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Middle Paleolithic Symbolism: A Review of Current Evidence and


variability PHILIP G. CHASE

The University Museum, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania


Department of Anthropology, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia,
Pennsylvania 19104

Received November 4, 1986

Identifying the origins of symbolism and of linguistically structured behavior is

crucial to our understanding of the evolution of modern humanity. A critical
survey of the archaeological data indicates that many aspects of modern adapta-
tion—foresight and planning, affection and mutual assistance, and even a sense of
esthetics—are clearly apparent by the Middle Paleolithic. However, currently
available evidence fails to indicate the presence of symbolic thought or symbolic
behavior before the Middle/Upper Paleolithic transition, o i»i7 Aodemic Preu.
In 1856 a skull was uncovered from the Neander Valley near Dtissel-dorf, which
soon after became the holotype for Homo ncanderthalensis. In 1863 Lartet and
Christy excavated the rock shelter at Le Moustier, France, finding there evidence
of a stone tool industry that later became known as the Mousterian (1864). These
two events mark the beginning of scientific enquiry into the nature of hominid
adaptation during the early Upper Pleistocene and bracket the two principal
classes of evidence that can be applied to that problem. This evidence is either
biological, i.e., the human fossils themselves, or behavioral, reflected in the lithic
industries or other nonperishable aspects of their material culture.
Since these early discoveries, the role of early Upper Pleistocene hom-inids in the
evolution of modern humans has been a topic of major concern to human
paleontologists. This problem is in part taxonomic and phylogenetic based on the
interpretation of morphological. But there is another aspect of the question that is
perhaps more important than the genetic relationships between modern Homo
sapiens and specific early Upper Pleistocene populations. This is the question of
whether or not the earlier 'hominids had already developed an adaptation func-
tionally equivalent to that of modern H. sapiens, that is, whether or not their
interactions with one another and with their environment wire structured in
essentially the same manner as those of modern humans, or whether Middle
Paleolithic culture was somehow different in nature.
We are not speaking here of differences in sets of beliefs, values, rules, etc., of the
sort that exist between one particular ethnic group and another. It is, of course, a
characteristic of modern cultural adaptation that individual cultures are1 extremely
variable and distinct from one another and that these differences are not
genetically based. However, all modern cultures share an underlying similarity of
nature, in that cultural behavior is largely symbolic, and that individual cultures
arc identified and transmitted through the learning of those symbols. These
symbols are an integral part of language and'enable people to organize and
categorize their world according to belief, value, and sentiment systems and to
provide them with options of behavior that are seen as acceptable for each partic-
ular culture group (Goodenough 1971).
Few prehistorians would question that Upper Paleolithic cultures share this same
essential nature; that is, the behavior of Upper Paleolithic peoples as it is revealed
in the archaeological record is in no way beyond the limits of behavior that would
be expected of any modern human pop--ulation that found itself in the same
environmental and historical circumstances and at a similar level of technological
sophistication. While specific symbol systems may have differed geographically
and temporally within this period, the role of symbolism was essentially the same
as it is today.
However, there is no such concensus about the interpretation of either Middle
Paleolithic hominids or their behavioral patterns. arly in the century, scholars
thought that Neandertals 'represented a branch ojf stupid, stooped-shouldered
hominids that contributed little to later populations. Later there was a considerable
reaction to this view and many suggested that Neandertals were virtually
indistinguishable from us in terms of anatomy and that their behavioral repertoire
included most or all of the important aspects of modern behavioral adaptation:
language, religion and symbolic thought, and culturally defined social systems.
Others, .however, stilI argue that there are significant differences in biology (e.g.,
•Trinkaus and Howells 1979; Trinkaus 1983a, 1984, 1986) and behavior (see
Binford 1973; Butzer 1981:178-180; Klein 1973:121-126; Jelinek 1977). As of
this moment, the question is far from being settled.
It should be emphasized that a correct answer to this question is cen
tral to our understanding of the changes that occur during the Upper Pleistocene.
Without a clear understanding of the differences between the Middle and Upper
Paleolithic, it will be impossible to find an acceptable explanation of the transition
between them. This is a subject that has seen considerable debate recently
(Binford 1968a; Mellars 1973; White 1982; Orquera 1984; Pfeiffer 1982; Oilman
1984; see also papers in Trinkaus 1983b). Was the transition merely a change in
the content or manifestation of a basically modern cultural system? If so, then it
would be fundamentallysimilar to (and perhaps less important than) later changes
such as the shift to food production. Conversely, was it a major evolutionary
change in the nature of hominid adaptation brought about by the introduction of
modern cultural systems based on language and symbols? This would represent
not a change in specific adaptation, but a change in the way in which all human
adaptations are structured, leading ultimately to the kinds of behavioral variability
apparent among modern cultures.
It is not possible to provide a definitive answer to this question given the current
state of knowledge concerning the nature of Middle Paleolithic behavior. Rather,
our goals here are simply to turn the attention of prehistorians and scholars in
related subdisciplines of anthropology in the direction of this problem concerning
the nature of Middle Paleolithic adaptation. Toward this end, we will make a
limited survey of the archaeological evidence from the Middle Paleolithic with an
eye toward assessing the degree to which arbitrary categories and symbols
structured behavior. This will be done by examining the archaeological evidence,
broken down here into four major classes: lithic types and assemblages, burials,
rituals other than burials, and art. Our purpose is simply to present an
archaeological perspective on the issue and, as such, our coverage of the
biological evidence is cursory. However, it is hoped that such a review will
stimulate a dialogue among researchers with different perspectives which may
ultimately lead to a greater integration of these two kinds of evidence.
The most commonly cited evidence for prehistoric hominid behavior is that of
stone tools. The beginnings of stone tool manufacture represent a kind of
threshold both in terms of actual behavior and, as Isaac (1976:39) points out, our
ability to infer that behavior from the archaeological record. That is to say,
prehistoric archaeology begins, de facto, with the first evidence of stone tool
making—somewhat before 2.0 my ago (Isaac 1984)—and not with the deliberate
manufacture of more perishable products.
Because these early lithics are one of the archaeologist's few sources of evidence
for prehistoric behavior, it is easy to overestimate their importance in the
prehistoric cultural or behavioral context. It is now clear that the rnanufacture of
tools in several materials extends to nonhuman primates (Goodall 1964; McGrew
et al. 1979; Boesch and Boesch 1981, 1983). This raises the question of whether
or not the presence of an early stone tool assemblage, 'however simple, in itself
reflects the presence of' values and rules that we would ascribe to fully human
societies? Probably not. What we must determine are those specific aspects of
lithic remains that relate to such behavioral structures and then look for those
aspects in early lithic assemblages.
One such aspect may be patterns of form. It is fair to say that most archaeologists
