The Ahmarian and Protoaurignacian along the Mediterranian





On the left: A bladelet from the Protoaurignacian of S-Europe; on the right: A bladelet from the Ahmarian of Kebara cave in Israel. Both technocomplexes, which show much similarities but also regional and diachronic variability are ascribed to Homo sapiens who entered Europe before the H4 Event at 41 k.a. Cal BP.

But were the toolkit of AMH on their way to Europe really characterized by the Ahmarian / Protoaurignacian technology, initially invented in the Middle East? Seeking origins is looking for the beginnings of something, finding out why and when something that did not exist before did so afterwards. Rather than looking for the origins of new technologies, we should focus on transitions using a evolutionary gradualism and keep in mind the low temporal resolution of current dating techniques.

15345051-3b5c-4d6b-a490-4a5a4f5d5816 (1)The new chronometric results and Bayesian model from the reference Palaeolithic site of Ksar Akil suggest that both the EUP (Ahmarian) of the northern Levant is roughly contemporaneous with, and not older than, their corresponding (Proto- or Early Aurignacian) technocomplexes in Europe. At the moment we do not know where (Proto)-Aurignacian innovations were first developed and adopted. We just know they were widespread, beginning roughly around the same time around the Mediterranean. It could be possible that the knowledge of Aurignacian and Ahmarian techniques circulated in European hunter-gatherer networks first- and not in the Middle East. Insofar these technologies cannot seen as the signatures of an “out of Africa” event by AHM via the Levantine corridor.

0baadd40-6c9c-475d-b608-564d6779ee60 (1)Based on the currently published dates and Bayesian modelling, the Emiran (layers I–F) in Üçağızlı starts between 44.3–43.5 k.a. Cal BP and the Early Ahmarian (layers E –B) starts around 41.6–40.3 k.a. Cal BP (68.2%).  The Early Ahmarian is roughly contemporaneous at both Ksar Akil and Üçağızlı. In Umm el Tlel (Syria), levels III2a’ and II base, described as “Paléolithique intermédiaire”, have been dated rather later, at 36.5±2.5 ka by TL on burnt flint, and at 34.5±0.89 k.a. BP with AMS dating.

Anyhow, a set of early charcoal dates from Kebara Cave place the start of the EUP, specifically the Early Ahmarian Unit IV at, 48–46 k.a. Cal BP. This dates remein an anomaly, because  Kebara would currently the only site where such early determinations have been obtained for a classic Ahmarian assemblage. Complex site-formation processes render the association of the dated charcoals with the archaeology they are thought to date more than problematic.


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The Aurignacian of central-western Italia

aurignacian km 83In Italy Aurignacian evidence is found with some substantial settlement practically everywhere, from the  Riviera to the gulf of Naples and, further south, to the Cilento; as well as from the prealpine piedmont to the Salento. Even in the pre-Alps and the Apennines, at elevations of 1300-1600 m , as well as in Sicily across an arm of the sea, were distinct traces of the Aurignacian discovered.

The first Upper Paleolithic in Italia is the Protoaurignacian. The most important sites  are situated in Northern Italy: Riparo Mochi, layer G in Liguria, Tagliente, levels 25a-c and Fumane, levels A3-A1, D6 and D3  in Verona and Venice provinces, but this entity is also present in the South (Cala, Castelcivita, Serino).

It does appear that the beginning of the early Upper Paleolithic in Europe  was a continent-wide  “punctuational” (in geological terms) event in Europe, which occurred in the middle to late 40 thousands k.a. cal BP.

There are at least two possibilities on how these entities entered the continent. According to one hypothesis, Homo sapiens followed the Danube, which formed a natural corridor into the heartland of the continent which was, at the time, thickly forested.

A  different hypothesis is that the early (Proto)-Aurignacian was formed around the Meditterranean and / or entered Europe via the Balkans and Italy. Distinguishing between the two hypotheses depends on obtaining reliable chronological estimates for the Mediterranean and Central European Aurignacian. A recent dating of a site in the Swabian Jura and of Willendorf II suggested that the Aurignacian was earlier attested in Central Europe than in the South, but  the Protoaurignacien  in the Mochi rockshelter and Fumane are just as early. Certainly one has to imagine several and complicated colonization events by H. Sapiens to the continent at this early date.

