Accepted paper:

'These rude implements': competing claims for authenticity in the Eolithic controversy

Author:

Roy Ellen (University of Kent)

Paper short abstract:

Why were eoliths accepted so quickly as authentic human tools? I argue that scientific innovation involves an imaginative impulse that can lead easily to overoptimistic interpretation, and that eoliths were invented in part because they satisfied a requirement for a particular way of thinking.

Paper long abstract:

The early acceptance of eoliths as man-made is surprising, given that the Victorian scientific establishment had earlier dismissed the idea that hand axes could have been made by humans. This paper examines why they were so readily accepted, using some perspectives of cognitive anthropology. I argue that all scientific innovation involves an imaginative impulse that can lead easily to overoptimistic interpretation. The data and narratives surrounding the eolithic controversy provide an excellent example of this in action. We can now see how the invention of eoliths arose in part because it satisfied a requirement of a particular way of thinking, and that how, once arguments in favour of a theory had been accepted, the default 'mindset' became one of disproving evidence that eoliths were not human fabrications. In retrospect, the debate was important because it was conducted at a time when the ground rules of Pleistocene geology and archaeological interpretation were being established, and the controversy determined the limit of what was scientifically credible.

panel P06
Appropriating authenticity: anthropological and archaeological enquiries on a shared theme