Microlithic tools during the late Mesolithic of Europe

exctreme extreme

This is an extreme form of a trapezoid microlith from Denmark belonging to the late Kongemose or Ertebölle time horizon, which belongs to the late Mesolithic of this region.

The onset of the Late Mesolithic at 7,5-6,5 cal. BC in Europe witnesses a major technological change in stone tool industries. Extremely regular blades manufactured by pressure-flaking now dominate assemblages and the heat treating of stone raw material declines in importance. The microburin technique is almost always present. Trapezes made from these regular blades become the most characteristic microlithic form, presumably used as transverse arrow points. This technology contributed to the manufacturing of standardized and efficient composite weapons and tool technology. The appearance of this technology is part of a continental wide process of diffusion, suggesting communication networks ultimately linking most of Europe. In the late Mesolithic the regional differences of earlier Mesolithic times seem to have disappeared, although there remains some variability in stylistic details and raw material use.

It is not exactly known, where the idea of producing regular blades/ microblades by pressure-flaking came from. Was there only one or multiple origins? Were there only one invention or multiple inventions?  Some researchers suggest that such techniques first emerged during the late glacial in Asia.  In the southern Transbaikal area microblade production is proposed for the site Studenoye 2 and Ust’Menza 2 dated up to c. 17 k.a. BP . In Siberia the production of regular microblades and the use of pressure technology can be identified on Upper Palaeolithic sites dated after the Last Glacial maximum and before start of Greenland Interstadial 1.

Recent researches from peat bog sites detected in the Upper Volga area indicate that microblades in this area already appeared during the so called early Butovo Culture during the Preboreal.  It is well possible that the introduction of microblade technology and slotted bone tools in the late Boreal/early Atlantic period in the western Baltic was stimulated by contacts to eastern hunter-gatherers.

Another source could be the mode of blade production during the Epipaleolithic and PPN of the Near east. Based on calibrated C-14 data, Kozlowski described another important diffusion route of late Mesolithic technique as “Castelnovization”. The Castelnovian (from the Castelnovo region of the Mediterranean) is marked by the emergence of larger blade and bladelet tools, long distance transport of raw materials, and new types of geometrics (trapezes, rhomboids). It first appears in the south, at sites such as Franchthi Cave in Greece, and spreads north to Kongemose, Denmark, in only about 500 years, from 7 to 6,5k.a. cal BC. It immediately predates the appear­ance in Europe of Neolithic farmers.

There is no doubt that some of the early LBK arrowheads show precise analogies with certain late/final Mesolithic arrowheads (for example asymmetrical trapezes and triangles). In addition early LBK farmers continued to use established networks of the preceding Mesolithic as evidenced by raw material supply. The implications of such observations deserve an in depth discussion during a later post….

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Gravettian lithic Projectile with Marginal Retouche


marginal aggsbachretouche

This is a small (3 cm long) and thin (0,4 mm) symmetric projectile point from the middle Gravettian at a well stratified site in the Vezere valley with a continuous fine marginal retouche on the right edge. It does not resemble a Flechette and has more affinities to “El Wad points” of the Levant. It is straight and not twisted and therefore a contamination of the Gravettian layer by an underlying “Aurignacien recent” at the site is unlikely (http://www.aggsbach.de/2014/03/lamelles-during-the-proto-aurignacian/). A Protoaurignacian is not know at the site.

During the Gravettian of S/W-France and western Central Europe, lithic technology was centered on the production of blades and bladelets. Blank production was executed mostly in a unipolar fashion, and bladelets were produced in continuity of the blade production. At some sites, bladelet production began independly from blade production with the selection of small blocks of the raw material. In addition some burins (for example polyhedral burins) were rather bladelet cores rather than tools.

The aim of lithic production during the Gravettian was the detachment of straight rectangular blades and bladelets with a triangular or quadrangular cross section. In blanks with a triangular cross section, the thicker edge was used to create a straight continuous back by abrupt retouche following mainly the outline of the blank. In blanks with a quadrangular cross section, the backed edge had to be more invasive to create a back. Of course the thickness of the blank plays also a role in sharpening a backed tool. If the blade / bladelet are very flat, the creation of a back may become impossible.

Although marginal retouche is rare during the Gravettian, it nevertheless occurs as demonstrated in this small projectile point from middle Gravettian context in the Vezere valley. Publications about Gravettian sites usually do not discuss such artifacts or ascribe their origin to a “Aurignacian contamination”. Another strategy to deal with the “problem” of non-backed artifacts during the Gravettian is their simple attribution to the category of backed implements at some sites (for example: publications about the Vigne Brun site). Marginally retouched bladelets from the Gravettian have never been systematically reviewed to my knowledge.

Certainly the bladelet shown here was too thin for backing, but nevertheless attractive for the knapper due to its raw material (coming from Bergeracois 40 km away from this specific site) and symmetry. The “Gravettians” were surely more creative than only frantically trying to give every single implement a “back” for several thousand years. It would be worthwhile to take a closer look on such artifacts!

