A Mousterian Point from Le Placard / Charente


aggsbach katzman placard

This is an convergent Middle Paleolithic artifact (usually called Mousterian point with Quina retouche) from an early excavation at the famous Placard cave in the Charente. Le Placrd could have served as one reference site for the region if it only had beeen properly excavated, which was definite not the case. Anyhow its stratigraphy played an important role in the famous  “bataille aurignacienne” between the priest-scientists around  the Abbe Breuil and the Materialistic Prehistorians, followers of G and A de Mortillet during the early 20th century.

The Grotte du Placard, originally called Grotte à Rochebertier (Commune de Vilhonneur; Charente), is a large cave on the left bank of the Tardoire 13 kilometers upstream from La Rochefoucauld. Carved into a limestone cliff, the entrance to the cave is 17 meters above the river level, with a wide porch giving access to a room 25 meters long and 10 wide at the entrance. It is itself extended to the right by two narrow galleries, and to the left by a more important gallery. There are several smaller grottoes with Paleolithic material spanning  a large time from the Chatelperronian to the Magdalenian in the immediate vicinity (Grotte de La Combe, de l` Ammonite and du Sureau).

It seems that the first excavations at the Placard cave took place in 1853. The Placard site was first mentioned in the literature by J. Fermond in 1864. He was totally focused on the extraordinary rich middle and upper Solutrian levels of the site. During the later years A. de Maret, the land owner, made extensive and disastrous excavations and virtually emptied most of the cave fillings. He remains the “bete noir” of the excavators at Placard, because his technique of extracting the artifacts was below any standards of his time. He was on hunt for first-quality pieces and destructed all other artifacts to prevent others to sell pieces from Placard and to keep the prices high. It is suggested that thousand shouldered points from the Solutrean were lost during this destructive “curation”.  Later more methodic excavations by Fermond, Masfrand, A. de Mortillet and by Chauvet followed. Finally the deposit, which was without doubt one of the richest in Western Europe, was not subject to any protection and suffered numerous digs that fed many museums and private collections for almost one half of a century. Therefore J. Roche in 1958 made an attempt to reconstruct the stratigraphy from what was left (mainly Middle Paleolithic) after 80 years of devastation. As a result of renewed illegal excavations, Duport resumed the excavations in 1988 and the discovery of rock art panels has led to the opening of a rescue campaign by J. Clottes and others.

A. Masferad described a course stratigraphy in 1902:

  1. Magdalenian (1,5 m thickness)
  2. Solutrean (1 m thickness)
  3. Mousterien (1,5 m thickness)

During his early excavations, Maret he had detected one stratum of Mousterian, two strata of Solutrean (a middle Solutrean with large leaf shaped points followed by a rich upper Solutrean with thousands of shouldered points) and four Magdalenian strata (beginning with a Badegoulien / early Magdalenian a raclettes and topped by a Middle Magdalenian).

Based on Marets communication, the “official “and somewhat theoretical stratigraphy was published by A. de Mortillet in 1906. He described a “Robenhausien” on the top and below, three Magdalenian levels, two Solutrean levels and, at the base the Mousterian. On Mortillets stratigraphy, each level was isolated by a sterile layer formed by the debris, which fell from the cave ceiling.

The Mousterian of Placard is testified by a rich collection of artifacts characterized by a non- Levallois production system of the blanks. Thick flakes were modified into convergent tools (convergent scrapers and “points”). There are many transversal scrapers with a typical “Quina retouche”. Roche described in total five strata of a Charentian (Quina and an industry between Quina and Ferrassie), seven strata with a typical Mousterian and one with a denticulated Mousterien.

A small Middle Solutrean point from the site. A gift from A de Mortillet to the Austrian Prehistorian Hoernes who gave it to my Grandfather around 1905:



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The “Pebble Culture” near Casablanca

chopper old stone age aggsbach marocThis is a “chopper” from the Carrière Schneider at Maarif Airport near Casablanca, which is situated near the Carrière Deprez, where the term of an older “Pebble Culture” in Morocco was once stablished. This chopper is made from a quartzite cobble and was found within early Pleistocene deposits by P. Biberson and his coworkers during the 1950ies. He gave the piece to an Austrian globetrotter, who travelled through the Maghreb and the Sahara from the 1950ies until the 1990ies.

