N’est-ce pas un “Pointe de Quinson”



but rather a rare cordiform, 5 cm long scraper with scalar retouche on a dihedral thick flake from a Quina ensemble from the Carrière Chaumette in the Rhone Valley (http://www.aggsbach.de/2010/12/quina-scrapers-from-the-carriere-chaumette/). It is not a Quinson point sensu strictu, because it bears retouch only on one edge. But do you really think that Neanderthals used such categories?

“The Quinson points mainly correspond to a particular morphology characterised by a triangular section, at least near the apex (“trihedral points”). In most of the cases the overall shape actually does not show three faces, more or less comparable in size, but only two faces, one of them being dihedral (at least in the distal part), with the dihedron ridge along the symmetry axis. The latter face is not retouched, while the former (flat face) bears retouch on both the edges, but not necessarily all along (partial retouch)” (GAGNEPAIN 2006).

Such artifacts were made on thick dihedral or pentagonal flakes from an oportunistic, Quina or Dicoid chaine operatoire.

Quinson points sensu strictu occur in several sites in Europe as well as in Asia; they mostly belong to assemblages related to the Lower Palaeolithic or Early Middle Palaeolithic and dating to the Middle Pleistocene. Some of the most significant examples come from La Micoque, Terra Amata , Arago at Tautavel  in France, Visogliano and Venosa-Loreto  in Italy, Bilzingleben II  in Germany, Kudaro I  in Georgia, Evron and Tabun E  in Israel, and even Zhoukoudianin China.

However they also occur in the Upper Pleistocene of Central Europe (Kulna in Moravia), Western Europe, especially in the Charentian Mousterian or typical Mousterian of Southern France: Fontmaure, Comte , La Crouzade, l’Hortus , as well as in Spain at Cueva Morin and El Castillo  or in Italy in the Guattari cave .


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A Handaxe from the Provence: The long way to the Middle Paleolithic in Southern France


provence handaxe aggsbach

This artifact (8,5×6,5×2,5 cm) comes from a surface scatter near Gordes, a typical old town in the Luberon. It can be described either as a “Pebble Tool” or a partial Biface and is made from a smaller cobble of local flint. It was found with several other “choppers” and chopping-tools, made from the same material.

The Vaucluse is the heart of Provence, a region full of light where the sun shines on the landscape all year long. Today, it’s a region of contrasting landscapes from crop lands and vineyards to cedar and oak forests.  The area covers the lower Rhône valley, around Isle sur la Sorgue and Fontaine-de-Vaucluse valley, Mont Ventoux and finally the uplands of the Lubéron, which has a maximum altitude of 1,256 m and an area of about 600 km. Villages like Gordes were often built nestled into the hillsides or on top of hills. Houses were built around the château, and crops and vineyards were planted alongside or in the plains (http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gordes#mediaviewer/File:Gordes_pano.jpg).

When was Southern Europe reached by our ancestors leaving Africa?  After the “short chronology” of the European colonization has been recently falsified, the Grotte du Vallonnet (1.07 – 0.99 million years), located near Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, between Monaco and Menton, is now generally accepted as one of the earliest sites attesting this colonization process. Such early  sites were detected in the southern half of Europe south of ~48.5° northern latitude and were  characterized by a simple “mode 1” industries comprising hard-hammer flaked cores, flakes and mostly only a few, simple and not standardized flake tools. Homo lived at this time in early Pleistocene Mediterranean habitats or in grassland environments (sites of the Middle Loire valley such as Pont-de-Lavaud, La Chaudronnière, Lunery-Rosières and Pont-de-la-Hulauderie [some examples are: (1.2 – 0.9 million years), France; Ca’Belvedere di Monte Poggiolo (1.0 – 0.8 million years), Italy; levels TD 4-6 from the Gran Dolina at Atapuerca (0.86 – 0.78 million years) Spain].

The “Hinterland” of the Liguro-Provencal costal arch is rich of “chopper / chopping tool”-ensembles with rare bifaces suggested to be of Middle Pleistocene age. Over the time they may increasingly move to industries with bifaces are to ensembles with flake tools, which become abundant at some sites. Although these industries, made on limestone, quartzite and quartz, look “archaic” they may not be as old as formerly thought (certainly not as old as Vallonet).

Acheulean and Mousterian human occupations left an abundant record of lithic productions in the Liguro-Provencal region. An advanced (non-dated) Acheulian ensemble near the Mont Ventoux, rich in Levallois debitage, with convergent scrapers and a laminar component is known from Les Sablons.

Other Acheulean sites in the Largue Valley are equally rich in Levallois debitage. The handaxes are elongated and sometimes follow a Micoquian concept. Elongated Mousterian Points, convergent and déjeté scrapers often with a “Retouche écailleuse scalariforme” (http://www.aggsbach.de/2010/09/the-pitfalls-of-using-scalar-retouches-as-a-cultural-marker/ ) are present.

The site of Carros-le-Neuf is dated to OIS6 and represents a Acheulian rich in Levallois debitage and an ensemble very similar to the Largue Valley sites.  A non-Levallois Acheulian is also present in the non-coastal Provence, for example at la Bastide. It remains open if the absence of the Levallois technique has any diachronic meaning.  In Northern France for example Levallois and Non-Levallois debitage in Acheulian industries is often a synchronous phenomenon.