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Solutrean Schouldered Point from the Vezere Valley

tanged2katzmantanged katzmanThis is a delicate fragment of a Solutrean shouldered point, broken on the tip and with an intact, short tang. The thickness of the projectile is about 1,5 mm and the reconstructed length about 4 cm at best. It could have been used as an arrow tip.

Solutrean tool-making employed techniques not seen before in the Archaeological record, with the exception of the Still Bay industry of S-Africa. During the Solutrean, finely worked bifacial points made with lithic reduction percussion and pressure flaking rather than with previous cruder flint-knapping techniques were produced by skilled knappers (specialists?). Knapping was done using antler batons, hardwood batons and soft stone hammers which permitted the working of more delicate slivers of flint to make lighter projectiles and even elaborate barbed and tanged arrowheads. Most sites of the Solutrean date to a relatively short period of time of 3000 years around the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM).

The Solutrean , which is restricted to south-west Europe suggests that the continent-wide networks of the Gravettian were broken as the cold maximum closed-in, with populations living west of the Rhône becoming progressively isolated from those that, in Italy and in Central and South-East Europe, went through the LGM with an Epigravettian stone tool-kit.

The origins of the Solutrean remain obscure. No forerunners for the Solutrean have been identified during the last century, although several “source-industries” have been repeatedly proposed (the Szeletian, Mousterian, Gravettian, Aterian, Lincombien, Maisierien). Anyhow, all these industries were fairly well separated from the early Solutrean both in space and time.

Recently a possible “Proto-Solutrean” lithic assemblage was excavated at the Portuguese open air site of Vale Comprido – Encosta (Rio Maior, Portugal; 22 k.a. BP). This assemblage shows a clear break with the preceding Gravettian and is characterized by the so called Vale Comprido point. This triangular point is characterized by the development of the lateral edges and the thinning of the base by a flat inverse retouch, recalling some characteristics of the early Solutrean. Vale Comprido points have also identified in 2008 at the Marseillon Paleolithic site, near the town of Banos, France and in old collections from S/W (for example at Laugerie-Haute). Anyhow it remains unclear if these points were projectiles and it is certainly a little to early to call them the “missing links”.

The later phases of the Solutrean are well defined since more than 50 years:

Lower Solutrean: This industry is characterized by Points a face plane (unifacial flat retouch) which appear about 21 k.a. BP on the Iberian Peninsula, the Aquitaine (Laugerie haute, Pataud, Badegoule) and Southern France (Salpetriere, Ouillins). The Points a face plane have been identified as projectile points.

Middle Solutrean at 20 k.a. BP: This is the classic “Laurel leaf phase” of the Solutrean with fine bifacial flat retouch, produced by pressure flaking, often after heat pretreatment. The Northern border of the industry extends to the Paris basin (workshop at Saint-Sulpice-de-Favièresreaches). The size of the laurel leaf points is extremely variable (3-30 cm), as their use (projectiles, knifes for butchering and working with soft vegetal materials). Especially the large examples (Fourneau du Diable, Laugerie haute, Les Maitreaux, Volgu, and Solutre) may have been used for non-utilitarian purposes.

Upper Solutrean at 19 k.a. BP: Diachronic variability and regionalism, already visible during the Middle Solutrean (Montaud), became important in the production of Solutrean points (points a cran, Mediterranean shouldered points, feuilles de saule, tanged points type Parpallo…). At some sites, large quantities of backed bladelets already indicate a change in lithic projectile technology, different from the Solutrean system of projectile production.

At the end of the upper Solutrean, a specific cultural group, the (lower) Salpetrian, appears in the Languedoc around 19k.a.BP. The definition of this cultural entity rests on the absence of invasive Solutrean retouch and the focusing of lithic production on a specific tool: the Mediterranean shouldered point with abrupt retouch.

I will not discuss the so called Solutrean-Clovis connection, which is one of the favorite childs of certain “popular scientific” magazines. G.L. Strauss has already deconstructed every single element of this theory and recently the genetic signatures of the Anzik skeleton showed that at least this Clovis individual had an Asian and not W-European ancestry.

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Microgravettes: the most successful lithic projectile points of the Paleolithic Old World

microgravette katzman aggsbachThese are some Microgravettes from the Early Gravettian at Abri Pataud at Les Eyzies.

The Gravettian / Epigravettian phenomenon is a complex biocultural system of anatomically modern humans to cold and arid glacial conditions and the evidence of their remarkable adaptive flexibility. Gravette Points are generally made from slender and narrow blades (“Gravettes”) or bladelets (“Microgravettes”). These points are characterized by a  straight or slightly curved blunted back , which is formed by very abrupt retouches. Many Gravettes have additional retouches  on the non-blunted edge, either near the point or near the base.

microgravetteMicrogravette points are by far the most common lithic projectile points in the European Upper Paleolithic, both in time and space. They are a constitutive part of Gravettian industries from Iberia to the Urals and of the Epigravettian of South and Eastern Europe. Microgravettes in Europe are more or less continuously present over a time interval of roughly 20k.a. Isolated findings occur during the Levantine Epipaleolithic and the Epipaleolithic of the Maghreb.

A good example of Levantine Early Epipalaeolithic production of Gravettes is the Nizzanian, which is confined to Negev. It features scalene triangle and some rare isosceles triangle microliths, Gravette points, Microgravettes, and abundant arched-backed blades, and makes use of the microburin technique.

