Hollow Base projectile points from Fayum


These are Predynastic barbed and concave spear points from the Oasis Fayum. This type of arrowhead is sometimes called a Fayum Point, or a concave based arrowhead or a hollow based arrowhead. Most of the examples have one of the wings broken off. The type is designed bifacial and the ‘wings’ or barbs, resulting from the depth of the hollow base, vary in length. Hollow Base points from Egypt have deeper concave bases than any other projectile point in the world. One or more of their fragile “ears” are usually found broken off. Complete examples are fairly rare. It seems as I f they were designed to break on impact. Either that is the explanation or they were just poorly designed. Which is hard to believe since they were made and in use for approximately 2,000 years! Hollow Base points were hafted onto the ends of spear / dart /arrow shafts by sliding the point into grooves cut on either side of the shaft. Hafted examples still exist in the museum at Cairo, Egypt.

Hollow Base projectile points are characteristic of the Egyptian Neolithic through middle Predynastic periods (ca. 5300 – 3300 B.C.). They are found throughout the Egyptian Nile Valley and even in the Western Desert, but are best known from the Fayum Lake basin just south of Cairo.

Size: The size of the projectile varies greatly so that some have been assumed to be spear heads and others were designed for dart and arrows.  Most have curved lateral edges though some are straight giving a more triangular appearance to the outline. Several are serrated.

Geographic extension: 
Such points are not confined to Egypt. A similar winged type was found at site H in Wadi Ghazzeh in the Gaza strip. Whether these were made in Egypt or not is unclear. The earliest of the type appear in the Bashendi A layers at Dakhleh (5700-5000 BC). They appear in the Fayum Neolithic (Neolithic A) around 4500 BC and at the same time at Merimde. They continue until Badarian and Naqada I times (4000-3500 BC). Although they are often called ‘Fayum Points’ they also occur in Upper Egypt, for example at Mostagedda and Badari. It is unclear if they continue until Naqada II times (3500-3100 BC). 

Typological Variation: Neolithic types tend to be more finely made than the Predynastic types. At Merimde Predynastic stouter ones were earlier than narrow long ones. It has been debates as to whether or not one can see regional variations. Caton-Thompson and Gardner distinguished four different types from the Fayum (Caton-Thompson and Gardner 1934, 28). Hikade (2001) distinguishes between a Merimde point and the Fayum point. Rizkana and Seeher (1988, 33) state that at Maadi, Fayuum and Merimde triangular specimens with only slight hollows are found in the same contexts as others with very pronounced wings. Holmes (1989, 416) writes ‘A virtually infinite variety of concave base arrowheads is known from the Fayum, but for the Predynastic of Upper Egypt it has been useful to distinguish only two basic shapes: ‘incurving barb form’ and ‘straight-sided elongated triangular form”.

The wings do not always seem to have acted as barbs. A hollow-based arrowhead of uncertain date with fore shaft attached was found to have the wings completely covered with adhesive. In this instance at least, the wings were intended to strengthen the join of the head to foreshaft. The fact that these are bifacial arrowheads rather than simpler transverse types suggests that they were not simply utilitarian. Even the smaller chunkier ones are made with more care than would be needed simply from a practical view point. Thus, they probably also had symbolic importance, perhaps as a status marker.

Faiyum A Neolithic

Fayum- No need for crops?

Hollow based projectile point from the Fayum A Neolithic

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Blades before MIS3 in Europe

lamesSince the earliest classifications and sub-divisions of the Palaeolithic (Lubbock 1865; de Mortillet 1867; Breuil 1912), prismatic (volumetric laminar) blade technology has been seen as a recent and sophisticated technological strategy. Originally seen as a hallmark of “modern behavior” , laminar technology has now been refuted as a technological strategy solely used by anatomically and behaviorally modern Homo sapiens. It is now evidenced that Neanderthal populations in Western Asia, and Europe used laminar technology since MIS7 as well.

There are two production sequences of MP-blade making: Volumetric blade production and Levallois blade production. Distinguishing between Levalloisian and laminar blades is crucial. There are, however, many proxies for distinguishing between these systems. These include:

  • The observation of a crested/semi-crested blade (lame à crête);
  • The degree of standardization between end-products (laminar products are often more standardized than Levalloisian products);
  • Laminar products are often narrower and longer with a lack of convergence on the parallel edges (with the exception of retouched laminar productions into elongated points);
  • A trapezoidal or triangular cross-section is more apparent in laminar systems of blade production;
  • The butt of a laminar product is often narrower than its maximum width;
  • The appearance of a “chapeau de gendarme”, or éclats débordant, characteristic of some Levallois products, may be apparent.

One of the oldest sites with laminar production is Crayford probably dating to MIS 7, with 510 blades known so far.. At this site, unipolar convergent and bipolar recurrent parallel cores and blades were found. However, many opportunistic flakes were also present within this lithic assemblage. In the United Kingdom, similar lithic blade assemblages are often referred to as “Crayford-type blade dominated assemblages”. Another important characteristic of these “Crayford-type” lithic assemblages is that they never contain Levallois products. The “Crayford-type” toolkit is dominated by denticulated and notched pieces. However, some side-scrapers may be present. Finally, it is important to keep in mind that the “Crayfordian” (e.g. at Bakers Hole) is a different type of technology than the so-called “Clactonian”.

Blade rich ensembles before OIS 5 are not restricted to the UK:  La Petite Rouge Cambre Pas-deCalais, France is another Saalian s.l. site. The “Lower Gravel” is characterized by some big laminar non-Levallois parallel cores. The morphology of the initial elongated flint nodules still characterizes the morphology of the resulting cores. The “Upper Gravel” is characterized by the presence of a Levallois blade assemblage. Within the fine sediments on top of the terrace (Couche 5), which were affected by periglacial phenomena, another non-Levallois blade assemblage has been found. Within the toolkits, many notched and denticulated pieces were present. Markkleeberg, Germany  is an Saalian s.l. site, which is mainly characterized by Levallois blade reduction. However, Levallois flake cores and many side-scrapers, transverse sidescrapers and bifaces were also present within the lithic assemblage.  Saint-Valéry-sur-Somme, is another example of non-Levallois blade production (n=133), which can probably be dated to the Early or Middle Saalian s.l. (MIS 8 or 7). The non-Levallois elongated cores, which were carefully prepared, were struck off from two opposed striking platforms. Only 39 blades were present. The active faces of the prismatic cores, from which the recurrent blade removals were struck off were usually semi-rotating. Rheindahlen B1/B2,, Monchengladbach, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany  is arguably the most important open-air reference site in the West of present-day Germany. However, the chronostratigraphic position of the site has been debated. Now, the loess-soil sequence of Rheindahlen has been safely attributed to the Middle Saalian s.l., which is the terrestrial equivalent of MIS 7.  The lithic assemblage of Rheindahlen is characterized by the presence of many Levallois and non-Levallois blades. Several crested blades were also found.

During OIS 5 in Northern Europe, there are abundant evidence of a fully developed blade industry in France and adjacent parts of Germany (Wallertheim DSaint-Germain-des-Vaux, Tönchesberg 2B, Riencourt-lès-Bapaume, Seclin – D7). Here either Levallois and / or prismaticitc core techniques are present .

The laminar MP-Strategy could be the predominant production on the site or could be “embedded” in different technological systems. At Verrières and Vinneuf we find blades within a Micoquian / KMG-sphere. At Riencourt-lès-Bapaume the laminar volumetric production is embedded in a non-laminat Levallois-Mousterian.