Such unifacial “tools” may be of non-human origin, as new investigations at the Carrière Deprez site indicate, where the artifacts of the “Pebble Culture” assemblages appear to be pseudo-artifacts generated by high-energy deposits. Anyhow, “Choppers and Chopping tools” are also known from an Acheulian context in the Maghreb. Such early Acheulian sites, ca 1 Mio years old, always show numerous pebble-tools and only a few handaxes. In a broad African perspective, the Lower Acheulian in Morocco seems considerably later than in Ethiopia and in Olduvai.

In Morocco, a series of sites located on the Atlantic coast in the vicinity of the town of Casablanca have been investigated by Biberson during the 1950ies and 60ies. These sites are: Arbaoua, Oued Mda, Douar Doum, Terguiet el-Rahla, Carrière Deprez, Carrière Schneider (lower and upper), Chellah, Souk Arba-Rhab, and Sidi Abderrahmane (niveau G). A number of these do not constitute well-defined archaeological sites but are localities from which mainly pebble tools were picked up from the surface.

According to Biberson, Stage I includes the oldest artifacts obtained using simple unidirectional technological gestures. The site of Targuiet-el-Rahla illustrates this stage. His stage II incorporates “pebble tools” characterized by bidirectional flaking. The site of Carrière Deprez in Casablanca represents this stage. In stage III the multidirectional technique appeared where the artifacts are considered to be more evolved. This stage is represented by the site of Souk-el-Arba du Rhab. The last stage (IV) is represented by level G of the Sidi Abderrahmane sequence, and is characterized by the emergence of the first Acheulean artifacts.

Chronologically, Biberson correlated stages I and II with the marine climatic cycle Mesaoudien dated to Late Pliocene, and stages III and IV with the cycle Maarifien dated to Early Pleistocene. Revised dating programs now assign both cycles within the early Pleistocene.  Biberson later renamed his cultural historical nomenclature by replacing the term “Pebble Culture” with Pre-Acheulean and condensing the four stages into two major phases. Based on the new classification, the “Pebble Culture” stages I and II constitute the “Early Pre-Acheulean” while the stages III and IV form the “Evolved Pre-Acheulean”. Such a designation implies an evolution from the “Pebble Culture” to the Acheulian, now rather unlikely according to the East African Archaeological record, where the Acheulian appears “suddenly” (in geological terms) as early as 1, 75 Mio years ago.

However, later systematic investigations of the Plio-Pleistocene and Pleistocene littoral deposits in the Casablanca area have modified Biberson’s interpretations. The revised investigations emphasize the total absence of evidence of a very early human presence in Atlantic Morocco, demonstrating that assemblages of Pebble Culture Stage I are either surface finds or reworked materials. Artifacts assigned to Pebble Culture stage II were extracted from high-energy deposits. Materials of Pebble Culture Stage III are from polycyclic colluviums. Stage IV of the Pebble Culture is reconsidered as Acheulean. In addition, new investigations at the Carrière Deprez site indicate that “Pebble Culture” assemblages appear to be pseudo-artifacts generated by high-energy deposits.

Therefore, the new evidence suggests that the earliest human presence in Atlantic Morocco is later than Biberson assumed. The oldest occupation dates to late Lower Pleistocene, and appears to be Acheulean as illustrated by the level L of Thomas-1 quarry cave site. This site yielded an early Acheulean assemblage made of quartzite and flint, comprising bifacial choppers,  polyhedrons, cleavers, bifaces, Trihedrals, and flakes. The associated fauna, probably slightly older than that of Tighenif (Ternifine) in Algeria, includes hippozebra, gazelles, suid, and micromammals species. Based on fauna and Palaeomagnetic data, an age of 1 Million years is suggested for the level L.

Olduvan-like artefacts have also been found in at least four localities in the vast Algerian Saharan landmass. These include  Aoulef, Reggan, Saoura region and Bordj Tan Kena. While the specimens from Aoulef and Reggan are surface collections, those from the Saoura region and Bordj Tan Kena were excavated in situ. Some of these in situ sites also contain crude handaxes and should therefore better assigned to an Acheulian.  In additions there are doubts about the integrity of some of the sites. 

