Cambridge did find flaking from several different directions at
right angles on some of the implements collected by J. Reid Moir.
Burkitt, who served on the international commission that examined
Moir's implements in the 1920s, gave favorable treatment to them in
his book The Old Stone Age, published in 1956.
Burkitt was particularly impressed with the site at Thorington Hall,
2 miles south of Ipswich, where flint implements had been collected
from the Crag deposits.
"At Thorington Hall bivalve shells with the
hinges still intact have been collected from just above the
artifacts . . . no subsequent differential movement of the gravel,
such as might have caused fracturing of the contained flints, can
have taken place, since it would certainly have led to the smashing
of the delicate hinges of these shells."
Burkitt then delivered a striking conclusion about the implements
discovered in and below the Red Crag:
"The eoliths themselves are
mostly much older than the late pliocene deposits in which they were
found. Some of them might actually date back to pre-pliocene times."
In other words, he was prepared to accept the existence of
intelligent tool-making hominids in England over 5 million years
ago. Because there is much evidence, including skeletal remains,
that humans of the fully modern type existed in pre-Pliocene times,
there is no reason to rule out the possibility that Moir's
implements from the below-the-Crag formations were made by Homo
sapiens over 5 million years ago.
Another supporter of Moir's finds was Louis Leakey, who wrote in
"It is more than likely that primitive humans were present in
Europe during the Lower Pleistocene, just as they were in Africa,
and certainly a proportion of the specimens from the sub-crag
deposits appear to be humanly flaked and cannot be regarded merely
as the result of natural forces. Implements from below the Crags
would, however, be not Early (Lower) Pleistocene but at least Late
Pliocene in age."
TWO FAMOUS DEBUNKERS OF EOLITHS
In paleoanthropology, we sometimes encounter the definitive
debunking report—one that is used again and again to invalidate
certain evidence. In the case of European eoliths, there are two
good examples of definitive debunking reports.
These are H. Breuil's
paper claiming that pseudo-eoliths were formed by geological
pressure in the French Eocene formations at Clermont (Oise), and A.
S. Barnes's paper claiming to demonstrate, by statistical analysis
of platform-striking angles, the natural origin of Eolithic
In 1910, Henri Breuil conducted investigations he thought would put
an end to the eolith controversy. In his often-cited report, he said
he found flints resembling stone tools in the Thanetian formation at
Belle-Assise, near Clermont, France.
This formation is Early Eocene,
making the flints about 50-55 million years old. But Breuil could
not imagine human beings existed in the Eocene. How, then, had the
flint objects been produced? During his excavations, Breuil found a
few pieces of flint with detached flakes lying nearby. Some of these
detached flakes had bulbs of percussion. Others had some flaking on
them that resembled retouching. The cause of these effects,
according to Breuil, was simply geological pressure.
Can geological pressure really create the effects observed by
Breuil? Leland W. Patterson, a modern authority on stone tools, says
that pressure flaking very rarely produces clearly marked bulbs of
percussion. It usually takes an intentionally directed blow.
Breuil probably selected for illustration his best examples of
flakes found in contact with the parent block of flint. But the
flaking and retouching on them is far cruder than on the cores and
flakes selected by Breuil as examples of pseudo-eoliths. Breuil said
all the effects resulted from natural geological pressure flaking.
But he would have been justified in making such a statement only if
he had found the flakes from better-looking eoliths in contact with
their parent blocks of flint. And this he did not do.
The unsatisfactory nature of Breuil's geological-pressure hypothesis
becomes even clearer when we consider what Breuil called "two truly
exceptional objects, of which the site of discovery, in the interior
of the beds, is absolutely certain."
Breuil said the first object was virtually indistinguishable from an
Azilio-Tardenoisian grattoir, or end scraper. Scientists generally
attribute Azilio-Tardenoisian stone implements to Homo sapiens
sapiens in the Late Pleistocene of Europe. In describing the second
exceptional object, Breuil compared it to tools found at Les Eyzies,
a Late Pleistocene site in France. Geological-pressure flaking does
not seem adequate to explain these two tools, which are over 50
million years old.
Breuil's paper is still cited as proof that eoliths are natural
rather than artificial productions. This kind of citing is a very
effective propaganda technique. After all, how many people will
bother to dig up Breuil's original article and see for themselves if
what he had to say really made sense?
