FRANÇOIS BORDES Paul Pettitt - Lithics – The Journal of the Lithic

P. Pettitt: François Bordes
Paul Pettitt
Department of Archaeology, University of Sheffield, Northgate House, West Street, Sheffield, S1 4ET, UK.
Contact email: [email protected]
François Bordes was one of the most influential Palaeolithic archaeologists in the western
European and North American paradigms. In a career that spanned some four decades he
devised the classificatory scheme that is still widely employed today, through meticulous
excavation of Quaternary sites in France from the Périgord to the Paris Basin, pioneering
experimental knapping, ensuring that the heuristic of l‟evolution buissonante came to define
how Palaeolithic archaeologists conceived of change, and, particularly, the introduction of
quantification to existing type fossil approaches to the Lower and Middle Palaeolithic. Here,
I survey briefly some main points of his work, and his contribution to and opinion of other
contributions to the „Mousterian debate‟. Far from being restricted to developing our
understanding of the Mousterian, Bordes‟ output was just as important in the Lower and
Upper Palaeolithic. His technotypological scheme, introduced in the 1950s, precipitated a
major change in the way prehistorians thought about the Palaeolithic record, and essentially
ushered in the modern intellectual world.
Full reference: Pettitt, P. 2009. François Bordes. In R. Hosfield, F. Wenban-Smith & M.
Pope (eds.) Great Prehistorians: 150 Years of Palaeolithic Research, 1859–2009 (Special
Volume 30 of Lithics: The Journal of the Lithic Studies Society): 201–212. Lithic Studies
Society, London.
Keywords: Lithics, Mousterian, Middle Palaeolithic, Typology, France
acquaintance with lithics from southwest
French sites — many of which he excavated
— yet was not afraid to extend the insights
he‘d gained from study of these sites to a
continental or even global stage. The purpose
of this paper is not to provide a
comprehensive review of Bordes‘ work, but
rather to ‗sample‘ areas in which his
influence was (and remains) profound, and
place these in something of a wider context.
Readers may find it somewhat biased in
favour of the Anglophone literature: it is
deliberately so, to show the profound effect
Bordes‘ work had on Anglo-American
archaeology, and this should not be taken to
lessen the considerable influence Bordes had
in France and many other European
countries. When discussing Bordes it is
For the middle decades of the twentieth
century, the Palaeolithic of the Périgord and
François Bordes (1919–1981: Figure 1) were
effectively synonymous. Along with his
wife, Denise de Sonneville-Bordes (1919–
2008) Bordes set the technological and
typological scene for the western European
research paradigm from the early 1950s, and
has left a legacy that still influences
researchers in Western and Central Europe
and North America to this day. He can
indeed be regarded as ―one of the founders
of modern Palaeolithic research‖ (Rolland &
Dibble 1990: 481). Like his predecessors
such as the Abbé Breuil (Davies, this
Great Prehistorians: 150 Years of Palaeolithic Research, 1859–2009 (Lithics 30)
inevitable that the subject of ‗Mousterian
variability‘ will come somewhat to the fore; I
have felt it necessary to provide a brief
‗history‘ of the debate that ensued after
Bordes recognised Middle Palaeolithic
assemblage patterning, but this is cursory
and uneven for a reason; this is a paper about
Bordes, not the Mousterian, and my
coverage is intended to elucidate Bordes‘
contribution and opinions about the
contribution of others to the debate. First,
however, I shall explore his wider interests
and achievements.
Figure 1: François Bordes (right) with F. Clark Howell. From the collection of Denise de SonnevilleBordes. Unknown photographer. [Photograph courtesy of Michel Lenoir]
Bordes‘ work was the cornerstone of my
doctoral research; I was investigating aspects
of Mousterian lithic assemblage variability,
in southwest France, using collections from
Bordes‘ own excavations at Combe Grenal
and Pech de l‘Azé. Bordes bestrode the
pages of the thesis like the colossus. My
supervisor Paul Mellars and I would often
discuss aspects of Bordes‘ work, and
particularly the debates between himself,
Perhaps the best way to crystallise Bordes‘
contribution to Palaeolithic archaeology is to
pose the question of what the field would be
like had he not made any contribution to it.