The laminar MP-strategy occurred widely independly of raw material supply, duration of stay, the function of the sites and the mobility patters of Middle Paleolithic groups in this N/W-Europe. Maybe the most important trigger for producing blades was the wish of creating a standardized product, that could used in composite tools.

“Tabun D type” Ensembles in the Levant

Early Blades

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The Rehabilitation of the Micoquian (sensu Bordes) in Northern France


This is a Micoquian handaxe sensu Breuil and Bordes. It was found in the old brickyards at Allonne (Oise). Discoveries of symmetrical Micoquian bifaces have been particularly numerous in loess quarries of Paris Basin since the end of the 19th century , allowing Breuil (1932) and Bordes (1954) to define a “Province micoquienne de la Seine”.

In their definition a Micoquian handaxe is an elongated, mostly symmetric handaxe, characterized by concave margins and an elaborated tip. The base of such handaxes is thick, and rather neglected.  Breuil used the La Micoque site at Les Eyzies as a reference for his definition. He described the Micoquian as a late and smaller version of the Acheulean with very delicate working and many flake tools such as points and scrapers.  Certainly Bordes, recurring on the material from N-France saw symmetric Micoquian handaxes as a special form of handaxe within a late Acheulian context. A very interesting feature of the biface of this post is the thick basal region. It seems to be the passive part of the instrument, intended to facilitate the  holding of the biface in the hand while the thinner, sharper pointed region of the biface was being actively used.

Recently new excavations at Saint-Illiers-la-Ville (Yvelines) have brought to light a Micoquian ensemble sensu Bordes dated as late as to the early Würm (ca 100-90k.a. BP), as already suggested by Bordes for similar ensembles. The ensemble of Saint-Illiers-la-Ville and other similar entities, near by, confirms and clarifies the works of F. Bordes about the existence of a regional technical entity, well confined in time and built around the Micoquian biface, often associated with non-Levallois debitage.

In the vicinity of Saint-Illiers-la- Ville, such handaxes were found in the quarries of Mantes-la-Ville and Rosny sur- Seine, as well as that of Saint-Pierre-les-Elbeufs further west, and Villejuif and Le Tillet in the east and the Briqueterie d’Allonne (Oise) in the Noth/West. Such discoveries ceased in the 1950s, with the closing of numerous brickyards, which could not therefore be studied with up to date archaeological and stratigraphical methods.

Such bifaces seem particularly numerous around the beginning of the Weichselian (Bettencourt/ Elbeuf 1 palaeosol units, Gentelles, Vinneuf and Verrieres-le-Buisson ) and abruptly disappear around  90 k.a.BP.  The geographical concentration of these groups is also remarkable, reaching some 300 km along the river Seine and its tributaries. Therefore the “Micoquian” along the Seine must be seen as one distinct entity, different from the Industry of the type site at la Micoque, which may be dated to the Middle Pleistocene but also from the Middle European Micoquian / KMG with a complete other (asymmetrical) concept, including ensembles at the margins of the KMG core area like Champlost “Le Dessous de Bailly”. Out of this area, these elements are rare. Only some isolated artefacts were found, suggesting sporadic raids of this group (for example at Rheindalen in Germany).

Suggested Reading: 

The Prądnik (KMG) complex in Central Germany revisited

Tools from the Middle Europe Micoquian: Grochakis


Asymmetric Bifaces

F. Blaser et al: Saint-Illiers-la-Ville and the Micoquian of Weichselian sequences of the Paris Basin. Quaternary International · September 2015

Figure 1 and 2: One handaxe from the lost upper stratum at Micoque displaying unique characteristics and a Keilmesser from the margins of the KMG interaction sphere in N/W-France…




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Right lateralized Projectil Point from the 6th Millenium AD



flugler-dorsalThis is a right lateralized Danubian Point, characterized by a retouche inverse plate (“RIP”) from the early LBK (Linearbandkeramik) of North / Western Europe. H Löhr would have called it a “Rechtsflügler”.

There is little doubt that the LBK population in Europe genetically  shared an strong affinity with the modern-day Near East and Anatolia, supporting a major  input from this area during the advent of farming in Europe. On the borders between the incoming farmers and the indigenous hunters / gatherers one can study a variety of interactions with an enormous diversity from northern Spain to southern Scandinavia. No one region in Europe is quite like another; hunter-gatherers and early farmers alike were also varied and the old labels of Mesolithic and Neolithic are increasingly inadequate to capture the diversity of human agency and belief.

The processes of mutual interference between hunters / gatherers and farmers were complex and on a micro-regional scale very different. Acculturation processes not only involved changes in subsistence, alliances, raw material procurement, settlement systems but also created new ideologies and believes in how people thought about themselves and their worlds.

late-trapezeWhile long-distance contact and interaction is still hard to prove, there is little doubt that Early Neolithic farmers and local hunter-gatherers had contacts within the boundaries of the LBK core areas itself. This conclusion is primarily based on the frequent occurrence of non-LBK pottery, i.e. La Hoguette, Limburg, and “Begleitkeramik” pottery, and asymmetrical triangular arrowheads, which are selectively the focus of this post. The projectile conzeppoint shown here is a right lateralized point with “retouche inverse plate” (Fig. 3&4).

Asymmetrical trapezes or triangles with retouched bases or flat inverse retouch (retouche inverse plate or “RIP”), seem to have developed shortly after 6000 cal BC among the local Rhine-Meuse-Scheldt (RMS) groups, although their origins may lie with the left lateralized trapezoids of southern France. Such armatures are suggested to show some of the best available evidence for investigating possible contacts (e.g. acculturation and/or exchange) between indigenous foragers and farmers of the Early LBK culture.

First, trapezoidal armatures – widely considered diagnostic of the Late Mesolithic, have been recovered from LBK sites . Second, asymmetric triangles (flèches du Belloy) similar to the so-called “Danubian armatures”  prevalent on western LBK sites have been recovered from Late Mesolithic–Final Mesolithic  sites in northeastern France and the Benelux countries, and an evolutionary trajectory has been proposed in which three different asymmetric triangle types were “derived” from specific Late Mesolithic trapeze types.

Beyond typology, particular technological attributes such as lateralization and the negative scar of the microburin technique (piquant trièdre) have been highlighted to indicate the similarity of Mesolithic and LBK armatures. Finally, flat retouch along the ventral side of the small truncation of both trapezes and asymmetric triangles has been proposed as a development of hafting technologies that suggests additional similarity between armature industries. Combined, these typo technological and stylistic resemblances have led researchers to interpret armatures as evidence for the transmission of cultural identities between indigenous Mesolithic hunter-gatherers and LBK farmers.

Yet while there is no doubt that aspects of LBK lithic typology and technology, notably for arrowheads, have roots in the preceding Mesolithic, there has been a tendency to simplify a complex picture by drawing up clear-cut divisions between what makes a “Mesolithic” or “Neolithic” artefact. In fact, there is a lot of overlap between the two, as well as considerable diversity within each; nor do various “Mesolithic” and “Neolithic”’ indicators (lateralization, knapping technique, raw material preferences, and so on) co-vary in such a way as to create two mutually distinct tradition groups. In any case, the arrival of the LBK is connected with considerable changes in raw material management and tool types. Rather than a simple picture of one-sided influence, we have a complex one in which two traditions merge.