Breuil's definitive 1910 report came before most of J. Reid Moir's
discoveries in East Anglia. Eventually, when Moir's finds began to
attract attention, Breuil went to England to conduct firsthand
evaluations. Surprisingly, Breuil backed Moir. He accepted the
implements from the Pliocene Red Crag at Foxhall as genuine and also
said that some of the implements from the beds below the Red Crag
were "absolutely indistinguishable from classic flint implements."
The sub-Crag formations could be anywhere from 2 to 55 million years
old. Breuil apparently became noncommittal later on. The 1965
edition of his book Men of the Old Stone Age, published after his
death, stated only that "a certain number of flakes might be
accepted, though their angle of cut is generally against it." One
wonders why there is no mention of the objects Breuil previously
said were "not simply eoliths but are absolutely indistinguishable
from classic flint implements."
Another important element in the eolith controversy was the
platform-angle test, promoted by Alfred S. Barnes. Barnes, who
defended Moir in the 1920s, later became opposed. In 1939, he
delivered what many authorities still regard as the deathblow to
Moir's English eoliths. But Barnes did not limit his attention to
Moir. In his study, titled "The Differences Between Natural and
Human Flaking on Prehistoric Flint Implements," Barnes also
considered stone-tool industries from France, Portugal, Belgium, and
Supporters of eoliths generally argued that natural forces could not
produce the kinds of chipping observed on the objects in question.
Barnes looked for some measurable way to demonstrate whether or not
this was so. For this purpose, Barnes chose what he called the angle
"The angle platform-scar " he said, "is the angle
between the platform or surface on which the blow was struck or the
pressure was applied which detached the flake, and the scar left on
the tool where the flake has been detached."
In genuine human work,
the angle would be acute. Natural fractures would, he said, yield
We find Barnes's description of the angle to be measured somewhat
ambiguous. We have spoken with experts on stone tools at
California's San Bernardino County Museum, including Ruth D.
Simpson, and they have also been unable to specify exactly what
angle Barnes was measuring. In any case, in the angle platform-scar,
Barnes believed he had found the objectively measurable feature by
which one could distinguish natural chipping from human work.
To be effective, the measurement had to be applied not to a single
specimen, but to a large sample of specimens from the industry in
question. Barnes stated that a sample "may be considered of human
origin if less than 25% of the angles platform-scar are obtuse (90
degrees and over)." Having established this, Barnes delivered a
devastating conclusion: none of the eoliths he examined, including
those of Moir, were of human origin. Interestingly enough, it
appears that Moir himself was aware of the Barnes criterion and
believed his specimens were within the required range. But for
Barnes, and almost everyone else in the scientific community, the
controversy was over.
In fact, in mainstream circles the controversy about the eoliths and
other Tertiary stone-tool industries had long since ceased to be a
burning issue. With the discoveries of Java man and Beijing man, the
scientific community had become increasingly convinced that the key
transition from apelike precursors to tool-making humans (or
protohumans) had taken place in the Early to Middle Pleistocene.
This made the presumed stone tools of humans in the Pliocene and
earlier a sideshow topic of little concern. Barnes, however,
performed the valuable, if menial task, of sweeping away some
useless remnants of irrelevant evidence. Thereafter, whenever the
topic of very old stone-tool industries happened to come up, as it
still does from time to time, scientists could conveniently cite
Barnes's report. Even today scientists studying stone tools apply
the Barnes method.
But on close examination, it appears that Barnes's definitive
debunking report may be in need of some debunking itself. Alan Lyle
Bryan, a Canadian anthropologist, wrote in 1986:
"The question of
how to distinguish nature facts from artifacts is far from being
resolved and demands more research. The way the problem was resolved
in England, by application of the Barnes statistical method of
measuring the angles of platform-scar, is not generally applicable
to all problems of differentiating nature facts from artifacts."
During a phone conversation with one of us on May 28, 1987, Bryan
also expressed a cautious belief that Barnes may have gone too far
in trying to eliminate all of the anomalous European stone-tool
industries. Giving attention to more recent discoveries, Bryan said
that there are Late Pleistocene Australian tools that do not conform
to Barnes's specifications.
