The Nature of Culture

Part of the series Vertebrate Paleobiology and Paleoanthropology pp 65-77


Neanderthal Utilitarian Equipment and Group Identity: The Social Context of Bifacial Tool Manufacture and Use

  • Thorsten UthmeierAffiliated withInstitut Für Ur- und Frühgeschichte, Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg Email author 

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Since personal ornamentation is quite rare prior to the onset of the Upper Paleolithic and, speaking in quantitative terms, lacks the widespread occurrence that would allow for conclusions regarding standardization, this study focuses on stone artifacts as possible social markers . The article explores the role of bifaces as signals for social identity and, at the same time, tries to take into account the temporal and spatial dynamics of operational chains . As a case study, the two main complexes of the European Late Middle Paleolithic with bifaces – the Mousterian of Acheulean Tradition (MtA) and the Micoquian – are investigated. In general, it is assumed that the contemporaneity of these industries, combined with similar environments and land use patterns, reduces the influence of functional factors. Bifaces are identified as spatially and chronologically stable elements, while concepts of core reduction vary. The importance of bifaces in MtA and Micoquian lithic systems is explained by their potential for resharpening . In both the MtA and the Micoquian, bifaces are means providing partial independence from raw material sources. Qualitative comparisons of the operational chains show marked differences, especially in advanced stages of resharpening. As surrogates of their respective operational chains, bifacial tools are considered social makers. The entire operational chain is seen as reducing social insecurity by materially reinforcing intimate social ties in regular face-to-face-contacts, whereas the tools alone signal social identity in contexts of less frequent interaction with socially distant individuals or even random contact with members of other collectives.


European Late Middle Paleolithic Mousterian of Acheulean Tradition Micoquian Handaxes Keilmesser Resharpening Symbolic interaction