assume that morphological patterning of artifacts often reflects categories defined
within the culture of the makers. In other words, formal patterns in the artifacts
reflect cultural norms or values regarding their manufacture and use, these norms
in turn reflecting linguistically structured categories. Thus, if clear morphological
patterning is observed in stone tools, then it may be possible not just to infer the
presence of those aspects that we usually interpret as reflecting cultural choice,
but also to reconstruct, to some extent, the parameters affecting those choices.
Such patterning according to arbitrary categories is called stylistic variability,
style being one of several factors that influence morphological variability in
lithics. Other factors recognized by most authors (e.g., Bordes 1967; Jelinek 1976)
include function (in a purely utilitarian sense), technology, and raw materials. Any
and all of these factors can lead to morphological patterning in lithic artifacts.
Traditionally (see Sackett 1973, 1982), the recognition of discrete cultures in the
archaeological record depends largely on the identification of stylistic
morphological patterns since convergences due to other factors can cross-cut
cultures that have, in fact, no historical ties to one another. Likewise, evidence for
the early development of culture in a more general sense will depend on
recognizing the beginnings of such stylistic patterning.
It is unclear to what extent symbolic systems are recognizable in lithic styles—
what Sackett (1982) refers to as the "iconological" approach to style. In order to
infer symbolism, one must show that the patterning observed in lithic industries
reflects arbitrary, or noniconic, relationships between the symbols (the artifacts
themselves) and their referents. The ' problem is to sort out the effects of the other
factors of raw material, technology, and function and thus to arrive at the
iconological residue (see, for example, Close 1980).
In spite ^^roblems in isolating specific symbolic or iconological stylistic
patter^rin lithic artifacts, most paleolithic archaeologists do feel
that such patterns have been in existence since at least the beginning of the Upper
Paleolithic. In France, for example, the existence of-highly standardized yet
technologically complex stone and bone artifact assemblages argues persuasively
for the existence of discrete, though perhaps historically linked, cultures.
Moreover, their recognition is made possible by the fact that stylistic patterns of
material remains seem to develop and change continuously through-time and
across space. Thus, temporally and geographically restricted industries are
definable on the basis of highly patterned types. The fact that intratype variability
is so patterned, so restricted in time and space, and that new morphological types
replace old ones in the same functional class, all suggest that the types are, to
some extent, arbitrary and reflect some kind of symbolic system. This represents a
major shift from the earlier Mousterian. As Mellars (1973:157) points out, "The
progression from the middle to the upper palaeolithic periods in all parts of the
Old World appears to have been accompanied by a comparatively rapid
development of entirely new forms of stone implements" (emphasis his). In fact,
continuous development of new forms continues up until the present. However,
during the preceding Middle Paleolithic, which represents a period several times
longer, there is little development of new forms. Thus, the recognition of
particular cultural groups for the earlier periods is much more difficult.
What kind of stylistic variability do we see during the Middle Paleolithic? Most of
the debate on this question has focused on the interpretation of the lithic typology
developed by .Bordes (1961a) for the Lower and Middle Paleolithic. Among the
63 types of flake tools, major distinctions are made on the basis of type of retouch
(burin versus scraper versus backing), the placement of retouch (e.g., the various
scraper types) and the technique of manufacture (Levallois versus disk core, for
instance). It has been recognized for some time (Bordes 1967; Jelinek 1976;
Semenov 1970) that many of the factors mentioned above that affect lithic vari-
ability are embedded in the typology. This results in a comprehensive descriptive
system and is one of the principal reasons why Bordes' typology is so universally
useful for describing Paleolithic assemblages. However, it has not yet been
demonstrated that any particular types or attributes of those types are uniquely
stylistic in nature or intent. Many of the types clearly reflect technology, e.g.,
Levallois flakes and points versus naturally backed knives, which in turn may be
related to raw material variability (Fish 1981)7 Other types would appear to
reflect basic functional requirements, for example the notch7denticulate group
versus the scraper group. Even within a functional group, such as scrapers, ty-
pological variability may not reflect style. For example, it has been suggested
recently (Dibble 1984, 1987a) that typological variation among as many as 20
different types of scrapers may be related simply to reduction
of the pieces through repeated resharpening. This notion is supported on the basis
of artifact morphology, replicative experiments, and independent microwear
analysis (Beyries .1984). This would mean that the kinds of morphological
patterning that have been observed among the scrapers are a function only of
technological concerns related to.resharpening and not at all related to stylistic
variability. This argument (see Dibble 1987c), which is based on technological
considerations that are unique to lithics, also relates to the. suggestion by some
(e.g., Holloway 1981a; Gowlett 1984) that stone tool types reflect specific
linguistic categories or that stone tool variability is structured in a manner
analogous to language (Holloway 1969). Actually, lithic artifacts can go through
several phases of reuse and remodification (Prison 1968; Jelinek 1976). Thus, we
find in the archaeological record only the evidence of the last phase of their use:
consistency of form at this point may relate to any. number of factors besides
linguistic categories. For example, in investigating the reduction of scrapers it was
found that each of the major scraper classes from a given assemblage exhibits the
same average width. In this case consistency of width is probably a function of
prehension; i.e., reduction continued until the piece was too narrow to grasp. It
could very well be that most of the types we see in the archaeological record of
the Middle paleolithic do not represent desired end products (a concept that
assumes deliberate manufacture of specific forms according to linguistically
structured categories) but rather undesirable end results of continuous
remodifications thet were finally discarded. A similar relationship has been
suggested for the other major tool class of the Mousterian, i-.e., that denticulates
may be viewed as being multiply retouched notches, (Dibble 1987b).
Thus, it is far from proven that the "types" that have been defined for The~Lower
and Middle Paleolithic industries demonstrate particular cognitive categories of
the prehistoric hominids who made and used those "tools. They certainly do
reflect the cognitive categories of the archaeolgists. This kind of confusion over
the "meaning" of archaeological types, that is, whether or not they reflect native
classification systems, has existed for some time even among archaeologists (Ford
1954; Krieger 1944; Spaulding 1953). Buffer the Lower and Middle Paleolithic, it
seems that artifact morphological variation is virtually continuous whether we
look at the shapes of scrapers or even aspects of hand axe shape (see Alimcn
and.Vignal 1952). Of course, this is not to say that continuous variability in the
lithics de^enhe existence of linguistic categories—there are many examples of
linguistic categories that partition continua, such as color categories. But neither
does the lithic evidence support their existence. Whether or not morphological
patterns exist in Middle and Lower Pa-
leolithic artifacts. It has been suggested that the art of tool making and language
jnvolve similar cognitive processes (Leroi-Gourhan 1964b; Holloway 1966:404;
Lieberman 1975:l63-170). Interestingly, there is biological evidence for early