While the makers of the Aurignacian are unknown (maybe AMHs), an upper deciduous incisor from Grotta di Fumane contains ancient mitochondrial DNA of a modern human type. These teeth are the oldest human remains in an Protoaurignacian-related archaeological context, confirming that by 41,000 calendar years before the present, modern humans spread into southern Europe.

The classic Aurignacian in Italia is dated within the time frame between 40-30k.a. It remains to be evaluated if the colonization of the Peninsula and Sicily was continuous or not.  There seems tobe much inter-site variability. The latest Aurignacian in Italy comes from from Grotta Paglicci located at Rignano Garganico (Apulia). Level 24A1 is attributed to the Aurignacian and dated to 29,3 k.a. BP  and is characterized by marginal retouched tools, denominated “lamelles à dos marginal déjetées de Paglicci”, which at the moment were found only in this site.

Around the Monte Circeo the non-dated classic Aurignacian of the Grotta del Fossellone remains the reference site for west central Italy. Most of the lithics were produced using flint pebbles, allreadydescribed in my Blog. A long sequence of Pontinian layers is also documented at Grotta Del Fossellone, below level 21, which is the Aurignacian one. Of the ca.1400 retouched tools of level 21 ca 900 are endscrapers, most of them carinated and therefore bladelet cores. Blanc mentions thousands of bladelets, which are mostly unretouched. Over 100 Aurignacian blades (blades with uni and bilateral steep retouche) were noted. Burins, points, scrapers, denticulates, and splintered pieces were rare. The bone industry is unusually abundant for an Italian site, and includes a number of split-based points the southernmost such occurrence.

large and smallThe Aurignacian artifacts displayed here were foundat a surface scatter 17 km north of the Monte Circeo. The sizes of tools are mainly attributable to local raw materials, which consist of small, heavily rolled pebbles of excellent flint seldom exceeding 10 cm in diameter. This Aurignacian  is literally microlithic in comparison to the Aurignacian of S/W-France or the Danube region, but has all characteristics of a classic evolved Aurignacian. Figure 2 shows a lLarge and a small bladelet core from Laussell and the “Microaurignacian” near Monte Circeo.

In the collection displayed here,  the uni-and the bipololar technique is contested by small cores. Beside many carinated and pyramidal scrapers for bladelet production, endscrapers with lateral retouches are very common, some with a „tanged” aspect. There are some “thumbnail scrapers” which seem the endproduct of repeated reworking and reduction of “normal” blade scrapers. The absence of bladelets is certainly a collection bias.

Suggested Reading:

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The Pontinian: pebble-derived late Middle Paleolithic at the central-western Italian coast

circeoThis are centripedal cores, micro chopping-tools and scapers made from cortical flakes from the Pontinian in the Monte Circeo area at the central-western Italian coast

The “Pontinian” Mousterian, is a regionally bounded “facies” of the Middle Paleolithic occurring only on the Tyrrhenian coast of west-central Italy in the regions of Latium and Tuscany.  The Pontinian was first described by Blanc in 1939 in the Grotto of Fossellone (Monte Circeo).  It is dated betweenMIS4 and early MIS3.  For the sites at Monte Circeo, flint pebbles have been most probably brought in to the Pontinian Plain by the Tevere, Aniene, and other local rivers from the Apennines Mountains and were available in conglomerates in the beach and/or river deposits, clearly exposed by erosion during the early stages of Weichselian glaciation (OIS 4–2)

Dated strata from the sites of Grotta Breuil and Grotta di Sant’Agostino in the Monte Circeo massive appear to have been formed around 55 k.a.BP or later. Pontinian assemblages are characterized by a predominance of simple and transverse sidescrapers (up to about 80% in some sites) often with “Retouche écailleuse scalariforme” resembling superficially the “Quina technique” in S/W-France. Double scrapers are frequent at some sites, resembeling limaces. There are a few denticulates and notches.

Centripetal core technique and “Pseudo prismatic “core technique were common during the Pontinian. In about 20-30% of the cores the hammer and anvil technique was used.  This technique (“a spicchio”) was already described in some detail by A.C. Blanc in the 1940ies.

The “a spicchio” mode of knapping was an effective way splitting the pebbles at the beginning of the operating chain in two or three parts. As a result, many cortical flakes or pebble halves were processed immediately after this initial step into retouched tools (mostly simple or double scrapers), as noted in the Fossellone cave, at Grotta Guattary or in the lower layers of Grotta Breuil at Monte Circeo. Other products of this initial knapping step were further processed and sharpened into complex admirable three dimensional tiny artifacts.

