On naming things: How does a backed Knife from the MTA look like?


backed-marginThis is a backed knife from an MTA context in Northern France (Fig. 1-3; 6x3x0,5 cm). The retouched margin is shown in Fig. 3.

Interestingly this artifact was found in the Paris area by a collector, during the years 1905-1910 with some other non-diagnostic blanks, in the Bois de Boulogne.

Middle Paleolithic industries with backed knifes in Northern France are known since the Upper Acheulian before MIS 5 but occurred more frequently  during the MTA at the beginning of the last glacial  (Marcoing, Catigny, Tillet- série café au lait, Abri de la grande chambre à Rinxent).

Backed knifes from the MTA were made on flakes or laminar blanks. On laminar blanks a typical backed knife has a steep abrupt retouche on one side, continuously covering the margin. Backing is inevitably connected with the function of this special retouche. Backed artifacts, either used by “free hand” or as hafted tools, are designed for cutting with the opposite edge. This is one of the scare examples of an intended form connected with an obvious and micro-traceological proven function during the Middle Paleolithic of S/W-Europe

Many tools that were introduced in the literature since F. Bordes as Mousterian „knifes” have fine marginal, often semi-abrupt retouches, but no backing in the original sense. I would call them marginal retouched blades or flakes. Such retouches do not allow to use these artifacts as knifes by free hand, and it remains to be proven experimentally that such retouches have any advantages for hafting.

“What difference does it make what I call it?” Naming things properly is  important in the Archaeological discourse, because  a careless nomeclature inevitably will produce biased data.

Suggested Readings:

Deconstruction of the MTA-B

The invention of Hafting and Backing




Posted in Plaeolithics and Neolithics | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Quartzite Handaxe from La Gravette, Merville, Haute-Garonne



This unifacial Quartzite Handaxe comes from the Haute-Garonne, North of Toulouse.

It was Jean-Baptiste Noulet (1802 – 1890), a French scientist and naturalist, who first described the Paleolithic implements of the Garonne and its tributaries. In 1851, at Clermont-le-Fort, he discovered the remains of Pleistocene fauna, along with the presence of artifacts, very similar to the one shown in this post (Noulet, 1881).

The Garonne Valley is the axial element of the structure of the Aquitaine Basin. Extending across more than 600 km it drains most of the hydrographic system of southwestern France. The powerful Garonne River originates in the Pyrenees, traverses the Petites-Pyrenees in deep valleys and then reaches the Tertiary molasses, at which point the valley widens to a maximum of 25 km near Toulouse.

Along its length, the Garonne is joined by numerous tributaries until it empties into the Atlantic. The density of Paleolithic sites is proof of the favorable subsistence opportunities present in the Aquitaine Basin during the Pleistocene, in which the Garonne Valley occupied a pivotal position. The Garonne Valley was formed almost completely during the Quaternary period. Climatic fluctuations were associated with alternating phases of valley incision and sedimentation. This process has left its mark on the landscape in the formation of five main levels of alluvial terraces, within which several more minor fluctuations are still visible.

The high Terasses belong to the early Pleistocene and are covered by silt deposits. If the early Paleolithic industries, which are found here, belong to the early Pleistocene or were embedded later, remains unclear due to a lack of absolute dates. These findings could  indeed be very old (600-800 k.a. BP).  Fig. 3 shows some artifacts from this position:


In the context of the middle terasses  the techno-cultural originality of the Acheulean of the Pyrenees-Garonne region, characterised by chaînes opératoires of large blank production (over 15 cm) and by the presence of cleavers sensu stricto, has been highlighted. Thise technocomplex seems to be connected with the Acheulian of the Iberian peninsula and maybe of N-Africa.

We have no absolute dates for the  middle terasses, but from nearby Middle Pleistocene sites:  Optically Stimulated Luminescence (OSL), Thermically Transferred OSL (TT-OSL) and thermoluminescence (TL) dating showed that the Pyrenees-Garonne Acheulean industry of Duclos must attributed to the boundary between MIS 7/6, while the human occupations of Romentères date from MIS 6 for the most recent series (Early Middle Palaeolithic) and from MIS 9 and 8 for the older.

Collections of the low terasses show a Middle Paleolithic industy, mixed with handaxes, also made of Quartzite. The discovery of an “Upper Acheulean” site at Raspide 2 (Blagnac, Haute-Garonne) recently excavated yields new insights into the Lower / Middle Paleolithic transition. It associates some old characteristics – bifacial shaping and heavy cleavers – with elements clearly associated with the Middle Palaeolithic: the production of flakes is the most important, with systematization of methods known earlier (discoid, unipolar and on anvil), and the emergence of the Levallois method. Retouched tools are relatively abundant, with a Mousterian tendency.

