Harold L. Dibble
Harold Lewis Dibble is an American Paleolithic archaeologist best known for his theory of lithic reduction and his methodological advancements in archaeological fieldwork in France, Egypt, and Morocco. He is currently Professor of Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania and Curator-in-Charge of the European Section of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.
Dibble spent his youth in California, Florida, and Sierra Vista, Arizona before attending college at the University of Arizona. In addition to managing a Shakey's Pizza while living in California, he also drummed for a short-lived band in Sierra Vista named Joy, who once performed as the opening act for Alice Cooper.
He is married to Lee Dibble with two sons, Chip and Flint. Flint is a classical Archaeologist. He enjoys cooking (his favorite food is boudin) and has published a volume, The Human Evolution Cookbook, that married evolutionary humor with recipes like "Habilis Hash" and "Laetoli Trail Mix".
Dibble received his B.A. in 1971 and Ph.D. in 1981, both from the University of Arizona. He wrote his dissertation under the direction of Professor (now Emeritus) Arthur J. Jelinek, an American archaeologist who had been trained in North American prehistoric archaeology by Leslie A. White and who worked on both the Paleolithic of Western Eurasia and the Mimbres culture in New Mexico. While a graduate student in the late 1970s, Dibble excavated with the French prehistorian François Bordes at the site of Pech de l'Azé IV in Carsac-Aillac, France, with whom he developed a strong mentoring relationship.
The majority of Dibble's archaeological work has been centered around Neandertals and early modern humans in Western Eurasia, and more particularly on the stone tools which are thought to have been the primary mode of their material culture. He wrote his dissertation on the stone tool technology of Tabun Cave in Israel and then focused primarily on France, with other research on the Zagros stone tool industries until beginning work in Egypt and Morocco in 2001 and 2006 respectively. In addition to his excavation work, he has maintained a quintessentially skeptical view of symbolism in the Middle Paleolithic, on which he has published several articles, and he has strongly advocated quantitative methods in archaeology. To that end, he pioneered the use of GIS and total stations in excavations and has worked to quantify the understanding of stone tool manufacture via reproductive experiments.
Dibble's most well-known contribution to archaeological thought is commonly known as scraper reduction, built off of ideas first developed by Jelinek and George Carr Frison. Dibble’s hypothesis, with testability typical of American archaeology and borne out by extensive material study, is that as Middle Paleolithic scrapers are subject to retouching, their forms change in a predictable manner, and the many scraper types of the Bordian typology represent different stages in the continuum of reduction from fresh blank to exhausted transverse scraper. Moreover, the intensity of reduction, as measured by quantity of more reduced versus less reduced scrapers, strongly correlates to availability of raw material.
An analogy used repeatedly by Dibble is that of a pencil. Its initial form is long, with a full eraser and blunt writing end, which is then sharpened and used repeatedly until discarded in a much shorter form with a worn eraser. This is the form in which the pencil would be found by someone digging through the trash, though it bears little resemblance to the initially produced form of the pencil. If pencils are more plentiful, then they may be more readily discarded earlier in their use life; if they are more scarce, then they will be resharpened far more and discarded in a far smaller state. This parallels the forms in which archaeologists find the used and discarded forms of Middle Paleolithic scrapers.
At the time of its proposition, this was a relatively radical idea, as prior to then it was generally assumed that the typological categories were both discrete and desired forms. This idea was the basis to an earlier feud, the Bordes-Binford Debate, between Bordes and Lewis R. Binford. While Bordes posited that various facies of the Mousterian, defined typologically, were the result of different cultures, Binford maintained that each of the facies was functionally defined. Dibble's theory, by implying that stone tools as discovered by archaeologists are the result of a constant process of use and reuse and that what is excavated is often at the end of a long and complicated use-life, forced a reexamination of the entire debate.
As of 2007, Dibble is director or co-director of three ongoing projects: excavations at the cave of Roc de Marsal, Campagne, Dordogne, France since 2004; excavations at the Grotte des Contrabandiers (Smugglers' Cave) in Témara, Morocco since 2006; and the Abydos Survey for Paleolithic Sites  in the high desert surrounding Abydos, Egypt since 2001.
Roc de Marsal excavations were completed in 2010. In 2011 he began directing excavations at La Ferassie, also in the Dordogne region were 6 Neandertal skeletons were found in 1913 and one in 1972.
Additionally, he has directed or co-directed projects in France continuously since 1987, beginning at Combe-Capelle Bas  in the Couze Valley, Dordogne, France from 1987 to 1990. This was followed by work with his former Ph.D. student Shannon J.P. McPherron at Cagny-l'Epinette , Somme, France from 1991 to 1994 and Fontéchevade , Charente-Maritimes, France from 1994-1998. Just prior to excavating Roc de Marsal, Dibble and McPherron reexcavated Pech de l'Azé IV , where Dibble had worked with Bordes in the 1970s, from 1999 to 2002.