lateralization of the brain (Holloway 1981b; Holloway and de la Coste-
Lareymondie 1982) and some equally early, though tenuous, indications in the
lithics for handedness (Toth 1985). However, it does not then follow, that
language began at the same time as tool making. Based on our current
understanding of the processes involved, it is equally likely that tool making alone
was responsible for the development of those neural structures and served as a
kind of neurological preadapta-tion for language which then developed at a much
later time (Frost 1980). It is also true that cerebral lateralization exists in other
animals (see papers in Click 1985).
Beyond that expected from technological constraints or patterns, there are aspects
of morphology of certain tools, especially bifaces, that seem to be related to
symmetry. Wynn (1979, 1981, 1985; cf. Atran 1982) has suggested that this
symmetry reflects ontogenetic process seen in modern humans, from which he
infers the presence of fully modern intellectual processes. On the other hand, it
may only indicate some esthetic appreciation on the part of those hominids,
something which is suggested by other data (see below).
The question of whether or not language existed before the Upper Paleolithic is
difficult to answer with any_degree of certainty because only the most indirect
evidence is preserved. Arguments based on the artifac-tual evidence, such as those
above, are not conclusive. However, neither is the fossil evidence, based on either
brain functions as interpreted from endocranial casts (Holloway, 1966, 1981a;
Falk 1980) or reconstructions of the vocal tract or related Sasicranial architecture
(Leiberman 1986; Leiberman and Crelin, 1971; Laitman et al. 1978, 1979). This
remains, then, a significant problem for future research.
Whether or not patterns of stylistic attributes are identified for individual types of
stone tools, there is still the possibility that a choice of particular technologies or
an emphasis on particular functions seen in whole assemblages of stone tools
reflects cultural choices. This is what Sackett (1982, 1986) would term
"isochrestic" stylistic variation which, while not symbolic, might reflect ethnically
determined choices. Indeed, there is some degree of patterning among Mousterian
assemblages in the relative frequencies of the various tool types. For example
Bordes (1953; Bordes and Bourgon 195l) building on the earlier work of
Penyrony (1921a, 1934), identified four or five major groups of assemblage, or
facies, present in France and other parts of Western Europe. These are the Typical
Mousterian,Charentian M. (with two subtypes, the Quina and Ferrassie),
Denticulate M. and M. of Acheu-
lian tradition. Like Peyrony before him (e.g. Peyrony .1921a;497), Bordes (1961b,
1972) interpreted these variations as different culture groups or tribes.
Thi is again, however, the subject of considerable.debate. The same factors that
affect morphological variability in individual artifacts— -function, style,
technology, raw materials, etc. — also affect overall assemblage variability. Thus
the Binfords (Binford and Binford 1966; Binford 1973) have argued that
Mousterian assemblage variability is linked to function, though this has yet to be
substantiated (see Beyries 1984). Other factors, including basic raw material
differences. (Dibble 1985) and intensity of utilization of the available resources
(Rolland 1977, 1981; Dibble 1987b; Geneste 1985) have been found to be of even
greater importance for producing these assemblage groups. Clearly, more work on
aspects of the faunal assemblages (e.g., Chase 1986a, 1986b) and the environment
(Laville 1973, 1975) as they relate to assemblage composition will be essential. At
this point, while the facies variability seen within France appears to be much more
complex than previously thought, it seems to be very much dependent on local
conditions and extent of occupations and does not clearly show the presence of
distinct culture groups. On the other hand, there are some interregional
differences during the Middle Paleolithic that are more suggestive of distinct
traditions. For example, in Central and Eastern Europe there are numerous
industries with bifacial foliate points that are more or less absent at this same time
in other areas (Gabori 1976). Contemporaneous with these are industriesjof the
Near East that characteristcally exibit extremely high percentages of Levallois
flakes (Hours et al. 1973; Jelinek 1981a, 198 Ib). Each of these regional variants
includes more minor facies-like variations analogous to those described already
for Western Europe. These major regional variants within the Middle Paleolithic
are not easily explained on the basis of differences in raw materials, activity,
environment or other such factors. In fact, they are the best candidates for
"isochrestic" styles (i.e., functionally equivalent alternatives in morphology and
technology) in the Middle Paleolithic. More than any other single feature their
presence argues strongly for a long-term intergenerational sharing of techno-
logical patterns through some sort of cultural transmission.
Is this, then, evidence of modern cultural sets of values or behavioral patterns
transmitted through language? In that the knowledge of the technologies is being
passed to each succeeding generation, it is more advanced than shared behavioral
"traditions" that develop among other primate groups, such as the potato washing
of Japanese macaques (Kawai 1965, 1975) or the hunting patterns of olive
baboons (Strum 1975, 1981). Such primate traditions are usually short-lived and
not nearly as complex as the stone technologies seen in the Middle Paleolithic. On
other hand, while flint knapping is clearly a learned skill, it is not so clear that the
transmission of the techniques involved actually requires any verbalization
(Wright 1972). Given that one would learn these skills from those in the same
group—perhaps through imitation—such traditions may be evidenced
archaeologically but they do not necessarily reflect any symbolic content.
Nonetheless, it is important that more attention be paid to clarifying these regional
differences through standardized typological and other analyses.
In summary, it cannot be questioned that Middle Paleolithio behavior as reflected
in the lithic industries .was based,on a learned set of behaviors and therefore is
cultural in that sense. It is also clear that it was purposeful and depended on a
certain amount of planning, especially in transporting raw material (see Marks
1987). But the overall picture that is emerging is that assemblage variability
during that time tends to be quite simple. It seems to be related as much to local
conditions as it is to historical traditions in that there is always as much variation
in assemblages within a region as there is between regions. Furthermore, in terms
of lithic morphology as it is currently understood, there is no variability that is
clearly stylistic in a symbolic or iconolbgical sense, nor can the types be definitely
related to linguistic categories. The issue of choice related to different
technologies, i.e., isochrestic variation, is one that should addressed in the future.
Admittedly, the lithic evidence is not conclusive. The point that we are making is
not that the lithic evidence"demonstrates a lack of symbolic -thought.
The~p6ihTis~only that it does not demonstrate its presence.
It is not possible, unfortunately, to look to other technologies such as bone and
antler working for information concerning symbolism due to their very poor
development during the Middle Paleolithic. Most examples are worked in the
same technique applied to stone,.i.e., chipping, versus techniques of shaving and
grinding that are used later (Jelinek 1977). In fact, there is some debate as to
whether or not recovered objects in these materials were deliberately
manufactured (e.g. Freeman 1978; Biriford 1983). Although rare well-made
artifacts do appear—e.g., a "winged" bone point at Saltzgitter-Lebenstedt in
Germany (Tode ft al. 1953) and a ground bone point from the Klasies River
Mouth (Singer and Wymer 1982)—they are unique specimens so that it is
impossible to discuss questions of typology, categorization, and style. The same is
true of wooden artifacts, since so few of these survive (see Movius 1950; Oakley