In the Garonne valley, there is a near total absence of Late Middle Paleolithic occupations and Upper Paleolithic during the last glaciation, apart from some limited traces, suggestive of an abandonment of the region during these periods. It seems that very harsh climatic factors during glacial periods rendered these large corridor particularly inhospitable, thus pushing prehistoric populations into the more protected areas.

During harsh times the Garonne was more a “frontier” than a corridor for favoring contact among populations. In this scenario people would have been “pushed” into the narrow valleys of the greater Aquitaine.

One of the implements  J.-B. Noulet found in 1851  (Wikipedia; GNU Free Documentation License):

Biface Noulet Infernet MHNT PRE 2013 0 525

Keep on reading!

Quartzite in Prehistory

Northern Hessen: The Acheulian

The early Paleolithic of the Garonne valley

Pebble Tools from the Terrasses of the Roussillon





Posted in Plaeolithics and Neolithics | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Small is beautiful: Cordiform Handaxe from Petit Spiennes

petit-spiennes-biface petitspiennes-biface-recto

This is a small (8 cm long) heavily patinated cordiform Handaxe from the Petit Spiennes Area. It belongs almost certainly to the regional Moustérien de tradition Acheuléen.

For the general public the Mons area (Belgium, Province of Hainaut, Wallonia Region) is famous mainly for its Neolithic Flint mines, which are nowadays UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The mines at Spiennes are covering more than 100 ha, the Neolithic mining area of Petit Spiennes about 14 ha. Underground flint mining was taking place in this area between 4,4 and 4,2 k.a. BC cal, making Spiennes one of the oldest mining sites in Europe one of the most important areas in the country for this periods.

Anyhow, the Mesvin-Spiennes area is one of the richest regions of early and middle Paleolithic sites in Belgium. A sequence of fluvial terraces of the river Haine has been recognized. It is constituted by a terrace staircase of 4 levels: the Pa d’la l’iau terrace (MIS12), the Petit-Spiennes terrace (MIS10), the Mesvin terrace (MIS8) and the Helin quarry gravel C (MIS6). This assessment is based on the recognition of a cyclic glacial-interglacial pattern within the sequence and the overlying loess cover, similar to that from the Somme Basin, and is corroborated by bio stratigraphic, geochronological and palaeoenvironmental data.

The archaeological of the Pa d’la l’iau terrace content is known from both pedestrian surveys and a small test pit. The test pit yielded around one hundred artifacts with various preservation states, suggestive of a mix of assemblages from different periods. The archaeological material is composed of flakes resulting from unipolar non-Levallois core technologies and rare retouched tools among them two scrapers and some Clactonian notches. An “Acheulean” attribution has been proposed as handaxes have been discovered on the ground surface in the vicinity of the test pit. However, there is no evidence of a genuine stratigraphic association between the artifacts from the Pa d’la l’iau terrace and the handaxes collected on the surface.

The Petit-Spiennes terrace has been correlated with MIS 10. Abundant archaeological material associated with faunal remains has been recovered from this gravel since 1867. An excavation undertaken in 1984 produced thousands of artifacts in stratigraphic context. The ensemble is characterized by handaxes (amygdaloids, lanceolates and some Micoquian bifaces) and an early Levallois technique. Based on these characteristics, the archaeological content of the Petit-Spiennes terrace has been ascribed either to “Middle” Acheulean, to “Upper Acheulean“, or to the “Middle/Upper Acheulean” of Levallois facies (such labels nearly lead the Mortillet system ad absurdum).

The Mesvin terrace is related to MIS 8.  The Mesvin terrace archaeological content has been initially recognized at the end of the 19th century as a result of surface prospection and the digging of the trench for the Mons-Beaumont railway.  The archaeological material is composed of artifacts presenting various states of preservation. The assemblage contains Levallois flakes, scrapers and various unifacial retouched tools, as well as rare cordiforms, elongated cordiforms and amygdaloidal handaxes. As for Petit-Spiennes and Pa d’la l’iau, it has been proposed that it represents a mixture between artifacts contemporaneous with the alluvial gravel and artifacts reworked from older deposits.