The Early Gravettian site of Sire (Mirefleurs, Puy de Dôme, France; ca 30 k.a. BP) has evidenced  a large quantity of microlithic blades with a high proportion of Microgravettes. The Results of microwear analysis on 17 Microgravettes, together with a comparative study on 600 ethnographic artifacts, indicate their use as projectile points and makes it highly probable, that they were tips of arrow systems. Unfortunately postdepositional changes on flint makes it often impossible to evaluate larger samples from other important Gravettian sites with overwhelming amounts of Microgravettes (for example Pavlov- South East) by microtraceological techniques.

micro gravette detailAlthough Microgravettes are morphologically the little sisters of the classic Gravette Points from S/W-France, their use was probably differed. A sample of 1451 Gravette points deriving from ten sites in southwestern France was investigated by FB Harrold in ‎1993. He found, that many of the Gravette “points” in fact functioned as knives.


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Strangled blades

strangled aggsbachThese are three strangled blades from the Aurignacian of S/W France (on the left), S/W-Germany and the Negev (Israel) [Fig. 1]. Although Such blades have recently detected in the S-African MSA (Howiesons Poort at Klipdrift shelter; southern cape), they also occur during the N-African Epipaleolithic, they are usually highly specific for the early Aurignacian of Europe and the Levant.

strangulated blade cottes katzbach aggsbachThe Aurignacian in S/W-France is differentiated into two successive episodes: During  an early  phase, corresponding to the classical Early  Aurignacian or Aurignacian I, the “Aurignacian  retouch” (scaled  and often stepped retouch) is common.  Endscrapers on Aurignacian blades, strangled blades (Fig 2: from Les Cottes) with bi-concave  edges, carinated and nosed end-scrapers, fashioned on thick flakes or chunks, burins (rare) and split base points, made from bone are common. Bladelet cores are of the  “carinated scraper” type, with a wide front were used to produce straight or curved blanks.  During  a recent  phase, corresponding to the Aurignacian II-IV of Peyrony,  bladelet cores are of the “nosed scraper” or  “busked burin” types and were used to produce small,  twisted blanks (Dufour; http://www.aggsbach.de/2014/03/lamelles-during-the-proto-aurignacian/). Both phases share several technological features: 1) blade debitage is unipolar and has the purpose of producing large, thick  blanks retouched into a diverse range of tools;  and 2) blades and bladelets are obtained through  separate procedures (Bordes 2004).

3There are no systematic studies about the question why blades with heavy marginal retouch are characteristic for the early Aurignacian. The high proportion of retouch on the margins of blades and endscrapers could indicate a specific type of hafting during this time period.  “Classic” large examples of strangled blades with endcraper modifications on their distal part (for example at Laussel), may substantiate this view. Strangeling, in this view could  simply represent an extreme degree of  secondary modification by retouching.

Technologically, invasive secondary modifications were the inevitable consequence of the characteristic thickness of Aurignacian blanks, requiring steep retouches. A comparable technological solution during the Middle Paleolithic was the  “Retouche ecaleuse scalariform”on Quina blanks (http://www.aggsbach.de/2010/09/the-pitfalls-of-using-scalar-retouches-as-a-cultural-marker/). It is not by chance, that the first prehistorians, suggested a direct link between the Quina Mousterian and the classic Aurignacian. A nice example how stylistic convergence can be mistaken as direct influence of one technocomplex to another…

In contrast, most of the examples shown here lack, beside their strangled part, any further working edge. In these cases, the notches of strangled blades would be  per-se the desired active part of the instrument and not the hafting-part. It is suggested, that the concave retouches could be useful in scraping organic materials. This hypothesis is also supported by the fact, that Aurignacian blades with only a single notch can be observed at several sites (for example at the Krems / Hundssteig-site; see the  last picture), which makes no sense, if haftig would be the aim of these notches. Again we lack of any experimental studies on this question.

strangulated blade carmel katzbach aggsbachThe fact, that the production of strangled blades is not dependent on raw material, duration of stay at a specific sites and the thickness of blanks (most of my examples are made on fine delicate blades), the long standing use of strangled blades over a vast area from the French Atlantic coast to the Zagros Mountains and the Negev is suggestive, that these implements were part of a certain tradition.

Foragers during the Upper Paleolithic were open minded for useful innovations although Aurignacian groups were much more isolated from each other, than groups during the later Phases of the Old Stone age.

More than 100 years after the “Bataille Aurignacien”  open questions could be easily answered by the evaluation of large samples of both museums-collections and the material from modern excavations, especially from S/W-France and the Swabian Alb.

Aurignacien-HundssteigKrems Hundssteig (Lower Austria): Strangled blades as displayed in the Vienna Naturhistorisches Museum
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A “Flèche de Montclus”

mesolithic aggsbachThis is a trapezoid with unilateral facial retouch (1,6 cm long), a surface find from the Languedoc, known as “Flèche de Montclus”, named after the Montclus rockshelter, 20 km NW of Bagnols-sur-Ceze, Gard. Excavated mainly during the 1950ies, this abri remains a key site for the Mesolithic and Neolithic and Mesolithic-Neolithic transition in S-France.