There are two major issues to be addressed when dealing with the
burial data. First is. the question of whether or not the interment of the human
remains was intentional. It appears that at least some interments were. The actual
number of cases where intentional burial is more or less 'certain is small compared
to the total number of individuals found to date, but this is undoubtedly due to
problems of preservation and, sometimes, to problems in recovery.
La Chapelle-aux-Saints and La Ferrassie are the two sites in France that first
yielded good evidence for deliberate burials of Neanderhals. At the former site,
the adult make skeleton (La Chapeile-aux-Saints I; fossil numbers from Oakley et
al. 1971,1975) was discovered in August of 1908 (Bouyssonie et al. 1908,1913); It
was found in a pit near the center of the cave that was clearly visible to the
excavators because it contrasted well with the overlying archaeological layers.
About a year later, Capitari and Peyrony discovered the first of six individuals at
La .Ferrassie (Capitan and Peyrony 1909, 1912, 1921; Peyrony 1934; see also
Heim 1976, 1982). Here again, the interpretation of intentional interment appears
sound. Also indicative of intentional burial in France are the remains of a young
(3 years) individual from Roc de Marsal, though this site is still incompletely
published (Bordes and Lafille 1962). The situation surrounding the skeleton from
Le Moustier recovered by Hauser will forever remain in doubt (Hauser 1909;
Vallois 1940), though Peyrony (1930) later found the remains of a child is one of
a pair of roughly circular pits. A completely unique occurrence is that of
Rdgourdou (Bonifay 1965; Bonifay and Vandermeersch 1962; Vander-meersph
1976), which revealed what has been interpreted as a tomb built up of rocks
'containing the remains of an adult Neandertal. Nearby, in another "structure,"
were the remains of a brown bear (Ursus arctos). This site, which is part of a
karstic system that collapsed in antiquity, is not without problems of interpretation
(see below).
Outside of France are other examples of Neandertal burials, including Amud
(Suzuki and Takai 1970), Tabun Cl (Garrod and Bate 1937), and Kebara (Smith
and Arensburg 1977; Bar-Yosef et al. 1986) in Israel; Shanidar (Solecki 1953,
1960, 1975a; Stewart 1977; Trinkaus 1983c) in Iraq; Kiik-Koba (Klein 1965) and
Teshik-Tash in the USSR (Movius 1953); and, perhaps, Krapina in Yugoslavia
(see Trinkaus 1985). For the time being we will exclude the finds of early
anatomically modern H. sapiens found in very late Mousterian contexts at Skhul
(McCown 1937) and Qafzeh (Vandermeersch 1981), both of which also yield
evidence of ,-' intentional burials.
A number of finds are more equivocal as to intentional interment. Martin
(1923:30-35) argued strongly against a deliberate burial of La Quina H5, though
the fact that a large proportion of the skeletal elements
were preserved suggests quick covering of the body whether through nat- /' liral
(alluvjal) or human agencies (Hrdlicka 1930:284-285). The two adult individuals
from Spy (1 and 2), discovered in 1886 (Hrdlicka 1930:182), are also relatively
complete, but there is no independent evidence of burial. -The same is true for the
Neandertal holotype.
But in spite of these questionable cases, it has been generally agreed for some
time (see Peyrony 192Ib; Hrdlicka 1930) that definite burials do occur in
Mousterian and Neandertal contexts. This is the earliest evidence for such
behavior during the course of human evolution.
The second question concerns the interpretation of that behavior. Burial of the
dead can mark a transition in the life cycle of an individual and thus the act of
burial can reflect a culturally bound religious belief or existential philosophy
concerning a person's soul. Or it can be much simpler than that, i.e., simply a
method for disposing of a body. In order to help decide between these alternative
interpretations, or perhaps arrive at some intermediate position, it is necessary to
look for further evidence of ritual or ceremony surrounding these burials. Of
course, most "aspects"of burial ceremony may not leave archaeological traces
except in the form of grave goods, and so it is ne'cessary to focus on this specific
class of objects.
It is the nature of grave goods that differentiate most clearly Middle . Paleolithic
burials from Upper Paleolithic.ones (Hanrold 1980, see also Binford 1968b;
Watson 1970). According to the more complete and careful study done by Harrold
(1980:206), burials from these two periods differ in terms of the simple presence
or absence of accompanying grave goods—88% of the burials of the Upper
Paleolithic contain grave goods of some kind while only 33% of Middle
Paleolithic burials do so—and also in terms of the overall abundance and diversity
of the goods when they are present.-Table 1 (from Harrold 1980) presents a
breakdown of the frequency of
, major categories of grave goods that are directly associated with actual burials. It
is apparent that Upper and Middle Paleolithic burials differ significantly in objects
of personal adornment or other items that may be inferred to have special
symbolic meaning for those people. Middle Paleolithic burials include only
mundane items of everyday use, which may lead one to question whether such
objects reflect any special ceremony 'surrounding their placement in the graves.
A good example of this comes from the site of La Chapelle-aux-Saints, which is
often quoted in secondary sources as having yielded abundant grave goods and
ochre (e.g., Hrdlickb 1930:255; Wreschner 1980). In association with the skeleton
(La Chapeile I) were the distal bones of a limb of a large bovid (a distal
metatarsal, the two first phalanges, and a second
Upper Paleolithic
• Paleolithic
(N - 33)
Tools 7 36
Animal bones 7 24
Manuports 8 5
Shells 0 18
Ochre 0 35
Art/decorative items 0 33
• From Harrold (1980), Table 5.