In the 1970ies and 1980ies, two archaeological sites in relation with the Mesvin terrace were excavated: Petit-Spiennes III and Mesvin IV. A third site was excavated in 2014, thanks to the excavation of a Neolithic flint mine, which cut a Middle Pleistocene artifact bearing geological section (ST 06) in Petit-Spiennes. Very recently, a new excavation has been undertaken in the Mesvin terrace and in overlying deposits.

The site of Mesvin IV is of peculiar importance as it provided data on the chronological and palaeoenvironmental context of the human settlement. Morphometric comparisons of the Equus remains from Mesvin IV with specimens from other North-West European sites suggest the Mesvin IV fauna relates to an early phase of the Saalian. U/Th data provide an age of 250-300 k.a. for the site. Mesvin IV, initially identified by surface prospection, lies just under the ground surface. It is located within two channels cut in Thanetian sands. In channel 1, most of the artifacts and bones were lying at the bottom of the basal gravel, on the surface eroding the Paleocene sand. Taphonomic observations as well as refitting of bones and artifacts suggest this material was only slightly displaced from its original depositional context. Channel 2 cuts channel 1, and does not belong to the Mesvin terrace. Material from channel 2 might correspond to a reworking of material from channel 1.

The assemblage is at Mesvin IV is characterized by a good control of Levallois, discoid and blade technology and a considerable high degree of variability regarding these techniques. At Mesvin IV, the archaeological material contains Levallois cores, flakes and  scrapers (simple, convergent, déjeté) and other unifacial retouched tools, as well as asymmetric bifacial tools: They were originally called: bifaces-racloirs, bifaces à dos but now have recognized to resemble “Prodniks” from the Weichselian KMG.  Bifacial knifes from Mesvin IV often show “coups de tranchet latéraux” (the so-called Prodnik-spalls) This phenomenon may or may not be related to an early “KMG-tradition”. No Acheulean handaxes have been found on the site.

The lithic assemblage from Mesvin IV was associated with a fauna dominated by mammoth, woolly rhino and horse and interpreted as reflecting a cold, open environment, while Megaceros and Wild Boar suggest rather mild and wooded environments were present in the landscape.

The lowest terrace of the system, attributed to MIS 6, is represented by the lower gravel unit in the stratigraphic sequence of Saint-Symphorien−Carrière Hélin . These gravels contained a series of palaeosoils dating back to the Last Interglacial and early Weichselian. The lower gravel unit (cailloutis inférieur/cailloutis C), is attributed to the late Saalian (MIS 6) This unit has yielded more than 14000 artifacts since the end of the 19th century. The assemblage is characterized by various preservation states, with some very fresh artifacts adjacent to rolled artifacts, suggestive of a “mixed ensemble” and has generally described as an “early Mousterian”. These gravel is covered by strata, which can be dated to the early Weichselian. Here  cordiform and subtriangular bifaces, very similar to the one shown in this post, were found. I argue  for a similar age of the handaxe of my Post.

In Belgium, other triangular and cordiform handaxes have been recovered from open air sites within  an early  Weichselian  context like  Liege/Sainte-Walburge and Godarville-Canal. Early Weichselian in age are also the triangulars and cordiforms of Northern France (Bihorel, Saint-Just-en-Chaussée …).  Anyhow, they are also known from Belgian cave sites such as  Grotte Scladina dated to MIS3.

Handaxe from Petit Spiennes

Posted in Plaeolithics and Neolithics | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Miniature Bronze Age flanged axe

IMG_0012IMG_0010This is a miniature Bronze Age flanged axe found more than 100 yrs ago in S-Germany (5,5x 1,2x 03 cm).  The flanges are fully developed on one side only and are 1mm wide and barely 1mm high. The other side shows selective basal flanging and ornaments of grouped strokes. The original surface of the object survives in good condition with an even dark green patina. Where there are tiny patches of exposed surfaces, these are fractionally lighter green. The original context of the artifact remains unknown.

In central Europe such miniature objects are very rare.  There are some arguments from Bronze Age findings from the UK and Greek and Crete, which put miniature axes into a ritual context.  Miniature axes were part of Iron Age ‘votive’ miniatures hordes, which often took the form of martial equipment such as shields and spears. Whilst deposition of full-sized weaponry appears to have been primarily an Early to Middle Iron Age phenomenon, miniatures are known exclusively from Late Iron Age contexts. Diminutive axes are often associated with Roman votive offerings.

Miniatures intrigue us. In his book on prehistoric Neolithic figurines, Bailey has argued that by manipulating scale we affect people’s perceptions, giving them “a sense of being drawn into another world”. Due to the small size of the objects, this is likely to involve a close, tactile encounter; holding these three-dimensional miniatures is the only way to experience them fully, encouraging the viewer to actively engage with the object, drawing inferences and extrapolating detail.