A variety of artifacts, which were denominated  „Choppers“ and „Chopping tools“ are also present and may related to uni- and bipolar  cores, except those symmetric examples that were obviously designed as tools. The Levallois indexes have been reported as absent or very low from all sites. Tools average slightly more than 3 cm in length (Fig 1: Largest Tool 4,7 cm). Figure 2 shows a wonderful tiny retouched convergent tool / point (2,1 x 1,5 x 0,5 cm), almost identical with numerous similar artifacts described by Blanc from the Grotta Guattari.

sophisticationThe sizes of tools and probably some of their typological characteristics are mainly attributable to local raw materials, which consist of small, heavily rolled pebbles of excellent flint seldom exceeding 10 cm in diameter. These  have also been used during the Aurignacian in the area, which is literally microlithic in comparision to the Aurignacian of S/W-France or the Danube region. Today, as in the past, flint pebbles are found in fossil and active marine beach deposits widely scattered along the coast and the coastal plains. Depending on the locality, the pebbles may have been difficult to locate and collect as well. As such, the Pontinian provides an excellent context in which to study Middle Paleolithic technological behavior in a limited raw material environment. Stasis and change during the Pontinian have been described in the seminal book by Kuhn, who took a new processual view on the old material. He found diachronic Neanderthal adaptations during the Pontinian expressed in the different choices in the methods of debitage and ways of site and land occupation.

During the Pontinian,  the region was inhabitated by Neanderthals. The Grotta Guattari, is the most famous cave of the Monte Circeo, becaus of its Neanderthal remains. It was uncovered accidentally by vineyard workers in 1939. At the time of the discovery, the Circeo I Neanderthal cranium and an assemblage of animal bones and hyena coprolites were found lying atop a “pavement” of limestone blocks. The Guattari discovery touched off a debate over possible ritual cannibalism among Neanderthals that has later discarded. It is now generally suggested that at Grotta Guattari, the apparently purposefully widened base of the skull (for access to the brain) was caused by carnivore action, with hyenas tooth marks found on the skull and mandible.

This does not mean that the issue of cannibalism or (ritual) defleshing in Neanderthal communities is resolved. The cave site of Moula-Guercy, 80 meters above the Rhone River, was occupied by Neanderthals during OIS 5. Analysis of bones of 6 Neanderthal individuals seems to suggest cannibalism was practiced here. Cut-marks are concentrated in places expected in the case of butchery. Additionally the treatment of the bones was similar to that of roe deer bones, assumed to be food remains, found in the same shelter. A similar context was present at El Sidron cave in Northern Spain, where several lines of evidence point to cannibalism of 12 individuals.

Convergence in the Paleolithic: The archaeological site at Tata, 70 km WNW of Budapest, has yielded a Mousterian lithic industry of small artefacts chipped from small chert pebbles, similar to the Pontinian. Th/U ages on travertines from the site yielded dates of 116±16 k.a. and 70±20 k.a. (OIS5 sensu lato). From the publication of Kormos; 1912:

tata mouserian aggsbach

Suggested Reading: (This is the original A.C.Blanc publication about the Grotta Guattari!)

The Monte Circeo region (Wikipedia/commons):

Monte Circeo is located on the southwest coast of Italy, about 100 kilometers south-southeast of Rome, near San Felice Circeo, on the coast between Anzio and Terracina. It is a mountain remaining as a promontory that marks the southwestern limit of the former Pontine Marshes. At the northern end of the Gulf of Gaeta, it is 541 meters high, about 5 kilometers long by 1.5 kilometers wide at the base, running from east to west and surrounded by the sea on all sides except the north.


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Hengistbury Head: The Mesolithic findings


hengis hengstburyThis is a microlithic artefact from the Mesolithic of Hengistbury Head, made from local flint.

During the Upper Paleolithic Britain was a peninsula of the European mainland, with the area of the North Sea still dry land (Doggerland). Herds of reindeer and wild horses roamed the area of this extended North European Plain on seasonal migrations, followed by the Late Upper Paleolithic hunters, equipped with specialized hunting kits.

