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


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.