"These Rude Implements": Competing Claims for Authenticity in the Eolithic Controversy

By Ellen, Roy | Anthropological Quarterly, Spring 2013 | Go to article overview

"These Rude Implements": Competing Claims for Authenticity in the Eolithic Controversy


Ellen, Roy, Anthropological Quarterly


ABSTRACT

The acceptance of eoliths as man-made is surprising, given that Victorian science had first dismissed the idea with respect to hand axes. I argue that scientific innovation involves an imaginative impulse that leads easily to over-optimistic interpretation, and that the eoliths were "invented" because they satisfied a requirement of a particular way of thinking. Once arguments in their favor had been accepted, the default "mindset" became one of disproving claims for human fabrication. The debate was conducted at a time when the rules of Pleistocene geology and archaeological interpretation were being established, and it determined the limit of what was scientifically credible. [Keywords: Eolith, authenticity, cultural cognition, history of archaeology]

It is possible to prove anything about types of stone implements, by selecting stones of an appropriate type...self deception is a perfectly innocent misfortune.

-R.A.S. MacAlister (1921:176)

In memorium, Peter J. Ucko, 1938-2007

(ProQuest: ... denotes non-US-ASCII text omitted.)

Introduction

When Johan Beringer first published his Lithographiae Wirceburgensis (1726), he included plates showing objects that today we see as genuine fossil mollusks and others that are not, but which appear as carved frogs (Figure 1). Fossilization was poorly understood at the time, and what was spurious was less easy to detect than it is today. What makes things more confusing is that in the early modern period, "fossils" referred to all manner of things "out of the earth": minerals, metals, earths, and "figured stones." These latter included what we would nowadays understand as fossils, but not only fossils (Cooper 2007:88, 93). 300 years after Beringer, we "see" the iconoliths in a different way, and know that this was a deception that led people to "accept" fake fossils on the analogy of "true" fossils (cf. Gould 2000, Tylor 2004). By comparison, consider a work of art by the contemporary British artist David Nicholls (Figure 2), in which he invites us to separate out the real from the false in a cabinet of curiosities. The history of science is replete with examples of the difficulty of distinguishing authentic objects from imaginative reconstructions, whether deliberate forgeries or attempts to describe a reality known to be false.

My focus in this paper is on those objects that have come to be described as "eoliths," particularly in the context of contemporary anthropological discussions of authenticity. I suggest that such a discussion may have a bearing on our understanding of similar episodes in the history of science relating to the discovery and interpretation of material objects, and in a general way to the role of authenticating processes in archaeological discourse, particularly those relating to human origins. Eolith is a term for crude, but purportedly humanly worked stones that generated a great deal of interest between 1860 and 1930. They became a problem in the context of the debate surrounding the existence of pre-humans in Europe before the beginning of the geological epoch we now call the Pleistocene, so-called "Tertiary Man" (Daniel 1950:97-99). Although eoliths are now mostly interpreted to be of non-human origin, one of the more extraordinary features of the archaeological collections of many local museums in the southeast of England is the presence of boxes containing large numbers of these objects. Some are reverently curated if no longer displayed; others have suffered ignominious ends. There has been a recent revival of interest in the controversy surrounding eoliths (de Bont 2003; Grayson 1986; O'Connor 2007; Sommer 2004, 2011; Spencer 1988) as part of mainstream history of science, and to a lesser extent in terms of "alternative" histories of archaeology (Cremo and Thompson 1998, Feder 2002). Here, I review the problem particularly as it relates to debates surrounding authenticity from the perspective of the anthropological study of scientific practice (Shapin 1979:42), with its distinctive emphasis on process, meaning, and context. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

"These Rude Implements": Competing Claims for Authenticity in the Eolithic Controversy
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.