This question was, in fact, posed to me
during my PhD viva in 1998 by my
examiners, Clive Gamble and John Gowlett.
P. Pettitt: François Bordes
Bordes and Binford over what the
technological and typological variability
recognised within the Mousterian meant. I
had read most of Bordes‘ series of
publications of the 1950s and 1960s in which
he developed the méthode Bordes and in
which he developed the typological,
technological characterisation and statistical
analysis of lithic assemblages, and my copy
of the Typologie du Paléolithique Ancien et
Moyen, which I had bought in Les Eyzies in
1993, never made it from my desk to the
shelf until I had finished writing. Yet the
question totally threw me. I had taken
Bordes‘ work totally for granted, and it took
some mental gymnastics to even try to
conceive what the academic field of Lower
and Middle Palaeolithic archaeology might
have been like if Bordes had not made such a
pronounced contribution to the field. It could
easily have happened, given his history and
early interests. What if, for example, he had
stuck with botany; specialised in geology;
written science fiction as Francis Carsac fulltime; or worse, died as a resistance fighter in
the second world war? Our understanding of
the lithic record would be considerably
poorer for want of his pioneering
experimental knapping (Bordes & Crabtree
1969, and see Dibble & Debénath 1991:
222). There would be no vocabulary that
focussed prehistorians on why Middle
Palaeolithic assemblages varied, and
therefore no structured debate as to the
behavioural capacities of the Neanderthals.
Lewis Binford would not have had
Mousterian variability to kick-start his
promotion of the ‗new archaeology‘, nor
would Paul Mellars have a chrono-cultural
sequence to demonstrate assemblage change
over time. In turn, this would not have
stimulated Harold Dibble to introduce
perspectives from New World archaeology
as explanations for the dynamics of lithic
variability, and overall we would not have
arrived at our understanding today of the
variable trajectories of Middle Palaeolithic
technologies that resulted from Neanderthal
behavioural flexibility (Hovers & Kuhn
2006). Of course one can argue that others
would have found the route at some point,
but one wonders how far behind the
discipline would have been if, for example,
Palaeolithic lithic analysis had missed the
‗new archaeology boat‘ of the mid-1960s.
Bordes was, for much of his career,
Professor of Prehistory and Quaternary
Geology at the University of Bordeaux,
where he had studied botany and geology in
the 1930s. At Bordeaux he inherited an
intellectual tradition that could be traced
back through Peyrony to Breuil, in which the
sequences of Palaeolithic assemblages
derived from the rockshelters of the
Dordogne were seen to have wider (at least
western European) significance, unfolded in
a temporal succession over Pleistocene time,
and could be described and distinguished on
the basis of technotypological traits which
formed the basis of an artefact taxonomic
system (Sackett 1991, and see also Davies,
this volume). Bordes, however, brought
archaeology; his contact with Raymond
Vaufrey and Jean Piveteau in Paris during
the second world war led to research on the
loess sequences and Lower and Middle
Palaeolithic archaeology of the Somme and
Seine Basins just after fighting ended,
resulting in the presentation of a thesis to the
Facultés des Sciences in Paris. From this
time onwards Bordes was working on a
standardised typology of the Lower and
Middle Palaeolithic that culminated in the
Typologie (Bordes 1961b). The use of
fossiles directeurs had been promoted by the
brothers Bouyssonie, but it was only with the
méthode Bordes that assemblages could be
compared objectively in terms of the
frequency of these type fossils (Binford &
Binford 1966: 238; Kozlowski 1992). The
emergent patterning revealed, in Bordes‘
term, l‟évolution buissonante — branching
(or bushy) evolution — through which
archaeologists could recognise that lithic
assemblages, and thus behaviour, evolved in
complex ways as did biological species
(Bordes 1950a). Straus & Clark (e.g. 1986)
coined the term phylogenetic paradigm to
Great Prehistorians: 150 Years of Palaeolithic Research, 1859–2009 (Lithics 30)
describe French lithic systematics, which to
some seemed self-contained and inward
looking, although which, with the benefit of
hindsight, had a profound effect upon later
twentieth century Palaeolithic archaeology.