In general the Upper Paleolithic record in the South West is dominated by its cave sites, with the obvious exception of Hengistbury Head. TL-dating together with lithic distribution and re-fitting evidence has indicated that there is only a single Late Upper Paleolithic occupation at the site , while the lithic materials have provided evidence for the spatial separation of activities (such as the primary production of tool blanks in a peripheral zone away from the hearths), knapping and blade production sequences, and raw material procurement and use .(

Early Mesolithic finds from Hengistbury Head have been recovered on a number of occasions. Excavations in 1980-1984 located a dense scatter of material, comprising over 35,000 flint artifacts in total. TL dates center on 9750±950 years BP. and indicate an occupation during the Boreal or Pre-Boreal, when Hengistbury may have been as much as 20 km inland of the contemporary coastline. Although the majority of the raw materials (both flint and non-flint) are of probable local origin, there is evidence for the use of sandstone originating from much further into the South. In general the narrow range of tool types at Hengistbury (microliths, end-scrapers and microdenticulates) has been seen as suggesting a specialized activity site, probably associated with game hunting.

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Flaked Flakes–Kombewa–Truncated faceted pieces–Kostenki- and others


This is a flaked flake / truncated facetted piece from the French Mousterian (Fig. 1:  ventral, Fig 2 and 3: dorsal surface after the detachment of a flake). Here a Levallois flake was used as a secondary core by removing a further flake, struck from the dorsal surface. The product of such a technique is a smaller flake with two ventral faces, called „Janus flake” after the Roman god, who is usually depicted as having two faces, since he looks to the future and to the past.  The term ‘flaked flake’ was first used to describe a particular technology that had been noted at High Lodge (MIS 13). As the term suggests they are quite simply a flake that has had one or further flakes removed.

Such techniques have been recognized from different periods and different geographic areas and include sites from the Early-Middle Stone Age transition in East Africa (300-500 k.a.) and the later MSA  in S/E-Africa, from the MSA of the Maghreb and the Middle Paleolithic of the Near East (Nahr Ibrahim). They are also known from the middle Paleolithic WCM industry (Kabazi), the pre-MIS5 Middle Palaeolithic levels at La Cotte de St Brelade (MIS6/7) , and numerous sites In S/W-France.  Allthough “Flaked flake”- techniques were initially ascribed to the Levallois conceptual sphere, several other debitage systems, notably Quina debitage, are clearly distinguishable.

Reduction strategies carried out in the context of secondary  production of predetermined flakes on flake-blanks could highlight two debitage modes which vary depending on which surface is exploited: Kombewa-type mode (on the ventral surface) and Nahr Ibrahim Technique (also called: Kostienki-Technique / Technique of truncated faceted pieces) and (on the dorsal surface).

In the Levant, Levallois-Mousterian strata showing the Nahr Ibrahim Technique are known from Nahr Ibrahim ,Ras el Kelb, Keeue Cave, Bezez, (Lebanon), Yabroud Shelter I, Naame ,Douara, Jerf Ajla,, Hummal (Syria), Kebara and some open sites in the Negev desert (Israel). This kind of flake technique is now recognized as one of the most common elements of the Levantine Mousterian. In addition the Kombewa technique has also been found in some ensembles (Fig.4: Kombewa core made from a Levallois flake found at the Golan hights)

kombewa israel

Recently a levantine (“Tabun B?”) Mousterian has been described from  Merdivenli Cave in the Hatay Region, southern Anatolia (Turkey) characterized by the use of the Kombewa technique.

In S/W-France, Francois Bordes noticed that Kombewa flakes are common in layer J3, the Asinipodian, at the site of Pech de l´Aze IV. Dibble and McPherron, who re‐excavated Pech IV, analyzed the presence of Kombewa and came to the conclusion that these artifacts co‐occur with small cores and T‐F pieces throughout the sequence. This finding led them to conclude that Kombewa at Pech IV was intended for the production of small flakes and that this production forms an important and overlooked part of MP variability.

Several other Mousterian sites in Europe have now identified for their flaked flake technique such as Champ Bossuet, stratum 14 at Combe Grenal (incorporated into the Discoid technical sphere), Les Tares (Quina system) and for the Grotte de Cotencher . Flaked flakes are not absent in the German Middle Paleolithic as recently shown at the Schulerloch in the Altmühl valley where discoidal and Levallois concepts were common.