The best contextualized location for a Olduvan in the Maghreb 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.

The discussion about a “Pebble Culture” in N/W-Africa has direct implication for the essentially non-dated river terasse findings not only in S-Europe (Garonne, Tarn),  but especially in Central Europe (in Bohemia, near Vienna, at the Rhine and high terasses of the Fulda: http://www.museum-kassel.de/index_navi.php?parent=1548), where dates for a “Pebble Culture” of 1-2 Mio years have been assumed by some scholars. One should remember that if the Middle Pleistocene ensemble from Terra Amata (400-200 k.a) would be a surface find, it probably would be interpreted as Oldowan, if the few Handaxes would have been lost by taphonomic processes in a disturbed Archaeological record.

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Nubian MSA Foliates

msa nubian foliate aggsbach
This are two bifacial foliates from the Nubian desert (brown chert; max 12 cm long), found in the 1930ies, which show strong similarities to the Lupemban and early Nubian MSA of East Africa. The Sangoan and Lupemban of Central Africa and the Eastern Lowlands are MSA- technocomplexes dated roughly between 400-150 k.a BP. They can be identified on the basis of “heavy duty” core axes and picks (Sangoan) and smaller and parallel sided core axes and bifacial lanceolates, often combined with a blade element and Levallois flake tools (Lupemban). At Twin Rivers and Kalambo Falls there is the first African indication for backed tool technology, suggestive for hafting these artifacts. JD Clark suggested these heavy duty tools were good for wood-working, based on association of Kalambo Falls site in Zambia with deciduous woodland, and preserved wood at site. However, a number of other sites, such as those excavated by McBrearty in Kenya and at Sai 8-B-11 were clearly occupied by open grassland or savannas.

The Sangoan is thought to be older than Lupemban, but the stratigraphic relationship is not well documented except for the great Site of Kalambo Falls in Zambia where the Sangoan is stratified beneath the Lupemban and at the site of Sai 8-B-11 in northern Sudan.

At Sai 8-B-11 the two lowermost strata can be attributed to the Sangoan because of the presence of core-axes and distinctive flake reduction strategies. Given the evidence of systematic blade production and the presence of a lanceolate in addition to small and regular core-axes, the upper assemblage of this sequence is qualified as Lupemban. It is suggested, that this ensemble marks the beginning of the MSA in the Nil valley, which is later evolving towards the “Nubian -MSA”, during OIS6/5. During this MSA foliates with a technology and typology that resemble the pieces shown here, appeared.

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For a long Chronology of the South European Mode II Industries


Stone tools have distinctive morphologies that reflect the cognitive abilities and the development of technological skills during the Pleistocene. In Africa, LCTs made from large flakes and handaxes from large flakes and pebbles and chunks became part of Palaeolithic technology during the Early Pleistocene about 1,5 My ago. However, until recently, in Europe this change was not documented at a larger scale until the Middle Pleistocene. This especially holds true for higher latitudes beyond the 45th parallel north.

According to these data some researchers argue for the possibility of an independent invention of the handaxe in northwestern Europe during MIS 13, because the Million year’s gap between African bifaces and those of N/W-Europa cannot be easily overbridged.

Anyhow, Bifaces already appeared in the Middle Loire Basin in the interval between 700 and 600 k.a. , and then continuously from 400 k.a. onwards. Rich ensembles with LCTs were detected in situ at the “La Noira” site in the middle Cher valley. At La Noira eight sediment samples were dated by the electron spin resonance (ESR) method and the weighted average age obtained for the fluvial sands overlying the slope deposits is 665±55 k.a. La Noira is the oldest evidence of Acheulean presence in north-western Europe and attests to the possibility of pioneering phases of Acheulean settlement which would have taken place on a Mode 1-type substratum as early as 700 k.a.