Unfortunately there are diverse stratigraphical problems encountered with the old excavations at the site and we will never know for sure if the “Epi-Castelnovian” strata (Microliths and indications for pottery) , where these projectile points were found represent the Meso-Neolithic transition or just a mix between late Mesolithic and Neolithic strata.

The beginnings of Neolithic lifeways in the western Mediterranean region date back to 5700 cal BC. It is believed that this development is a consequence of an expansion of early Neolithic groups from northern Italy to southern France. Existence of these scarcely documented Impressa groups is dated between 5700 and 5600 cal BC. Sometime later, about 5400 cal BC, a new archaeological culture appeared: the Cardial culture, which is thus far the best-documented early Neolithic culture in the western Mediterranean region. The Cardial culture had a well-developed production economy that included foraging (cattle, sheep/goat, and pig) and farming (mainly emmer and einkorn wheat). The impressed decoration executed before firing the vessels obtained with the edge of a Cardium shell and the applied cordons are the most characteristic elements of this culture, which is attested from the Southern Alps to Iberian Peninsula. At about the same time, Neolithic lifeways spread to the hinterland. This continental Neolithisation is mainly related to cultures other than the Cardial culture.

montclusOn the basis of available radiocarbon dates the Flèches de Montclus, which remained undated at the eponymous site appear to be a Neolithic arrowhead form of Southern France. They occur not only in Impressa sites but also in Cardial and Roucadourien contexts. A correlation with the Early Neolithic Impressa assemblage, fits in well with the postulated contacts of these people to Liguria and Elba, made on the basis of pottery decoration and where such transverse arrowheads were also typical components of the Impressa assemblage although dating somewhat earlier (from c. 5900 cal BC).

The prominent symmetrical trapezoids with facial retouch discovered at Arene Candide in Liguria constitute an interesting link between the Ligurian Impressa and the Cardial of Southern France. Another interesting model is based on the similarity of Flèches de Montclus and the so called Armatures du Châtelet (5600-5200 BC), trapezoids with a bilateral facial retouch, known from the final Mesolithic (Retzien) of the Loire-Atlantique and Vendée. Here the use of facial retouch on trapezoids could indicate the early influence of already established Neolithic societies in the South on Mesolithic communities more in the North-West. On the other side one should not overstrain such analogies: similar projectile points are also known from the Neolithic in the Tenere.

montclus1The 1970 were the high times for the last “Master Thinkers” in France, before such “Grand Syntheses” were replaced by more modest approaches during the following decennia.  As a Part of the common “Zeitgeist” the monumental “ La Préhistoire française” was published in 1976. The approach of this work was strictly typological, culture-historical and largely based on relative chronologies. Taphonomy and absolute dating were still at their very beginning.

The last photo comes from an excursion guide from 1976, in part identical with the corresponding parts of the “ La Préhistoire française”. Here the Flèches de Montclus were displayed as a part of the “Epi-Castelnovian” culture at the Baume de Montclus Rockshelter.


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Denominating Lamelles during the Proto / Aurignacian in S/W-France and Eurasia

dufour ventraldufour dorsalThese are ventral and dorsal views from three slightly curved unretouched Lamelles Dufour (Dufour subtype) from the Aurignacian I levels from Pataud (Dordogne; France) and Les Cottes (Vienne; France). Microtraceology shows, that all classes of  lamelles during the Protoaurignacian and Aurignacian, retouched and non-retouched, were used as tools. They were parts of different  composite tools, used for the hunt but also used as “knifes” for cutting meat but also for cutting soft vegetal materials. One proposition about their hafting , made by L. Fiedler can be found here:  http://altsteinzeit-hessen.de/?p=1072

One common tendency can be distinguished during the Early Upper Paleolithic: a production that is commonly fabricated on light and elongated lithic blanks. This “point” phenomenon seems to be anchored in the preceding middle Paleolithic industries. One of the motivating factors of change in lithic productions at the dawn of the Upper Paleolithic was the role played by projectile elements that are commonly fabricated on light and elongated lithic blanks.. This phenomenon of “leptolithisation” though is clearly evident from the beginning of the Aurignacian.  Therefore, a common preoccupation, in this case the search for technical solutions for arming projectiles, could explain the apparent community of these distinct industrial complexes (Emiran, Bachokirian, Bohunician…). It is not until later that this tendency would become concrete and lead to a relative homogenization of technical traditions across Europe (Protoaurignacian) and the Near East (Early Ahmarian). This apparent unification of technical traditions could be attributed to the remarkable success of bladelet productions from both a techno-functional and socio-economic perspectives” (N TEYSSANDIER).

During the last 20 years, lamelles (bladelets) have found intensive evaluation in European prehistoric research. Beginning with the very early Upper Paleolithic in S/W- France, bladelets were types of highly standardized blanks, used in the production of a panoply of artifacts, whose stylistic attributes can be assigned to different successive phases or chrono-cultural stages from the end of MIS 3 and during MIS 2.