A major push of Dibble's research program has been to reexcavate known and previously excavated sites using modern methodology. This has been done in conjunction with reanalysis of the old lithic collections, and, when combined, these allow comparison between the old and new collections. The comparison illuminates what was kept and what was discarded by the previous excavators, giving new life and interpretive value to the older and generally much more biased collections.
Computer Applications in Archaeology
Dibble and McPherron have developed several freeware computer applications for the Windows OS to facilitate archaeological fieldwork, including NewPlot (an archaeologically specific GIS program), EDM-CE and EDM Windows (data collector programs for use with Total Stations for Windows Mobile and Windows respectively), and E4 (data collection program for artifact analysis). Their system has been adopted by a number of other excavators throughout North America, Europe, and Africa, and they have published extensively on these methods.
- Homepage - University of Pennsylvania Faculty
- Faculty Profile - University of Pennsylvania Department of Anthropology
- Old Stone Age - archaeological research group run by Dibble and McPherron
- OSA software - freeware for archaeological excavations and analysis developed by Dibble and McPherron
- Transcript - Nova's Neanderthals on Trial, in which Dibble is interviewed
- The Story of Pech IV - from the Penn Museum website
- Harold L. Dibble at the Internet Movie Database
- Dibble, H.L., D. Williamson, and B.M. Evans. 2003. The Human Evolution Cookbook. Philadelphia: University Museum Press. ISBN 1-931707-49-9
- McPherron, S. and H.L. Dibble. 2001. Using Computers in Archaeology: A Practical Guide. New York: McGraw-Hill Publishing. ISBN 0-7674-1735-6
- Debenath, A. and Dibble, H.L. 1994. Handbook of Paleolithic Typology: Lower and Middle Paleolithic of Europe. Philadelphia: University Museum Press. ISBN 0-924171-23-5
- H. Dibble and O.Bar-Yosef The Definition and Interpretation of Levallois Technology Prehistory Press, ISBN 1-881094-12-X
- Dibble, H.L., S.J.P. McPherron, P.G. Chase, W.R. Farrand, and A. Debénath. 2006. Taphonomy and the concept of Paleolithic cultures: The case of the Tayacian from Fontéchevade. PaleoAnthropology:1-21.
- Dibble, H.L.; McPherron, S.J.P. (2006). "The missing Mousterian". Current Anthropology 47: 777–803. doi:10.1086/506282.
- Dibble, H.L., P. Goldberg, S.J.P. McPherron, A. Turq, and D. Sandgathe. 2006. "Humans, climate and fire at the Mousterian site of Roc de Marsal, France," in Annual Meeting of the Geological Society of America. Philadelphia, PA: Geological Society of America.
- Olszewski, D.I.; Dibble, H.L.; Schurmans, U.A.; McPherron, S.J.P.; Smith, J.R. (2005). "High desert Paleolithic survey at Abydos, Egypt". Journal of Field Archaeology 30: 283–303. doi:10.1179/009346905791072233.
- McPherron, S.J.P.; Dibble, H.L.; Goldberg, P. (2005). "Z.". Geoarchaeology 20: 243–262. doi:10.1002/gea.20048.
- Dibble, H.L.; Schurmans, U.A.; Iovita, R.P.; McLaughlin, M.V. (2005). "The measurement and interpretation of cortex and lithic assemblages". American Antiquity 70 (3): 545–560. doi:10.2307/40035313.
- Dibble, H.L.; Raczek, T.P.; McPherron, S.J.P. (2005). "Excavator bias at the site of Pech de l'Azé IV, France" (PDF). Journal of Field Archaeology 30: 317–328. doi:10.1179/009346905791072242.
- McPherron, S.J.P.; Dibble, H.L. (2002). "Using computers in adverse field conditions: Tales from the Egyptian desert" (PDF). The SAA Archaeological Record 3: 28–32.
- Dibble, H.L.; Chase, P.; McPherron, S.; Tuffreau, A. (1997). "Testing the Reality of a "Living Floor" with Archaeological Data". American Antiquity 62 (4): 629–651. doi:10.2307/281882.
- Dibble, H.L. (1995). "Middle paleolithic scraper reduction: Background, clarification, and review of the evidence to date". Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 2: 299–368. doi:10.1007/BF02229003.
- Dibble, H.L. 1991. "Local Raw Material Exploitation and its Effects on Lower and Middle Paleolithic Assemblage Variability," in Raw Material Economies among Prehistoric Hunter-Gatherers, University of Kansas Publications in Anthropology. Edited by A. Montet-White and S. Holen, pp. 33–47. Lawrence, Kansas: University of Kansas.
- Dibble, H.L. 1988. "The interpretation of Middle Paleolithic scraper reduction patterns," in L'Homme de Neandertal Volume 4: La Technique. Edited by L. R. Binford and J.-P. Rigaud. Liège: Etudes et Recherches Archéologiques de l'Université de Liège.
- Chase, P. G.; Dibble, H. L. (1987). "Middle Paleolithic symbolism: a review of current evidence and interpretations". Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 6: 263–296. doi:10.1016/0278-4165(87)90003-1.
- UA Department of Anthropology - Faculty, Staff, and Students
- UA Department of Anthropology - Tradition of Excellence