Truncated-faceted pieces have also been identified as belonging to the Middle to Upper Paleolithic transitional and Early Upper Paleolithic industries of Northern Asia. The largest collection of such pieces in this region is associated with the EUP of the Obi-Rakhmat Grotto, Uzbekistan.  A comparison of these pieces with similar artifacts from nearby areas reveals their importance as a possible chronological marker of the terminal Middle Paleolithic and early Upper Paleolithic industries in Northern Asia.

Kostenki knives are a particular case of T‐F. This type was defined in Europe, specifically for the Gravettian site of Kostenki in Russia. They consist of blades with one or two inverse truncation(s) on the proximal and/or distal end. Using the truncation as the striking platform, secondary bladelets are removed from the exterior of the flake. If such artifacts are rally the fossil directeurs of a Willendorf-Kostenkien is hotly debated.

Suggested Reading:…/Dibble-McPherron07.pdf

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Mont-les-Etrelles: Surface Mousterian ensembles in the Upper Saone region


These are several Mousterian artifacts from a larger surface collection from the  Mont-les-Etrelles, department of Haute Saône near Besancon. Haute-Saône is a French department of the Bourgogne-Franche-Comté region named after the Saône River.

The Haute-Saône lies on the crossroads between the Rhone, the Seine and Meuse.The Acheulian of the Haute-Saône is known from  numerous Handaxe finds whithout any contextual information. Clusters of Lithic artifacts were left by Neanderthals who surveyed this region.Their presence is contested both on the plateaus and valleys, but stratified sites have not been detected yet. Artifacts were made from local flint, quarztite and quarz. The cave sites ( Baume de Gigny and others) will not discussed in this post.

1There are several Mousterian surface clusters known since the 1920ies from Mont-les-Etrelles, near Besancon. Not a single controlled excavation has been performed during the last century and the only report available was published more than 40 years ago.The collection from Mont-les-Etrelles, shown here encompasses mainly scrapers and convergent tools (convergent scrapers and Mousterian points) made from a fine local flint and in some cases from an extraordinary fine grained quartzite. The Levallois, discoidal and Kombewa technique was well developed, producing rather flat debitage, often covered with invasive retouches. In one case a scraper was almost covered with  bifacial retouches, similar to bifacial scrapers of the KMG-Groups in central Europe.

2Some of the surface collections from the Haute Saône are mainly composed of cordiform handaxes and some flake tools (scrapers and convergent tools) and are putatively assigned to the MTA complex (at Etrelles, Fedry, Chevigney, Mantoche, Beaujeu).  If this could be substantiated, such ensembles would mark the eastern border for this lithic tradition. A major sampling bias towards the collection of bifacial pieces may be present for such ensembles.

Other surface ensembles are rich in Levallois and Mousterien points, a spectum that was functionally interpreted. One of the richest of the published Mousterian sites in the Haute Saône is Sauvigney-les-Gray .  The Levallois technique was present, but from the description is seems thet non-Levallois techniques (maybe mainly discoidal) were also mportant. The ensemble is rich in scrapers, simple, transverse, dejete and convergent-sometimes covered by flat retouches on the upper surfaces, and  similar to the ensemble introduced in this post.

Suggested Reading:à_létude_des_pointes_Levallois_et_moustérienne_au_Paléolithique_Moyen_en_Haute-Saône

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Abensberg-Arnhofen Flint (Plattensilex)




The German name Plattensilex is a commonly accepted term for the Upper Jurassic tabular chert from the Fränkische Alb Hilly land in the Regensburg/Kelheim region, Bavaria. The name refers to the tabular appearance of rocky chunks. For this reason, Plattensilex is especially suitable for production of flat tools, often with application of flat or semi-flat retouching.

These are  three middle Neolithic blades, bladelets and a core made from Tabular Tithonian chert of the Abensberg-Arnhofen type. When using the term, it should be restricted to the typical tabular banded chert (“Plattenhornstein”), as this is the only material from this source that can be distinguished macroscopically with any certainty from other Cherts from the Franconian Alb. The blades are part of a huge collection of Middle Neolithic tools, which were found at Oberfecking, 8 km apart from the flint mines. Cores and cortical flakes indicate that knapping activities took place directely on the site. Oberfecking was a production center most famous for the abundance of standardized borers, which played an prominent role in the tool kit of the regional Middle Neolithic.