Lamelles during the Protoaurignacian and the Aurignacian in S/W-France are highly diversified and have not only chronological,but also ecological, economical and paleo-ethnological meanings. They can be classified by the several dichotomies: Large vs small, straight or only slightly curved vs twisted, tipped vs non-tipped. Of importance are also their retouches (ventral, dorsal, alternately, marginal vs semiabrupt) and their different chaine operatoire. According to the work of Brun-Ricalens focusing on Aurignacian bladelets, Lamelles Dufour are curved or twisted and if retouched, always bear a fine marginal retouch on one edge on the ventral side and occasionally an inverse retouch,which can be marginal or semiabrupt-invasive on the dorsal side (alternately retouches) . Lamelles and points of the St. Yves type have direct, bilateral semiabrupt retouches and are mostly  flat or weakly twisted.

Many authors prefer not to use the historical charged proper names, assigning the artifacts to sites that were rather badly excavated during the 19th / beginning of the 20th century and  instead speak about a broad category of Aurignacian bladelets with  different attributes. In my view, the typological system developed by Brun-Ricalens and others is well developed, and bears chronological and paleo-ethnographic meaning and should therefore be maintained as a useful framework in the evaluation of the European Paleolithic and maybe beyond.

During the Protoaurignacian, Bladelets were produced from pyramidal / prismatic cores, which were also used for blade production. Several subtypes of lamelles have been described:

  • Large Lamelles Dufour (subtype Dufour) with straight or only slightly curved profile. If tipped and alternately retouched they are also called Krems Point (other researchers subsume the “Krems Point” category under the St Yves points with alternately retouches)
  •  Large  St. Yves  Points, often with invasive retouches

During the Aurignacien ancient typique,  Small Lamelles Dufour (subtype Dufour), produced from carinated and nosed scrapers were present.

During the Aurignacien recent,  Small (<20 mm long), distally twisted Lamelles Dufour bearing fine retouches, almost always inverse (subtype Roc-de-Combe) were present. They were produced from busked burins and nosed scrapers with a narrow front.

 Aurignacien final: large bladelets, mostly with bilateral direct retouch were made from Vachon “burins”

Lamelles Dufour are also known from some Châtelperronian sites but with a different chaine operatoire of their production. The large quantity of the early Ahmarian bladelets ( El Wad points) seem to fall into the definition of the St. Yves category, given here. But this has to be re-evaluated, as well as an exact definition of the polymorphous El Wad point category.  Other early Upper Paleolithic points from the Zagros region (for example the Arjeneh Points), should incorporated into an unified framework of defining Eurasian bladelets.

carinated aggsbach

Front of a carinated scraper for the production of twisted blades (Kebara / Israel)

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Are Middle Paleolithic Knifes really the Forerunners of Châtelperronian Points?


This is a backed artifact from the W-European Mousterian. Backed artifacts, either used by “free hand” or as hafted tools, are designed for cutting with the opposite edge, regardless of whether the tool has a bifacial design (“Keilmesser”) or is made  from flake or a blade blanks, with either a natural (cortical) back, or by blunting the back by steep retouches.

The discovery that an artifact can be used to cut either plants or animal carcasses opened a new niche for hominids during their evolution. Cutting is an behavior, is not known from other free living primates (Ian Davidson). In the Archeological record of Europe, backed knives appeared first during the Acheulean (for example: in the “Atelier Commont” at St. Acheul- very similar to the artifact shown here). During the last glaciation, backed artifacts from flakes and blades play a certain role, in the Quina system and especially during the “Moustérien de tradition acheuléenne”  in S/W-France. In central and east Europe, such tools are almost unknown, with some remarkable exceptions (for example in the upper strata of at Buhlen /Hesse, Germany).

D. Peyrony described two organizational classes of Mousterian assemblages: the Typical Mousterian and the Mousterian of Acheulean Tradition (MTA). The former was characterized by the high frequencies of scrapers and the latter by the presence of of cordiform handaxes reminiscent of the earlier Acheulean. F. Bordes in his “Essai de Classification des industries « moustériennes »” (1953) initially identified the Denticulate, Typical, and Charentian (Quina, Ferrassie) groups, but later added the Mousterian of Acheulean (MTA) as a fourth facies.

The MTA was subdivided into two additional groups (MTA sub-type A and sub-type B). MTA Type A has been characterized by the production and use of mainly bifaces, while MTA type B has been defined by a low frequency of handaxes, higher frequency of “Upper Paleolithic  tools”, and by the production and use of backed pieces and elongated flakes. In S/W-France, the two sub-facies, MTA type A and MTA type B, are two successive episodes. Their relative chronology is based on the Archeological succession at several key sites: Pech-de-l’Azé I and IV, Le Moustier and La Rochette. Note that this definition, contrary to the definition of all other Mousterian industries, highlights qualitative and not quantitative aspects for the definition of the MTA.