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Who built Thebes of the seven gates?– Simple Predynastic lithic industies from Upper Egypt–

These are serrated artifacts (most probably sickles) from the famous Neolithic site of Naqada, Egypt (Ex old Belgian ollection of Maurice Exsteens; 1930’s). They belong to the Naqada II period, well known for the highest flint workmanship in Prehistory- the Gerzean knifes (http://lithiccastinglab.com/cast-page/2002maygerzean.htm).  While the Gerzean knifes are the tools of a rich elite, these sickles were everyone’s artifacts of daily work…


With the introduction of farming and herding in Egypt, and successful development of a Neolithic economy in the lower Nile Valley, the economic foundation of the pharaonic state was laid. But the Neolithic did not mean that the rise of Egyptian civilization was inevitable. Communities in Upper and Lower Egypt became more dependent on farming in the 4th millennium BC, but only in the Naqada culture of Upper Egypt did social and economic complexity follow the successful adaptation of a Neolithic economy.

By the mid-4th millennium BC Naqada culture began to spread northward through various mechanisms that are incompletely understood, and by the late 4th millennium it had replaced the Buto- Ma’adi culture in northern Egypt. Egyptian civilization had emerged by the first two dynasties (Early Dynastic Period), when the newly formed state was unified from the Delta to the First Cataract at Aswan, under one king and his administrative bureaucracy. The Early Dynastic Period was a time of consolidation of this large territorial polity, when state institutions became established, along with the complex economic and political relationships of the kingdom.

With the spread of Neolithic technology to Middle and Upper Egypt in the 5th millennium bc, hunting and gathering as the main subsistence were gradually replaced by farming and herding. Although very little archaeological evidence survives, especially in Upper Egypt, agricultural villages began to appear by the 4th millennium bc, which is called the Predynastic Period. The Egyptian Nile Valley was an almost ideal environment for cereal agriculture , and eventually farmers would have been able to accumulate surpluses. Agricultural surpluses were probably used to feed farmers and their families throughout the year, and some seed would have been kept for planting the next crop. But surpluses beyond the necessities of subsistence could be used to obtain goods and materials not available in farmers’ villages. Although there is evidence of long-distance trade/exchange of exotic materials from before the Predynastic Period, this greatly increased in the 4th millennium bc, when craft production also increased – especially of artifacts such as jewelry, and carved stone palettes and vessels, which are found in elite burials of the Naqada culture in Upper Egypt. Archaeologists have defined two different Predynastic cultures, the Buto-Ma’adi culture of Lower Egypt, and the Naqada culture of Upper Egypt, based on the distribution of two very different ceramic traditions of the 4th millennium bc. In the north settlements are better preserved, while the southern Naqada culture is mainly known from its cemeteries, which are found in the low desert beyond the floodplain. Cultural differences went well beyond pottery types, however: the Naqada burials may symbolize increasing social complexity through time as the graves became more differentiated, in size and numbers of grave goods, whereas at Buto-Ma’adi sites burials are of a fairly simple type and seem to have had much less socio-cultural significance.

The oldest distinct Predynastic lithic industry in Upper Egypt is the Badarian of the el-Badari region. It flourished between 4400 and 4000 BC and might have already emerged by 5000 BC. It was first identified in El-Badari, Asyut Governorate. Unfortunately, it is still essentially only known from the work of Guy Brunton and Gertrude Caton Thompson from the 1920ies, and studies of the collections from their excavations.

About forty settlements and six hundred graves have been located. Social stratification has been inferred from the burying of more prosperous members of the community in a different part of the cemetery. The Badarian economy was based mostly on agriculture, fishing and animal husbandry.

The Badarian lithic industry is a generalized flake-blade industry, which in many ways recalls the lithic traditions of Lower Egypt.  The main non-bifacial tools appear to be end-scrapers, perforators and retouched pieces and sickles . Worked tabular slabs of raw material also seem to be characteristic.

The industry has a bifacial component comprising hollow-base projectile points, almost identical to the implements found during the Fayum Neolithic, bifacial sickles with very fine retouche, finely worked bifacial triangles of unknown function, small ovate axes and various other nonstandardized forms.

While the basic classes overlap with those of the Neolithic of Lower Egypt, the Badarian tools display their own distinctive variations of form and flaking style. The concave-base points, for example, are generally much more refined in shape, with delicate narrow barbs and very flat, regular retouch.

nagadeiiThe next cultural complex is named after the site of Naqada in upper Egypt, excavated by Flinders Petrie in 1895. The site is of special interest because Petrie found here for the first time tombs which are dateable to the time before the First Dynasty (earlier than 3000 BC). Petrie did not initially, and in the publication of his excavation, recognizes the age of the cemetery. He thought the tombs belong to a “New Race” which invaded Egypt in the First Intermediate Period.

Petrie was the first to produce a chronology for the Naqada Period. Using pottery he developed the sequence dates. Eventually he divided the Naqada period into three main periods:

  • Amratian (named after the cemetery near El-Amrah) sequence dates 31-37
  • Gerzean (after the cemetery near Gerzeh) sequence dates 38-62
  • Semainian (after the cemetery near Es-Semaina) sequence dates 63-76

Later Kaiser (Kaiser 1957) refined the sequence dates and divided the Naqada period into several Stufen (‘steps’ = phases).

Kaiser’s system remains in use in Upper Egypt with some slight modifications:

  • Naqada I a-b-c (about 4000 – 3500 BC)
  • Naqada II a-b-c (about 3500 – 3200 BC)
  • Naqada III a-b-c (about 3200 – 3000 BC)

Naqada I

The culture is still similar to the Badarian culture. The dead were buried in simple oval pits (some examples: Badari tomb 3731, Naqada tomb 1464, tomb 1613). Some larger tombs appear. Black-topped pottery is the typical ware and painted pottery appears.

The lithic remains of the Naqada I culture that have been recovered from burials are both rare and remarkable.  As Beatrix Midant-Reynes observes:

“Not many worked stone tools have been found in Naqada I graves, but the rarity of such finds was equaled by their quality.  These delicate and long bifacially flaked blades, some as much as 40 cm long, were regularly serrated.  Their most unusual feature was that they had all been polished before retouching.  This process was also used on beautiful daggers with bifurcated blades, which look ahead to the Old Kingdom forked instruments known as pesesh-kef used in the Opening of the Mouth funerary ceremony”.  The Naqadian culture seems to have had a liking for the rhomboidal shape, as both knives and cosmetic palettes often took this form.  Fishtail-shaped knives were also common.

Naqada II

The Naqada culture appears throughout Egypt. Some individuals are buried in larger; more elaborate tombs and new pottery types appear.

Naqada III

In Upper Egypt cemeteries include extremely wealthy burials, revealing stark social differences.

The adoption of a regular blade technology in Naqada II /III times is a phenomenon observed throughout the Upper Egyptian Nile Valley. It may represent a technology derived from the Buto-Ma’adi industry of Lower Egypt, and there seem to be similarities between the Buto-Ma’adi blade and bladelet technologies and those of the Mostagedda industry of the el-Badari region. By the end of the Predynastic period, the Lower Egyptian blade technology had developed further to become even more standardized and regular than that of the earlier Buto-Ma’adi industry. Thus by the beginning of the 1st Dynasty (circa 3,100-3,000 BC), very regular blades and blade tools were being produced in both Upper and Lower Egypt.

Bertolt Brecht

Who built Thebes of the seven gates?
In the books you will find the name of kings.
Did the kings haul up the lumps of rock?
And Babylon, many times demolished.
Who raised it up so many times? In what houses
Of gold-glittering Lima did the builders live?
Where, the evening that the Wall of China was finished
Did the masons go? Great Rome
Is full of triumphal arches. Who erected them? Over whom
Did the Caesars triumph? Had Byzantium, much praised in song,
Only palaces for its inhabitants? Even in fabled Atlantis
The night the ocean engulfed it
The drowning still bawled for their slaves.

