πάντα ῥεῖ (panta rhei)

Here we see prepared cores, most of them are discoidal and two in Figure 2 are Levallois. The Flint examples come from South Italy (Fig.1), the Quartzite  examples from Northern Hessen in Germany (Fig. 2).

The phrase πάντα ῥεῖ (panta rhei) “everything flows” either was spoken by Heraclitus or survived as a quotation of his. “No man ever steps in the same river twice”. This means that we are changing and the river is changing. Hominins have the ability to change and adapt to a dynamic environment. After 300 k.a. they created several prepared core techniques and changed them according to their needs. The Archeological record in Africa and Eurasia is very similar in this respect

The classic Levallois reduction is clearly geared towards removing large flakes from a surface rather than a volume (Boeda 1995), controlling the size of the product and the productivity of the core. This Concept is defined by several features

  • The volume of the piece is conceived as two surfaces separated by a plane of intersection
  • These surfaces are hierarchically related, one being a striking platform surface and the other a flaking surface.
  • The flaking surface show the maintenance of distal and lateral convexities
  • The fracture plane for the removal is broadly parallel to the plane of intersection
  • the junction between the flaking surface and the striking platform (the hinge) is perpendicular to the axis of percussion and oriented to allow the removal of flakes from the flaking surface
  • Flaking is exclusively done with a hard hammer

It remains unclear if  one or more of these principles is absent, can the technology still be considered Levallois?  Some researchers maintain that you can still call a technique Levallois if only one essential is present: two hierarchically related surfaces separated by a plane of intersection.

Another open question is the issue of predetermination or intentionality. Although  it is popularly to perceive intentionality  to be inherent in the Levallois strategy, it has been disputed by some writers, particularly in questioning the Levallois method as a means of producing “privileged flakes.” Davidson (2002) uses Van Peer’s refitting work, which showed that many preparatory flakes were absent from knapping floors at several MSA sites in Upper Egypt, suggesting that Levallois flakes were not necessarily the desired end product.

In this view even the most famous product of the Levallois technique, the Levallois point may be non-intentional under certain circumstances.

In 1995 Boeda defined the Discoid concept:

  • “The core volume, conceived as two oblique asymmetric convex surfaces marked by one theoretical plane of intersection
  • The non-existence of hierarchization between the two surfaces of a core. One is conceived as a flaking surface, and the other as striking platform, but with the possibility of role inversion during one operational sequence.
  • The flaking surface is prepared in order to predetermine certain products obtained this way. The technical cri- terion for predetermination consists of more or less pro- nounced peripherical convexity, with the aim of con- trolling lateral and distal detachment of each prede- termined removal.
  • In order to bring the predeterminant and predetermined detachments in correspondence with the conceived aims, the preparation of the core surface for striking platforms emplacement is undertaken. In spite of its particularity, all these preparations share the same criteria: the flaking axis of predetermined removals is perpendicular to the striking platform employed to obtain it.
  • The detachment plane of predeterminant and predetermined removals is oblique with respect to the theo- retical plane on intersection of the two core surfaces.
  • The sole flaking technique employed during the discoid operational scheme is direct percussion by a hard stone hammer”.

While the knapper can change between several modes within one of the basic concepts (Levallois: “preferential” and “recurrent” methods; by unidirectional, bidirectional, or centripetal flaking); (Discoidal: unifacial (pyramidal section), bifacial (bipyramidal section) and multifacial (globular section) exploitation, with a different grade of hierarchization of its surfaces {Xavier Terradas}, there seems no way, that a Levallois core is transformed into a discoidal core and vice versa. Anyhow the steadily flow and change within the concepts shows the enormous flexibility of early stone knappers.

Levallois Blade Core

Standing on the shoulders of giants: Refitting Strategies and the Levallois Concept

The Story of Levallois Points

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A short journey through the early Aurignacian of Central and South Europe

This are some artifacts from a the European (Proto)-Aurignacian. Overall the geochronology of the (Proto) Aurignacian ensembles in Central and South Europe is complex  and during the last years several broad phases have been proposed: An early phase including the “Protoaurignacian” / Aurignacian 0 and an Early “Classic” Aurignacian dating before HE-4, followed by an evolved phase of the technocomplex.

Starting in Central Europe, some indisputable Aurignacian I / Early Aurignacian site clusters with reliably dated findings are now known: Sites in the Swabian Jura: Geißenklösterle, AH III dated to ca. 43–to 40 k.a. cal BP and Stadel Cave ca 40 k.a. cal BP and Willendorf II, AH 3 at the Wachau Gate ca. 43,5 k.a. cal BP. All this sites ante- date the HE–4 / CI eruption.