Backed pieces /knifes during the MTA have an enormous variability. The blanks (flakes and blades) were either produced by a Levallois (Le Moustier) or non- Levallois technique (Pech de l’Azé I and IV) . In addition, blade cores appeared (La Rochette). Soressi in her thesis, dealing with the MTA at Moustier, La Rochette, Pech de l’Azé  and Grotte XVI, showed that the makers of these artifacts tried to selected the more elongated and symmetrical blanks. Nevertheless many backed pieces / knifes were simple flakes with a rather irregular steep retouch on one edge. Judging from publications, only a minority of these tools can be assigned to the Abri Audi category, defined by an asymmetrical appearance and a curved back with more or less continuous steep retouches (Sonneville- Bordes and Perrot 1956). Limited microtraceological observations indeed indicate the use of Middle Paleolithic backed pieces as knifes.

Since Breuil`s times the Mousterian of Acheulian tradition is considered by many to be a forerunner of the Châtelperronian . This suggestion is mainly based on the presence of backed pieces during the MTA-B, some of them (the Abri Audi knifes) resemble Châtelperronian points. However, most of the MTA-B backed pieces do not resemble Upper Paleolithic backed points at all! In publications, postulating the continuity between the  MTA-B and the Châtelperronian, the broad category of backed pieces during the MTA is broken down to highly selected “fine” examples of Abri Audi knifes. This biased view should be checked against the reality by quantitative approaches on unbiased samples of the MTA and the Châtelperronian in order to evaluate the effective overlap between backed pieces on one hand and Châtelperronian points on the other.

Further Suggestions:

  • Evaluation of the grade of similarity / differences between the chaine operatoire of Chatelperronian points and backed MTA implements.
  • The detailed re-evaluation of  MTA- ensembles, not mentioned in the text.
mTA-Katzman-AggsbachMTA handaxes: Contrary to what is reported triangular bifaces, a hallmark of the bifacial Middle Paleolithic in N-France, occur during the MTA of the Dordogne also. I have seen some excellent triangular examples from the Perigord, displayed in the  musée d’art et d’archéologie du Périgord in Perigueux, during a visit in 2006.
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The Châtelperronian: a fully developed Leptholithic Industry

LC3 Chatelperronian aggsbachThe common paradigm: “The Châtelperronian industry (Châtelperronian or Castelperronien in French) is considered to be the very last behavioral testimony of Neanderthals in France and northern Spain. For a few millennia, Neanderthals switched to systematic blade production, focused on stone knives that could also be used as projectile points, and in some instances produced domestic bone tools and used black and red pigments as well as personal ornaments” (Soressi and Roussel 2010).

These are three Châtelperronian points (6,3 ,  5,4 Fig.1,2,4), and 3,5 (Fig.3) cm long. They were found before Pradel`s important excavations in 1968 at the famous cave Les Cottés. This cave opens on the left bank of the Gartempe, one kilometer north of the village of Saint-Pierre-de-Maille (Vienne, France). Discovered in the late 19th century, the cave was the subject of numerous excavations throughout the 20th century. The cave ” Prés-Rouïs ” was discovered in 1878 by A. Jamin and  first exploration trenches were opened in 1880 and 1881 by R. Rochebrune with the permission of the landowner R. Fontenioux. Rochebrune found two archaeological layers: a Mousterian and Aurignacian. At the same time the grotto was renamed „Grotte des Cottés “.   Thereafter, until 1910, the site was explored by O. Rochebrune, son of R. Rochebrune.

The Grotte des Cottés was classified a historical monument in 1931 and further excavations were stopped until 1951 when Louis Pradel made a survey near the entrance of the cave. In 1968, he opened a new trench in front of the cave and found a succession of Châtelperronian, followed by Protoaurignacian (“lentille correzienne”)-Aurignacian I and a Gravettian level (Pradel, 1967). This stratigraphy was confirmed in 1982 by F. Lévêque, who also provided the first C-14 dates. Six archaeological layers were individualized, numbered 1 to 6 from the ground surface. The Châtelperronian layer had a thickness of 30 cm and was separated from other archaeological remains by the sterile strata H and I under- and upper-lying  the Châtelperronian with a thickness of 35 and 15 cm respectively.

  • Layer 6 (I):  Mousterian between 32 and 28 k.a. BP
  • Layer 5 / (G):  Châtelperronian; (“Périgordien II“) between 32-34 k.a. BP
  • Layer and 3+4 (E): (Aurignacian I; (“Aurignacien ancien évolué “) about 30 k.a. BP
  • Layer 2 (C): Gravettian; (“Périgordien IVa”):  about 32 k.a. BP

These dates, which were assembled before  the advent of AMS and advanced pretreatment procedures were measured on large “bulk samples”. Like many other C-14 age determinations of  the Châtelperronian they remain  highly problematic.

LC END Aggsbach chatelperronianRenewed excavations were therefore conducted by Soressi et al. since 2006 and aimed to redate the sequence with the help of different advances methods, document the site formation processes and aspects of the Chatelperronian, Protoaurignacian and Early Aurignacian behavioral repertoire at a single location.