Another example of an industry that apparently does not conform to
the Barnes criterion is the Oldowan, from the lower levels of the
Olduvai Gorge. Considering the extremely crude nature of the
objects, which Louis Leakey said were comparable to Moir's
implements, it is remarkable that they have never been challenged by
the scientific community. This is probably because the Oldowan
industry offers support to the African evolution hypothesis of human
origins, which is accepted as dogma.
In light of the views presented by Bryan and others, it is clear
that wholesale rejection of the Eolithic and other early stone-tool
industries by application of the Barnes criterion is unwarranted.
RECENT EXAMPLES OF EOLITHIC IMPLEMENTS FROM THE AMERICAS
Despite the best efforts of Barnes and Breuil, the eolith question
continues to haunt archeologists. Several anomalously old crude
stone-tool industries of Eolithic type have been discovered in the
Most archeologists say Siberian hunters crossed into Alaska on a
land bridge that existed when the last glaciation lowered sea
levels. During this period, the Canadian ice sheet blocked southward
migration until about 12,000 years ago, when the first American
immigrants followed an ice-free passage to what is now the United
States. These people were the so-called Clovis hunters, famous for
their characteristic spear points. These correspond to the highly
evolved stone implements of the later Paleolithic in Europe.
Nevertheless, many sites, excavated with modern archeological
methods, have yielded dates as great as 30,000 years for humans in
America. These sites include El Cedral in northern Mexico, Santa
Barbara Island off California, and the rock-shelter of Boquierao do
Sitio da Pedra Furada in northern Brazil.
Other controversial sites
are far older than 30,000 years.
GEORGE CARTER AND THE TEXAS STREET SITE
A good example of a controversial American early stone-tool industry
reminiscent of the European eoliths is the one discovered by George
Carter in the 1950s at the Texas Street excavation in San Diego.
this site, Carter claimed to have found hearths and crude stone
tools at levels corresponding to the last interglacial period, some
80,000-90,000 years ago. Critics scoffed at these claims, referring
to Carter's alleged tools as products of nature, or "cartifacts,"
and Carter was later publicly defamed in a Harvard course on
"Fantastic Archeology." However, Carter gave clear criteria for
distinguishing between his tools and naturally broken rocks, and
lithic experts such as John Witthoft have endorsed his claims.
In 1973, Carter conducted more extensive excavations at Texas Street
and invited numerous archeologists to come and view the site
firsthand. Almost none responded. Carter stated:
"San Diego State
University adamantly refused to look at work in its own backyard."
In 1960, an editor of Science, the journal of the American Academy
for the Advancement of Science, asked Carter to submit an article
about early humans in America. Carter did so, but when the editor
sent the article out to two scholars for review, they rejected it.
Upon being informed of this by the editor, Carter replied in a
letter, dated February 2, 1960:
"I must assume now that you had no
idea of the intensity of feeling that reigns in the field. It is
nearly hopeless to try to convey some idea of the status of the
field of Early Man in America at the moment. But just for fun: I
have a correspondent whose name I cannot use, for though he thinks
that I am right, he could lose his job for saying so. I have another
anonymous correspondent who as a graduate student found evidence
that would tend to prove me right. He and his fellow student buried
They were certain that to bring it in would cost them
their chance for their Ph.D.s. At a meeting, a young professional
approached me to say, 'I hope you really pour it on them. I would
say it if I dared, but it would cost me my job.' At another meeting,
a young man sidled up to say, 'In dig x they found core tools like
yours at the bottom but just didn't publish them.'"
The inhibiting effect of negative propaganda on the evaluation of
Carter's discoveries is described by archeologist Brian Reeves, who
wrote with his coauthors in 1986:
"Were actual artifacts uncovered
at Texas Street, and is the site really Last Interglacial in age? .
. . Because of the weight of critical 'evidence' presented by
established archaeologists, the senior author [Reeves], like most
other archaeologists, accepted the position of the skeptics
uncritically, dismissing the sites and the objects as natural
But when he took the trouble to look at the evidence
himself, Reeves changed his mind. He concluded that the objects were
clearly tools of human manufacture and that the Texas Street site
was as old as Carter had claimed.
