Standing on the shoulders of giants: Refitting Strategies and the Levallois Concept


This picture comes from an encyclopedic manuscript containing allegorical and medical drawings (South Germany, ca. 1410);this work is in the public domain in the United States, and those countries with a copyright term of life of the author plus 100 years or less.

I always liked this metaphor, because it also describes the rank of my own scientific work, which owns a lot to the ideas of my academic teachers. Not everyone at the height of her/his academic career wants to talk about the fact that her/his  ideas have already been proposed by others. It is therefore significant for the scientific discourse, that forerunners of actual concepts are sometimes consciously ignored by researchers working in a particular field. This also holds true for some concepts of Paleolithic archaeology, like the Refitting  and the Levallois concept.  

Unlike other  and better known archaeologists of his time, Flaxman C.J. Spurrell (1842–1915) concerned himself with questions of taphonomy, of context, of methods of artifact manufacture and and refitting.  Whilst Spurrell’s archaeological and scientific tastes were wide-ranging, his work as an early Paleolithic archaeologist stands out by the approach he took to investigating the material he recovered. He experimented with flint knapping (Spurrell 1884), and appears to have been the first person to investigate how artefacts were made by refitting them (Spurrell 1880a, b).

Such concepts got lost during the early 20th century, but were renewed by Harper Kelley a Harvard Archeologist and Africanist naturalized by the French state in 1917. He was “Directeur de recherches” at the  C.N.R.S, “Directeur du laboratoire d’ethnologie” at the Musée de l’Homme and a member of the “Conseil de la S.P.F.”. Harper Kelley cooperated with the Abbe Breuil for several decades after the First World War and had, compared to his friend, a much more rigorous methodological approach to Paleolithic materials. It is peculiar, that in the www no biographical notes about Kelly can be found.

“Contribution à l’étude de la technique de la taille levalloisienne” (via  is an excellent publication from 1954 about the Levallois technique in general and refitting experiments in particular, which were applied by Kelley to material from Northern France. In this publication almost all issues that play a role in the current debates about the Levallois concept (E. Boëda; H. Dibble; P. Van Peer) are addressed, but clearly the actual authors go in their practice and argumentation beyond Kelley’s approach. Refits have become an important procedure during the last 25 years in the evaluation of the operational sequences, the integrity of the excavated strata and the reconstruction of  “phantom”  pieces, which have been exported from the site.


Harper kelly Levallois aggsbachKelley: Contribution à l’étude de la technique de la taille levalloisienne

Techno -typological considerations and refitting concepts were never applied to the rich Levalloisian material from Lenderscheid in Northern Hessen, mainly detected by the local teacher A. Luttropp in the 1940ies and now stored at the Hessisches Landesmuseum at Kassel. My small collection (Levalloisian flakes, cores and blades), which comprises about 100 pieces unfortunately is not suited for such an approach.

 levallois aggsbach
Levallois Material from Lenderscheid
The first picture comes from

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About Katzman

During my whole life I was fascinated by stone age artefacts. Not only the aesthetic qualities of these findings, but also the stories around them and the considerations arising from their discovery, are a part of my blog. Comments and contributions are allways welcome!

About me: J.L. Katzman (Pseudonym). Born in Vienna. Left Austria in 1974 and did not regret. Studied Medicine and Prehistory at a German University. Member of a Medical Department at a German University.

Copyright 2010-2017 by JLK. All Rights Reserved. You are welcome to use material in these posts so long as you cite the work.

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