Talamo et al. recently published calibrated C-14 Dates for the site and used a Bayesian model ror age calculation : Mousterian between 46-44, Chatelperronian around 42-40, Protoaurignacian: a short episode around 39 and early Aurignacian around 39-36 k.a. BP roughly coincident with the onset of the strong cold phase Heinrich 4. These new data fit perfectly into the  “long chronology” of the Upper Paleolithic (http://www.aggsbach.de/2014/01/13656/ ) and are consistent with the redating of other sites (Grotte du Renne, Grotte des Fées). They  confirm that Châtelperronian and Protoaurignacian do exist in the southern margins of the Parisian Basin, away from their geographical core area (the Pyrenees and the periphery of the Mediterranean) and that the  Chatelperronian is considerably older than the early C-14 data suggest, with only minimal temporal overlap between the  Chatelperronian and the Protoaurignacian /Aurignacian. Claimed interstratifications between the Chatelperronian and Aurignacian   have been falsified during the last years  (Piage, Roc de Combe, Chatelperron-Grotte des Fées). Stratigraphically  the  Chatelperronian is always to be found below the Protoaurignacian and Aurignacian.

cottesChâtelperronian points show a high degree of variation. The length of such points is reported to be between 3,5 and 12 cm (mean length of 107 undamaged Châtelperronian points at   Quinçay: 5,2 cm). Most items  are classified arched backed points with regular abrupt retouching on one side. Sometimes the retouches are confined to the distal half of the blade, especially in small items (Fig.3). In some cases the tip shows bilateral retouches or even inverse retouches on one margin. Several of these points are very similar to Azilian points.  Some of them would labeled as “Gravettes” in a Gravettian context, because of their regular and straight back as shown by the first example of this post (“Les Cottes point” according to Pradel). Sometimes the back of the curved examples is relatively thick and the retouches tend to be irregular as demonstrated by the second point, displayed here. Microtraceology of  Châtelperronian points from Grotte du Renne revealed that they were used as knives and also as projectile tips, which seems also to be very probable for the different sized points shown here.At Les Cottes the larger specimens were often made from Turonian flint, while local brown flint was used for the smaller ones.

In contrast to older observations, the Châtelperronian is a pure Leptolithic industry without a Mousterian component, consisting of blades from asymmetric blade cores aimed mainly to produce blanks for  Châtelperronian points and bladelets from separate cores, made from small blocks. Although the end product of bladelet production during the Châtelperronian resembles the bladelets of the Protoaurignacian, the system of their production is different.

Châtelperronian points, endscrapers, especially semi-circular end-scrapers, and some burins on a break and borers/becs are always present, although the production of Châtelperronian points is always the focus of lithic production (up to 70% of the retouched artifacts) . “Middle Palaeolithic” technological components ( Denticules, side scrapers), which, by the way, are found in small numbers in many Upper Paleolithic industries, ( http://www.aggsbach.de/2014/01/fallen-out-of-time-anachronistic-tools/) , are absent or rare from modern excavations of Châtelperronian layers.

The first results of a technological study of the Grande Roche at Quinçay sequence show that the lithic production associated with level Egc (“Archaic Castelperronian”) must be assigned to the Mousterian of Acheulean Tradition. Levels Egf to Ejo both yielded a homogeneous fully developed leptolithic system for the production of Châtelperronian blade blanks and Dufour bladelets.  The chaine operatoire and the end products did not significantly change over time. At another key-site, Saint-Césaire, the Ejop layer (“Achaic Castelperronian” ) contained two different sub-layers, a Mousterian one Ejop INF, and a Chatelperronian one, Ejop SUP.

The suggestion, that we can follow several substages (early -evolved-late) of the Châtelperronian  must be abandoned regarding the results of the technological reevaluation at Quinçay . This also holds true for the early  Châtelperronian at Les Cottes, which was once be regarded as an “evolved Perigordian II” (in contrast to the “Perigordian I” = Châtelperronian  at Ferrassie) on purely typological grounds.

les cottes

A Paradigm that has to be questioned: But who were the makers of the Châtelperronian-the Neanderthals, the AMHs or both?  In my view, there is no convincing argument to assign this industry to a single species.  In the Levant at 100 k.a. both species used a similar Mousterian toolkit and there is no reason why the situation should be different during the EUP of South/West France.

The Neanderthal remains at St Césaire and from Arcy, as well as the formal similarity between backed knifes during the MTA and Châtelperronian points are not really convincing indications for a production of the Châtelperronian by Neanderthals. Based on stratigraphic evidence, the cultural continuity from the MTA to the Châtelperronian is weak and the association between Neanderthal remains and Châtelperronian strata at multilayered sites somewhat ambivalent. Moreover, the presence of an elongated flake core-reduction system in the MTA is not exclusive of this technocomplex and exists in other Final Mousterian industries (Denticulate Mousterian, Neronian:  http://www.aggsbach.de/2010/09/the-neronian-in-the-rhone-valley).