LOUIS LEAKEY AND THE CALICO SITE
Early in his career, Louis Leakey, who later became famous for his
discoveries at Olduvai Gorge in Africa, began to have radical ideas
about the antiquity of humans in America. At that time, scientists
thought the entry date for the Siberian hunters was no greater than
5,000 years ago.
"Back in 1929-1930 when I was teaching students at
the University of Cambridge . . . I began to tell my students that
man must have been in the New World at least 15,000 years. I shall
never forget when Ales Hrdlicka, that great man from the Smithsonian
Institution, happened to be at Cambridge, and he was told by my
professor (I was only a student supervisor) that Dr. Leakey was
telling students that man must have been in America 15,000 or more
years ago. He burst into my rooms—he didn't even wait to shake
"Leakey, what's this I hear? Are you preaching
"No, Sir!" said Leakey. Hrdlicka replied, "You are! You are telling
students that man was in America 15,000 years ago. What evidence
Leakey answered, "No positive evidence. Purely circumstantial
evidence. But with man from Alaska to Cape Horn, with many different
languages and at least two civilizations, it is not possible that he
was present only the few thousands of years that you at present
Leakey continued to harbor unorthodox views on this matter,
and in 1964 he made an effort to collect some definite evidence at
the Calico site in the Mojave Desert of California. This site is
situated near the shore of now-vanished Pleistocene Lake Manix. Over
a period of eighteen years of excavation under the direction of Ruth
D. Simpson, 11,400 eolith-like artifacts were recovered from a
number of levels. The oldest artifact-bearing level has been given
an age of 200,000 years by the uranium series method.
However, as happened with Texas Street, mainstream archeologists
rejected the artifacts discovered at Calico as products of nature,
and the Calico site is passed over in silence in popular accounts of
archeology. Leakey's biographer Sonia Cole said,
colleagues who felt admiration and affection for Louis and his
family, the Calico years were an embarrassment and a sadness."
Yet the artifacts of Calico also have their defenders, who give
elaborate arguments showing that they were human artifacts, not
geofacts resulting from natural processes. Phillip Tobias, the
well-known associate of Raymond Dart, discoverer of
Australopithecus, declared in 1979:
"When Dr. Leakey first showed me
a small collection of pieces from Calico . . . I was at once
convinced that some, though not all, of the small samples showed
unequivocal signs of human authorship."
Ruth D. Simpson stated in 1986:
"It would be difficult for nature to
produce many specimens resembling man-made unifacial tools, with
completely unidirectional edge retouch done in a uniform, directed
manner. The Calico site has yielded many completely unifacial stone
tools with uniform edge retouch. These include end scrapers, side
scrapers, and gravers."
Flake tools with unifacial, unidirectional
chipping, like those found at Calico, are typical of the European
eoliths. Examples are also found among the Oldowan industries of
East Africa. Among the best tools that turned up at Calico was an
excellent beaked graver. Bola stones have also been reported.
In general, however, the Calico discoveries have met with silence,
ridicule, and opposition in the ranks of mainstream
paleoanthropology. Ruth Simpson nevertheless stated:
for very early man in the New World is growing rapidly, and can no
longer simply be ignored, because it does not fit current models of
prehistory in the New World. . . . there is a need for flexibility
in thinking to assure unbiased peer reviews."
TOCA DA ESPERANSA, BRAZIL
Support for the authenticity of the Calico tools has come from a
find in Brazil. In 1982, Maria Beltrao found a series of caves with
wall paintings in the state of Bahia. In 1985, a trench was cut in
the Toca da Esperansa (Cave of Hope), and excavations in 1986 and
1987 yielded crude stone tools associated with Pleistocene mammals.
When the bones were tested by the uranium series method, ages in
excess of 200,000 years were obtained. The maximum age was 295,000
The discovery was reported to the scientific world by Henry de
Lumley, a famous French archeologist.
The tools were fashioned from quartz pebbles and were somewhat like
those from Olduvai Gorge. The nearest source of quartz pebbles is
about 10 kilometers from the cave site.
De Lumley and his coworkers said in their report:
seems to indicate that Early Man entered into the American continent
much before previously thought."
They went on to say:
"In light of
the discoveries at the Toca da Esperansa, it is much easier to
interpret the lithic industry of the Calico site, in the Mojave
Desert, near Yermo, San Bernardino County, California, which is
dated at between 150,000 and 200,000 years."
