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The Lower Palaeolithic, epitomized by the Acheulean biface technology, is characterized by a degree of temporal and geographical stasis that is unparalleled in the lithic record. The reasons for this phenomenon have provoked considerable debate. However, whilst it is important to understand the overall stability of this techno complex, it is also important to address the considerable degree of variability evident at the level of individual locales. Why, for instance, do bifaces show a range of shapes and degrees of refinement? Why do some show high degrees of symmetry whilst others do not? Whilst it is widely acknowledged that such variability is the result of a number of factors, to date proposed theories tend to stress one factor as being of paramount importance. These have encompassed, amongst others, the influence of raw material, subsistence function, cognitive ability and the social context of manufacture upon biface form. This article, informed by recent empirical, experimental and theoretical work, attempts to move away from these largely single-factor models to present a multi-factorial model for biface variability. This model envisages that variability is caused by the differing motivations and constraints - ecological, physiological, biological, cognitive and social - which act upon the individual agent at any given point in time. © 2009 SAGE Publications.

Original publication




Journal article


Journal of Social Archaeology

Publication Date





35 - 58