phalanx) and other large fragments of long bones. These were originally
interpreted as offerings of food for the dead (Bouyssonie et al. 1908:517). The
original report continues':

"II y avail autour du reste (Ju corps un grand nombre d'e'clats de quartz, des silex parfois bien
travaille's, quelques fragments d'ocrc, des os brisks, etc. comme dans le rcste de la couche
arche'ologique, sans rien de bien caractfristique" [emphasis added] (1908:517).

This example illustrates the problem that one encounters when interpreting the
kinds of objects associated with recognized Middle Paleolithic burials, namely,
that they express no special character. In virtually all cases the burials are located
in the occupation areas of the sites and the associated objects are indistinguishable
from objects found in the surrounding sediments. The question is then do the
artifacts in the graves represent symbolic offerings to the dead or are they in
association with the remains only fortuitously? It is important to remember that
the occurrence of artifacts in graves in almost inevitable if the graves are dug
through and refilled with sediments containing artifacts. As Vandermeersch
(1976:727) put it:

"En eftet, des objets semblables a ceux qui ont M interprdtds comme des or* frandes se
retrouvent plus ou moins abondants dans tout le niveau archdologique de la sepulture. 11s
peuvent done avoir <£td introduils fonuitement au moment de Pddification de celle-ci. Pour
pouvoir parler d'ofTrandes !l fraudrail que les objets prdsentent un caractfcre exceptionnel, par
leurs dimensions, par rapport au con-tenu archdologique de la couche ou par leur arrangement
dans la sepulture.."
In other words, in order to be interpreted as true offerings, and certainly to
indicate some notion of religion or belief in an afterlife, the grave goods must
exhibit some special characters beyond those seen in other contexts in the site (see
also Leroi-Gourhan 1964a:53-64). For virtually
all burials in Europe this is not the case. The best example outside of •Europe is
Shanidar, in Iraq, where the presence of clumped pollen grains associated with the
Shanidar 4 Neandertal burial has been interpreted as reflecting the deliberate
placement of flowers in the grave with the deceased (Leroi-Gourhan 1975;
Solecki 1975a). However, there is evidence of considerable disturbance of..the.
grayeTtsei? "by rodents (Solecki 1977:120) and it is perhaps possible that the
pollens represent later, intrusions into the sediments. Nonetheless, this is an
interesting, though isolated case. The deliberate nature of it would be confirmed if
other such examples were found.
Mousterian burials of anatomically modern H. sapiens provide stronger evidence
of ritual symbolism. Qafzeh and Skhul, in Israel, contain graves with animal
remains which, because of their direct association with the buried individuals,
more strongly suggest that they we're true "offerings." For example, the mandible
of a wild boar was "clasped in the hands of (Skh'ul) V" (McGown 1937:104) and
a deer (Dama mesopo-tamica ?) antler was found in the hands of a child, Qafzeh
(Vandermeesch 1970). Of particular interest at the latter site is the discovery of
ochre in the vicinity of Qafzeh 8, 9, and 10 (Vandermeersch 1969), though it is
still not clear exactly how direct the association is with the burials. -In addition to
the fact that the fossil remains from these burials are definitely those of modern H.
sapiens (Vandermeersch 1981), it must also be pointed out that there is evidence
based on lithic studies that suggests that these two sites may be quite late in the
Middle Paleolithic sequence of that area (Jelinek 198la; Dibble 1983; cf. Bar-
Yosef and Vandermeersch 1981). Thus, the behavior implied by this evidence
does not' reflect the adaptation of archaic H. sapiens.
Certain spatial arrangements have been taken for many years as examples of
burial ceremony. One of the best known of these is La Ferrassie, where^two
adults, a male (Ferrassie 1) and female (Ferrassie 2), were found head to head,
although according to the excavators there was no evidence of actual burial pits
(Capitan and Peyrony 1909). Four other individuals, a child of 10 years (Ferrassie
3), a newborn (Ferrassie 4a, 4b), a 3-year-old child (Ferrassie 5), and the remains
'of a fetus (Ferrassie 6), were recovered from pits or hollows. In addition, nine
small earth mounds were discovered, along with other depressions.
This arrangement is interesting if it reflects an event or events that took place over
a restricted period of time, i.e., if the burials, pits, and small earth mounds are to
be understood as a group and not as series of unrelated activities that took place
over a prolonged period of time (Vandermeersch 1976:726). It is unfortunate that
detailed measured sections and plans are not available from these early
excavations at La Ferrassie.
Another arrangement with supposed ceremonial significance comes
from the site of Teshik-Tash in southern Uzbekistan. A young male Neandertal, 8-
10 years of age, was said to have been buried and the grave surrounded by a
"ring" of five or six pairs of horn cores of the Siberian mountain goat (Capra
sibirica). The ring of horn cores and the presence of a small hearth nearby has
been taken as evidence of a brief ritual in connection with the burial (Movius
However, two facts make such an interpretation difficult. First, it must be kept in
mind that remains of this animal were ubiquitous. throughout the site. Of 768
identified bones from nonrodent mammalian fauna reported, 760 were of C.
sibirica (Movius 1953:48), including other examples of horn cores. We might,
therefore, expect some association with the burial simply due to random dispersal
of remains of that species through the site. But such association would not have
significant behavioral implications. Second, the association between the goat horn
cores and the burial is not that strong. At the time of the discovery, only the skull
lay within the concentration of horn cores and the pbstcranial remains lay beyond
it.»The dispersal of the human bones suggests predator disturbance. In addition, as
Jelinek (personal communication) suggests, even if the horn cores where at one
time associated with the burial, the association may have been pragmatic rather
than ritual:... the horns may simply have been used as picks for excavating the
Thus, Teshik-Tash is yet another case rwhere objects associated with a Middle
Paleolithic burial are the same objects that are found throughout the particular
occupation level. Again, we must return to Vandermeersch's (1976:727) caution
expressed above that to be interpreted as grave goods, then the objects must have
some exceptional characteristic. If goal remains were rare at Teshik-Tash except
in context of the burial, then their presence in that context would be exceptional
and would more clearly suggest some ritual or possible symbolism. But their
extreme commonness at that site (and their possible utilitarian function) make
such an interpretation weak. .;
In summary, the evidence from Middle Paleolithic burials— except those of
anatomically modern H. sapiejns—does not demonstrate the presence of
symbolism or of culturally defined values during that time. Deliberate burials are
clearly present but there are no other obvious signs of ritual. On the other hand,
the act of burial itself suggests a caring for the deceased well beyond that seen
among other primates. In this regard there is other evidence for strong affective
relationships and dependences during the Mousterian. based on skeletal evidence
of trauma, for example in Shanidar 1 and 3 (Trinkaus 1983c:422-423); we can
infer that care was extended to incapacitated members of Neandertal groups.
Burial, in its simplest and nonsyrnbolic sense could be seen as a continuation of
such care or a reflection of earlier emotional attachment.
There are abundant claims of evidence for ritual behavior outside of the context of
burials during the Middle Paleolithic. Many of these amount to fanciful
interpretations 6f strange and unique finds and can be dismissed without serious
consideration. Others, such as those that follow, deserve more careful review.
There is, perhaps, no-single supposed ritual of the Neandertals more widely
known than the "Cult of the Cave Bear," described by prehisto-rians (Breuil and
Lander 1959; Maringer 1960) and even popular novelists (Auel 1980). The
existence of such a cult is based on original finds dating to the early Upper
Pleistocene in the Swiss cave of Drachenloch (Baschler 1921,-1923), other cave
sites in that general area, and in France at Les "•Furtins, Sadne-et-Loire (Leroi-
Gourhan 1947) and Rdgourdou, in the De-' Apartment of the Dordogne (Bonifay
and Vandermeersch 1962).
The evidence consists of concentrations of long bones and crania of the now
extinct cave bear (Ursus spelaeus) or at Re'gourdou, brown bear (U. arctos).
These remains were found deep inside the caves and reportedly were intentionally
cached in stone-lined pits or showed some evidence of •purposeful arrangement
by humans along the cave walls or in "niches." Interpretations of these
bones,'assuming humans as agents of deposition, range from the hypothesis that
they arb the remains of food storage caches, or storage of brains for tanning
purposes, to the notion that the skulls represent hunting trophies or reflect some
prehistoric religion or cult (see Maringer 1960:38-62).
A thorough review of this subject was published posthumously by Jequier
(1975:45-64), who notes several problems with the original evidence. Principally
there was a general lack of rigor during the excavation vof several of the early
sites and in presentation of the finds. As Je'quier notes (1975:47), one must accept
or deny the original descriptions more '"'or less on faith, which can sometimes be
difficult. An example of this difficulty concerns the very famous cave bear skull
from Drachenloch, 'which was found resting on two tibiae with the proximal end
of a right •-femur lodged inside the zygomatic arch. In the original description the
femur was passing through the left zygomatic arch, but in subsequent f
descriptions the same femur is seen passing through the one on the right ; (Je'quier
1975:51)! The case for the famous stone-lined pits with "caches" of cave bear
skulls from the same site is also equivocal given that references made to them in
the original.field notes by Nigg are quite different, and far less spectacular, than
the later descriptions by BSchler (Je'quier 1975:50).
Even if the descriptions are accurate, many researchers (Koby 1951; Leroi-
Gourhan 1964a; Kurtdn 1976:83-91; Je'quier 1975; le Tonsorer
1986) have argued that the general kinds of phenomena seen in these sites can be
explained more simply by natural agencies. Underground streams are often most
likely responsible for the accumulations of bones in natural niches and in and
around groups of fallen roof blocks. The actions of the bears themselves must also
be considered as they moved about in the cave and prepared their circular nests for
hibernation. As Leroi-Gourhan describes in his own cas*e at Les Furtins, any
concentration of bones can give an excavator the impression of an intentional
arrangement (Leroi-Gourhan 1947; cf. idem. 1964:32-33). But actual
demonstrations of in-tentionality have not yet been made. .
Jequier (1975:26-43) also rejects the notion of specialized hunting of these
animals in the Alpine sites. It cannot be demonstrated clearly that the bear bones
were not broken naturally, especially by carnivores. The evidences for wounds
resulting from hunting are generally questionable, either because they were poorly
interpreted (e.g., were actually postmortem damage qr accidental) or, again, were
poorly reported. Moreover, virtually no intentional butchering marks could be
found on any of the material from Drachenloch, Wildesmannlisloch, or Cotencher.
The French site of Rdgourdou is unique. AJthough the early excavations there did
lack rigor, it does seem clear that the site contained a cavity covered by a stone
slab weighing approximately 850 kg and containing the remains of a brown bear.
Nearby, in another stone "tumulus" were the remains of a Neandertal with various
objects including a core, some flakes, a scraper, and a bear humerus, which were
interpreted as grave offerings (Bonifay and Vandermeersch 1962; Bonifay 1965,
cited in Vandermeersch 1976:726). However, given that the site is within a karstic
system that collapsed in antiquity, it is most probable that these stone structures,
almost megalithic in size and completely unknown in any other Mousterian
deposit, are the result of that cave-in. Leroi-Gourhan (1964a:35) and Je'quier
(1975:63) also both argue convincingly against it being an intentional placement
of bear bones.
Through more careful attention to taphonomic factors, we are beginning to
understand that concentrations of bones and bizarre juxtaposition of elements can
occur naturally and that we should therefore be much more cautious in our
interpretations. Such understanding of the taphonomic factors dispelled the notion
of the "Osteodontokeratic Culture" that had been proposed for the early South
African material (Dart 1960; cf. Shipman and Phillips-Conroy 1977). For similar
reasons, Je'quier con-.'cludes:
"L'existence de pratiques magico-religieuses au Pallolithique, sous forme de dipdts
intentionnels de crines et d'ossements d'ours des cavcrnes i I'inte'rieur de certaines grottes,
n'est guere soutenable dans 1'itat actuel des connaissances" (1975:64).