It has always suggested that Krems Hundssteig has a strong early / Protoaurignacian component but unfortunately modern excavations of this complex are missing. Finding remnants of the Aurignacian stratum at the Hundssteig site remain an important dissertate of Austrian Paleolithic research.

Krems Hundssteig was investigated not by regular excavation but during loess quarrying for the Danube high dam construction at the end of the 19th century and the very beginning of the 20th century (Strobl & Obermaier 1909). Its abundant lithic assemblage was  analyzed and published in the 1960s- 1970s by G. Laplace, A. Broglio and J. Hahn.

Thanks to these researchers, all basic and unique industrial features are thus quite clearly described. The Krems-Hundssteig complex is techno-typologically within the the Western “Aurignacian 0/ Protoaurignacian” group, with numerous alternatively retouched Dufour bladelets (Dufour sub-type) and Font-Yves/ Krems points, including the Krems alternatively retouched vari- ant of the latter. Many “non-geometric microliths” (about 60% of all tools, or about 1900 items and a variety of both carinated and prismatic cores  are the most prominent characteristics of the assemblage. The fint artifacts were also accompanied by 128 Mediterranean shell beads and two bone awls.

The Aurignacian in Moravia is extraordinary rich (several hundred sites) but when reliable dated in general younger than the sites in Swabia and Lower Austria : Mladeč caves, Stránská skála open-air site complex, Vedrovice Ia Milovice I, Líšeň I / Líšeň – Čtvrtě, Líšeň VIII / Líšeň – Nad výhonem and Napajedla III / Napajedla – Zámoraví. Absolute dates for these sites ranging from ca. 37–36 ka to 33–32 k.a. cal BP and post-date the HE–4 event. In Moravia there is only a short-time geochronological coexistence with the Bohunician and Szeletian

Result of the kernel density estimation point to four centres of high site-density of early and late Aurignacian sites  in descending order: the region of Moravia, the Swabian Jura and Lower Austria, the western Carpathians and the area around the Iron Gate. A small concentration of sites is also visible east of the Carpathians.

Româneşti- Dumbrăviţa I, GH 3 (Romania) has recently been TL dated and represents according to several researchers another Aurignacian 0 / Proto-Aurignacian  site in Central/South Europe. The cores are commonly unidirectional but there are also bi-/multidirectional ones. They are carinated, prismatic, and narrow-faced (including burin-like cores- on-flakes). Dufour bladelets, on alternatively retouched bladelets, Font-Yves points and bladelets with oblique proximal truncation are known from this horizon from older excavations. The average absolute dates for Româneşti- Dumbrăviţa I, GH 3 is  40,6 ± 1,5 k.a. cal BP and it correlates geochronologically with GIS-10 and GIS-9 and thus to the older group of the Aurignacian in Europe. Indeed the findings indicate a  possible contemporaneity of the Româneşti- Dumbrăviţa I, GH 3  with the Oase AMH finds.

In addition to Româneşti-Dumbrăviţa, another central European Aurignacian 0 / Proto-Aurignacian site, located in the neighboring Balkans, in northwestern Bulgaria is Kozarnika Cave, layer VII. This site is located in in the Danube River valley. It has been dated slightly older than Româneşti-Dumbrăviţa I ca. 43–41 k.a. cal BP .

Much has been achieved, and research has made considerable progress on our way towards more sustainable understanding in the last 20 years. While our recognition of the Aurignacian as an early Upper Paleolithic technocomplex along the Danube corridor has been shaped and broadened, we have learned that the Aurignacian maybe a genuine European invention.

Suggested Reading:

Demidenko Y.E., Otte M. & Noiret P. (dir.) – Siuren i rock-shelter. From Late Middle Paleolithic and Early Upper Paleolithic to Epi-Paleolithic in Crimea. Liège, ERAUL 129, 2012, p. 343-357.

At the same time?

New Data from Willendorf and the Beginning of the classic Aurignacian in central Europe

The Aurignacian in Lower Austria revisited

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Popular Paleolithic: Is there anything new for the interested German speaking public?

Books about Prehistory written in German for an interested non-professional public are notorious rare. Some days ago one important overview about Paleolithic Archeology (mainly of Middle Europe) was published, that is recommended to everyone interested in this issue.

Jürgen Richter Altsteinzeit: Der Weg der frühen Menschen von Afrika bis in die Mitte Europas

After six caves holding the oldest figurative artworks made by humans  in the Swabian Alp region have  declared a UNESCO World Heritage site there are some excellent publications about the Paleolithic of this region, published by the Conard Group:

Eiszeitarchäologie auf der Schwäbischen Alb: Die Fundstellen im Ach- und Lonetal und in ihrer Umgebung (Tübingen Publications in Prehistory)

and for advanced readers:

Harald Meller (Herausgeber),‎ Dietrich Mania et al. Bilzingsleben VII: Homo erectus – seine Kultur und Umwelt: Befund und Silexartefakte der mittelpleistozänen Fundstelle (Veröffentlichungen des Landesamtes  für Vorgeschichte Sachsen-Anhalt)


Popular Prehistory: Is there anything new for the interested German speaking public?