The manageable “Top 35″ Châtelperronian sites in France and Northern Spain:

  1. Abri Bordes-Fitte, Roches d’Abilly, Département Indre-et-Loire; France
  2. Abri du Chasseur, Fontechevade, Charente; France
  3. Bos de Ser, Département  Corrèze;  France
  4. Brassempouy, Département Landes; France
  5. Chapelle-aux-Saints, Département Corrèze; France
  6. Chez-Pourré – Chez-Comte, Département Corrèze; France
  7. Combe Capelle, Département Dordogne; France
  8. Cueva del Pendo , Basque Country; Spain
  9. Cueva Morín, Cantabria; Spain
  10. Ekain, Basque Country; Spain
  11. El Pendo, Cantabria;  Spain
  12. Fontenioux, Département Vienne; France
  13. Gargas, Département Hautes-Pyrenées; France
  14. Gatzarria , Département Pyrénées-Atlantiques; France
  15. Grotte de la Chaise ,Vouthon, Charente; France
  16. Grotte des Fées, Châtelperron, Département Allier; France
  17. Grotte du Renne, Arcy-sur-Cure, Département Yonne; France
  18. Grotte du Trou de la Chèvre, Bourdeilles, Département  Dordogne; France
  19. Isturitz, Département Pyrenées-Atlantiques; France
  20. La Cote , Département Dordogne; France
  21. La Ferrassie (E), Département Dordogne; France
  22. La Quina Aval, Département Charente; France
  23. Labeko Koba , Basque Country; Spain
  24. le Basté, Département Pyrénées-Atlantiques; France
  25. Le Moustier, Département Dordogne; France
  26. Le Piage, Département Lot; France
  27. Le Portel; Loubens; Département Ariège; France
  28. Les  Abeilles, Département Dordogne; France
  29. Les Cottes, Département Vienne; France
  30. Pair-non-Pair, Département Dordogne; France
  31. Quinçay, Département Vienne; France
  32. Roc de Combe, Département Lot; France
  33. Roche-au-Loup, Merry-sur-Yonne,  Département Yonne; France
  34. Saint-Césaire, Département Charente-Maritime; France
  35. Vieille-Grange;  Mérigny, Département Indre; France

 Suggested Readings:




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Neolithic / Chalcolithic Jade artifact from Varna



This is a Neolithic / Chalcolithic artifact from Varna, made of polished Jadeite, measuring 7×3,5×0,5cm. Some chips can be observed on the faceted ends. One surface of the artifact has not been finally polished and the intended use and final shape of the object cannot be determined without doubt.

Jade refers collectively to two different minerals-jadeite and nephrite. They have distinctly different chemical compositions and distinctly different crystal structures. Jadeite is usually green or white, but sometimes even black or of deep blue. It is a sodium aluminum silicate of the clinopyroxene group, found in igneous and metamorphic rocks. Nephrite generally occurs in creamy white, mid- to deep olive green, brown and black. It is a variety of the calcium and magnesium-rich amphibole mineral actinolite. There are other Green stones which played an important role in prehistory: Amazonite
and Serpentinite. Serpentine looks not only like jade, it is even in the same
deposits as jadeite and nephrite.

In the Levant, during the Middle and Upper Paleolithic periods, beads were made
out of shell, bone, ivory, egg shell, and occasionally of minerals. During the
transition to agriculture in the Near East, stone, in particular green stone (Amazonite, Serpentinite) was used for the first time to make beads and pendants. It is suggested that the introduction of the color “green” had s symbolic meaning (www.pnas.org/content/105/25/8548.full).

Today (and maybe even during Prehistory) the quality of jade is determined by the degree of translucence, cleanness of color and purity of color. Finished objects made of Jade are usually soft, smooth and glossy. The appeal of jade is a ubiquitous phenomenon and was always charged with symbolic meaning. Jade has been used to make tools, weapons and important ornamental objects in Asia, the Levant, North Africa, Europe, Australia, the Americas and numerous Pacific islands. In all of these locations people held jade in highest esteem and used it for prestige and ritual artifacts. None of these ancient cultures had contact with one another yet they all independently used jade for the production of their most valued objects.

Our artifact could be the preform of a thin tabular sub-rectangular small axe, common during the Chalcolithic period on the Balkans (http://www.worldmuseumofman.org/display.php?item=197-198-199-200-201-202-203-204-205-206-207-208-20), a preform of bracer or a bracelet or even a symbolic artifact-similar to polished anthropomorphic  platelets that are known from the famous Chalcolithic Varna cemetery (http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gr%C3%A4berfeld_von_Warna).

The chronology and distribution of Alpine jadeite axes illustrates a buffering of two competing “interaction-spheres”, characterized by non-utilitarian artefact classes: jade in the west (http://www.aggsbach.de/2011/09/axe-from-jadeite-from-the-italian-alps/), originating from the Italian Alps and copper/gold in the east. Neither of these spheres was totally exclusive.

Artefacts from the territory of what is now Bulgaria revealed a lot of specific  gem and decorative minerals and materials as nephrite, malachite, serpentinite, turquoise, jadeite, jet, carnelian, agate and jasper. In Bulgaria nephrite artifacts are known from prehistoric sites since the Early Neolithic and they disappear at the end of the Chalcolithic period. Many of these artifacts use raw materials from East European sources but the assemblage from Tomb 43 at Varna II (Bulgaria) included two Mont Beigua Alpine axes which had been reworked and re-polished into skeuomorphs of Varna type copper axeheads. Varna seems to be an excellent example of material and cultural interaction between different interaction-spheres and the ideologies behind them.

Suggested Reading:

http://www.academia.edu/Documents/in/Nephritevarna chalco jade


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