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During the nineteenth century, archaeologists had little idea about the distinctions between deliberately chipped stone (tools and the waste material, known as débitage) and those that had been fractured by natural processes, such as frost or mechanical shattering. The issue became controversial after an amateur collector, Benjamin Harrison (1837-1921), found numerous pieces of chipped flint in Kent (England) in 1885. The geologist Sir Joseph Prestwich (1812-1896) published these discoveries in 1891, citing them as evidence for humans in the Pliocene (5.3 to 1.8 million years ago), as that was the age of the deposit in which Harrison had found them. There was general acceptance of the discovery and in 1892, John Allen Brown (1831-1903) devised the term eolith (Greek for ‘dawn stone’) to describe them. Over the next three decades or so, numerous assemblages of eoliths were found throughout the world, but especially in England.

Nevertheless, there were objectors. In 1892, George Worthington Smith (1835–1917), dismissed them, while the French prehistorian Marcellin Boule (1861-1942) published a paper in 1905 arguing that eoliths were geofacts, objects modified by natural processes rather than early hominids. A little later, the English amateur Samuel Hazzledine Warren (1873-1958) demonstrated that eoliths were indistinguishable from those he produced by mechanical means, such as rolling in a metal drum. The debate was at times acrimonious, with James Reid Moir (1879-1944), an enthusiastic supporter of their artificiality, discovering and promoting collections throughout East Anglia (England), the area where S Hazzledine Warren was working.

Marianne Sommer has shown how much of the debate was conducted in implicitly nationalistic terms: while there was little acceptance of Pliocene tools in France, where it was generally believed that this was too early for humans, they were enthusiastically received in England as evidence for early hominids in Britain. It should be remembered that most of the very limited lithic material associated with the forged Piltdown remains (dubbed “The First Englishman” by the English press) consisted of eoliths: the eoliths were taken as evidence confirming the age of the remains, while the remains were taken as evidence that eoliths were artefacts. Ironically, the likely forger of the Piltdown material, Charles Dawson (1864-1916), did not believe in eoliths and delivered a paper in 1915 during which he demonstrated that shaking a bag filled with starch models of flint would produce “all the well-known eolith shapes” purely by mechanical means.

By the late 1930s, it was generally accepted that eoliths are geofacts and are not evidence for Pliocene hominids in Europe. This happened for two reasons: firstly, there was the demonstration that their characteristics were entirely consistent with natural formation processes and secondly, no well-dated Pliocene hominid fossils were ever found in Europe and those in Africa produced a completely different type of tool, belonging to the Oldowan tradition.

2 Responses to Eoliths: tools or naturally fractured stone?

  • Dr. Michael Brandt says:

    I think you know the book „Forbidden Archeology” by M.A. Cremo & R.L. Thompson.
    In the past years, I went on working on the Eoliths. I have read nearly all articles and books that Cremo and Thompson made use of in “Forbidden Archaeology”. Both authors have done good work. Furthermore, I have read many articles and some books (mainly in French and German) that Cremo and Thompson did not mention. I visited many museums and universities in Europe (England, France, Germany and Belgium; please see page 16 below) where I saw lots of Eoliths. There, high quality photos (see below examples at page 94 below the borer from Kent-Plateau, Pliozän, and at page 409 the noise-scraper from Aurillac, Upper Miocene) and casts from many Eoliths were made. I got in touch with men in Europe (England, Belgium, France and Germany) who have expertise in Paleolithic stone tools. No question, the published Eoliths are artifacts comparable to artifacts from the Lower Paleolithic in Europe and not to be geofacts as proposed. Marianne Sommer abovementioned is not familiar with stone tools at all.
    In September 2011, I published the a book about Eoliths (“Vergessene Archäologie. Steinwerkzeuge fast so alt wie Dinosaurier“). In this book, I compared many Eoliths with artifacts from the Paleolithic. Many Eoliths had never been published in the literature before. In the book nearly all relevant literature is discussed. It is the most comprehensive book to the topic ever published. Unfortunately for you, this book is written in German. Please see at http://www.vergessene-archaeologie.info. There you will find the content, introduction and some pages from chapter 6 and 16 of the book.

    With best wishes

    Michael Brandt

  • Dr. Michael Brandt says:

    You know the book „Forbidden Archeology” by M.A. Cremo & R.L. Thompson. I was impressed, especially by the chapter about Eoliths. In the past years, I went on working on this topic. I have nearly read all articles and books that Cremo and Thompson made use in “Forbidden Archaeology”. Both authors have done good work. Furthermore, I have read articles and books (mainly in French and German) that Cremo and Thompson did not mention. I visited many museums and universities in Europe (England, France, Germany and Belgium; please see page 16 below) where I saw lots of Eoliths. There, high quality photos and casts from many Eoliths were made. I got in touch with men in Europe (England, Belgium, France and Germany) who have expertise in Paleolithic stone tools. No question, the published Eoliths are artifacts comparable to artifacts from Paleolithic, especially from Lower Paleolithic in Europe and not to be geofacts as proposed. Nature processes can`t produce such specimens (for instance conchoidal flakes with bulb, bulb scar, scars of detached flakes on the dorsal side and other typical features of man made flakes).
    Last year I published the most comprehensive book about Eoliths (“Vergessene Archäologie. Steinwerkzeuge fast so alt wie Dinosaurier“). I compared many Eoliths with artifacts from the Paleolithic. Many Eoliths had never been published in the literature before. Unfortunately for you, this book is written in German. Please see at http://www.vergessene-archaeologie.info. There you will find the content, introduction and some pages from chapter 6 and 16 of the book. At page 94 below is a borer from Kent-Plateau, Pliocene, and at page 409 a beautiful noise scraper from Aurillac, Upper Miozän, published.

Agree or disagree? Please comment!