Sackett (1991: 132), for example, has
defined the ‗Bordesian era‘ as the period
with which ―we enter modern times‖.
Bordes‘ method ―is [still] considered the
standard typology for the Lower and Middle
Palaeolithic in most of the western Old
World‖ (Dibble & Debénath 1991: 222). To
Sackett, the Bordesian era ―saw a significant
leap in the degree of resolution with which
prehistorians were able to exercise control
over the empirical contents of the [Middle
and] Upper Palaeolithic record‖ (ibid: 133).
Implications of this new ability to quantify,
characterise, compare and interpret lithic
assemblages were profound, and affected
even recovery methods and sampling
strategies; ―excavation took on the character
of stratigraphic dissection…all lithic
materials were now saved…techniques were
devised to use…palaeoenvironmental data in
conjunction with the artefact industries to
seriate site stratigraphies holistically, thus
recasting regional taxonomic schemes into
the form of ‗chronostratigraphies‘ which
eventually came to be supplemented by a
time line of radiocarbon dates (ibid: 133). In
this sense, in addition to provoking for the
first time rigour in recovery strategies,
Bordes‘ scheme can be seen as transitional,
in the sense that it both represented the most
sophisticated expression of relative schemes
chronostratigraphy that was just around the
formative period — that in which he was
developing his method and interests and
essentially laying down the contribution for
which he is mainly remembered —
essentially spans two decades from 1950 to
1970. Subsequent to his studies of the
northern French loess sites in the late 1940s
his work progressed from initial outlines of
his method (e.g. Bordes 1950b) to the
recognition of l‟évolution buissonante;
discrimination of the Mousterian, Tayacien
and Levalloisian (e.g. Bordes & Bourgon
1951b); refinement of technological criteria,
notably Levalloisian (e.g. Bordes 1952a,
1953a); statistical analysis (e.g. Bordes
1953b); further refinement of typological
definitions (e.g. Bordes 1953c, 1954a);
stratigraphy and chronology, particularly
with the new radiocarbon technique (e.g.
Bordes 1956a, 1957a, 1958a, 1960);
interpretation of Middle Palaeolithic lithic
assemblage variability (Bordes 1961a, 1970);
and Upper Palaeolithic typology and wider
behavioural aspects including art (e.g.
Bordes 1958b, 1963, 1964a, 1964b, 1965a).
The excavation and study of cave and
rockshelter assemblages spans the entirety of
Bordes‘ formative period, involving a
minimum of 38 publications on 29 sites
(Table 1).
Although Bordes tends to be associated most
strongly with the Mousterian, it is clear from
the table that his attention was focussed as
much on the Lower and Upper Palaeolithic,
with the Lower Palaeolithic represented by
some 24% (n=7) of his published sites and
the Upper Palaeolithic by 31% (n=9), i.e. a
little over 50%. The association of Bordes
primarily with the Middle Palaeolithic has
come about by the number of publications
relating to the period (44% of the total using
the publication list in Bordes 1992), which is
not surprising, given that they were critical
to the development of the méthode Bordes.
Bordes introduced statistics to the study of
lithic assemblages in 1950, enabling both
qualitative and quantitative approaches to
lithics to be employed simultaneously.