Although the effect of abstracting and compressing the world into a reduced scale can be unsettling, it also creates a sense of control over the object-made-miniature, changing the balance of power in the person-object interaction. Bailey writes that “miniatures have important effects on the person seeing or handling an object… Miniaturism empowers the spectator. It allows physical control over a homologue of a thing…. Literally, it makes the world manageable…. Furthermore, miniaturism comforts the spectator. By providing … physical control over a thing, miniaturism suggests security”.

Suggested Reading:

Douglass W. Bailey: Prehistoric Figurines: Representation and Corporeality in the Neolithic. Routledge;  2005



Bronze Age and the transformation of Neolithic societies in Europe

Copper axe from Kassel-Kirchditmold

Early Bronze Age decorated Flat Axe: An artifact of Prestige and Power?

Posted in Plaeolithics and Neolithics | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

90-year Anniversary: Excavations at el-Wad Cave


This is a picture take inside from the el-Wad cave , located in the Wadi el-Mughara (the Valley of the Caves) in Mount Carmel, about 20km South of Haifa in Oktober 2016 during my last visit of this place.

El -Wad is large cave with a lofty roof  greater in area than any of the other three caves in the Wadi el-Mughara.  According to Garrod’s subdivision (Garrod and Bate 1937), it consists of an outer and an inner chamber (Chambers I and II) and a 71m long corridor (Chambers III-VI). In front of the cave there is a small terrace, sloping slightly downwards to a distance of 9.5m from the cave mouth. A large talus, some 45m in radius, falls steeply away from the terrace towards the plain. This is the largest of the Mt. Carmel caves. The accumulated layers provide evidence of human presence from the end of the occupation of the Tabun Cave (45 k .a.).

helwan2When, 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 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 ( Fig 1 and 2 : Helwan Lunates, characteristic for the early Natufian).

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 Mount Carmel caves 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).

helwan1Paleontological analyses were conducted by Dorothea M.A. Bate (1937), and the human remains were examined by T.D. McCown and A. Keith (1939). Garrod’s expedition excavated el-Wad during five seasons (1929-1933). In 1929 and 1930 work was carried out both in the cave and on the terrace , but in the following years on the terrace only. What she called Chambers I and II were dug to bedrock; Chamber III was partially excavated; soundings to bedrock were made in Chambers IV and V, while Chamber VI was not excavated as bedrock was exposed on its surface. The terrace and talus were dug to bedrock over an area of approximately 270 sq. m (Garrod and Bate 1937). At first, Garrod interpreted the archaeological sequence she found to include the Mousterian (Layer G), covered by three Upper Paleolithic assemblages (Layers E, D, and C), and ending with Natufian (Layers B2 and B1) and historic (Layer A) deposits. Layer F contained a mixture of Middle Paleolithic and Upper Paleolithic material (Garrod 1931).

kebara-font-yves-aggsbachLater (Garrod 1951) she changed her mind, and viewed layers G and F as a single cultural unit which she termed a “transitional industry” between the Middle and Upper Paleolithic techno-complexes. Layers E, D and C, representing the Aurignacian, were subsequently assigned to the Upper Paleolithic Stages III, IV and V respectively (Garrod 1951), and following the sequence proposed by Neuville (1934). The distinct characteristics of Layer C led Garrod to place it within Stage V of the Upper Paleolithic and she named the industry “Atlitian”. It has been recently suggested that this assemblage actually represents an Early Natufian occurrence in the inner part of the cave (Fig 3: El Wad point– more prominent in Stage III than IV).

In the cave, Garrod found only small patches of undisturbed Natufian deposits. In the outer chamber these included a collective burial of ten skeletons in extended position. However, the most extensive and important area, according to Garrod, was that excavated on the terrace as it had suffered less disturbance than those inside the cave and yielded the most notable Natufian finds. The archaeological remains included a few architectural elements and close to 100 burials, accompanied by a rich material culture of lithics, decorative items, bone tools, ground-stone implements, and a rich and varied faunal assemblage. It was on the basis of her excavations at el-Wad that Garrod was able to differentiate, through typological criteria, between early (Layer B2) and late (Layer B1) Natufian phases. The Early Natufian extended over the terrace and the outer chambers (I and II) of the cave while the Late Natufian was apparently restricted to the terrace (Garrod and Bate 1937; but see Weinstein-Evron 2008)