According to de Lumley and his associates, humans and human
ancestors entered the Americas from northern Asia several times
during the Pleistocene. The early migrants, who manufactured the
tools in the Brazilian cave, were, they said, Homo erectus. While
this view is in harmony with the consensus on human evolution, there
is no reason why the tools in the Toca da Esperansa could not have
been made by anatomically-modern humans. As we have several times
mentioned, such tools are still being manufactured by humans in
various parts of the world.
MONTE VERDE, CHILE
Another archeological site that has bearing on the evaluation of
crude stone tools is the Monte Verde site in south-central Chile.
According to a report in Mammoth Trumpet (1984), this site was first
surveyed by archeologist Tom Dillehay in 1976.
Although the age of
12,500 to 13,500 years for the site is not highly anomalous, the
archeological finds uncovered there challenge the standard Clovis
The culture of the Monte Verde people was completely
distinct from that of the Clovis hunters. Although the Monte Verde
people made some advanced bifacial implements, they mostly made
minimally modified pebble tools. Indeed, to a large extent, they
obtained stone tools by selecting naturally occurring split pebbles.
Some of these show signs of nothing more than usage; others show
signs of deliberate retouching of a working edge. This is strongly
reminiscent of the descriptions of the European eoliths.
In this case, the vexing question of artifacts versus nature facts
was resolved by a fortunate circumstance: the site is located in a
boggy area in which perishable plant and animal matter has been
preserved. Thus two pebble tools were found hafted to wooden
handles. Twelve architectural foundations were found, made of cut
wooden planks and small tree trunks staked in place. There were
large communal hearths, as well as small charcoal ovens lined with
clay. Some of the stored clay bore the footprint of a child 8 to 10
Three crude wooden mortars were also found, held in place
by wooden stakes. Grinding stones (metates) were uncovered, along
with the remains of wild potatoes, medicinal plants, and seacoast
plants with a high salt content. All in all, the Monte Verde site
sheds an interesting light on the kind of creatures who might have
made and used crude pebble tools during the Pliocene and Miocene in
Europe or at the Plio-Pleistocene boundary in Africa. In this case,
the culture was well equipped with domestic amenities made from
perishable materials. Far from being subhuman, the cultural level
was what we might expect of anatomically modern humans in a simple
village setting even today.
By an accident of preservation, we thus see at Monte Verde artifacts
representing an advanced culture accompanying the crudest kinds of
At sites millions of years older, we see only the stone
tools, although perishable artifacts of the kind found at Monte
Verde may have once accompanied them.
RECENT PAKISTAN FINDS
Eolith-like implements that do not fit into standard ideas of human
evolution continue to be found in parts of the world outside the
Americas. Some fairly recent finds by British archeologists in
Pakistan provide an example. These crude chopping tools are about 2
million years old. But according to the dominant African-homeland
idea, the human ancestor of that time period, Homo habilis, should
have been confined to Africa.
Some scientists considering the Pakistan tools tried to discredit
the discovery. Anthropologist Sally McBrearty complained in a New
York Times report that the discoverers "have not supplied enough
evidence that the specimens are that old and that they are of human
manufacture." Our review of anomalous stone implements should make
us suspicious of this sort of charge. Scientists typically demand
higher levels of proof for anomalous finds than for evidence that
fits within the established ideas about human evolution.
A 1987 report from the British journal New Scientist suggests that
McBrearty was being overly skeptical. Concerning doubts expressed
about the stratigraphical context and age of the stone tools, the
New Scientist stated:
"Such doubts do not apply in the case of the
stone pieces from the Scan Valley southeast of Rawalpindi, argues
Robin Dennell, the field director of the Paleolithic Project of the
British Archaeological Mission and the University of Sheffield. He
and his colleague Helen Rendell, a geologist at the University of
Sussex, report that the stone pieces, all of quartzite, were so
firmly embedded in a deposit of conglomerate and grit stone called
the Upper Siwalik series, that they had to chisel them out."
According to the New Scientist, the dating was accomplished using a
combination of paleo-magnetic and stratigraphic studies.
