The creation of prehistoric man: Aimé Rutot and the Eolith Controversy, 1900 - 1920

Raf de Bont*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Although he died in obscurity, the Belgian museum conservator Aim?? Rutot (1847-1933) was one of the most famous European archaeologists between 1900 and 1920. The focus of his scientific interest was stone flints, which he claimed to be the oldest known human tools, so-called eoliths. Skeptics maintained that the flints showed no marks of human workmanship, but Rutot nevertheless managed to spread his "Eolithic theory" in an important part of the scientific community. This essay demonstrates how material objects--series of stone flints and sets of statues that purported to reconstruct prehistoric "races"--were given scientific meaning by Rutot. Rutot diffused his ideas by disseminating his stones and statues, thus enlarging his networks of influence. For a time he managed to be at the material center of a trade network as well as at the intellectual center of archaeological debate. The essay shows how Rutot achieved this status and how he eventually fell from favor among serious scientists.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)604 - 630
Number of pages27
JournalISIS. An International Review Devoted to the History of Science and its Cultural Influences
Publication statusPublished - 2003
Externally publishedYes


  • Mensch
  • Neolithikum
  • Forschung

Cite this