Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory

, Volume 21, Issue 4, pp 781–823 | Cite as

The Transition to the Acheulean in East Africa: an Assessment of Paradigms and Evidence from Olduvai Gorge (Tanzania)

  • Ignacio de la Torre
  • Rafael Mora


The origin of the Acheulean constitutes a key aspect of current research in the archaeology of human evolution. Olduvai Gorge is one of the main sites in Africa in the study of the transition from the Oldowan to the Acheulean, due to both the uniqueness of its archaeological record, and the influence of early investigations at Olduvai on the development of Early Stone Age research. This paper reviews the impact of work at Olduvai in shaping a modern view of cultural evolution from the Oldowan to the Acheulean. It also evaluates the lithic assemblages excavated by Mary Leakey in Olduvai Middle and Upper Bed II, based on a first-hand review of the collections. We conclude that previous paradigms used to explain inter-assemblage variability are not superseded as much as generally assumed, and that a modern view of the origins of the Acheulean requires a reassessment of the cultural, biological, and paleoecological evidence at Olduvai and elsewhere in Africa.


Olduvai Gorge Acheulean origins Oldowan Early Stone Age 



Current research in Olduvai by OGAP (Olduvai Geochronology Archaeology Project) is authorized by the Commission for Science and Technology (COSTECH) and the Department of Antiquities, Tanzania. Funding by the NSF (BCS-0852292), British Academy (IP090186), and the European Research Council-Starting Grants (283366), is gratefully acknowledged.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of ArchaeologyUniversity College LondonLondonUK
  2. 2.Centre d’Estudis del Patrimoni Arqueologic de la Prehistoria. Facultat de LletresUniversitatAutonoma de BarcelonaBellaterraSpain

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