What about McBrearty's suggestion that the stone objects were not
made by humans? The New Scientist gave a more balanced view:
pieces that they extracted, eight, Dennell believes are 'definite
artifacts.' In Dennell's view, the least equivocal artifact is a
piece of quartzite that a hominid individual supposedly struck in
three directions with a hammer stone, removing seven flakes from it.
This multifaceted flaking together with the fresh appearance of the
scars left on the remaining 'core' make a 'very convincing' case for
So what is going on with the find in Pakistan? Scientists holding
the view that Homo erectus was the first representative of the Homo
line to leave Africa, and did so about a million years ago, were
apparently quite determined to discredit stone tools found in
Pakistan, about 2 million years old, rather than modify their ideas.
We can just imagine how such scientists would react to stone tools
found in Miocene contexts.
SIBERIA AND INDIA
Many other discoveries of stone implements around 2 million years
old have been made at other Asian sites, in Siberia and northwestern
In 1961, hundreds of crude pebble tools were found near
Gorno-Altaisk, on the Ulalinka river in Siberia. According to a 1984
report by Russian scientists A. P. Okladinov and L. A. Ragozin, the
tools were found in layers 1.5-2.5 million years old.
Another Russian scientist, Yuri Mochanov, discovered stone tools
resembling the European eoliths at a site overlooking the Lena River
at Diring Yurlakh, Siberia.
The formations from which these
implements were recovered were dated by potassium-argon and magnetic
methods to 1.8 million years before the present. Recent evidence
from India also takes us back about 2 million years. Many
discoveries of stone tools have been made in the Siwalik Hills
region of northwestern India. The Siwaliks derive their name from
the demigod Shiva (Sanskrit Siva), the lord of the forces of
universal destruction. In 1981, Anek Ram Sankhyan, of the
Anthropological Survey of India, found a stone tool near
Haritalyangar village, in the late Pliocene Tatrot Formation, which
is over 2 million years old. Other tools were recovered from the
The abovementioned Siberian and Indian discoveries, at 1.5-2.5
million years old, do not agree very well with the standard view
that Homo erectus was the first representative of the Homo line to
emigrate from Africa, doing so about a million years ago. Here is an
example from an even more remote time. In 1982, K. N. Prasad of the
Geological Survey of India reported the discovery of a "crude unifacial hand-axe pebble tool" in the Miocene Nagri formation near
Haritalyangar, in the Himalayan foothills of northwest India.
stated in his report:
"The implement was recovered in situ, during remeasuring of the geological succession to assess the thickness of
the beds. Care was taken to confirm the exact provenance of the
material, in order to rule out any possibility of its derivation
from younger horizons."
Prasad thought the tool had been manufactured by a very apelike
creature called Ramapithecus.
"The occurrence of this pebble tool in
such ancient sediments," said Prasad, "indicates that early hominids
such as Ramapithecus fashioned tools, were bipedal with erect
posture, and probably utilized the implements for hunting."
today most scientists regard Ramapithecus not as a human ancestor
but as the ancestor of the living orangutans. This newly defined
Ramapithecus was definitely not a maker of stone tools.
So who made the Miocene tool reported by Prasad? The makers could
very well have been anatomically modern humans living in the
Miocene. Even if we were to propose that some primitive creature
like Homo habilis made the Miocene tool, that would still raise big
According to current ideas, the first toolmakers arose in
Africa about 2 million years ago.
WHO MADE THE EOLITHIC IMPLEMENTS?
Even after having heard all of the arguments for eoliths being of
human manufacture, arguments which will certainly prove convincing
to many, some might still legitimately maintain a degree of doubt.
Could such a person, it might be asked, be forgiven for not
accepting the eoliths? The answer to that question is a qualified
yes. The qualification is that one should then reject other
stone-tool industries of a similar nature.
This would mean rejecting
many accepted industries, including the Oldowan industries of East
Africa, discovered by Louis and Mary Leakey. When illustrations of
the eoliths found on the Kent Plateau and in East Anglia are set
alongside those of tools from Olduvai Gorge we do not notice much of
a difference in workmanship.
The most reasonable conclusion is that both the European eoliths and
the Oldowan tools of East Africa were intentionally manufactured.