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Be “Monkish”: Think the unthinkable / await the unexpected

The Germans like it “normal”. I never completely understood exactly the meaning of this phrase. One meaning is certainly that the “normal” social, ideological, and work attitude of individuals should not differ more than +/- 2% from the common. – in evolutionary terms Germans are  highly adapted to their environment. Germans are rarely “Monkish”

Epitomizing artistic originality, candid eccentricity and indifference to conventional rules of performance, Thelonious Monk emerged in the 1940s to become one of the most important music innovators.

Regarded as one of the most enigmatic and unusual jazz composers, Monk, whose unique improvisational style, with rigorously structured and surreal and eccentric choices identified him as a hipster iconoclast. His themes, are among some of the most innovative and unsentimentally beautiful music in the history of jazz.

A Monkish attitude remains a multi-dimensional mystery for the “Normals” . I do not know if during the Paleolithic Monkishness was more common than today. Perhaps stone artifacts could give us some insight into this issue. For example, the bizarre Leaf points from  Montaud  and the very large Leafpoints type Volgu are Monkish. Stare shaped percoirs from the Badegoulian and Magdalenian (Fig.1) are Monkish.  “Gigantolithic”  tools (Fig. 2) , like the 14 cm long endscraper from La Madeleine with a strange minuscule working edge, “extreme” mesolithic Microliths (Fig.3) are Monkish also.

New Archeologies are Monkish, Non-Archaeological disciples discussing about Prehistory and last but not least the founders of Prehistory are/were Monkish , too







Have a nice Christmas and a happy new year!

 Sincerely J.L. Katzman

The nexus between prehistoric artifacts and Cabinets of Wonder (Wunderkammern)

Non Utilitarian Objects collected by Early Humans: The Archaeology of Curiosity

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Polyhedrons / Spheroids / Bola Stones

This is a Spheroid/Polyhedron from the Acheulian of central France. Such findings are found in old middle Pleistocene river terraces together with large quantities of Bifaces.

A Spheroid/Polyhedron is a blocky core  with more than one discrete worked edge. Polyhedral shaping  is carried out in relation  to a virtual point of balance around which the volume of the piece is more or less equally distributed. The method consists in striking off non-contiguous flakes from opposite directions, the intersection of the removals forming an angle of more than 90° . This ensures that the thickness of the artifact will be preserved and at the same time creates the ridges that are typical of the true polyhedron. The wider the angles, the closer the polyhedral form comes to being a Spheroid.

It is possible to obtain a Bola from a polyhedron. In this case all ridges / facets are crushed by pecking  in order to obtain a perfect sphere / stone-ball. Polyhedrons, spheroids and bolas may represent different stages of a single chaîne opératoire. Technically, polyhedral and spheroidal shaping is carried out by direct percussion with a hard hammer. The transformation of a polyhedron into a spheroid, or even more so, that of a spheroid into a bola, is achieved through pecking, with a shift in techniques : first direct percussion and then pecking. If this technological sequence was intentional or not remains an open question.

Functionally, Stone balls if made from relatively soft stones like limestone may serve as Percuteurs for shaping other tools, especially scrapers. This situation was reconstructed at the Middle Paleolithic at Jonzac, France, where Limestone balls were used in shaping bifacial Quina artifacts.

Another functional possibility could be the use of Polyhedrons / Spheroids as Hammer-stones that were used for buttering/pounding purposes  processing vegetal material and/or tendering meat. Analysis of damage and residues on pitted stones from Lower Paleolithic contexts at Gesher Benot Ya’acov suggests these tools were used to crush seeds and to crack nuts. Anyhow, most often  Polyhedrons were simply exhausted cores.

Stone Balls are called Bola stones and are ethnographic hunting weapons consisting of sets of stones individually wrapped in leather pouches that are linked together at the ends of ropes and thrown at fleeing animal prey. During the early Paleolithic they may have been used  in capturing animals or as  effective throwing stones (Leakey 1931).

An enigmatic structure of approximately 60 spheroidal stone balls which formed a regular cone 75 cm high and 1,50 m in diameter was recovered from a fossil spring at the MSA site of El-Guettar. If this ensemble was embedded in a symbolic context or was caused by taphonomic processes remains unclear.