The use of tabular chert is very characteristic for the Bavarian Middle Paleolithic, especially for inventories with bifaces (“Micoquian”). The main source during the Middle Paleolithic came from Baiersdorf, while Abensberg-Arnhofen chert was only rarely used (for example at the Sesselfelsgrotte).  The Jurassic chert  from Baiersdorf occurs in thin slabs, which means that mainly thin products with flat or semi-flat retouching were generally produced, often with both dorsal and ventral cortex remaining, giving the Bavarian Mousterian / Micoquian  its character.

Locally the chert of the Abensberg-Arnhofen type was again used during the Gravettian at Salching, (Lkr. Straubing-Bogen). During this time the access to more rich sources of the raw material, which have to be mined in the underground, was poor.

It was not before the Neolithic, that this kind of chert became extensive mined by the local population, those ancestors had migrated to Central Europe via Greece and Anatolia from southwestern Asia  (

Situated in an estuarine environment on the hilly landscape of the upper Danube region, the Neolithic flint mine of Arnhofen is a monument with international significance. The area around Abensberg-Arnhofen comprises one of the largest Neolithic flint mines in Europe. Numerous tools made from the premium fine-grained, banded grey tabular flint are recorded from many prehistoric sites since the Early Neolithic. Since several years we know also antler tools from this mining area.

Regular flint mining in Arnhofen appears to begin with Linearbandkeramik communities and ends in the younger Neolithic period. Therefore mining activities took place for ca 1000 yrs (5,5-4,5 k.a BC). While the Middle Neolithic period witnessed the greatest intensity of mining, raw material from Arnhofen was distributed over a broad area of more than 500 km, into different cultural spheres of Central Neolithic Europe: towards the Danube river and the Rhine-Main area to the Middle Elbe-Saale region in the north, to Bohemia in the east and further down the Danube river to distant Neolithic settlements in Lower Austria. At the foothills of the Franconian Alb, more than one thousand mining shafts testify the remarkable prominence of the typical Arnhofen Plattenhornstein.

Alexander Binsteiner has recently traced the chert of the Abensberg-type along the Danube valley  Neolithic, with a remarkable concentration along the Kamp-valley, a small tributary of the Danube and the Horn county in the “Waldviertel”. Around Vienna raw material from the east and South was used but no Arnhofen materials.

Read the monumental work: Roth, Georg (2008) GEBEN UND NEHMEN. Eine wirtschaftshistorische Studie zum neolithischen Hornsteinbergbau von Abensberg-Arnhofen, Kr. Kelheim (Niederbayern)[in IV Bänden]. Dissertation, Universität zu Köln.

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Microlithic Mousterian / Microlithic Middle Paleolithic


These are tiny and flat Levallois points (Fig 1; max 3 cm long, 11-15 mm thickness) from Israel. They show a “Chapeau de Gendarme” base and are essentially non retouched. One example displayed the “Concorde” characteristics, common in “Tabun B” ensembles.

Microlithism during the old world Middle Paleolithic seems to be a successful adaption of Homo sp., occurring during OIS6-3  in different habitats, climatic zones and Environments. It was not associated with the preferential use of only one raw material, but made on flint, obsidian, quartz and quartzite and Basalt. For sure this Microlithism does not represent a „Tradition” but a versatile and flexible gesture of their makers.

Tools already diversified during the end of the lower Paleolithic in the Levant and some components of the ensembles were clearly microlithic.  During the Yabroudian, at Qesem Cave tiny recycled flakes, removed from the ventral face of the parent-flake (‘core-on-flake’), with little or no preparation were used as hand-held cutting tools as part of a diversified meat-processing Palaeolithic tool-kit.

carmel microlithic pIn the Levant, Rust described an undated  Micro-Mousterian  (which is technologically a microlithic Levantine Levallois-Mousterian)  from the Yabroud Rockshelter I /Syria. Level 5.

This level had a 20 cm thickness and contained the industry over 10 sq m was intercalated between several strata with a normal sized Levalloisian (Fig. 3 – 5). The Levallois points are very small (n=185) and show  intentional retouches in  most of the cases. They are 2-6 cm long and vary between slender and elongated and broad based triangular specimens.

Interestingly Rust also described many examples of smaller blades and bladelets often with retouches and some with serrated edges (maybe created by post depositional disturbances), which he called “saws”. It remains unknown if these blades were made by a Levallois- or a specialized blade-core  technology. For Rust an industry of tiny irregular microlithic tools was the most characteristic element of the ensemble (N=125; 1,5-2 cm long).