Heading to the South of Europe, sites with even older Handaxes were recently detected:

The Barranc de la Boella site in Spain has yielded a set of LCT lithic assemblages in unit II that suggests that the Acheulian technological tradition was present in S-Europe around 960–781 k.a. ago. Early handaxes also come from Murcia (Southern Spain) and are geochronological dated between 900-780 k.a. BP, synchronous with Mode II industries at Casablanca.

Early Iberian Acheulian findings suggest transit from Africa to Gibraltar though periods of low sea level. This hypothesis is strengthened by the presence of large flake-cleavers on both sides of the Mediterranean. Flake-cleavers in Spain and southwestern France (including the site of Arago, levels P and Q) are considered as African features. Highly probable that the bearers of earlier Mode I industries of Europa entered via another route….

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Kervouster: a large Mousterian Site in the Bretagne


ker vouster aggsbach

These are three typical bifaces from the Mousterian site at Kervouster (maximal length: 4,5 cm). There are two main stations in Brittany, assigned to an “MTA” made of fine grained Quartzite. 

Since their discovery during the 19th century they have yielded thousands of artifacts, which have regrettably dispersed over numerous collections, some of them lost forever during the WWII. Both sites extend over several hectares and are relatively imprecisely dated between MIS5-3.

The first site is the station of Bois-du-Rocher (Clos-Rouge; Département Côtes d’Armor), already introduced during an earlier post (http://www.aggsbach.de/2010/10/bifacial-tools-from-the-bois-du-rocher-site/). The second is situated in Finistère, near Quimper, a place called Ker Vouster (or: Kervouster; commune de Guengat).

The typological spectrum of these sites, meet the definition of the “Moustérien à pièces bifaciales dominantes” (Mousterian with bifacial tools [MBT]), characterized by the generalized application of a bifacial retouch on the majority of blanks. The  ensemble resembles the artifactual spectrum of the “Le Bois-l’Abbé at Saint-Julien de la Liègue” site (http://www.aggsbach.de/2014/05/handaxe-from-le-bois-labbe-at-saint-julien-de-la-liegue-is-there-a-reality-for-the-mousterien-a-petits-bifaces-dominants/).

At Kervouster, there are numerous very tiny (< 4 cm) bifacial tools, usually bifaces and partial bifaces of ovate, discoid, cordiform and subtriangular shape. Compared with the Bois-du-Rocher material, the artifacts are much more refined, which may be solely the result of a finer grained raw material. 

Interestingly the artifactual spectrum of this multilayered site does not change over a considerable time span of certainly several thousand years. A very similar Mousterian is known from Traisseny, but here the bifaces were mainly made of chert, indicating the marginal role of raw materials on the knapping conception.

Without knowing the context, an Africanist would call such “handaxes”- “MSA-points” and people working on the Paleolithic of Central Europe would call them perhaps “Faustkeilblatt”, “Blattform” or “Fäustel” and assign them to an Middle European Micoquian. These inconsistencies say a lot about the “precision” of Archeological terminology and the shortcomings of a typological approach.

A nice web page with more artifacts from the site: 


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“Chopping Tool” from Israel

chopping tool aggsbachThe Oldowan Industrial Complex is characterized by simple core forms, usually made on cobbles or chunks, the resultant debitage (flakes, broken flakes, and other fragments) struck from these cores, and the battered percussors (spheroids) used to produce the flaking blows.The materials of the tools were for the most part quartz, quartzite, basalt, or obsidian, and later flint and chert. Experiments have shown that the entire range of Oldowan forms can be produced by hard-hammer percussion, flaking against a stationary anvil, bipolar technique, and, occasionally, throwing one rock against another. Sharp flakes were obtained by various methods, some of which indicate that as early as 2.5 million years hominins had developed knapping skills and manual dexterities that allowed them to organize and predetermine the knapping and produce longer sequences of flaking. The typological categories commonly applied to Oldowan cores ( “heavy-duty tools,” ) can be viewed as a continuum of lithic reduction with the intent of producing sharp-edge cutting and chopping tools . In this view, many of the cores and so-called “core tools’ found in Oldowan assemblages may not have been deliberately shaped into a certain form in order to be used for some purpose; rather their shapes may have emerged as a byproduct of producing sharp cutting flake . Although usually rare, another element at many Oldowan sites is the category of retouched pieces, normally flakes or flake fragments that have been subsequently chipped along one or more edges. It has been argued that much of Oldowan technology can be viewed as a least-effort system for the production of sharp cutting and chopping edges by the hominin tool-makers, and that much of the observed variability between sites is a function of the quality, flaking properties, size, and shape of the raw materials that were available in a given site.