Polyhedral and spheroidal shaping appears very early on, in the Oldowan period, and endures throughout the Acheulean. In East Africa the Oldowan industries dating to 2,6-1,5 m.a. are  characterized by simple technologies consisting of cores made on pebbles or chunks (choppers, discoids, polyhedrons, heavy‐duty scrapers, facetted spheroids and polyhedrons), debitage (flakes and fragments), and more rarely, irregular retouched pieces.  The best contextualized but isolated location for a Olduvan in North Africa remains the site of Aïn Hanech, near Sétif in northern Algeria, and the nearby  site of El-Kherba. Both sites exhibit an Oldowan ensemble, dated to at least 1,2 Ma. Looking to Eurasia, Polyhedrons / Spheroids are rare but present in the early Mode-I industries of South Europe.

Currently Polyhedrons have not be recognized from the  3.3-million-year-old stone tool ensemble  from. Lomekwi 3, West Turkana, Kenya.

Polyhedrons and  spheroids are an invariable part of the African / Near Eastern Acheulean. Good documented examples come from Kalambo Falls, Olorgesailie, Isimila, Nadaouyieh Aïn Askar,  Thomas and STIC Quarries (Casablanca),  Kariandusi, Latamne and Ubeidiya, Litpur, Bose…

While Spheroids/Polyhedrons are known from the European Lower Paleolithic, especially from the large surface collections from S/W-France and the Quartzite Acheulean in Northern Hessen, their appearance in stratified context is extremly rare- one example is Arago (MIS 14). Perfect Bolas to my knowledge  are absent during the Estlands and middle Paleolithic in Europe.

A very interesting ensemble of stone balls was found in the Amudian layers at Qesem Cave in Israel.  Here stone balls were found mostly concentrated in particular locations in the south-western part of the cave in the lower part of the stratigraphic sequence. Anyhow, the activities that took place here remain enigmatic.

Last but not least some observations from the field by L.S.B. Leakey:

“The important thing about the Olorgesailie site, however, was the finding of bolas stones in groups of three in situ, and not merely lying on the surface. Ten sealed living sites were found there, and groups of bolas stones were found on several of these associated with handaxes and cleavers, and with fossil bones, the remains of the meals of Acheulian man. In addition, of course, many single bolas stones were found scattered on the surface at Olorgesailie where erosion had cut into the deposits and disturbed part of the camp sites” (Leakey, 1947: 48).

The latest Paleolithic  Polyhedrons, which are interpreted as cores were found at Ar Rasfa in the Jordan Rift Valley (a “Tabun C “Ensemble) but The Levantine Mousterian from Israel, Syria and Lebanon  Levallois-Mousterian is usually devoid of this artifact classes.

Polyhedrons / Spheroids / Bola Stones disappear from the old Paleolithic world archaeological record, not without a resurrection of the concept  in different pars of the world during later times- but this  issue is not part of Aggsbachs Paleolithic blog.

The forgotten Paleolithic heritage of Tunisia

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Azilian Monopoint from the Roc d’Abeilles site

This is a delicate (4,2 cm long) very flat (within a sub millimeter range) Azilian Monopoint from the Roc d’Abeilles site, near Périgueux which was excavated by Champagne and Espitalié during the 1930ies with the limited techniques of their time. Anyhow the first investigations were already performed during  the 1920s, by Dr. Dupiellet, but we do not know nothing about his results.

Champagne and Espitalié published their results very late in  1970 (Champagne and Espitalié, 1970; pdf via persee). During the last decennia the lithic material was almost completely dispersed by the Espitalié family.  The monopoint shown here, was once part of the collection and part of the published material.

Two ensembles have been distinguished by the excavators: the lower strata, about 1 m thick very rich in findings  attributable to the Upper Magdalenian, showing a clear break with the overlying Azilian ensemble (thickness: ca 40 cm). The upper ensemble showed an early Azilian with many Bipoints, ungiform scrapers, truncated and scaled large blades. However, the presence of a lot of monopoints and truncated-base (Malaurie-type) straight-backed points indicate that more than one stage of the Azilian was present, but not recognized by the excavators.

Another reference site for the Azilian in the greater Aquitaine is  the Rochereil cave (Grand-Brassac, Dordogne). A small part of the collection of Rochereil was excavated early between 1912 and 1921 by MM. Féaux and Fayolle, but the main part comes from  the excavations of Dr. Jude undertaken between 1937 and 1939 and published in 1960. The stratigraphy includes late Magdalenian and Azilian levels. An overwhelming production of bone-tools, figurative art and abstract decoration are attested from the Magdalenian strata.