It is, therefore doubtful that the evidence presented for a "Cult of the
Cave Bear" should, at this time, be taken as reflecting any symbolic ritual
behavior. Similarly, a better understanding of taphonomic factors may clarify the
question of whether intentional, and perhaps ritual, cannibalism may have been
practiced during the Middle Paleolithic, especially noted at Krapina and Monte
Circeo, as well as at many other earlier sites (Bergounioux 1958; Blanc 1961;
Roper 1969; and others). In part, this question arises because of a perceived bias
in.the preservation of certain skeletal elements, with more mandibles and cranial
vaults recovered then might be expected given the number of individuals
represented. This has even led to the notion of a Paleolithic "Skull Cult"
(Bergounioux 1958:151-153).
Leroi-Gourhan (1964a:45-4"7) and, more recently, THnkaus (1985) present
comparative data which suggest that much of the differential frequency of various
elements is due to factors of preservation and that similar biases can be shown for
other forms under completely natural conditions (see Brain 1981). There is also
some suggestion that much of the perceived bias is due to poor recovery
techniques and thus the accidental overlooking of cervical vertebrae and facial
bones (Jacob 1972). Moreover, the work of Trinkaus (1985) on the Krapina
remains suggests that as burial customs became more common, such a bias in
preservation would tend to be lessened. Because burials only begin to appear
during the Middle Paleolithic and are not, in fact, common -until the Upper Pa-
leolithic, the role played by taphonomic factors in producing biased bone
assemblages is greater during the earlier periods.
The case of Monte Circeo exemplifies the kinds of problems surrounding many of
the phenomena interpreted as evidence of ritual behavior. This site is known for -
the discovery of an isolated Neandertal skull found within a circle of stones on the
surface of an interior cave chamber sealed by roof fall in prehistoric times (Blanc
1939-1940). As described by Blanc, the skull had been broken in the temporal
region — which was taken as an indication of ritual killing — and the foramen
magnum had been enlarged by "careful and symmetric incising of the periphery"
(Blanc 1961:126). However, drawings of the find indicate that . stones were
plentiful on the surface where the skull was found (Blanc 1958, Fig. 1), suggesting
that, like the goat-horn ring at Teshik-Tash, the stone ring at Monte Circeo may be
more natural than artificial. Moreover, the hotel owner who first found the skull
and later showed it to Blanc had earlier picked up the skull and, by his own
admission, was unsure he had put it back on its original position. Blanc himself
saw from the concretions on the skull that it had been replaced incorrectly (Blanc
1938-1940:258). Thus, even if the "circle" of stones was real, the relationship
between it and the skull must remain in doubt. Regarding the incisions at the base
of the skull, Sergi, toe paleontolo-
gist who analyzed it, clearly stated that the damage to this area was due to a series
of blows, not incisions (Sergi 1939:672). Thus, at Monte Circeo, as in so many
cases, lack of descriptive rigor, doubtful provenience, or association, due in this
case to the actions of an amateur, and possible misinterpretation of natural
phenomena make the inference of ritual killing and deposition suspect.