Many of the terrace structures and features, including pavements, a retaining wall and several basins cut in the bedrock, were assigned to the Early (Lower) Natufian. Similarly, the tightly flexed skeletons of both individual and group inhumations, as well as the decorated burials, were assigned to the early phase. Bone implements and art objects were numerous in the Early Natufian. The lithics of the early phase were characterized by relatively longer lunates than those found in the later phase, their backing predominantly shaped by bifacial “Helwan” retouch. Sickle blades were plentiful, while microburin technique was extremely rare. By contrast, the lithics of the Late (Upper) Natufian (Layer B1) were characterized by smaller lunates, with abruptly retouched backs and many microburins, while sickle blades were relatively rare. Bone implements and art objects, too, were rare. The burials contained only individual inhumations, the skeletons were slightly flexed and bore no ornaments. While the chronological relationship between the terrace and the collective burial in the cave mentioned above could not be precisely determined, the latter was considered to be of Early Natufian age (Garrod and Bate (1937). The results of Garrod’s pioneering work have led to the recognition of el-Wad as a key Natufian site.

Based on the size of the occupation, the varied and numerous finds, as well as the very long sequence, it has essentially become the prototype for a Natufian base camp. In 1980-1981, limited excavations were conducted by F. Valla, of the French Archaeological Mission in Jerusalem, and O. Bar-Yosef, of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, north-east of Garrod’s terrace excavations in an area immediately adjacent to it (Valla et al. 1986) . Their aim was to re-examine the stratigraphy of the Natufian layers outlined by Garrod. The excavators suggested that Layer B1 could be further sub-divided, into Late and Final Natufian phases. The finds of the latter phase include flint artifacts, with many abruptly backed lunates that were considerably shorter than those of the Late Natufian, bone tools, and stone implements. Meticulous excavation procedures and the wet sieving of sediments guaranteed the recovery of a rich faunal assemblage including finds of fish, reptiles, birds and microfauna which made it possible to draw conclusions regarding paleoenvironmental conditions and the Natufians’ manner of exploitation of various biotopes.

In 1988-1989 excavations were carried out in Chamber III of the cave (Weinstein-Evron 1998) and an Early Natufian occurrence was unearthed. It contained rich lithic and faunal assemblages, together with characteristic basalt implements as well as art and decorative objects. Alongside the exploitation of local resources, long distance trade/exchange networks incorporating other Natufian groups were demonstrated .

It has been suggested, based on the recent excavations within the cave and a re-evaluation of archival materials , that the Natufian occupation of el-Wad extended over the entire terrace and that it was considerably more varied and complex than the picture which emerged from the original excavations. Moreover, the Natufian sequence at el-Wad is now recognized as one of the longest and most complete in the Levant. Within a series of layers encompassing some 3,000-3,500 years  all sub-stages, from the earliest Natufian through its late to final stages, are superimposed at the site.

Suggested Reading:

Mina Weinstein-Evron: Archaeology in the Archives- Unveiling the Natufian Culture of Mount Carmel



Fig 4:Wadi el-Mughara in Oktober 2016:


Posted in Plaeolithics and Neolithics | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The forgotten Paleolithic heritage of Tunisia (II)


Numerous surface scatters around Gafsa were sampled (mainly by amateurs) through the last 100 years.  Here they found a small sized Acheulian or MSA with small Bifaces made from Flint (as shown in an earlier post: see below).

Eurocentric French researchers 60 years ago, indeed thought that they had found a pendant to the MTA of S/W-France. Formally these Tunisian handaxes would well fit in the MTA technocomplex, although they are surely 100000 years older and therfore a convergent phenomenon.

Strange enough some of the Gafsa surface findings fit into a well-developed Ferrassie Mousterian (Levallois Mousterian with heavily reworked scrapers) characterized by an  astonishing abundance of well-made scrapers, often convergent and multi angled with Quina retouche.

But to make the things even more complicated: a Quina like Mousterian, not known in the Maghreb so far, also seems to be present as shown in this post. This small scatter was found by a Belgian collector during the 1930 and shows discoid cores, a classic Limace and scrapers with a foliate character. There are no indications for a Levallois technical system, so common during the Tunisian MSA.  The small tools (max length: 5 cm)  resemble the Spectrum of the Quina Mousterian in S-France and the Rhone valley, certaily a convergent evolution. One explanation for the Quina characteristics of the ensemble could be the work on small flint pebbles with a good quality- similar to the Italian Pontinian.