Assemblages would be characterised on the
basis of a combination of his typological trait
list and technological attributes, following
which they could be subjected to statistical
characterisation. Although Bordes was a
highly prolific researcher and writer, his
P. Pettitt: François Bordes
Sites by period
Lower Palaeolithic
Carrièrre Bouchon (Seine)
Pech de l‘Azé Nord
L‘Atelier Commont
Pech de l‘Azé II
Middle Palaeolithic
Le Moustier
Pech de l‘Azé Nord
La Chaise
L‘Abri Armand Chadourne
Pech de l‘Azé
Mas Viel
La Micoque
Roc de Marsal
Upper Palaeolithic
Abilly (Solutrean)
Villejuif (Aurignacian)
Evreux (Epipalaeolithic)
Gare-de-Couze (Magdalenian)
Roc de Gavaudun (Gravettian)
Laugerie-Haute (Solutrean)
Corbiac (Gravettian)
Publication reference
1948a, 1959
Bordes & Bourgon 1948
Bordes & Bourgon 1950, 1951a
1952b, 1953e, 1965b
1955b, Bordes et al. 1966
1948b, 1949
1954e, 1958b, Bordes & de Sonneville-Bordes 1958
1963, 1964a
1968a, Bordes & Crabtree 1969
Table 1: Selected publications by Bordes on the stratigraphy and assemblages of major Palaeolithic
sites in France & neighbouring countries 1950–1970. This is not meant to be exhaustive.
assemblages of southwestern France could
be divided into four main types:
Bordes, either working alone or initially in
collaboration with Maurice Bourgon,
developed his classificatory scheme of
Mousterian variants between 1947 and 1965,
although the méthode Bordes was effectively
in place by 1953 (e.g. Bordes 1953c). From
that point Bordes expanded his system
geographically. The scheme was developed
using sites and materials deriving from the
Périgord to the Seine Basin. In 1981, after
twenty-five years of development and
discovery, Bordes (1981) felt that his scheme
for western Europe was still justified and that
additional aspects of Mousterian variability
could be recognised from northern Europe to
the Near East.
Mousterian of Acheulian Tradition
(characterised by the presence of
handaxes and thus seen to be descended
from the preceding Acheulian, as well as
numerous scrapers, denticulates and, in
particular, backed knives). This he
subdivided into Type A (chronologically
earlier and with higher frequencies of
handaxes) and Type B (chronologically
later, with fewer handaxes and a general
rise in the importance of backed knives)
Typical Mousterian (with no singularly
predominant form, differing from the
previous by sharply reduced frequencies
Great Prehistorians: 150 Years of Palaeolithic Research, 1859–2009 (Lithics 30)
of handaxes and backed knives)
common origin, and more original variants
found in Central and Eastern Europe
suggested centres of origin that were
independent of western Europe (ibid: 108;
1968b: 106–20).
Denticulate Mousterian (dominated by
denticulated and notched tools, with no
handaxes or backed knives and the rest of
the assemblage comprised of scrapers,
burins and borers in relatively low
More importantly, the recognition of
originally descriptive, gradually called for an
interpretation‘ (Rolland 1981: 16). A critical
belief of the phylogenetic paradigm of Breuil
–Peyrony–Bordes/de Sonneville-Bordes was
that the industrial phases recognised through
technotypological analysis had cultural
importance in that they constituted material
expressions of specific ethnic groups
(Sackett 1991: 111–2). Others disagreed.
Bordes expressed his views very clearly, for
Charentian Mousterian (with few
handaxes or backed knives, but with high
frequencies of scrapers). This he
subdivided into two subgroups on
technological grounds; the Quina variant
in which Levallois technology was
absent or rare, and the Ferrassie variant
in which Levallois technology was
relatively common.
Taking the two subdivisions of the
Mousterian of Acheulian Tradition and two
of the Charentian Mousterian into account,
this divided the French Mousterian into six
variants. Levallois technology crosscuts most
of these. Statistical exploration of these
variants, from sites in the Périgord (e.g.
Doran & Hodson 1966; Callow & Webb
1977: 1981) and the Périgord and Near East
(Binford & Binford 1966) tended to support
these major assemblage divisions that Bordes
had identified — ―the typology seems to do
what it was intended to do‖ (Kuhn 1991:
245) — although exactly how much these
support the reality of the subtleties of the
subdivisions is debatable (Mellars 1996:
“What is the significance of this variability?
We tend to interpret these different industries
as reflecting the cultural differences of
human groups in possession of varied
traditions. Others prefer to explain these
variations as the result of different activities
carried on by people of the same culture.
And others again think that the Mousterians
represent different steps in the evolution of
the Mousterian culture”
(Bordes 1972: 146)
In support of his ‗cultural‘ interpretation
Bordes suggested that the ―four main parallel
lines [of the Mousterian, i.e. the
variants]…did not interfere with one another
to any great extent‖ (1968: 141), and
famously noted that ―in primitive societies,
conservatism is usually very strong. If one
supposes that a Mousterian of Acheulian
tradition man married a Quina woman, she
might have gone on using the thick scrapers
to which she was accustomed, but we doubt
that her daughters would have done the
same‖ (Bordes 1972: 147). Some countered
that there was too little geographical
isolation of the variants for such lack of
interaction to pertain — effectively an
argument stemming from the notion that
Other than the prolongation of Acheulian
traditions in the form of bifaces, which is
implicit in his naming of the Mousterian of
Acheulian Tradition, Bordes noted that the
origins of these variants was difficult to
establish, largely because of our poor
understanding of the lithic industries of the
Last Interglacial from which he assumed
they all derived (Bordes 1981: 108). All he
could say was that the vast geographical
range of diverse Mousterian types resulted
from the phenomena of convergent evolution
and human dispersals from a perceived
P. Pettitt: François Bordes
allopatric speciation could apply to lithic
technology — but these objections could be
conveniently dismissed on the grounds that
―man is more ready to exchange his genes
than his customs, as the whole history of
Europe demonstrates‖ and in any case,
because ―the Palaeolithic world was an
empty world…the population was certainly
very thin on the ground…a man must often
have lived and died without meeting anyone
of another culture, although he knew ‗that
there are men living beyond the river who
make handaxes‘‖ (Bordes 1968: 144). How
sharp a contrast in reasoning to current
contemporaneity of Neanderthals and Homo
sapiens and on the basis of which promote
notions of contact and interaction as factors
in the Middle to Upper Palaeolithic transition
(e.g. Mellars 1999, 2004)!
objectively considered
explanations; two, in fact (1961a). He felt
that it was unlikely that each variant
corresponded to activities in a particular
season and thus could be distinguished at
this level, as most of the assemblages he
worked with comprised abundant lithics
which were derived from thick palimpsest
assemblages which would be pushing
interpretative reason to squeeze into single
season occupations. Similarly, he felt that
one could eliminate an environmental
correlation, as several variants could be
found at the same location and within at least
broadly similar environmental contexts.
Debate instead revolved around two other
potential factors; Paul Mellars‘ observations
that there was at least a degree of diachronic
patterning of the southwest French
Mousterian variants, and Lewis and Sally
Binford‘s contention that function played an
important role in constituting the variants.
Binford and Binford perceived weaknesses
in Bordes‘ preferred interpretation;
Paul Mellars (e.g. 1965, 1969) noted that a
degree of chronological patterning could be
observed among Mousterian variants of the
Périgord region, whereby in situations of
interstratification at sites such as CombeGrenal, Abri Chadourne, Abri Caminade-Est,
Roc-en-Pail and others, the Quina variant of
the Charentian always overlay the Ferrassie
variant, and the MTA tended to overlie all
variants and was typically located high in the
Middle Palaeolithic stratigraphy, often close
to the lower margins of the Upper
Palaeolithic strata. Mellars in fact saw his
observation as giving ―by far the strongest
support to the major features of the Bordes
stratigraphic and chronological distribution
of the principal industrial variants in the
southwestern French sites‖ (1996: 183).
Mellars was able to refine his observations
over the next two decades or more; the
application of TL dating demonstrated the
relatively recent age of the Mousterian of
Acheulian Tradition as one would expect
from the stratigraphical observations (e.g.
Mellars 1986, 1989, 1992); and eventually
his observations were supported by the work
“good arguments can be presented against
such an explanation, based on our
knowledge of formal variation in material
remains of populations of Homo sapiens.