Although technically well developed, conceptually these industries more often represent simple two stage operational schemes consisting of raw material acquisition followed by detachment of the flakes. If modern excavation methods are used in the evaluation of Olduvan sites with undisturbed material, longer, more complex sequences have been recorded.

Secondary flake knapping was recorded at the Early Pleistocene site of Bizat Ruhama, Israel, dated to 1.6-1.2 Ma on the basis of bio chronological and paleo magnetic considerations, indicating that Oldowan hominins employed more complex operational schemes than previously suggested.  Interestingly the sequences of knapping were very similar to those at  the much later Middle Pleistocene site of Isernia La Pineta in Italy, where small flakes and were produced during bipolar  napping of tabular flint nodules and flakes. Some Cores and flakes from Erq-el-Ahmar, Israel may be typologically “Oldowan” but are essentially undated. The artifact shown in this post is a surface find from a larger Acheulian scatter and may be essentially also of Acheulian origin. Chopping tools in Israel have been detected until the Yabroudian and even in some Mousterian sites.

The term Oldowan has also been used for early sites, such as at Ubeidiya, dated to 1, 4 million years ago in Israel at the northern edge of the rift valley. The multilayered site consists of concentrations of stone artifacts such as handaxes, Trihedrals and  picks, Choppers and Chopping tools (cores), and flake-tools. Actually Ubeidiya is classified as Acheulian.

The oldest traces of human settlements in a nearby area to Israel are present in the bottom layers of Hummal in Syria showing an Oldowan assemblage of flakes and pebble-tools / cores in association with numerous animal remains, traces of very old human migrations through the Syrian desert steppe. Although absolute dates are missing for the moment, this ensemble is certainly of an age > 1mya.

Further to the North, at Dmanisi in the Republic of Georgia Oldowan tools were associated with human remains at about 1, 8 million years ago at the crossroads from the “Levantine corridor” to Asia and Europe. These remains are as old as the oldest Homo erectus (“Homo rudofensis”) fossils in Africa at Koobi Fora or West Turkana. To date, five hominid fossils, thousands of extinct animal bones and bone fragments and over 1,000 stone tools have been found, buried in about 4, 5 meters of alluvium. The stratigraphy of the site indicates that the hominid and vertebrate remains, and the stone tools, were in a secondary association. As always in paleoanthropology the debates between “lumpers” and “splitters” are ongoing.

The proponents of the discussion suggest that these human remains belong either to Homo habilis or to the Homo erectus clade. Others discuss the differences between the Dmanisi sculls as a high intra-species variation of Homo erectus. Some researchers claim that the variation of the sculls implicates that the earliest Homo species – Homo habilis, Homo rudofensis and so forth – actually belonged to the same species. Others still insist that these specimens should be assigned to a separate species: “Homo Georgicus”. Lacking genetic data from such early hominids, I suggest that the discussion will not be settled during the next decade.

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In the Farthest Corner of Nowhere: End of Subscription of Aggsbach’s Blog

pech de l aze aggsbchSubscribing Aggsbach’s Blog is not possible any more-because thousands of “Avatars” and spamming persons subscribed the blog and their number was exponentially increasing over time. I have no idea if such people would use my limited place on the server for spam attacks. As a consequence, I have deleted all mails addresses from subscribers. Those who want to send a message will already know how to get in touch with me…

Sadly enough, the number of destructive persons seems to be always significantly higher than the number of authentic followers of this remote blog.

Just for your pleasure: A “classic” Acheulian handaxe found in the 19th century at Combe Grenal in the Dordogne- a nice contradiction against the construct  of an “Acheuleen Meridional” . By the way this is not the only ” classical” biface from this site- another can be found in the 2000 edition of the “Encycopedia of Human Evolution” in the Acheulean article……


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