The Muddle in the Middle Pleistocene: The Lower–Middle Paleolithic Transition from the Levantine Perspective

Ariel Malinsky-Buller*

*Corresponding author for this work

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36 Scopus citations


The terms Lower Palaeolithic and Middle Palaeolithic represent research constructs within which cultural evolution and prehistoric hominin behaviours can be studied, with the transition usually understood as marking a watershed in our evolution: an adaptation with a million-year record of success that gives way to something new. The interpretation of the Lower Palaeolithic Acheulian technocomplex is usually understood as a period of cultural stasis that extends over much of Africa and Eurasia, principally associated with Homo erectus. Those innovations that can be observed occur widely separated from one another in space and time. Yet a closer and more detailed examination of the Middle Pleistocene records from East Africa, southern Africa, Europe and the Levant reveals significant variation in cultural repertoires. A kind of paradox emerges, in which an Old World Lower Palaeolithic, apparently lacking an overall dynamic of distinctive and directed change in terms of cumulative variation over time, nevertheless culminates in a transition which sees the universal appearance of the Middle Palaeolithic. The two main hypotheses that have been advanced to explain the global transition, which happens essentially synchronously, appear mutually exclusive and contradictory. One view is that altered climatic-environmental constraints enabled and encouraged an ‘Out-of-Africa’ dispersal (or dispersals) of a new type of genus Homo. This cultural replacement model has been challenged more recently by the alternative hypothesis of accumulating but unrelated and temporally non-linked regional, and in fact potentially autochthonous, processes. The Levant, by virtue of its position bridging Africa and Eurasia (thus being the region into which any out-of-Africa groups would have had first to disperse into), must be seen as a critical region for assessing the relative merits of these competing hypotheses. This paper deals with the Lower–Middle Paleolithic boundary in the Levant within a long temporal perspective. The Middle Pleistocene record in the Levant enables us to examine the amplitude of variation within each techno-complex, as well as to question whether there are diachronic changes in the amplitude of techno-typological variations as well as changes in the manner by which they appear in the record. The results carry significant implications for understandings of demographic and societal processes during the Lower–Middle Paleolithic transition in the Levant.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)1-78
Number of pages78
JournalJournal of World Prehistory
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2016

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This paper is based on my doctoral research at the Institute of Archaeology, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. I thank my advisor, Professor Erella Hovers, for her guidance, help, time, efforts and for her insights and comments on earlier versions of this paper. I thank Dr. Ofer Marder who allowed me to study the lithic materials from Revadim. I also thank Dr. Omry Barzilai who invited me to work with him on the Kefar Menahem West excavation. Professor Ofer Bar-Yosef provided access to the lithic materials from his excavation together with Gisis, I. in Zuttiyeh cave. I wish to thank Mrs. Alegre Savariego, Curator of the Rockefeller Collections and Mosaics, and Natalia Gubenko, Curator of Prehistoric Periods National Treasures Department, Israel Antiquities Authority for their help during this research. Figure 1 was produced by Mika Ullman and Michal Birkenfeld; Leonid Zeiger drew Fig. 2 : 1–3, Fig. 3 : 1, Fig. 4 : 4. The 3-D image illustrations were produced by the Computerized Archaeology Laboratory at the Institute of Archaeology, The Hebrew University, using methods described in Grosman et al. (2008 ). I wish to thank L. Grosman, O. Harush and A. Ovadia from the Computerized Archaeology Laboratory, Institute of Archaeology, The Hebrew University. Figure 8 was drawn by Mika Ulman. Alex Bogdanovsky and Itay Abadi helped preparing Figs. 9 , 10 , 11 , 12 , 13 , 14 , 15 . I wish to thanks the following people for their advice, generous support and friendship over the years: Abadi, I., Agha, N., Alperson, N., Ashkenazi, H., Barzilai, O., Belfer-Cohen, A., Birkendeld, M., Brailovsky, L., Ekshtain, R., Goder-Goldberger, M., Goldsmith, Y., Goren-Inbar, N., Goring-Morris, N., Grosman, L., Herzlinger, G., Khalaily K., Krakovsky, M., Marder, O., Milevski, Y., Mitki, N., Schattner, U. Sharon, G., Sumner, A., Ulman, M., Wojtczak, D., Yeshrun, R., and Zaidner, Y. The final stage of the manuscript was written during my Fulbright postdoctoral fellowship in the University of Connecticut. I want to thank Adler, D., Smith, A., Hartman, G., and Munro, N. for hosting me in the department and making me feel at home. I wish to thank Christian Tryon and the two anonymous reviewers of my PhD for their comments. Finally, I wish to thank the two anonymous reviewers of the paper and the editor of Journal of World Prehistory for their helpful comments that improved the paper greatly.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016, Springer Science+Business Media New York.


  • Biface
  • Innovation processes
  • Levallois
  • Levant
  • Lithic technology
  • Lower Paleolithic
  • Middle Paleolithic


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