Nevertheless, such arguments remain
opinion, for as yet no one has proposed a
means of testing Bordes‟ hypothesis…formal
variation in material items that is
inexplicable in terms of function or raw
materials can be termed stylistic variation;
these stylistic variations tend to cluster
spatially in direct relationship to the amount
of social distance maintained between
societies. Spatial clusterings of the various
Mousterian assemblages are not
demonstrable…in the Dordogne…[they]
occur interdigitated at several localities”
(Binford & Binford 1966: 240)
To some extent this was an unfair argument
as the Binfords had used spatial (i.e.
anthropological) data, and failed to account
for diachronic change in the distribution of
social groups, but they had at least identified
the inherent untestability of loosely-defined
‗cultural‘ interpretations.
Great Prehistorians: 150 Years of Palaeolithic Research, 1859–2009 (Lithics 30)
of Rolland (1988), all clear testimony to the
robusticity of Bordes‘ patterning. Given his
general lack of attention to its tenets,
however, Bordes was clearly unconvinced by
Mellars‘ argument, dealing with this in
simple, pithy sentences, e.g. ―the hypothesis
that different Mousterian types represent an
evolution of the same general Mousterian
culture is negated by the numerous
interstratifications known today‖ (1972:
147), and ―the many interstratifications
encountered in the deposits shows that we
are dealing with different lines, and not as
was formerly thought with an evolution‖
(1968: 141). Mellars made no claims to
explain all Mousterian variants in terms of
chronological change, so this should have
been acceptable to Bordes, especially as
there was a diachronic element to his own
classificatory scheme where the Mousterian
of Acheulian Tradition of Type A preceded
that of Type B (see above). Why this was
apparently so unacceptable to Bordes is
unclear, although presumably a demonstrable
diachronic element to the Quina, Ferrassie
and Mousterian of Acheulian Tradition types
A and B — i.e. most of the Mousterian
variants — would leave too little
contemporaneity between remaining variants
to allow for his cultural interpretation.
past human systems of adaptation‖ (Binford
1973, quoted in Binford 1983: 153). The
Binfords believed that ―the use of
multivariate statistics allows us to partition
Mousterian assemblages into subunits of
artefacts which can reasonably be
interpreted as representing tool-kits for the
performance of different sets of tasks…these
subunits of artefacts vary independently of
one another and may be combined in
numerous ways‖ (Binford & Binford 1966,
quoted in Binford 1983: 123, my emphasis).
Thus, contra Bordes‘ cultural interpretation,
their ―findings suggest that a great deal of
the variability in Mousterian assemblages
can be interpreted as functional variability”
(ibid: 123, original emphasis). Bordes felt
that this conclusion clearly merited greater
consideration than the diachronic argument,
e.g. ―the ‗different activities‘ hypothesis,
outlined by Lewis and Sally Binford, needs
closer examination‖ (1972: 147). Despite
this, Bordes was similarly dismissive of their
interpretation as he was of Mellars‘. He
argued that, even if one accepted the validity
of the factor analysis on which the Binfords
based their division of site types and thus
functions, a number of objections could be
raised. Tool types may co-vary with each
other, but this tells us little if their function is
unknown. Ethnographically, different tool
kits are known, but always within the same
site; how then, can we expect distinct tool
kits to dominate any specific assemblage,
especially when we know these are
palimpsests? Why do open air sites not yield
different assemblages to cave and rockshelter
sites? What of regional-scale differences
between variants, where, for example, in the
Charente, as the name implies, the
Charentian Mousterian (Quina and Ferrassie
variants) dominates and the Mousterian of
Acheulian Tradition is exceptionally rare;
and Provence, where the Mousterian of
Acheulian Tradition is hardly known?
Bordes rightly asked why activities were so
common in the Dordogne that were
apparently unnecessary in Provence and rare
in Charente. It is important to note that to
Bordes, his cultural interpretation was not
Lewis Binford, who, like Mellars, had
initially in
collaboration with Sally Binford (e.g.
Binford & Binford 1966) explored Bordes‘
variants using multivariate statistical analysis
on French and Near Eastern assemblages.
The Binfords found them to be relatively
robust, even if, as discussed above, they
found his interpretations of the resulting
patterning unconvincing. Turning to
interpretation themselves, they explored
various potential explanations. Bordes had
effectively precipitated a major awakening in
Palaeolithic archaeology as, to Binford, this
was ―an appeal to archaeologists to explain
their observations…[addressing the] difficult
task of determining what our taxonomies are
measuring and what [Bordes‘] demonstrated
patterning refers to in the organisation of
P. Pettitt: François Bordes
mutually exclusive with the functional
argument. Assuming that different ways of
performing the same tasks existed…―why
not admit that the different Mousterian types
just represent these different ways, and that
the difference is indeed cultural?‖ (1972:
149). To him, it was simply different ways of
doing similar things.
enough to be the subject of major intellectual
paradigm shifts in the investigation of
Palaeolithic lithic technology. ―If correct, the
reduction models…would not invalidate
Bordes‘ typology. On the contrary, it would
strengthen the use of the typology as an
analytical tool in interpreting Palaeolithic
assemblages‖ (Dibble 1987a: 116). The first
manifestation of these models, in which
Rolland (1977) suggested that aspects of
Mousterian variability related to ―differing
degrees of secondary modification [i.e.
resharpening]‖ clearly ―relies on the Bordes
classificatory system‖ (ibid: 251, my
emphasis) and ―confirms the usefulness of
the Bordes system‖ (ibid: 35) which was ―an
important means for describing and
comparing Lower and Middle Palaeolithic
assemblages (Dibble 1987a: 116).
The last major reorientation of thought about
Bordesian Mousterian variability arose in the
late 1980s, stemming from a particularly
North American school of anthropologicallyinformed lithic analysis. New models were
initially proposed by Nicholas Rolland and
Harold Dibble; most researchers tend to
quote the latter — Dibble wrote more
prolifically on the models and pursued their
specific applications through to 1995 —
although the original notion was Rolland‘s
and he should be credited far more than he
is. According to these models (e.g. Rolland
1977, 1981, 1988; Dibble 1984, 1987a,
1987b, 1991, 1995; Rolland & Dibble 1990;
Dibble & Rolland 1992), variability of the
major typological forms on which
Mousterian variability was predicated
(notably scrapers), resulted from the degree
and manner in which they were resharpened
during use. The novel element of such
models was that, effectively for the first
time, formal type fossils of Bordes‘ system
were not seen as deliberate products, but as
relatively unintended by-products of a fluid
technological system in which only
generalised tool forms were consciously
desired. The form of these general products
would be determined by the quality and
availability of raw material, and the
concomitant intensity of use wherein
resharpening of one or more edges might
take certain typological forms of scraper in
particular from one Bordesian category to
another. It is not important here to discuss
the specifics of the tool reduction models
(see for example Mellars 1996 and Pettitt
1999 for critical discussions), and as these
were forwarded mainly after Bordes‘ death,
their relevance to this paper is simply to
show how Bordes‘ system was robust
Where exactly does Bordes stand in the
history of Palaeolithic archaeology? He was
a colossus indeed, but with one foot firmly
rooted in the French intellectual tradition of
the first few decades of the twentieth
century, and with the other firmly rooted in
the ‗scientific‘ traditions of modern research.
For the Bordesian era was transitional, one
―which redefined Peyrony‘s world in
Bordesian terms…and culminated...[in]…the
considerably more complex world of
industrial flux with which a prehistorian of
today must contend‖ (Sackett 1991: 135).
Bordes had inherited the ‗palaeontological
paradigm‘ from predecessors such as Breuil
and Peyrony, but whilst retaining the critical
basis of this paradigm — the type fossil —
he shifted attention towards inclusive
quantification of lithic assemblages, in a
context that viewed them as samples of
varying populations. One can, in particular,
Palaeolithic archaeology out of the phase of
linear geological epochs and ensured an
organic heuristic, in keeping with biological
Great Prehistorians: 150 Years of Palaeolithic Research, 1859–2009 (Lithics 30)
(and thus palaeontological) change that has
endured to the present.
Bordes, F. 1946. La Stratigraphie des limons
quaternaires de la carrière Bouchon à Ivry (seine)
et ses répercussions possibles sur la chronologie
préhistoriques. Bulletin de la Société Géologique
Française 16: 503–10.