In many respects the artefactual spectrum of Tunisia differs from the Maghreb and it wills enormous interesting for the future to evaluate, what were the causes for this “abnormalities “

View to Gafsa (Wikipedia Commons)


The forgotten Paleolithic heritage of Tunisia

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

Posted in Plaeolithics and Neolithics | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The Ordinary and the Special: Triangular Handaxes / Bifaces



Figure 1 shows a rare 12 cm long (sub) triangular handaxe from the Dordogne in S/W-France. There are almost no signs of use or resharpening on this artifact. Such bifaces do not belong to the  sphere of the common gear but to a class of very special artifacts. They are the most geometrized artifacts during the European Mousterian with blurred boundaries to the more common cordiform variants.

mortillet-chleenThe founders of Prehistory intuitively noticed such features and it is not by chance that a very early  depiction of a triangular Handaxe comes from the 1881 edition of the  “Musée préhistorique” (Gabriel and  Adrien de Mortillet; Figure 2).

Triangular Bifaces are characterized by three possible usable margins and are known from the Mousterian in N-France during OIS5 and 3 and from the classic MTA of SW-France during OIS3. Further findings in France are known from other areas (for example from the Charente, Vienne and Corrèze). Even in Northern Hessen and NRW / Germany some examples are known. Most triangular handaxes are biconvex and are made of larger flakes by hard and soft hammer technique.

The initial diversity of bifacial tools is connected primarily to the accessibility, abundance, and diverse properties of the lithic raw materials employed, as well as the form of the volumes transformed. In France, particular raw materials, both in terms of their abundance and flaking quality, were preferred for biface production, such as Maastrichtian  flint available for example in the Bergerac region or the exploitation of fine-grained Upper-Turonian Flint in the area of Touraine.

loiret-triangular-handaxe_aggsbachFig. 3 shows a stray find from the Loiret. An extremly thin example (3 mm thickness made from a very homogeneous flint). Raw materials for biface production during the Mousterian were sometimes transported over long distances, as demonstrated by bifaces in Turonian flint manufactured in anticipation of future needs and transported at least twenty kilometers to the south to Chez Pinaud or La Chauverie in the Charente, or those made from Flysch flint, transported more than 70 km to the north-east to Latrote in the Landes region. At Le Moustier and Pech de l’Aze I , this circulation of bifaces made from nonlocal raw materials is evident in the presence of bifacial thinning flakes in Bergeracois flint from sources found at least 35 km from the site.
On the other hand triangular bifaces were also produced at the raw material outcrops; therefore an “exotic” origin was not a precondition for their production as shown in Fig. 4.  This figure displays a triangular handaxe made from a local quartzite, found at Coussay Les Bois, Dept. Vienne, France. It is the only triangular among dozens of cordiforms at this site with workshop character. The same can be observed at the famous Fontmaure site (Fig. 5).

coussaiMany Mousterian bifaces, including the simplest ones, are common tools that were often used, resharpened and reduced. It remains unclear if these modifications were done by the same person, or if the artifact passed from person to person until they were finally exhausted and abandoned. Regarding ethnological examples their use as “collective tools” seems to be most probable. Such “domestic tools” in the same sense as most of the common flake tools, were manufactured and used for frequent tasks and share a technical longevity limited in time and space.

The social scenario could be different for the very carefully made triangular bifaces, which are much font-mauremore less frequent in assemblages. These pieces demonstrate certain individuals to possess technical knowledge and skills that distinguished them from the rest of the group. This tools were rarely used for domestic purposes and rarely show any signs of resharping and recycling.  They stand out against the more frequently shaped tools both in terms of their technical and “aesthetic” qualities, including their regularity and axial symmetry.

Here we argue that such MTA-bifaces are truly special among the common.

belle-indienneThe last Figure shows one of the most famous triangular bifaces of France, which was found in the Vienne near Châtellerault  (“La belle Indienne”) in 1871, now housed  and displayed  in the Musée d’Aquitaine à Bordeaux (Photo: Don Hitchcock 2015).

Other good examples are known from the MIS3 site of Saint-Amand-les-Eaux. Here Dozens of flint knapping stations have been identified on the ground by the concentrations of flint flakes related to tool production.  Geometric forms and high technical skills  are contested by the sixty bifaces thus far discovered, among them very finely made triangular bifaces.

Visit the INRAP communication about the site:



Posted in Plaeolithics and Neolithics | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

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

Posted in Plaeolithics and Neolithics | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

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

Posted in Plaeolithics and Neolithics | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

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: 

Micoquian Bifaces

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…




Posted in Plaeolithics and Neolithics | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment