Cultural conservatism and variability in the Acheulian sequence of Gesher Benot Ya'aqov

Gonen Sharon, Nira Alperson-Afil, Naama Goren-Inbar

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79 Scopus citations


The Acheulian Technocomplex exhibits two phenomena: variability and conservatism. Variability is expressed in the composition and frequencies of tool types, particularly in the varying frequencies of bifaces (handaxes and cleavers). Conservatism is expressed in the continuous presence of bifaces along an immense time trajectory. The site of Gesher Benot Ya'aqov (GBY) offers a unique opportunity to study aspects of variability and conservatism as a result of its long cultural-stratigraphic sequence containing superimposed lithic assemblages. This study explores aspects of variability and conservatism within the Acheulian lithic assemblages of GBY, with emphasis placed on the bifacial tools. While variability has been studied through a comparison of typological frequencies in a series of assemblages from the site, evidence for conservatism was examined in the production modes expressed by the reduction sequence of the bifaces. We demonstrate that while pronounced typological variability is observed among the GBY assemblages, they were all manufactured by the same technology. The technology, size, and morphology of the bifaces throughout the entire stratigraphic sequence of GBY reflect the strong conservatism of their makers. We conclude that the biface frequency cannot be considered as a chrono/cultural marker that might otherwise allow us to distinguish between different phases within the Acheulian. The variability observed within the assemblages is explained as a result of different activities, tasks, and functions, which were carried out at specific localities along the shores of the paleo-Hula Lake in the early Middle Pleistocene.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)387-397
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Human Evolution
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2011
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was carried out with the support of an ongoing grant awarded by the Israel Science Foundation (Grant No. 300/06 ) to the Center of Excellence Project Title: “The Effect of Climate Change on the Environment and Hominins of the Upper Jordan Valley between ca. 800 Ka and 700 Ka ago as a Basis for Prediction of Future Scenarios.” The authors wish to thank the Israel Science Foundation, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the Institute of Archaeology of the Hebrew University, and the Institute for Advanced Studies of the Hebrew University for supporting the international conference where this study was presented. We would like to thank S. Leigh and the anonymous reviewers for their comments on previous versions of this paper. The authors are also grateful for the contributions of M. Haber who edited the manuscript with her usual professionalism and G. Hivroni for the quality of the digitized illustrations.


  • Acheulian
  • Bifaces (handaxe cleaver)
  • Conservatism
  • Gesher Benot Ya'aqov
  • Middle Pleistocene
  • Upper Jordan Valley
  • Variability


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