Oldowan/Acheulean Succession at Olduvai Gorge


The Acheulean techno‐complex was first identified in 1859 at St Acheul (France) and ever since then, understanding its development has been a prominent area of research within Palaeolithic archaeology. Although the oldest Oldowan and Acheulean are now found in Ethiopia and Kenya; Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania, did, for a long time, provide the earliest examples of both industries, and it still preserves a detailed stratigraphic sequence of Oldowan and Acheulean assemblages. In this sense, Olduvai Gorge has played a central role in exploring the transition from the Oldowan to the Acheulean.

Key Concepts

  • The Acheulean appears in Kenya at 1.75 Mya.
  • The Acheulean appears in East Africa chronologically after the Oldowan; however, there is a degree of overlap.
  • The Oldowan is typically associated with Homo habilis.
  • The Acheulean is typically associated with Homo ergatser/erectus.
  • Historically, it was suggested that the Oldowan developed into the Acheulean, mirroring hominin evolution.
  • More recently, it is suggested that the Oldowan/Acheulean transition at Olduvai Gorge was a punctuated event associated with the emergence of a new hominin species.

Keywords: Oldowan; Acheulean; developed Oldowan; Olduvai Gorge; Homo habilis; Homo ergaster; Homo erectus

Figure 1. Selection of Oldowan and Acheulean artefacts from various sites at Olduvai Gorge. (a)(1‐5) Oldowan cores, (a)(6‐9) Developed Oldowan A cores; (b)(1‐7) Acheulean handaxes, (b)8 Acheulean cleaver.


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Further Reading

de la Torre I and Mora R (2014) The transition to the Acheulean in East Africa: an assessment of paradigms and evidence from Olduvai Gorge (Tanzania). Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 21: 781–823.

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Proffitt, Tomos, and Martín‐Ramos, Carmen(Jul 2019) Oldowan/Acheulean Succession at Olduvai Gorge. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. http://www.els.net [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0028492]