This painted plaster cast is of a Levallois flake of the type found in the Mousterian period of Europe, ca. 40,000-160,000 BP. The Levallois method refers to a specific way the core was flaked to create a Levallois flake, which was then used as a tool. This flake was struck from a ‘preferential’ Levallois core. The flake was probably made by a skilled modern flintknapper.
The dome on the core that produced this Levallois flake was defined by flaking from around the core’s perimeter, referred to as ‘radial’ or, more accurately, ‘centripetal’ preparation. The dome was expertly removed by one blow, which removed most of the core face. This is referred to as ‘preferential’ method of Levallois reduction, and the core is referred to as ‘preferential Levallois’. Preferential Levallois cores and Levallois flakes were common elements of the Neanderthal toolkit in Europe.
Stanford University received the Levallois core-and-flake set from the Laboratory for Human Evolutionary Studies, University of California, Berkeley. The flake is curated in the Stanford University Archaeology Collections, specimen 84.1165B. The flake fits onto a cast of the Levallois core, 84.1165A.
The Levallois reduction method emerged by about 300,000 BP from the preceding Acheulean, handaxe-focused technologies. The shift was significant in human evolution, as it marks the emergence of advanced levels of strategic planning in stone-flaking, which in turn implies cognitive capabilities that required enhanced working memory. These are hallmarks of high-level cognition like that seen in Homo sapiens, although the Levallois method was also applied by Homo neanderthalensis and other Homo species that lived during this period. In the Levallois method, the core is flaked by hard-hammer percussion to deliberately produce a flake of a specific shape; the flake shape is ‘predetermined’ by the way the core is set up. Levallois cores are bifacial—flaked on two faces—with one face carefully domed to create the high mass that will be removed in striking off the Levallois flake. The opposite face is flaked non-invasively to create platforms for striking off the ‘doming’ flakes from the core face. In this sense, there is a ‘hierarchical’ conception of the core, where one face is only used to prepare platforms, and the opposite face is only used to create the desired Levallois flakes. In technical parlance, this doming process involved manipulating the ‘convexity’ (the degree of doming) of the core face; lateral convexities are created by flaking along the sides of the core, and distal convexity is created by flaking the end of the core. Once the domed core face is set up, a platform is carefully prepared at the end of the dome, and the dome is struck off as the Levallois flake. The core may then be reworked, and another Levallois flake struck off, and so on. A variety of Levallois approaches have been defined by archaeologists.