But by whom? Scientists accept practically without question that the
Oldowan implements were made by Homo habilis, a primitive hominid
species. It should not, therefore, be completely unthinkable for
scientists to entertain the possibility that a creature like Homo
habilis might also have made the eoliths from East Anglia and the
Kent Plateau, some of which are roughly comparable in age to the
But there is another possibility. Mary Leakey said this in her book
about the Oldowan stone tools:
"An interesting present-day example
of un-retouched flakes used as cutting tools has recently been
recorded in South-West Africa and may be mentioned briefly. An
expedition from the State Museum, Windhoek, discovered two
stone-using groups of the Ova Tjimba people who not only make
choppers for breaking open bones and for other heavy work, but also
employ simple flakes, un-retouched and un-hafted, for cutting and
Nothing, therefore, prevents one from entertaining the
possibility that anatomically modern humans might have been
responsible for even the crudest stone tools found at Olduvai Gorge
and the European eolith sites.
The standard reply will be that there are no fossils showing that
humans of the fully modern type were around then, in the Early
Pleistocene or Late Pliocene, roughly 1-2 million years ago, whereas
there are fossils of Homo habilis. But Homo sapiens fossils are
quite rare even at Late Pleistocene sites where there are lots of
stone tools and other signs of human habitation.
Furthermore, as described in Chapters 7 and 12, fossil skeletal
remains of human beings of the fully modern type have been
discovered by scientists in strata at least as old as the lower
levels of Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania. Among them may be numbered the
fossil human skeleton discovered in 1913 by Dr. Hans Reck, in Bed II
of Olduvai Gorge, and some fossil human femurs discovered by Richard
Leakey at Lake Turkana, Kenya, in a formation slightly older than
Bed I at Olduvai.
It is, therefore, not correct to say that there is no fossil
evidence whatsoever for a fully human presence in the lower levels
of Olduvai Gorge.
In addition to fossil evidence, we have a report
from Mary Leakey about a controversial circular formation of stones
at the DK site in lower Bed I. She suggested that,
"they may have
been placed as supports for branches or poles stuck into the ground
to form a windbreak or rough shelter."
"In general appearance," she wrote, "the circle resembles temporary
structures often made by present-day nomadic peoples who build a low
stone wall round their dwellings to serve either as a windbreak or
as a base to support upright branches which are bent over and
covered with either skins or grass."
For illustration, Mary Leakey
provided a photograph of such a temporary shelter made by the Okombambi tribe of South-West Africa (now Namibia).
Not everyone agreed with Leakey's interpretation of the stone
circle. But accepting Leakey's version, the obvious question may be
raised: if she believed the structure resembled those made by
present-day nomadic peoples like the Okombambi, then why could she
not assume that anatomically modern humans made the Olduvai stone
circle 1.75 million years ago?
Interestingly enough, there is evidence that some of the tools from
Olduvai Gorge were quite advanced. J. Desmond Clark wrote in his
foreword to the 1971 study by Mary Leakey:
"Here are artifacts that
conventional usage associates typologically with much later times
(the late Paleolithic or even later)—diminutive scraper forms, awls,
burins . . . and a grooved and pecked cobble."
We note, however,
that tools of the type found in "the late Paleolithic and even
later" are considered by modern scientists to be specifically the
work of Homo sapiens rather than Homo erectus or Homo habilis.
Advanced stone tools also turn up in the European eolith
assemblages. We might thus entertain the possibility that
anatomically modern humans were responsible for some if not all of
the Oldowan and Eolithic tools.
Louis and Mary Leakey also found in Bed I of Olduvai Gorge bola
stones and an apparent leather-working tool that might have been
used to fashion leather cords for the bolas. Using bola stones to
capture game would seem to require a degree of intelligence and
dexterity beyond that possessed by Homo habilis. This concern is
heightened by the recent discovery of a relatively complete skeleton
of Homo habilis, which shows this hominid to have been far more
apelike than scientists previously imagined.
So where does this leave us?
In today's world, we find that humans
manufacture stone tools of various levels of sophistication, from
primitive to advanced. And as described in this chapter and the next
two chapters, we also find evidence of the same variety of tools in
the Pleistocene, Pliocene, Miocene, and even as far back as the
Eocene. The simplest explanation is that anatomically modern humans,
who make such a spectrum of tools today, also made them in the past.
One could also imagine that such humans coexisted with other more
primitive humanlike creatures who also made stone tools.