The Azilian Layer III (Jude excavations) was subdivided into three sub-layers by the excavator by digging arbitrary levels (a-c).  In IIIa, the armatures  are dominated by bipoints associated with some monopoins with straight back without adjustment of the base. In level IIIb, curved-back monopoins are predominant, but some bipoints are still present. The bipoints disappear in level IIIc and are substituted by curved and straight monopoints, especially Maulerie points.

The study of fauna by G. Astre was carried out for the whole of layer III without taking subdivisions into account. Only a  list of hunted animals has been published which mentions the presence of wild boar, deer, roe deer and aurochs (as well as common beef, Bos taurus). The only quantitative indication concerns rabbit remains, described as being “extremely numerous”.

Despite regional variation, the techno-typological analyses of other and better excavated Azilian assemblages from southwestern France on both sides of the Garonne allows the description of valid diachronic trends of Lateglacial societies very similar to the examples discussed in this post. In general Early and late Azilian are followed by a very late Epipaleolithic, the Laborian.

The long stratigraphic sequence of Pont d’Ambon, 2 km from Rochereil for example includes several layers attributed to the Magdalenian, Early Azilian, Late Azilian and Laborian. Recently renewed excavations at the Abri Murat, only a few km from Roc d’Abeilles confirmed the overall trend. A Phase with  Bipoints during the early Azilian is followed by Monopoints and a Phase with Maulerie points. Backed Azilian points are interpreted as hunting weapons, replacing the multicomponent projectiles of the preceding Magdalenian.

Ungiform Scrapers made from flakes and large blades with scalar retouche are present especially during the early phase of the Azilian.

Overall the faunal spectrum of the early Azilian is characterized by Horse, while the less dense Late Azilian occupations are associated with a faunal assemblage dominated by rabbit and red deer.

The Laborian is characterised by several particular artefacts – backed points with truncated bases on small, very regular blades and tools on fairly regular blades – demonstrating a higher technical investment than is evident with the Late Azilian assemblage.

Upper Paleolithic from Rochereil (Grand Brassac, Dordogne)

Eyed Bone Needle from the Rochereil cave,

Azilian from the Roc d’Abeilles rock shelter

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Federmesser and Azilian Ideology: Regionalism in Action

Figure 1: This is a Azilian Bipointe from early Excavations at the La Madeleine Rock-shelter. Peyrony described that such artifacts were present in the upper parts of the “Magdalenian VI” at the site. It remains open for discussion if the bipointes of La Magdalene  were part of a very late Magdalenian or of an early Azilian, not recognized by Peyrony.

Figure 2. shows the same Bipointe (2.1) and some Monopoints (2.2: Moru, Aisne; 2.3.,2.4.,25.: Leudal area in South Limburg, Netherlands).

as discussed earlier the Azilian and Federmesser groups are a Pan-European phenomenon starting towards the end of the Oldest Dryas, encompassing the Bølling, Middle Dryas and Allerød late-glacial pollen zones. At least, in the case of continental north-western Europe, the traditional pollen zones are clearly correlated to the now standard Greenlandic ice core stages. All fall into Greenland Interstadial (GI- 1): Oldest Dryas (GI-1d) and Allerød-Bølling (GI-1c-a).Typologically the standard model for the Azilian shows a succession from Bipoints to Monopoints followed by Monopoints with basal retouches (Maulerie Points). The latest Epipaleolithic in Europe shows a trend to more diversified ensembles (Laborian in S/W-France; Belloisien in N-France; Ahrensburgian in N/W-Europe; Epigravettian in S/E-Europe)

The process of “Azilianization” began in Southern Europe and remains enigmatic. The contribution of the Magdalenian and Epigravettian to the formation of the Azilian remains unclear. The discussion about why this transition happened is moving away from simple explanations, based on an ec0lgical determinism. According to A. Thévenin (2005) the spread of the curved backed points began independly of climatic changes during the late glacial interstadial.

In contrast to the Magdalenian  an evident increase of the utilisation of local resources took place during the Azilian / Federmesser complex. These people  acted more regional in their habitats.

The Chaîne opératoire of the Azilian /Federmesser-Complex is in direct opposition to the  material and artisanal production of the late Magdalenian. Lithic assemblages from Federmesser or Azilian-associated sites always show a less- strict, less-conform lithic tradition compared to e.g. Magdalenian  albeit with Magdalenian influences intact. Maybe the new techniques display the break down of a rigid and standardized group ideology compared to the preceding technocomplexes.

We observe a rapid (in archaeological terms) and complete change of lithic ensembles over wide part of Europe. There must have been contexts (environmental, ideological and others) that called for such radical reactions.  This rapid response shows how open minded people, normally acting regionalistic, actively accepted the innovations of the Azilian / Federmesser system, by using preexisting long range networks, created during the Magdalenian and Epigravettian.

