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Durham University

Department of Archaeology

Research Postgraduates

Publication details for Professor Mark White

White, M.J. & Jacobi, R.M (2002). Two sides to every story: bout coupé handaxes revisited. Oxford Journal of Archaeology 21(2): 109-133.

Author(s) from Durham


Bout coupé handaxes are widely considered to be a cultural and typological marker for the Middle Palaeolithic in Britain, and are traditionally dated to around the end of the Last Interglacial or the beginning of the Devensian glaciation. Much debate has surrounded the typological validity of this form, but relatively little attention has been paid to the stratigraphical integrity of the sample. This paper takes a fresh look at the bout coupé problem using a select sample of better provenanced pieces and employs the most current chronological frameworks. We conclude that there is a temporally restricted bout coupé phenomenon in the British Isles, but contrary to previous claims these handaxes cannot be regarded as an unequivocal marker for the Mousterian and nor do they belong to the early Upper Pleistocene. Rather the bout coupé phenomenon marks the recolonization of Britain by Neanderthal populations during OIS 3 (59–41 ka). This further suggests a bipartite division of the British Middle Palaeolithic, each period having a quasi-distinctive lithic signature.