Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory

, Volume 20, Issue 2, pp 194–211 | Cite as

Questions of Complexity and Scale in Explanations for Cultural Transitions in the Pleistocene: A Case Study from the Early Upper Paleolithic



Matching scales of observation and explanation is an essential challenge for archaeology, Paleolithic archaeology in particular. This paper presents a case study from the Early Upper Paleolithic (EUP) in the Eastern Mediterranean to illustrate some of the scalar issues in explaining transitions in the Pleistocene. The cultural sequence at Üçağızlı Cave I documents both continuity and change in a range of behaviors over approximately 12 ky. The sequence spans the transition from one EUP cultural unit, the Initial Upper Paleolithic (IUP) to another one, the Ahmarian. There is evidence for changes in lithic technology and retouched tool forms, human diets, and the role of the site within a regional land use system, but few if any of these changes are closely timed with the shift from one archaeological “culture” to another. In this particular case, local and regional transitions seem to be largely unconnected. However, considering the local situations allows a more precise focus on what the broader cultural transition represents and how it might be studied.


Upper Paleolithic Complex systems Emergent properties Transitions Scale 



I am grateful to the organizers of the workshop, Valentine Roux, Marie-Agnès Courty, and Virginie Guillomet-Malmassari, for inviting me to take part in a fascinating and stimulating set of presentations and discussions. I also want to recognize the fundamental contributions of many colleagues (Turkish, American, and Spanish) to the research at Üçağızlı Cave: these include Drs. Erksin Güleç (project co-director), İsmail Baykara, Ayșen Açıkkol, Susan Mentzer, Kenneth Martinez-Molina, and especially, Mary Stiner. Research at Üçağızlı Cave was carried out with the financial support of the United States National Science Foundation (grants SBR-9804722 and BCS-0106433) and the L.S.B. Leakey Foundation, the University of Arizona, Ankara University, and the Turkish Ministry of Culture. Finally, I thank J. Stephen Lansing for introducing me to Levin’s seminal 1992 paper.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of AnthropologyUniversity of ArizonaTucsonUSA

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