In many ways, the most striking difference between Middle and Upper Paleolithic
is .the contrast between the rich and highly developed art found in the latter period
and the almost complete lack of it in the former. Nevertheless, there are at least
some signs of an esthetic sense as far back as the Lower Paleolithic. It is still not
clear, however, that this esthetic sense was linked to symbolism before the Upper
As was mentioned .earlier, there is some indication in the stone tools of both the
Lower and Middle Paleolithic, primarily bifaces, that the homi-nids responsible
for their manufacture had some notion of and appreciation for both symmetry and
regularity. There are^also signs of this in a few other scattered artifacts. For
example, there is a carefully worked roughly oval plaque made from the tooth of a
mammoth that was found in the Middle Paleolithic of Tata, Hungary (V6rtes
1959,1964:139; Marshack 1976a, 1976b, 1986a), and, again, the "winged" bone
point from Salz-gitter-Lebenstedt (Tode et al. 1953).
Perhaps also indicating some esthetic appreciation are the few finds of mineral
coloring (chiefly hematite and manganese) from some Middle and Lower
Paleolithic deposits (see Wreschner 1980; Marshack 1981). In some instances,
lumps of colored mineral have been rubbed or scraped, presumably to obtain
powder, and in some cases they have perhaps been used as pencils (Peyrony
1921c; Bordes 1952; Marshack 1981; Singer and Wymer 1982). However, the use
to which such colors were put is not clear; that is, it is not known whether they
were used for coloring the body or other objects. As far as the latter is concerned,
the plaque from Tata showed traces of color as did a limestone plaque (6bouli?)
from La Ferrassie (Peyrony 1934).
Such colorings have not been found in contexts that clearly indicate symbolism or
ritualm as noted above, ochre is not directly associated with Middle Paleolithic
burials of Neandertals, as it often is in the Upper Paleolithic. Scattered bits of red
ochre were found at Nahr Ibrahim, Lebanon, with some fallow deer bones.
Because of the completeness of the bones and the fact that they showed no signs
of burning, Soleck
(1975b:290-291) suggested that this feature represented a ritual burial of that
animal. However, there are natural deposits of ochre in the immediate vicinity of
the site and fallow deer were the most common game animal present. So, once
again there is nothing unusual about this feature given the overall composition of
the deposits. Esthetic appreciation may also explain the presence in some Middle
Paleolithic contexts of manu-ports of unusual materials or other exotic objects
such as fossils, shells, etc.'-Even from the Lower Paleolithic there are examples of
quartz crystals from Zhoukoudian (Edwards and Clinnick 1980) and flakes made
from chert composed of fossil coral at Swanscombe (Oakley 1971). At Saint-Just-
des-Marais in France, a scraper was made from a piece of flint with a cast of a
Cretaceous echinoid (ibid.) and at the site of West Tofts, Norfolk, England, a
biface was flaked around a fossil bivalve imbedded in the flint (Oakley 1973).
Other examples of interesting finds include a bit of perforated bone from the
Mousterian of Pech de I'Aid (Hordes 1969), a punctured (but not perforated) fox
tooth and perforated (possibly intentionally) reindeer phalanx from La Quina
(Martin 1909), some bear teeth with grooves from Sclayn, Belgium (Otte 1987),
and a rock with cup-Hke depressions in it found overlying burial 6 at la Ferrassie.
A recent find of what may be an engraved figurine in an Acheulian context at
Berekhat Ram in the Golan Heights (Goren-Inbar 1986) is intriguing and demands
further investigation.
There are, in addition, reports of engravings from both the Middle and the Lower
Paleolithic. Some of these, such as the shell of Nummilites perforates from Tata
with a cross of two straight lines at right angles'to each other all the way across
one surface (Ve*rtes 1964:141-142, 261) and bones with irregular curvilinear
grooves from Cueva Morm have proven, on closer examination, to be the results
of natural agents (Marshack 1986b). Other examples, however, are clearly the
result of human actions and sometimes crudely resemble Upper Paleolithic motifs
such as zigzags or festoons (Marshack 1976a, 1976b). It should be emphasized
that such engravings are usually quite crude when judged as art—as can be seen,
for example, in Marshack's (1976b) figures comparing the rib fragment from Pech
de l'Az6 and the engraved bone fragment from Bacho Kiro, Bulgaria, with Upper
Paleolithic pieces that they resemble. Actually, some of these may be explained by
nonartistic activities such as slicing material on a bone "cutting board" (e.g., the
bone with parallel cuts from La Ferrassie (Marshack 1976b, Fig. 6)).
It is arguable, indeed likely, that sotne of these objects are intentional and do
reflect the presence of an esthetic sense in the Middle and Lower Paleolithic.. But
whether such engravings, or any of the phenomena de-
scribed above, can be taken as evidence of symbolism is another ques-. tion.
Upper Paleolithic art is without doubt both esthetic and representational in nature.
In addition, there are many reasons for believing that it had a symbolic and ritual
aspect: the hidden and even hard-to-reach location of much cave art, the
nonrandom distribution of different signs or different species of animal, the
superposition of figures, and representations of beings that do not exist (Leroi-
Gourhan 1965, 1968, 1982; Breuil 1952; Narr 1974; Ucko and Rosenfeld 1967).
While hypotheses vary about why this art was produced (see also Conkey 1978,
1983; Pfeiffer 1982;'$5eveking 1979), there is little disagreement that at least
some of it was symbolic in nature.
However it is mportant to bear in mind that the symbolic nature of Upper
Paleolithic art is not inferrabIe from manuports, coloring, careful; workmanship,
or crudely engraved patterns such as those found in the Middle and Lower
Paleolithic., On the contrary, to the extent that we assume that such objects or
patterns do have symbolic meaning in the Upper Paleolithic, it is because they
occur in the context of art known by those other criteria to be symbolic, criteria
which are absent from the Middle Paleolithic record. When one transfers the
assumption of symbolic meaning from an Upper Paleolithic context to the Middle
Paleolithic, one is assuming what must be demonstrated..
On the other hand, there are art objects that appear very much in an Upper
Paleolithic vein from the Chatelperronian of Arcy-sur-Cure, France (Leroi-Gourhan
1961; Movius 1969). Since a Neandertal has been found in the Chatelperronian of St.
Cesaire (ApSimon 1980, 1981), it could be arguejd that Neandertal adaptation and
behavior indeed, did, INvolve the kind of symboling known from the Upper
The Chatelperronian is an unusual case, however, in that it would now appear that
Neandertals and modern H.sapiens coexisted at this time. It may be that it was
not,the Neandertals but their contemporaries wfho were responsible for the
material at Arcy. More likely', the stimulus of contact with modern populations
produced a behavior that had not previously been the. norm for Neandertals, much
as human stimulus can produce rudimentary symbolic behavior in even such
small-brained species as chimpanzees.
There are also Middle Paleolithic artifacts that have been interpreted as musical
instruments. The mammoth-tooth plaque from Tata has been interpreted as a bull-
roarer or churinga (VeYtes 1959, 1964), but as Malinger ' (1982:126) points out, the
absence of a hole for attaching it to a cord or thong makes this unlikely. Another
supposed example of a churinga from Pin Hole Cave in England (Armstrong 1936)
is, in fact, a piece pf bone that had been so severely eroded in a hyena's digestive
tract that it-had been perforated in numerous places (Kitching 1963:PIate3).
Also intriguing are the punctured phalanges of reindeer described as , 'whistles by
Lartet and Christy (1864). This interpretation has been the subject of a long
controversy between those who accept it and those who ' prefer Martin's
(1909:150-168) argument that the phalanges were punctured by the teeth of
carnivores. Recent examination of the faunal mate-" rial from Combe Grenal
(Chase 1986b:80-83) support Martin's observations. The holes usually occur, in
the thinnest part of the bone wall; many of the phalanges had tooth marks on the
opposite surface; and while experiments showed'that some pierced phalanges do
produce a tone, there are identical holes found on bones other than phalanges
which could,not possibly serve as whistles. Thus, the deliberate manufacture of
these objects for that purpose is not demonstrable.
0n the basis of the artifacts and manuports found in the Middle .Paleolithic
contexts it seems quite possible that the hominids of the period had an esthetic
sense. This is seen partly in their apparent appreciation of symmetry and
regularity in certain kinds of tools and by the occasional presence of curiosities
and coloring materials. But there Is little in the Middle Paleolithic evidence that
clearly indicates symbolic content unless we assume a priori that a possession of
an esthetic sense and symbolic behavior were linked in the Middle Paleolithic in
the same way that they are today. In effect, this would be assuming that which we
are trying to demonstrate.