The young Alexander conquered India.
Was he alone?
Caesar beat the Gauls.
Did he not have even a cook with him?
Philip of Spain wept when his armada
Went down. Was he the only one to weep?
Frederick the Second won the Seven Years’ War. Who
Else won it?

Every page a victory.

Who cooked the feast for the victors?
Every ten years a great man.
Who paid the bill?

So many reports.
So many questions.

Hollow based projectile point from the Fayum A Neolithic

Bifacial Knife from the Oasis Fayum

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Social memory in action: The use of mnemonic techniques during the Levantine Epipaleolithic


These are microliths from the Early Epipaleolithic of the Mt. Carmel Region /Israel. An original defining feature of the Epipaleolithic is the production of stone tools from small blade blanks less than 5 mm in length, which served as easily replaceable parts hafted into composite multi-purpose tools. The Epipaleolithic of the Near East has sometimes been described as the overture to  the “Neolithic Revolution”.

Historical processes are open ended. In retrospect human groups in the Levant after the LGM until the early Holocene seem to steadily move towards sedentary communities which began with farming at about 12 k.a. cal BP (11,5 k.a. BP). In reality this process was by no means as unilinear as once suggested and the human history of the late Pleistocene in the Near East could have been easily ended with the intensification of mobile foraging instead of switching to farming.

The Epipaleolithic (EP) in the Levant is generally be divided into Early, Middle, and Late EP phases. In general, there is a shift from gracile, narrow no geometric microliths  in the Early EP (Kebaran and other industries; c. 22- 17.5 cal BP) to geometric forms, especially trapezes and rectangles, in the Middle EP (Geometric Kebaran and other industries; c. 17.5-14.5 cal BP), and to small arrowheads and crescent-shaped microliths, called lunates, in the Late EP ( Natufian and other industries) .

Early Epipaleolithic:  While small Kebaran campsites are most common, other contemporary seasonally occupied sites have been identified in eastern and southern Jordan, the Negev and Sinai, and the Azraq Basin.

Large, dense, multi-season, and multi-phase sites in eastern Jordan, which have been interpreted as aggregation sites, do not conform to the model of isolated small, campsites during the eary pipaleolithic.  Jilat 6 and Kharaneh IV both have typical Early and Middle EP occupations, but also exhibit some characteristics unknown elsewhere. The El Kown area of southern Lebanon documents several large Kebaran settlements exhibiting the remains of structure and a high level of site organization. At these sites, the presence of several phases of occupation with living floors, hearths, hut structures, burials, marine shells, worked bone and stone, and extensive refuse deposits, are very similar to some later Natufian sites in density, organization, and reoccupation evidence.

While the organic remains at Kebaran sites are rarely preserved, the early Epipaleolithic at the submerged and water locked Site Ohalo II (Lake Lisan, 19 k.a. BP; 23 k.a. cal BP ) shows how we have to imagine life after the Last Glacial Maximum in the Levant. Excavations revealed the burnt remains of several brush huts, constructed from branches of local trees, shrubs and grasses, several hearths and a human grave. In the largest hut, the living floors have been renewed several times indicating a long and/or repeated occupation. Erect stones under the floors of two brush huts and their arrangement could be taken as an indication for the idea of ownership and continuity at this specific location.

Charred seeds and fruit were recovered in abundance at Ohalo II. The excavators reported the earliest direct evidence for human processing of grass seeds, including barley and probably wheat. An oven-like construction was recovered, suggesting that the cereals were used for the production of dought, which was baked.  Beside a wide range of plants that were used, the human diet at the site was also based on a variety of wild animals (fish, birds, and gazelle).

Geometric Kebaran sites of the Middle Epipaleolithic exhibit the broadest geographical distribution of all Early and Middle EP entities, with expansion into the arid zones and highlands; in some areas, they overlap with other groups, suggesting some form of direct interaction.  Middle EP sites again vary considerably in size and sometimes  include very large encampments. Determining seasonality of use is difficult and based largely on faunal and botanical remains. However, large sites contain dense, diverse artifact assemblages and show several episodes of reuse. For example, along the Coastal Plain of Israel, the Geometric Kebaran site of Neve David displays a highly dense and diverse material culture, as well as burials, a possible stone wall, and distinct activity areas. At Kharaneh IV, several superimposed Middle EP phases are characterized by compact living floors and associated hearths and postholes. Alongside these larger multi-occupation sites are smaller specialized ones. Their small horizontal and vertical extent, as well as low artifact density and diversity, suggest they were more specialized, short-lived camps. These findings suggest that duration of occupation and site function were quite varied.

2The early Natufian period marks the Late Epipaleolithic sequence in the southern Levant at relatively mild and moist climatic conditions during the Bölling and Alleröd interstadials. This phase shows an intensification in  the shift from mobile foragers to sedentary communities in the Mediterranean woodland and the intensified use of wild plants (cereals, acorn, wild grasses, figs, almonds) and animal resources, including the specialized hunt of gazelles and small and fast moving game.

Several distinct cultural markers provide evidence for population growth and increased social complexity in the Natufian period. These include thick archaeological deposits, artistic manifestations, ceremonial behaviour, cemeteries and perhaps even Shamanism (?). Archaeological manifestations typical of the early Natufian in the Mediterranean woodland include large settlements, durable architectural remains, ground stone tools left in place at sites, prolific microlithic stone and bone industries, ornamented objects and large cemeteries. Some 500 burials are known, which vary in composition (multiple or single, age and gender), burial position (flexed, extended) and mode of inhumation (primary or secondary; inclusion of stones or grave goods). Decorated burials are a characteristic feature of the Early Natufian while skull removal is a custom that appears in the later Natufian and continues into the Neolithic.

lunatesIt has to stressed, that in Mediterranean woodland and costal context, there is only a limited number of such large “village sites” inhabited by communities of up to several hundred people. Further east, in the Irano-Turanian steppe, subsistence strategies already established during the earlier Kebaran prevailed. Here we find more mobile hunters and gatherers, less thick archaeological remains, smaller villages, infrequent use of small game and intensified exploitation of cereals and other grasses from the open parklands and steppe.

During the late Natufian, partially triggered by the harsher conditions of the younger Dryas, the mobile strategies that were once established in the early Natufian in the steppe-zones became also the lifestyle in the costal area. There are clear indications that the exploitation of grass seeds became more important, but these strategies did not ultimately lead to the cultivations of cereals during the younger Dryas, as once thought. The Natufians simply successfully adapted to the new environmental conditions, but the advent of agriculture did not take place until the warm and moist Holocene during the PPNA.

Social Memory at work: During the whole Epipaleolithic some sites were temporary campsites of seasonally mobile hunter-gatherers, while others were clearly much more substantial, with evidence of long-term reoccupation, long-distance travel and exchange, and multi-season occupation. Phases of sedentariness and ideas how to manipulate nature emerged and disappeared during the Levantine Epipaleolithic, but certainly were never forgotten in the social memory of  Epipaleolithic societies.  During the early Holocene these ideas and experiences were readily recallable and contributed to the Neolithic transition invariable what were the most eminent contributing factors for the emergence of agriculture.

One eminent question in this process is how we have to imagine  social memory in action. One concise theorywas developed by Lynne Kelly, an Australian  researcher.  Her work focuses mainly on the study of primary orality, as well as the mnemonic  devices used by ancient and modern oral cultures.