Azilian from the Roc d’Abeilles rock shelter

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Comments on the Iberian Solutrean

This post shows five Solutrean Points from an Iberian collection acquired in 1979. The artifacts are made from the same, brownish flint and were found together. The largest point is 9 cm long. Two Points are finished bifacial Solutrean leaf-points  while three points represent probably preforms (unifacial n=1; bifacial n=2).

It can imagined that bifacial Solutrean leaf-points can be easily reworked into other types like tanged or stemmed examples or projectiles with a concave or straight base.

In Iberia the oldest Solutrean phase is the  Protosolutrean / Lower Solutrean, featuring a dominant presence of pointes à face plane with dorsal, invasive, flat retouch and lacking both bifacially-shaped foliate points and tanged types. Contexts attributable to this phase are scarce and concentrated to S- Portugal- certainly a bias of excavation history. Contemporaneous ensembles are known from very few sites in Southwest France (Laugerie Haute, Abri Casserole,  Marseillon) Important sites have also been identified in central Spain (Peña Capón, Calvaria 2, Portela 2, Balma de la Griera).

The current paradigm suggests that the Protosolutrean is a transitional industry between the Gravettian and the Solutrean. The early phase of this techno-complex seems to be characterized by the “Vale Comprido” point.  The transition occurs across the entire Solutrean region, with a great deal of interaction between France and Iberia and with much long-distance exchange occurring. e Comprido” point. Mediterranean region.

During the Middle Solutrean, lithic tool-kits are marked by the predominance of laurel- leaves over pointes à face plan, although the latter seem to maintain a relatively important presence within some of the assemblages. These assemblages are found across Southern Iberia.

The number of Upper Solutrean contexts is the highest among all three phases. From a typological point of view, Upper Solutrean assemblages are marked by the presence of pointes à face plan, although in much more restricted frequencies, while laurel-leaves maintain almost the same importance as in the previous phase.

During the Upper Solutrean the territory can be subdivided into two macro- regions , the Atlantic or Franco-Cantabrian and the Mediterranean. This division is based on the type of retouch used in the manufacture of shouldered points, predominantly flat, invasive and mostly bifacial retouch in the first case, and abrupt retouch in the second ( the so called Solutreo-Gravettian).

Tanged and winged “Parpalló-type” points are other significant implements during this stage and one of the defining elements of the Mediterranean facies. This facies is prevalent in the territory usually defined as Southern Iberia (south of the parallel 40°N) with a distribution concentrated in the coastal strip between the Valencia region and the Portuguese Estremadura.

There is increasing evidence, that the traditional chronological model for Iberia, which is replicating the successive typological phases of the Solutrean in French, needs a major revision,mainly because point types traditionally considered to be recent in age do also appear in early contexts (defined stratigraphically or by robust Calibrated C-14 data). L Straus recently  explained  the composition of Solutrean tool kits in Northern Iberia as functional variants with correlation with different classes of game.



Badegoule- an important Archaeological site for the Solutréen and Badegulien in S/W-France

Point a face plane from Laugerie-Haute

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Control of Fire by Archaic Humans

The common sense suggest, that fire must have invented very early in human evolution because fire use and control offers a lot of advantages: It acts as a source of warmth, making it easier to get through cold temperatures and allowed our ancestors to survive in colder environments.  Fire also played a role how Homo sp. obtained and consumed food, primarily by the  practice of cooking. This caused a significant increase in hominid meat consumption and intake of calories.

Therefore early researchers suggested that, immediately after fire use and control was “discovered,” it subsequently became a universal and ubiquitous component of all hominin populations.

However, the history  of humans has always a way of turning out differently as evidenced by the results of excavations during the last 50 years.

First, there are some things  we will newer know:

  • Did our ancestors learn first how to tame natural fires or did they start with the invention of fire-making techniques either using friction or tools that create sparks or  techniques employing chemicals?
  • After they learned to handle fire- was this knowledge transmitted to other people as a continuous process or was the knowledge of fire making  lost after few generations and had to be reinvented again and again?

Secondly many assumptions from older textbooks are obviously wrong:

Early research often misinterpreted non-burnt sediments in search of  hominin fire use. At a number of important localities this led to the misidentification of the presence of fire, based on sediments that were in fact unrelated to burning. For example, at the site of Fontechevade in the Charente in Southwestern France patches of manganese dioxide were mistaken for charcoal, and at Zhoukoudian, China, lenses of organic matter and layers of very fine silts from Middle Pleistocene contexts were mistaken for charcoal and ash. Similar misinterpretations occurred at South Africa’s Cave of Hearths , and more recently at the the important Schöningen site in Lower Saxony. 