There can be little doubt that hominids of the Middle Paleolithic, like all living
examples of H, sapiens, depended for survival on extensively manipulating the
world around them and on the use of planning and foresight. A high degree of
manipulative ability is inferrable from the stone tools they made, tools that
modern H. sapiens is incapable of reproducing without considerable practice.
Their foresight is evidenced by the : presence of materials derived from sources
located some distance from where they were deposited and by the apparently
purposeful nature of their hunting (Chase 1986b). These behaviors, which clearly
separate all hominids from the outer higher primates, become increasingly
complex through the span of the Pleistocene. They certainly reflect the continuous
increase in brain size and intelligence that took place during this time and most
likely are a part of the general selective pressures involved in that development.
A major feature that seems to have originated during the Middle Paleolithic, and
one in which these hominids_also differ from nonhuman primates, is the degree
to which they cared for one another. The survival of aged individuals and of
individuals suffering from moderately severe
physical handicaps attests to mutual assistance and dependence that goes beyond
group defense or the sporadic sharing of food evident among other primates. Also,
the evidence of burials.implies the presence of strong emotional bonds, so that
even dead members of one's group were afforded.treatment (e.g. protection from
carrion eaters) not found among nonhominid primates.
The archaeological record of this time also provides evidence of a certain esthetic
sense among these hominids, seen in some nicely symmetric tools, the coloring
materials, and perhaps the presence of the curiosities noted above.
However, as this review should have demonstrated, there is a general lack of clear
archaeological evidence for the presence of symbolism. It has not yet been
possiblei"to demdnstratVstylistic variability in the artifacts and there are no
suggestions of linguistically encoded categories. Furthermore, the kinds of
phenomena that have been taken as evidence for symbolism or ritual behavior are
either (1) equivocal; (2) unique, or nearly so (i.e., there is no repeated patterning);
and (3) can be explained on the basis of natural agencies or nonsymbolic
technological processes. The few exceptions are associated with modern //.
sapiens, either temporally, as in the case of Chatelperronian in Europe, or directly,
as at Skhul and Qafzeh in the .Near East.
We do not wish to appear overly cynical nor to impose impossible criteria by
which we evaluate the archaeological evidence. It could be that jnost of the
symbolic behavior of Middle Paleolithic homihids left no archaeological traces
simply because Middle Paleolithic culture did not express symbolism in any
archaeologically preservable form. If this is the case then we as archaeologists
will be in error because of the very nature of our data base. But it is an error that
must be risked in order to avoid assuming that which we are trying to
demonstrate. Furthermore, it seems unlikely that such symbolism, if it were a
regular, integral part of Middle Paleolithic adaptation, would be preserved so
rarely. Thus, while a sty-ylistic component is absent from some,modern lithic
industries, the ap-' parent lack of it from all Middle Paleolithic industries demands
explanation. Moreover, most Middle Paleolithic lithic industries are far more
technologically complex than those modern industries, such as those in Australia,
that appear to lack stylistic variability, simply because of their simplicity.
We must emphasize that we are concerned here with the nature of Middle
Paleolithic.adaptation, not with inherent but unexpressed potentialities and
capacities (see Marshack 1985). It is clear from laboratory experiments that even
chimpanzees have rudimentary capacity for symbolic expression. However,
symbolic behavior plays no role in their adaptation in the wild. Likewise, it is
hjghly probable that Middle Paleo-
lithic hominids had some capacity for symbolism.What is not apparent is that
symbolism playeid a significant role in their adaptations, either. For example, the
ground bone point from the Klasies River mouth indicates a capacity for high
quality bone working at this time. But its uniqueness indicates that this
potentiality was rarely fulfilled and was thus of little-practical significance in
Middle Paleolithic technology. By the same token, there may have been isolated
and unique occurrences of symbolic behavioral during the Middle Paleolithic.
While such finds are important for demonstrating the capacity for this behavior,
the archaeological record as a whole indicates that it was not an integral part of
adaptation during this time.
We have reviewed here only one kind of evidence, the archaeological record. It is
imperative that research involving many classes of evidence, biological and
behavioral, be directed toward this problem. However, the archaeological
evidence currently available indicates that the evolution of modern human
behavior was mosaic in nature. It is clear that reliance on extrasomatic means of
adaptation and cooperation well beyond the non-hominid primate level had
evolved by the Middle Paleolithic. This and other aspects of their life show that
the hominids of that time were far from the brutish creatures portrayed by some.
But it seems equally clear that the use of symbols and symbolic forms of behavior
was only weakly developed at this time. The consequence is that the Middle
Paleolithic very different flavor from the Upper Paleolithic and that Jelinek's
(1977) use of the term "paleoculture" may be appropriate:, "culture" be-cause it
was almost certainly learned rather than transmitted genetically, and "paleo”
because it differed significantly in nature from modern culture. If this conclusion
continues to be supported, the accurate reconstruction of that earlier hominid
lifestyle and mode of adaptation would have to be a major goal of
anthropologically oriented Paleolithic research.


'We think several people who have read earlier versions of this paper and who
have made valuable sugtestlons. Among them are Ward Goodenough, Robert
Harding, Alan Mann, Bernard Wailes, and Alexander Manhack. Our interest in
this topic hat been stimulated through our long association with Arthur Jelinek.