Prehistoric societies needed a wide, robust body of knowledge in order to survive. It seems highly probable that such cultures simply would not have done so without mnemonic transmission of knowledge allowing it to span generations without the benefit of writing, using mostly fallible human memory and memory foci. In early societies, the elders had encyclopedic memories. They could name all the animals and plants across the landscape and the stars in the sky too. Using traditional Aboriginal Australian song lines as the key, Lynne Kelly has identified powerful memory techniques used by indigenous people around the world. She explores the notion that memories were or are encoded in ritual, songs, myths and spaces that can be marked by natural or build elements.

Archeologists should be aware for indicators of such behavior-they  need not to be such spectacular as  Göbekli Tepe…..

Suggested Reading

Lynne Kelly:  Knowledge and Power in Prehistoric Societies: Orality, Memory and the Transmission of Culture; Cambridge University Press 2015.


PPNA at Nahal Oren

After the Cold: Kebaran from Kebara Cave

Enigmatic object from the Natufian at Kebara

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Early Middle Paleolithic (EMP) from the Mt. Carmel



Prehistoric Archaeology at the Mt. Carmel: When, in 1927, the British Mandatory government’s Public Works Department initiated the Haifa Harbor Project and quarrying threatened to destroy the caves’ cliff, Mr. Charles Lambert, Assistant Director of the Mandatory Department of Antiquities of Palestine, was assigned to check the complex of caves at Wadi el-Mughara to see whether it was worth saving. In autumn 1928 Lambert made five soundings in el-Wad Cave, three inside and two on the terrace, resulting in several important discoveries.

In fact, Lambert was the first to unveil the Natufian layers at el-Wad and to establish their stratigraphy. On the terrace, amongst stone walls and grinding implements, he came upon two burials, later known to be Natufian, the first ever unearthed at Mount Carmel. Inside the cave, a bone sickle handle carved as a young animal was found, the first prehistoric art ever published in the Near East.

The subsequent recognition of the Wadi el-Mughara caves (Tabun, Jamal, el-Wad and Skhul) as archaeologically important, and their registration as an antiquity site, was followed by six years of excavation directed, on behalf of the British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem and the American School of Prehistoric Research, by Dorothy A.E. Garrod (Garrod and Bate 1937). The Lower and Middle Paleolithic cave fillings from Tabun cave were opened during 1929.

Ninety years of archaeological research have revealed a cultural sequence of unparalleled duration, providing an archive of early human life in south-west Asia. This 54 ha property contains cultural deposits representing at least 500,000 years of human evolution demonstrating the unique existence of both Neanderthals andEarly Anatomically Modern Humans within the same Middle Palaeolithic cultural framework, the Mousterian. Evidence from numerous Natufian burials and early stone architecture represents the transition from a hunter-gathering lifestyle to agriculture and animal husbandry. As a result, the caves have become a key site of the chrono-stratigraphic framework for human evolution in general, and the prehistory of the Levant in particular.

tabun cave 2010

Wikipedia (GNU Free Documentation License) showing the Garrod section today.

Figure 1 shows a 13 cm long non retouched Levallois point from the Mt. Carmel, characteristic for “Tabun D” ensembles.  Such tools fit perfectly into a laminar phenomenon, found across the Levant around  200 k.a. BP. During the last 25 years it has been shown, that there is a lot of variability in these ensembles both by the chaine opératoires that was used and the typology of  the desired end-products.  Several types of “Points” have been described, although the boundaries between the types are volatile and reworking could easily change one type into another. Elongated blades / points have recently systematically described by their morphology and technology by Alla Yaroshevich, Yossi Zaidner, and Mina Weinstein-Evron. Figure 2 shows analogies from a collection from South Italy with similar characteristics (Probably dating from MIS5-3):


  • pointsLevallois point : Figure one shows an unusual elongated form
  • Retouched Levallois points: Levallois points, non-elongated with uni- or bilateral retouche
  • Abu-Sif points: elongated Mousterian points retouched along both edges by continuous retouche. Made from Laminar or Levallois convergent,  Preferential preparation
  • Hummal points: points with one fully or almost fully retouched edge opposite an edge that is either unretouched or retouched only on the tip Made predominantly on blades; some are possibly made on Levallois blanks.
  • Misliya points with tip modified by abrupt retouch in the form of an oblique truncation. Misliya points are made on small thin blades, Levallois as well as non-Levallois, or on small Levallois points.
  • Unnamed Points with bifacial, alternate or ventral retouch: points made on Levallois and non-Levallois elongated blanks and modified with invasive retouch which may be either bifacial, alternating or on the ventral surface
  • Off-set points with retouch creating either an oblique truncation or an arch-like back

This post gives a short account about what is currently known about the production, morphology and function of elongated pointed forms from the S/W-Asian  EMP at Mt. Carmel around 200 k.a. BP (MIS7).

The issue of Projectile Points: Investigations into the development of weapon systems are increasingly important in archaeological debates about human evolution and behavioural variability. Since the elongated points from the Levantine EMP are known, their use as projectile points is debated. While some researchers argue that their optimal design, combined with a relatively high frequency of “Diagnostic Fractures” [DIFs]), well beyond the frequency of accidental ones, produced by experimental debitage and trampling may be a strong signature as projectiles. But others are increasingly sceptic in identifying projectile points by simple breakage characteristics. These researchers vote for more experimentation and detailed functional studies and have by contrast stressed the numerous difficulties in recognizing projectile points. There seems not one single fracture type or attribute that is diagnostic for a use as armature.  Any reliable identification requires a close examination of all wear features on an armature, both on an individual and group specific level.

Tabun Cave was the first site where an Early Levallois Mousterian was described in the Levant. It lies at the mouth of Nahal Me’arot (Wadi el-Mughara), facing the coastal plain ca. 20km south of Haifa, Israel. The cave was first excavated in 1929–1934 by D.A.E. Garrod and later re-excavated in 1967–1971 by A. Jelinek. Excavations were continued between 1975 and 2003 by A. Ronen. Garrod removed an estimated 2,000m³ of sediment from the cave, leaving a stepped section approximately 24.50m deep that began in the inner chamber and ended at bed­rock in the outer chamber where a swallow-hole was un­covered. Garrod divided the stratigraphic sequence into seven layers, beginning with what she called Tayacian (F) and ending with the late Mousterian (Layer B) (the uppermost Layer A was mixed and included recent material. Jelinek’s excavations concentrated on Gar­rod’s stepped section in the intermediate chamber. The new section was 10m high, 5m to 6m wide and penetrated 2m into Garrod’s section. The exposed sequence was di­vided into 14 ‘Major Stratigraphic Units’ (identified with Roman numerals), each composed of multiple geological beds. Although the new excava­tions provided much better control over the stratigraphy, Garrod’s simple division of the sequence is still most com­monly encountered in the literature.

Unit IX of Jelinek’s excavations, which is equivalent to the lower part of Garrod’s Layer D (EMP) has recently reevaluated on a technological level.  Unit IX is the most intact EMP deposit at Tabun: Units III–VIII show evidence of considerable ero­sion and re-deposition. The assemblage from this layer is most often referred to as ‘Early Levantine Mousterian’ or ‘Tabun D-Type’ in the literature. Unit IX has been dated by TL to 256±26 k.a. BP. It is somewhat ironical, that the “prototype” of Tabun D ensembles is itself a technological abnormality. In contrast to many other contemporary sites, during MIS7 (Hayonim Lower E and F, Douara IV, Rosh Ein Moor and Hummal) where non-Levallois laminar production is strongly represented, the assemblage of Unit IX is dominated by recurrent, unipolar Levallois technology . The reason for this technological choice remains unclear.