Goldberg, Miller, and Mentzer recently with more conceptual rigor  formalized three basic questions that should comprise the identification and interpretation of early Homo fire use: “(1) Are the sediments or objects in question actually burned? (2) If they are burned, what was the nature and context of their deposition? (3) Were they burned by hominins?”

Innovative  methods of excavation and data processing have improved the identification of latent structures like combustion areas, hearths and clusters of human activity in archaeological sites,  providing a more unequivocal evidence for fire making

Advanced micro-morphology and and micro-spectroscopy were developed that both provides evidence of fire, in the form of burned bone and ashed plant remains, even without the macroscopic presence of combustion areas.

Data about intact sediments at Wonderwerk, probed with such techniques, gave secure evidence that  burning took place  in the cave during the early Acheulean occupation, approximately 1.0 Ma. ago. Anyhow it can not be proven, that it was enflammed by human activity.

The presence of burned seeds, wood, and flint at the Acheulian site of Gesher Benot Ya`aqov (GBY; Fig 2: East African Cleaver) in Israel is also very  suggestive of the control of fire by humans nearly 800 K.A. years ago. “The distribution of the site’s small burned flint fragments suggests that burning occurred in specific spots, possibly indicating hearth locations. Wood of six taxa was burned at the site, at least three of which are edible—olive, wild barley, and wild grape”.

But: GBY and Wonderwork cave remain the only secure sites with fire use by hominins during the Early Pleistocene. The Archaeological record remains patchy and limited, without evidence that the use of fire quickly became an universal and ubiquitous component of all hominin populations.

The examples of fire use remain rare but more unequivocal during the early Middle Pleistocene in the Levant. The most impressive findings come from the excavations of the Qesem Cave, Israel, where the remains of ash and charcoal have been identified in primary deposition using micromorphological techniques. Moreover, burnt bones have been identified with certainty. Other mineralogical, geochemical, and microscopic techniques were used to identify the stable derivatives of wood ash and burnt clays.

The excavators  show that the 7.5-m sedimentary sequence exposed by excavation in Qesem Cave consists predominantly of lithified ash remains, sometimes preserving intact hearths. The Amudian deposits in Qesem Cave therefore rank among the earliest well-documented examples of the habitual use of fire. In the Yabrudian layers at Tabun cave (Figure 3: small handaxe from Tabun), fire use was also “regular or habitual” by 350–320 k.a., but burned flints were scarce or absent during at least 50 k.a.

From these data, it has been concluded that fire-building in the Levant became a regular activity at ca 400-200 k.a. and that its use was associated with an increase in human social and intellectual complexity. The control over fire may also have contributed to organizational shifts in hominid settlement and land use systems, as expressed by ‘‘home bases’’ or residential camps.

However even during  this period,  evidence of fire is sporadic. Early uses of fire may have heating, cooking/roasting, illumination, and protection from predators. The control over fire may have been important for colonizing unfamiliar cool environments although this proposition remains to be tested.

After 200 k.a. BP, the Levantine (Levallois)-Mousterian layers at sites such as the caves of Tabun, Kebara, and Hayonim (Israel), Shanidar (Iraq) show an important stratigraphial record with the presence of in situ hearths and ash levels throughout most of the layers. In Kebara cave, for example, ash layers have been well preserved through 4 m of section in the center of the cave.  Many caves present indications that social activities centered around these  hearths.

In Europe we have no secure evidence for anthropogenic fire before 400 k.a. BP. European Lower Paleolithic sites such as Dmanisi, Atapuerca, La Caune d’Arago, and Boxgrove show thousands of unburned bones but no burned materials. Early and even late Neanderthal communities often did not use fire.

It is not before the second half of the Middle Pleistocene onward (MIS5-3) that we  observe  several Middle Paleolithic cave and open-air sites with multiple successive levels representing a long time span with clear evidence of fire. For example the combustion structures in the many levels of Abric Romani in Spain and of Ksiecia Jozefa in Poland, the multiple levels of El Salt, St. Marcel, Esquilleu Cave, Peyrards, La Combette, La Quina, St. Césaire, Pech de l’Azé IV, Roc de Marsal….

. Les Canalettes, France, is a well-documented Middle Paleolithic site where lignite was repeatedly imported as fuel from a distance of 8–10 km.

Stone-lined or stone-delimited fireplaces are not as common as in the late Upper Paleolithic but they have been documented at a number of Mid- dle Paleolithic sites: Vilas Ruivas, Les Canalettes, La Combette, Bolomor layer XIII, Port Pignot, Abri du Rozel, Pech de l’Aze II, Grotte du Bison, and Abric Romani.