Bordes, F. 1948a. Les couches moustériennes du
gisement du Moustier (Dordogne). Typologie et
techniques de taille. Bulletin de la Société
Préhistorique Française 45: 113–25.
Bordes, F. 1948b. Une station aurignacienne in situ
dan les loess de Villejuif. Bulletin de le Société
Préhistorique Française 45: 107–8.
Bordes, F. 1949. Le limons de la région de Villejuif et
leurs industries préhistoriques. L‟Anthropologie 53:
Bordes, F. 1950a. L‘évolution buissonante des
industries en Europe occidentale. Considérations
théoriques sur le Paléolithique ancien et moyen.
L‟Anthropologie 54: 393–420.
Bordes, F. 1950b. Principes d‘une méthode d‘étude
des techniques et de la typologie du Paléolithique
ancien et moyen. L‟Anthropologie 54: 19–34.
Bordes, F. 1950c. Un abri du solutréen à Abilly
Préhistorique Française 47: 146–53.
Bordes, F. 1951b. Une industrie épipaléolithique à
Evreux. Bulletin de la Société Préhistorique
Française 48: 520–38.
Bordes, F. 1952a. Technique Levallois et Levallois
ancien. L‟Anthropologie 56: 554–6.
Bordes, F. 1952b. Les industries moustériennes de la
grotte de La Chaise. Premiers résultats et diagnose
provisoire. Bulletin de la Société Préhistorique
Française 49: 528–31.
Bordes, F. 1953a. Levalloisien et Moustérien. Bulletin
de la Société Préhistorique Française 50: 226–34.
Bordes, F. 1953b. Typologie et statistique.
Observations sur le note de Melles Alimen et
Vignal. Bulletin de la Société Préhistorique
Française 50: 74–8.
Bordes, F. 1953c. Essaie de classification des
industries ‗Moustériennes‘. Bulletin de la Société
Préhistorique Française 50: 457–66.
L‟Anthropologie 57: 1–44.
Bordes, F. 1953e. Station de La Chaise, grotte Suard.
Les industries moustériennes, premiers résultats.
Mémoires de la Société Historique et
Archéologique de la Charente années 1952–3: 17–
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III, pointes moustériennes, racloirs convergents et
déjetés, limaces. Bulletin de la Société
Préhistorique Française 51: 336–8.
Bordes, F. 1954b. L‘abri Armand Chadourne aux
Eyzies. Bulletin de la Société Préhistorique
Française 51: 229–54.
Bordes, F. 1954c. Les gisements du Pech de l‘Azé
(Dordogne). I, le Moustérien de Tradition
Acheuléenne. L‟Anthropologie 58: 401–32.
One cannot underestimate the heuristic and
disciplinary importance of the Mousterian
debate, which Bordes will forevermore be
associated with. It ―provided the major
intellectual focus for Middle Palaeolithic
research for over two decades‖ (Dibble
1991: 240). To a certain extent it continues
today, at least as it is replayed in university
lectures as an object lesson in how
archaeologists recognise artefact patterning
and how they interpret it. Thus, while
modern research into Middle Palaeolithic
lithics has to some extent broadened its
horizons into raw material effects on
technology, the chaîne opératoire, transport
in the landscape and the wider environmental
context, the système Bordes is still there,
underpinning the classificatory roots of the
discipline; ―the Bordes typology has not
been entirely forsaken: it remains the preeminent descriptive language for Middle
Palaeolithic retouched tools, and the
Mousterian ‗facies‘ that issue from its
application continue to structure much
comparative research‖ (Kuhn 1995: 15). I
suspect it always will be with us.
I am grateful to the editors, particularly Rob Hosfield,
for their kind invitation to contribute to this special
issue, and for allowing me the opportunity to think
about Bordes. For help with the production of the
paper I owe a debt to Jean-Guillaume Bordes and,
particularly, Michel Lenoir and Robin Dennell for
their comments on a draft, and two anonymous
referees for their improvements. Needless to say, any
remaining mistakes are my own.
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