Misliya Cave is located on  the western slopes of  Mount Carmel, slightly to the south of Nahal (Wadi) Sefunim, at an elevation of ca. 90 m, some 12 km south of Haifa and ca. 7 km north of Wadi el-Mughara.  Excavations were carried out between 2001–2010 and revealed a rich EMP layer spread over the Upper Terrace of this collapsed cave  below a residual rock shelter. Preliminary TL dates on burned flint artifacts from the site suggest that they are older than 200 k.a. , thus corroborating the dates recently obtained for the same cultural phase in the nearby Tabun Cave. The EMP of all these caves have broadly assigned the site to MIS7.bWhile the cultural affinity of the finds on the Middle Terrace could not have been determined to date, Middle Paleolithic layers cover an extensive  surface of the Upper Terrace, most notably in its central/northern portion.  The Lower Terrace, where Acheulo-Yabrudain finds constituted the only existing cultural uni , yielded a small lithic assemblage rich in handaxes and Acheulo-Yabrudian side-scrapers.

Neuville. — Le Paléolithique et le Mésolithique du Désert de Judée. Archives de l’I.P.H., n° 24, 1951: Abu Sif Points

abu sif


“Tabun D type” Ensembles in the Levant


Hummalien at El-Kowm

The Carmel caves, Dorothy Garrod and the Backdirt from old Excavations

A. Rust and D.A.E. Garrod: Different Attitudes

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Acculturation, What Acculturation?-An Eurocentric view

complexity neanderthal


This is an MTA Handaxe from Lembras / Bergeracois in the  Perigord;  a Chatelperron Point from Les Cottes / Vienne and three implements from the Aurignacian (La Rochette / Vezere near Le Moustier). The master narrative tells us that the Handaxe was made by Neanderthal, the Chatelperron Point by acculturated Neanderthals and the Aurignacian scraper and burins by AMHs. In other wors intelligent AHMs were the teachers of their rather dull Cousins.

Anyhow, from an evolutionary perspective, the roots of advanced cognition of Hominins lie in the Middle Pleistocene, prior to the split of Neanderthals and AMS. Here I argue for an equivalence model, as archeology showed during the last 20 years, that there are marginal differences between he behavior repertoire Neanderthals and of AMHs, which are limited to the presence of artistic manifestations. I will not go much in detail here, excellent literature about this theme can be found at the end of this post. Here I discuss the “Acculturation” model, that is put forward by the partisans of the “Human Revolution” paradigm.

Acculturation comprehends those phenomena which result when groups of individuals having different cultures come into continuous first-hand contact, with subsequent changes in the original culture patterns of either or both groups“(Redfield, Linton, and Herskovits 1936).

The basic assumption of adeherents of the “Human Revolution” paradigma is, that Neandethals were acculturated by AHMs either by direct contact or by ideas, that moved over common networks. Transitional industries should in this view a signatures of this one-way interaction. Here I argue that “there was no such thing as acculturation during OIS3” (Modification of a famous sentence of M. Thatcher-one of the founders of the highly ambivalent European Neoliberal reality).

What are Transitional industries?

mauernVery  different entities and constructs in Europe are subsumed under this label of a MP-UP transitional industry: Althmühlian (Late Micoquian; Figure 2: Blattspitze from Mauern), Szeletian (sensu Valoch: the only really transitional industry with affinities between the Micoquian in Moravia and the Upper Paleolithic , Bohunician (Fully fledged Upper Paleolithic), Châtelperronian (Upper Paleolithic), Lincombian-Ranisian-Jerzmanovicien (LRJ) (Upper Paleolithic) and the Uluzzian (Upper Paleolithic). It is generally suggested, that such industries would combine Middle and the Upper Paleolithic components both on a typological and technological level and are the signature of “acculturated” Neanderthals. But this Mix of “old” and “new” holds true only for the Moravian Szeletian.maybe the only possible excample of a one-way acculturartion…….

Stratigraphical Realities

There is no stratigraphically proof that the Middle Paleolithic was interstratified with truly Upper Paleolithic Industries like the [Proto-] Aurignacian, Bohunician, Althmühlian, Uluzzian, Bachokirian. Stratigraphically there is no indication that Neanderthals and AHM ( if they were bearers of the [Proto-] Aurignacian ) really met (except by paleogenetics, but not from the Central and South European contact zone ). In contrast to such a meeting scenario, at least in Central Europe, there are often clear sterile strata between the Mousterien / KMG and the following UP (for example in the Upper Danube Region).

A short Time for interaction

protoaurignacian-957x1024Higham et al. used improved accelerator mass spectrometry 14C techniques from 40 good characterized Mousterian and Neanderthal archaeological sites, ranging from Russia to Spain. Bayesian age modelling was used to generate probability distribution functions to determine the latest appearance date.  According to calibrated dates Mousterian ended by 41–39 k.a. cal BP (at 95.4% probability) across Europe. The Chatelperronian and Uluzzian started at 43-42 and ended coincident with the Mousterian. The earliest Aurignacian in Central Europe starts at 43,3 k.a. cal B.P. in Willendorf, and 41 k.a. cal B.P. in the Aquitaine (Pataud) and likely at 42 k.a. cal B.P in Nothern Iberia. If the Chatelperronian was made by Neanderthals and the Uluzzian bei AMHs than the time for interaction between these groups would have been of 2,600–5,400 years (at 95.4% probability). If not-the interaction time would be almost zero! During most Parts of Europe the interaction between the Aurignacian, if the bearers were AHMs and the Neanderthal Middle Paleolithic would have lasted for max. 1000 yrs. Figure 3: Protoaurignacian bladlets.

Iberia: Since the early 1990s, it has been widely acknowledged that the region south of the Ebro River and Cantabrian Cordillera in Iberia provided a refugium for the final Neanderthals. In this view, the Mousterian persisted south of the Ebro until ca 32 k.a., while the earliest stages of the (Proto) Aurignacian were absent from Southern Iberia. This “Ebro Frontier” model was not really questioned until recently. In contrast, in northern Iberia the Aurignacian appeared around 42 ka calBP, shortly after the disappearance of the Mousterian, a Middle Paleolithic industry usually associated with Neanderthals.

It has to be remembered, that two-thirds of C-14 dates from the south are “old” conventional radiocarbon dates, and sampling and pretreatment protocols do not meet modern requirements.  Recently advanced C-14 AMS techniques combined with rigorous pretreatment protocols were for the first time used in the evaluation the reliability of chronologies of eleven Southern Iberian Middle and early Upper Paleolithic sites, including the Mousterian from Jarama VI and Zafarraya.

This advanced technique now puts the Mousterian from Jarama VI and Zafarraya to a pre-42 k.a. date. It seems that the demise of the last Neanderthals in Iberia happened before Homo sapiens reached larger parts of the Iberian Peninsula.

aggsbach-musterienIn S-Europe
a Protoaurignacian or an Uluzzian always lies below an Aurignacian, if both entities are present. Wherever the (CI) Y-5 tephra marker is present (South East Europe), the classic Aurignacian consistently overlies the Campanian Ignimbrite. In these parts of Europe the classic Aurignacian therefore seems to be relative young. The Mediterranean Protoaurignacian (at Castelcivita) and Uluzzian (at Castelcivita and Cavallo) and the “Transitional” Paleolithic industries of the Kostenki area (loci 14 and 17) are found below the tephra and must therefore be older than 39 k.a. cal BP. These data are affirmed by the fact that pretreated-AMS dated-C-14 samples at of the Protoaurignacian in Italy situate this techno complex at ca. 41-40 k.a. cal BP and the Uluzzian at 43 to 41 k.a. cal BP. Figure 4: South European Middle Paleolithic Scraper.

