It is named after nineteenth century finds of flint tools in the Levallois-Perret suburb of Paris in France. The technique was more sophisticated than earlier methods of lithic reduction, involving the striking of flakes from a prepared core. A striking platform is formed at one end and then the core's edges are trimmed by flaking off pieces around the outline of the intended flake. This creates a domed shape on the side of the core, known as a tortoise core as the various scars and rounded form are reminiscent of a tortoise's shell. When the striking platform is finally hit, a flake separates from the core with a distinctive plano-convex profile and with all of its edges sharpened by the earlier trimming work.
This method provides much greater control over the size and shape of the final flake which would then be employed as a scraper or knife although the technique could also be adapted to produce projectile points known as Levallois points.
The technique is first found in the Lower Palaeolithic but is most commonly associated with the Neanderthal Mousterian industries of the Middle Palaeolithic. In the Levant, Levallois methods were also in use in the Upper Palaeolithic and later.
The distinctive forms of the flakes were originally thought to indicate a wide ranging Levallois culture but the wide geographical and temporal spread of the technique has rendered this interpretation obsolete.