Hearth- centered activities have been suggested at the rock shelter site of Abric Romani  at the open-air sites of La Folie (France) and Ksiecia Jozefa (Poland).

But we also know important exceptions from this pattern like the Quina Mousterian from the rock-shelter site of Chez Pinaud Jonzac (Charente-Maritime, France; Fig 4: Quina artifact), recently excavated, and excellent preserved, offers an opportunity to pursue issues of hunting and cocking . At Jonac at least 18 reindeers were hunted by Neandertals during the fall through winter and butchered at the site.The excavators were surprised  that “in the excavated sample, the absence of hearths and the almost complete lack of burned bones or stones suggest that Neandertals were not using fire to assist with processing the reindeer carcasses”

Jonzac is no exception. Numerous archaeological Neanderthal sites before the Upper Paleolithic challenge the cooking hypothesis because there is simply no evidence for the control of fire.

The pattern emerging  from these data seems to be clear and surprising.  Homo did not need the control of fire technology to leaf Africa and settle northern latitudes. On contrary, Homo in Europe survived without the systematic control of fire, on raw meat and vegetal food for hundreds of thousands of years. There are any clear traces of the habitual use of fire until the second half of the Middle Pleistocene. This absence of evidence, 150 yrs after intensive research can not be ignored. It was only much later, that fire-use became part of the habitual repertoire of some (not all) Neanderthal societies.

Suggested Reading:



(Picture 1: source: Wikipedia; GNU Free Documentation License; User:Fir0002)

Early controlled Fire use in Africa and the Levant

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Eyed Bone Needle from the Rochereil cave,

Bone needles represent an important Paleolithic innovation that made a sewing technology and tailor-made hide and leather clothing possible,  designed to cope with harsh environments. It is not by chance that many of these needles date to the LGM

The example, shown here, is a Magdalenian Bone Needle from the Rochereil site in the Dordogne. At this site, several strata of a late and very late Magdalenian were found with an overwhelming production of bone-tools, figurative art and abstract decoration. The Magdalenian strata were followed by an early Azilian (Bipointe-phase).

The needle shown here, exhibits the distinctive micro-wear  pattern which is produced when such an artifact is used as a sewing needle, already shown decennia ago in the classic monograph: Danielle Stordeur: Les Aiguilles à chas du paléolithique (13e supplément à Gallia préhistoire;1979).

Specialized bone technology first appears in the MSA of Africa and became widespread in Western Eurasia after 40 k.a. Cal BP. Standardized bone tools were not only produced by H. sapiens, but also by late Neanderthals (Lissoirs from several MTA sites in S/W-France).

Eyed bone needles, another group of highly formalized bone tools may also be considerable old. Currently it is claimed that the the earliest eyed bone needle found so far dates to ca 50 k.a. BP. It was found in Denisova Cave and was probably produced by the Denisovans and not by H. sapiens.

Anyhow, without direct dating of the Denisova artifact and more information  about the site formation process, the suggestion that “The Upper Paleolithic settlement of Eastern Europe and Siberia may be described as the eyed-needle zone, because it contains the earliest known eyed needles” remains purely speculative.

Many open questions too, remain on eyed needles reported from Kostenki 15 (35-30 k.a. BP), from Tolbaga (southeast of Lake Baikal) in deposits dated to 35 to 28 k.a. and eyed needles reported from Mezmaiskaya in the EUP (“Ahmarian like”) layers 1A and 1B, which are said to be at least 33-36 k.a old. In all these cases we are missing adequate publications and even high quality pics, to get an idea about we are talking about…

That such findings can be published with a high scientific standard was recently shown by a joint group of Harvard and Chinese researchers. They published an eyed bone needle fragment from the Shizitan 29 site, Shanxi Province, dated to ca. 23-26 k.a. Cal BP.

In China, where the systematic evaluation of the Paleolithic just has started, Upper Paleolithic examples of bone eyed needles were already published from the  Shuidonggou Locality 2 (ca 30 k.a.) Cal k.a. BP, from the Upper Zhoukoudian Cave dated to 36-28 Cal k.a. BP. BP and at the Xiaogushan Site dated between 30-20 k.a. Cal BP.

In Europe, after 150 yrs of intensive research, beside some isolated  examples from the “Aurignacian III” at La Ferrassie,  the earliest eyed needles come from the LGM and were found in larger quantities in late Solutrean layers (Badegoule, Laugerie-Haute- Est, Jean Blancs, Isturitz) and some Epigravettian sites of Central / South Europe.

During the Magdalenian, especially during its late stages (“Magdalenian V/VI”, the use of eyed bone needles became a mass phenomenon. At the Rochereil cave alone, about 200 examples were found …

Needles from La Madeleine

Eyed Bone Needle

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