solutreen blades coreIn S/W- France the earliest Aurignacian of Abri Pataud dates slightly later than Willendorf to around 41-40 k.a cal BP.  Other sites in the Aquitaine seem to be younger. Towards the Paris basin, at Les Cottes the Protoaurignacian is dated to a short episode around 39 and early Aurignacian around 39-36 k.a. k.a. cal BP. The Chatelperonnian starts at 43 to 41 k.a. cal BP at the site. Figure 5: Upper Paleolithic cores from Badegoule (commune Lardin-Saint-Lazare; S/W-France).

neanderthal coreCentral Europe: The heavily debated lowermost Aurignacian levels at Geissenklösterle (AHIII) in the Swabian Jura dates to 42,9- 39,9 cal B.P k.a cal BP if we take for sure that AHIII is an archaeological reality and not a secondary reconstruction bias. The chronostratigraphic position of AH 3 (Willendorf II) is now the best evidence for a an early Aurignacian technology in Central Europe at least slightly before 43,3 k.a. cal B.P. Mousterian ended by 41–39 k.a. cal BP (at 95.4% probability) across Europe. In Central Europe, there could be a contemporaneous Middle Paleolithic and Aurignacian, which is not substantiated by stratigraphy (Swabia, Lower Austria) and proven by the evidence of absence  of the Middle Paleolithic in Lower Austria near Willendorf (except the non dated Gudenus cave). Figure 6: Mousterian prepared cores from Lenderscheid, Hessen, Germany.

The dating for the Bohunician cluster at Brno is less clear. Radiocarbon age estimates from charcoal associated with Bohunician sites suggest a wide age range between 33 and 41 ka 14C BP (non-calibrated). The weighted mean of 48.2+/-1.9 ka BP TL for heated flint samples from Brno-Bohunice, the type site of the industry,  provides  non-radiocarbon data on archeological material from the Bohunician. I have my problems with the “frog- leap migration” of AMHs from the Negev to the Brno basin and the makers of this industry remain completely unkknown.

Who were the makers of the  Upper Paleolithic and the “Transitional Industries” 

We should not a priory rule out that Neanderthals and AHMs were both the bearers of the same technological traditions. This possibility heavily depends on the question if these anatomical and genetical distinct humans recognized each other as different or not.

Since the discovery of Neanderthal remains associated with Chatelperronian industries (Grotte du Renne and Saint Césaire), it became probable, but not definitely proven, that Neanderthals were the maker of the Châtelperronian. Anyhow according to our present knowledge, the Chatelperronian is older than the first AHM remains found in Europe inside Peștera cu Oase cave in south-west Romania (<41 k.a. cal. BP).

That means that the Chatelperronian may be the invention of Neanderthals. Knowing the complex history of skilled laminar Middle Paleolithic tool production in France during the last glaciation, this hypothesis comes not as a surprise. Anyhow, genetic analysis of the Oase jaw bone shows an early modern human had a Neanderthal great-great-great-great-grandparent, but most probably in the Near East and not in the Dordogne….

Recently the  morphology of two deciduous molars and radiocarbon ages from layers D and E of the Grotta del Cavallo (Lecce, Italy), which were assigned to the Uluzzian, was taken as an indication that AHMs were the makers of the Uluzzian. Anyhow, a meticulous reading of the excavation records show that Uluzzian, Protoaurignacian, Aurignacian and Early Epigravettian lithics exist in the assemblages from layers D and E. There was a major geological disturbances at this site and therfore the data remain highly ambivalent.

In sum: we cannot answer to the questions who were the makers of all these technocomplexes.  From our standard of knowledge, safe ground under our feet, appears only during the advanced Aurignacian and the Gravettian, where AHMs (you and me) were left alone as the only European Human Species. Maybe AHM were not teachers of the Neanderthals…

Suggested Reading: 

R. M. Wragg Sykes: To see a world in a hafted tool: Birch pitch composite technology, cognition and memory in Neanderthals (via reserchgate)



At the same time?

Down with the “MP-UP Transitional Industries” of Europe !

Interesting presentation given by  Tom Higham. Plus a Figire of Dufur bladelets from Aggsbachs blog  around the 52th minute of his spech…..


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Copper and Gold in European Prehistory





The beginning of the metal ages was not driven by economical needs.  Apparently copper was initially used to make jewellery: The earliest metal finds are mostly small copper beads. Experimentation with metal, at first with native copper, began as early as the PPN in Anatolia, during the 9th millennium BC. In Aşıklı Höyük copper beads are found foremost in graves. In Çayönü there is a large spectrum of beads, pendants made of malachite and copper, and small tools such awls. There are even indications of the specialised production of beads. As in Aşıklı Höyük, the objects are made of native copper that was either cold-hammered or formed in a warmed state. The Copper Age also saw the appearance of gold, most likely as a result of the rather frequent joint occurrence of copper and gold; the various objects made from this metal. The melting point of these two metals is similar (1083 °C and 1063 °C) and their contemporaneous utilization can in part be attributed to the similar techniques necessary for their processing. There is little evidence for the use of gold before the Copper Age

The profusion of copper artefacts in the Carpathian Basin led Ferencz Pulszky, as early as 1876, to speak of an independent Copper Age there.The question as to the provenance of these artefacts had to remain open at that time, as evidence of production was unknown. But with the discovery of mines in Rudna Glava (Serbia) and Ai Bunar (Bulgaria), dated as early as the 5th millennium BC, the exploitation of copper ores could be definitively proven. Copper had not been imported from afar, but instead procured locally; copper axes were not made from native copper, but were produced by casting.


Gold began to be worked at an early stage at the dawn of metallurgy between the 5 th and 3th millennium BC in different regions in South-West Asia and East Europe. This early use contrast with the limited availability of these metals compared to others like copper or lead. The efforts necessary to find and process gold and silver stands in no relation to any productive advantage that could motivate such an interest. The first use of gold was definitely not related to any economic use as we understand it today but rather served to express notions linked to a new social reality memerging gradually after the introduction of early metallurgy.

Gold has physical properties that result in an unique combination of reflectivity, resistance against corrosion workability and durability that makes it an  ideal symbolic expression  of those values and notations perceived as most transcendental and invariable by a society, group or individual.

The most important early concentrations of worked gold in the 5th millennium BC is the well-known  Varna necropolis. The most important grave was grave 43 that held the remains of a 40–50-year old male in extended supine position. His grave gifts included several weapons made of copper: two shaft-hole axes, one broad and one narrow one, and a copper spearhead or dagger that is a singular piece in itself. The deceased male also had a pointed flint blade, with bilateral retouching and a rounded base. The stone axe with a wooden shaft covered with gold sheet can be understood as a sceptre.

A jade axe is an import from afar: The raw material derives from the Alps and the axe likely made its long way from western Europe to ultimately reach the Black Sea coast, where it was brought into the typical shape of east Balkan axes. Among the many flint blades is one outstanding example of almost 40 cm in length. Its significance lies in the fact that there is still no plausible explanation for the strength and prowess that was necessary to strike such a long blade from the core.

The spondylus from which the originally red bracelet was made came from the Mediterranean. The bracelet must have been repaired once, for which gold sheet was used, an indication indeed of how precious it was. This solitary piece was worn together with two arm rings of gold on the left arm. All together 1413 grams of gold were found in the grave. Aside from the armrings, there was a myriad of golden beads that had been attached to the bracelets or worn as necklaces. The various gold discs were likely sewn onto garments, so that the entire body of the deceased was covered in gold.

Varna 43 is the beginning of an innovative physical symbolic relationship between new forms of power and “noble metals”, which  had definitively become sanctioned by the time of the first Mesopotamian dynasties during the first half of the 3th millennium, as the diadem and other artifacts of the royal tomb of the queen Puabi of Ur express very vividly. This appropriation of  gold and its social significance by the dominant social classes has prevailed until our days on a global scale.