A microlithic Levallois-Mousterian has been described by H. Fleisch in the Lebanon. A similar industry is known from  from the costal  plain near Mt Carmel (Fig. 2) , embedded in the Kurkar-Hamra Succession** , where the specimens, that are shown in Fig. 1  were found. The use of specialized cores in such ensembles has been documented, retouched tools are rare.

Microlithism during the Levantine Middle Paleolithic is not restricted to the costal zone as shown by the Microlithic Mousterian from the  open-air site of Quneitra (early MIS3). The retouched items display a great variety of types (over 60), with a dominancy of Levallois flakes, single convex  side scrapers, notches, denticulates and retouched flakes. This assemblage differs from other Levantine Mousterian sites in flake dimensions (shorter and thicker),  very few points and naturally backed knives, and the exploitation of basalt as raw material.

Microlithic Middle Paleolithic ensembles are not rare and are known from Armenia, Greek, the Balkans, Italy, Central Europe and France. While some of these ensembles clearly refer to constraints of material supply (for example, the “Pontinian” sites, which will discussed during a later post), other do not.

Situated at  the crossroads between Asia Minor, the Near East and Europe, the lithic industry at Angeghakot at an altitude of 1800 m in the valley of the Vorotan (south-eastern Armenia) , mainly made from obsidian, has been identified as belonging to the Mousterian facies typical of the “Zagros-Taurus”, consisting of numerous Mousterian points, “Yerevan points”, microlithic tools, and the presence of the “truncating-facetting” technique.

In central Europe ensembles with small sized artifacts come from the last interglacial. These ensembles are usually called “Taubachian“. They were usually produced by the recurrent centripetal Levallois method (Untertürkheim, Lehringen, Rabutz, Taubach),or by a discoid concept (Kulna, layer 11). Bifacial tools are virtually absent. Scrapers are common, points are sometimes present, and notched/denticulated pieces are sometimes abundant. It is hotly debated if the small artefact size was voluntary or imposed by site function and by environmental conditions.

One of the best characterized microlithic Middle Paleolithic ensembles comes from the lower strata of the Sesselfelsgrotte (Altmühltal; Bavaria) About 7 m of sedimentary deposit were excavated. An early Weichselian date is suggested for these assemblages which are typologically and technologically similar to contemporaneous western European Mousterian industries (Mousterian with micro-size tools, Ferrassie type Mousterian and Quina type Mousterian) (assemblage Ses-U-A04).  These occupations took place under interstadial conditions (oxygen-isotope stade 5c and 5a) with forest and open landscape.

This brings us back to the possible function of microlithic Levallois points. Those with very small cross sectional areas/perimeters could have been served as projectile armatures. A surprising find from the Rhone region / France may underpin such assumptions. The Neronian level (ca 50 k.a.) of Grotte Mandrin is characterized by an enormous sample of almost microlithic Levallois points. At Mandrin in 80% of these small Levallois points, the thickness varies by less than 3 mm, with a thickness of between 2 and 5 mm, and with a width of between 16 and 25 mm for 60% of them. An impactological study of the Mandrin E points reveals that at least 15.5% of them were used as weapons, maybe indicative of an early bow and arrow technology.

**Kurkar is the term used in Palestinian Arabic and modern Hebrew for the rock type of which lithified sea sand dunes consist. The equivalent term used in Lebanon is ramleh. Kurkar is the regional name for an aeolian quartz sandstone with carbonate cement, in other words an eolianite or a calcarenite (calcareous sandstone or grainstone), found on the Levantine coast of the Mediterranean Sea in Turkey,  Syria, Lebanon, Israel, the Gaza Stripand northern Sinai Peninsula (From: Wikipedia).

Suggested Readings:

Fig 3-5: Some Pages from Alfred Rust: die Höhlenfunde vonJabrud (Vor- und frühgeschichtliche Untersuchungen. NF 8 / Offa-Bücher) Neumünster: Wachholtz, 1950. The first picture shows  Rusts Micro-Mousterian in the 5th row.


micro1micro 2

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Deconstruction of the MTA-B

backed netherlands

This is a backed Mousterian “knife” from the North European plain, certainly not connected with a hypothetical MTA-B. This finding was associated with non-Levalloisian Middle Paleolithic tools as shown in Figure 2.

netherlands mousterian

Two variants have been distinguished within the MTA. MTA Type A has been characterized by the production and use of mainly bifaces, while MTA type B has been defined by the production and use of mainly backed knives and elongated flakes (Bordes and Bourgon 1951). Their relative chronology was based on their relative stratigraphic position at three key sites: Pech-de-l’Azé I and IV, Le Moustier and La Rochette. Most assemblages assigned to the MTA-B either derive from old excavations and suffer from clear recovery biases (Abri Audi,  La Rochette, layer H at Le Moustier) or are too small to properly evaluate their composition (Abri Blanchard, Quincay).