Social stratification during the Upper Paleolithic?

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

Neolithic / Chalcolithic Jade artifact from Varna

Suggested Reading: 




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Quartz during the Paleolithic: More important than usually assumed



This is a small discoidal handaxe from the Mousterian site at Kervouster (6x5x2 cm) made from Macrocrystalline Quartz (Fig. 1, Fig. 2&3 showing the translucent character of the piece).  The site has been described during an earlier post (http://www.aggsbach.de/2014/08/kervouster-a-large-mousterian-site-in-the-bretagne/) and is putatively dated to MIS 3. The industry is assigned to a Mousterian with Bifacial Tools, MBT, a term coined by Karen Ruebens some years ago. The principal characteristic of the MBT at Kervouster is the preferential bifacial treatment, with most of the industry made from flake supports.

The main raw material for the production of bifacial tools at Kervouster was a fine grained glossy sandstone. Among the thousands of artifacts; only a handful were made from translucent Quartz, as the one shown here.

“Quartz” is a term that includes both well crystallized and compact forms of silica. All varieties are chemically the same substance, silicon dioxide, SiO2 also known as silica (from the Latin: Silex). Silica is one of the hardest and most common materials in the Earth’s crust. Due its ubiquitous availability it always played a role as raw material during the Stone Age and beyond- if you remember most microchips are currently made from SiO2 due to its effective semi-conducting properties.

For a long time the classification of Quartz was mostly based on the visual appearance and the possibility to resolve structural elements in an optical microscope. Today the petrographic characterization is complemented by   X-ray diffraction, Scanning Electron Microscopy, and Energy Dispersive X-ray analysis.

Macrocrystalline varieties that develop visible crystals or are made of large intergrown crystals: Rock crystal, Citrine, Milky Quartz, Rose Quartz and others, while the dense and compact forms are either called Cryptocrystalline or Microcrystalline Quartz (Chert, Flint, Chalcedony and others). It is astonishing that one chemical compound can have such different appearances such as a “Berg Crystal” and Flint.

Quartz fractures less predictably relative to other tools tones and have a tendency to shatter and fragment. In addition Quartz requires different techniques and tools than are normally used to knap flint or chert. There seems to be a prolonged learning curve for the knapper how to produce predictable flakes and blades compared to task of knapping flint. There is almost no scientific literature about this theme and no systematic review about the use of Quartz during the Paleolithic so far I know.

translucent trans

The Perception of the role that Quartz once played on lithic economies may be biased to a certain degree, especially by a selection bias of excavations until the late mid-20th century. Discussing his recent research in Portugal, Almeida (2006) noted that data from earlier excavations in Portugal were difficult to use in analyses because most of the non-flint materials were discarded, along with the smaller artefacts. Especially, European Archaeologists have only recently recognized Quartz as a significant part of prehistoric stone technologies. Quartz is abundant in many areas and was utilized extensively during prehistory. However, research biases have obscured a fuller understanding of it, with the evidence either having been overlooked or ignored. Often dismissed as a poor alternative to flint, and impossible to analyze due to perceived irregular fracture properties, quartz is best understood as a different material with different physical characteristics to cryptocrystalline materials such as flint and chert that were used in prehistory.

Africanists, on the other hand were always aware of the importance of  Quartz even during the earliest Paleolithic. Quartz is  common during the Oldowan in East Africa. Comparison of the geological and archaeological samples at Gona , dated to about 2, 6 Mya,  clearly demonstrates a high degree of raw material selectivity exercised by the hominids at this site. Preference for felsic volcanic rocks, using them in much greater proportion than would be expected from their representation in the gravels was found. Quartz, on the other hand was preferably used by Late Pliocene toolmakers (ca. 2, 3 Mya) in assemblages from Omo Shungura Member F, where its frequency is most probably a reflection of local availability and not ofdeliberate choice.

At Olduvai, Bed I (1, 85 e 1, 70 Mya), the archaeological assemblages are dominated by volcanic cobbles from local streambeds. These cobbles appear to have been selected for size and composition. In Bed II (1, 7 Mya), assemblages show a clear tendency toward the increased use of quartz and exotic volcanic rocks. Causes underlying the increased selective use of quartz over time remain unclear, and may include changes in raw material availability, hominid ranging patterns and tool using behaviors.

tihodaineThe use of quartz persisted during the East and North African Acheulian and east African MSA. A wonderful 500 k.a. old small handaxe from Bed IV in Olduvai Gorge is shown at the British Museum (http://museum.wa.gov.au/extraordinary-stories/highlights/handaxe-made-quartz/). Figure 4 shows a 20 cm long translucent Quartz cleaver from Tihodaine (Tassili n’Ajjer). Here the Acheulean artefacts are  associated with  interglacial fauna at the playa of a  Paleolake.  In general, Quartzite, Quartz and Rhyolite were used as raw materials.

Raw material selectivity of early Homo sapiens can be nicely demonstrated from the MSA in South Africa. At Sibudu Cave, the presence of quartz backed tools is restricted to the lower and middle part of the Howiesons Poort sequence (MIS4) These implements are smaller, and not as highly standardized than backed tools made from other rock types. Quartz backed tools are recorded in other HP sites in South Africa, for example, Klasies River and Umhlatuzana Rock Shelter.Interestingly, a preferential use of Quartz is not restricted to the Howiesons Poort, as the most common rock type in post- Howiesons Poort assemblages at Sibudu is Quartz.

melka-msa-aggsbach-920x1024Figure 5shows an extraordinary appealing MSA point made from Macrocrystalline Quartz from Melka Kunture / Ethiopia, which is at least 120 k.a. old. The Garba II industy is based on Levallois operational sequences.  The archaeological evidence towards MSA from Garba III, together with a few other finding relatable to this same period, represent up to now at Melka Kunture the only MSA occurrences, which are otherwise, in Eastern Africa, rather common. A Quartz artifact from Garba III, is a rare finding, as a wide range of finer grained lavas and obsidian, played the most important role in raw material procurment  on this site .

During the 19th and early 20th century, in Europe Rock crystal was occasionally recognized, from the Mousterian in S/W-France (Les Merveilles and Laussel in the Dordogne, La Chapelle-aux-Saints and Chez-Poure in the Corrèze). Rock crystal Solutrean leaf points are known from Le Placard (Charente), and from the rock shelter of Badegoule (Dordogne). Rock crystal was also used during the Hungarian Epigravettian and during the Magdalenian at Zitny, Kulna and Pekarna caves in Moravia and  during the late Magdalenien of the Gudenus cave in Lower Austria.

In Iberia there are a lot of Middle Paleolithic sites with the preferential use of Quartz like the recently published microlithic Mousterian from Navalmaíllo, dated to MIS4.  Other examples are known from  Catalonia at Cueva 120 level G ; Avellaners and Diable Coix  (Comarca de la Selva, Girona); Arbreda (Serinyà, Girona) level H-43 and many more. Up to 91% of the artifacts at these sites are made on Quartz.

Similar sites are also known from France, beginning with the Quartz tools, that are part of the Lower Paleolithic industries of the Garonne and Roussillon terasses and from cave sites like Arago.

The most important question, what made Quartz so attractive for our ancestors has not been answered up to now. What characteristic of this material made them not to use high quality flint from the vicinity of their camps but instead Quartz, sometimes from a 20-30km distance? Maybe one of my readers knows the answer…

Gudenushöhle: Rock crystal during the Magdalenian


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