Well-studied and published assemblages assigned to the MTA-B  show considerable techno-typological variability. Several of these collections could probably be re-assigned to other techno-complexes given the absence of a dedicated production of elongated flakes, for example the “MTA-B” (layer H) layer at Le Moustier. Non biased material from this layer have been recently re-attributed the material  to the Discoid- Denticulate Mousterian.  The Discoid production system is dominant at Le Moustier and Combe Grenal  and the Levallois technique is prominent only at the  Folie site.

Another question is the specificity of backed artifacts for the diagnosis of the MTA-B. Basically, Backing is blunting an edge of an artifact by  steep abrupt retouches, opposite to a natural sharp cutting edge, like the example shown here.

Backed tools during the Mousterian are not specific for the MTA. In the Archaeological record of Europe, backed knives appeared first during the Acheulean (for example:  the “Atelier Commont” at St. Acheul). During the last glaciation, backed artifacts
from flakes and blades play a certain role in the Quina system in S/W-France, but also in the “Mousterien typique”. They have been described from the Mousterian of post MIS5-age from Laussel and Pech de Bourre (Perigord), Fontmaure (Vienne),  Ruisseau de Gravier (Gironde), Pennon (Landes) and Cros de Peyrolles (Midi) to name just a few.  In central and east Europe, simple backed knifes are not  unknown (for example in the upper strata of at Buhlen /Hessen, Germany ( probably MIS3), from large surface collections of Middle Paleolithic artifacts near Schwalmstadt and from KMG-sites like Pouch/„Terrassenpfeiler” (MIS3).

Many backed tools from the Mousterian that are shown in publications, especially those on elongated blanks show rather semi-abrupt retouches (similar to Bordes “atypical knifes”), which would in an other context called: marginal retouches and which are not really comparable to the backing of Howiesons-Poort, Lupemban, Klissoura / Uluzzian ensembles, Chatelperonnian or Gravettien points. Calling such artifacts backed knifes is in my view questionable.

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A Cleaver from Ouarzazate


This is a bifacial cleaver found in Ouarzazate 

The small town of Ouarzazate, nicknamed: The door of the desert, is a city and capital of Ouarzazate Province in the Souss-Massa-Drâa of southern-central Morocco. To the south of the town is the desert. During historical times, the small town was first and foremost a trading center for camel caravans from sub-Saharan Africa on their way to Fez or Marrakesh. The local inhabitants were responsible for the construction of assorted fortified dwellings like Kasbahs and Ksours for which the whole region is famous. The fortified village (ksar) of Ait Benhaddou west of the city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Today Ouarzazate a major tourist destination due to the location of the Atlas film Studios.

North African Acheulian deposits of are divided into two types: first, the sites linked to the artesian springs, sometimes with the  fossilized remains of large mammals (Ain Fritissa Morocco, Lake Karar and Tighennif in Algeria, Sidi Zin in Tunisia ), and secondly sites associated with  alluvial deposits (Ouarzazate and high Draa Valley in Morocco, Ouzidane, Champlain and El-Ma-el-Abiod in Algeria, and Koum el Majene in Tunisia).

The presence of Paleolithic industry around Ouarzazate was first reported by Antoine in 1933. The author described an industry collected in the old alluvial deposits of Oued Ouarzazate, near the namesake city. The artifacts were produced from igneous or metamorphic rocks dominated by quartzite. The large cutting tools represent about a third of all artifacts that were selectively collected. Ironically, while Antoine stated that cleavers were absent in his sample, he defined “pseudoamygdaloïdes” which for the most seem to be precisely cleavers, like the one shown here.

Biberson (1954) and Rodrigue (1986) corrected the inventory list of Antoine.  Rodrigue (1986) published some cleavers from the site together with mostly amygdaloidal bifaces and Levallois cores and flakes.  According to this author, the Acheulian at Ouarzazate could be of Tensiftien age, although a late middle Pleistocene age seems to be more probable.

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