There is much regional diversity in the archeological record of the Provence already before OIS5 as exemplified by the long stratigraphy of the La Baume Bonne  site. La Baume Bonne site is composed of a rock shelter and a cave, adjacent to each other, on the right bank of the Verdon River. It is located in the Verdon middle gorges, near the Quinson village. It was excavated during three series of field seasons: 1946-1956, 1957-1967 and 1989-1997, under the direction of respectively Bernard Bottet, then Henry de Lumley and finally Jean Gagnepain and Claire Gaillard. Each phase of the work has been published in synthetic articles.

The main interest of la Baume Bonne abodes in its long chrono-stratigraphic and cultural sequence ranging from OIS 10 to OIS 4 and yielding industries from Lower Palaeolithic to typical Middle Palaeolithic. As fauna is rarely and badly preserved, analysis of the very rich lithic material, including nearly 60000 artefacts, provides the essential part of the archaeological data on this site.

The pre-wurmian assemblage  has been described as a “Tayacian” industry (re-designed as: “non-Levallois Acheulian with rare hand-axes” or simply “early Middle Palaeolithic”) characterized by a lack of Levallois production, rare blades, many scrapers, Quina retouch, Tayac points, Quinson points, notches, denticulates and becs, proto-Limaces and choppers. Elaborated handaxes are rare (75 out of over  60000 artefacts) but well made. The artefacts are primarily made in flint/chert which is locally available from the river; however in the lower levels limestone is more common. This  lithic industry appears to show a transition from an scraper rich ensemble with limited Levallois technique  and characterized by a Discoid and Quina system during OIS 8 to one with no bifaces increased quantities of scrapers and more dominant Levallois. The Levallois method first appears at the end of OIS 8, but its main development took place in the second half of OIS 6 and is associated by the use of better quality raw materials.

In the Liguro-Provencal coastal region, which includes the Alpes-Maritimes, Monaco, and the Italian Liguria, many Middle and Upper Pleistocene sites have yielded abundant lithic assemblages attributed to the Acheulean and Mousterian complexes, enabling a synthetic view of the development of these industries and human behaviour.

The main Acheulian sites are in Nice (Terra Amata and Lazaret Cave), Monaco (Observatoire Cave) and Italy (Prince Cave). The last site have yielded only a few lithic artefacts, which did, however, include bifaces.

The open air site of Terra Amata, dated to about 400 k.a. (MIS 11), has been interpreted as a hunting camp for elephant and deer, occupied by a group who had mastered the use of fire and produced an industry where the dominant shaping technique co-existed with essentially unipolar or orthogonal reduction (not yet Levallois). The heavy-duty tools include abundant choppers/chopping-tools, but also picks, bifaces and cleavers, essentially shaped on marly limestone pebbles collected directly at the site. There was, however, a preference for siliceous limestone to produce flakes and as blanks for light-duty retouched tools, as well as non-local flint and even rhyolite which came from rather distant sources, more than 60 km away in the Haut-Var for certain flints and about 40 km away for the Esterel rhyolite.

Lazaret Cave is located on the French Mediterranean coast, in Nice (Alpes-Maritimes), on the western slope of Mount Boron. It is a vast cavity of some 40 m long and 15 m wide, with a ceiling height of 15 m. The archaeological sequence (stratigraphic complex C) is about 5 m thick, and is constituted by a succession of gravel with blocks in a red clayey silt matrix. Excavations conducted by Octobon between 1950 and 1965, and by de Lumley since 1967, have yielded ten hominid remains assigned to pre-Neanderthals (de Lumley, 1973), associated with abundant lithic artifacts and faunal remains. This stratigraphic complex C is divided into three units: CI; CII; CIII. Units CI and CII contain an Acheulian lithic assemblage rich in bifaces. Above this deposit, unit CIII is attributed to a Acheulian-Mousterian transition, with many flake tools without bifaces (de Lumley, 1976; Darlas,1994). The combined U-Th/ESR dating applied to red deer enamel indicates an age between 170 k.a. (CII unit) and ca 130 k.a. (CIII unit), corresponding to MIS 6.

The Acheulian-Mousterian transition at Lazaret shows well elaborated and diversified, are already of Mousterian types. These various characteristics reflect the transition toward the Mousterian technocomplex, a transition that has already been established at some open air sites in the Vaucluse and Alpes-de-Haute-Provence as described before.The origin of some microquartzites from the CIII unit is more than 70 km away, and for the red jasper, more than 180 km away, in the northern Italian Apennines indicate long distance contacts and networks.

provenceSpeaking about general trends in the Provence during OIS8-OIS6 there is a disappearance handaxes and the evolution of flake based techniques and especially the introduction of the Levallois system during OIS6.  The development of long, complex, and varied core reduction sequences is suggested to be the best indicator of changes in the relationship between humans and raw materials, and these changes are considered the best criteria for describing a gradual transition rooted in older flaking traditions.

The handaxe shown here is certainly not a “Pebble tool” but a partial biface. Its small dimension is due to the small size of the raw material. It can be tentatively dated to a time well before the Acheulo-Mousterian transition during OIS 6.

 Suggested Reading: 


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Dilemma: A problem that seems to defy a satisfactory solution

large and small levallois

negev aggsbach


Dilemma of Photographs: One can never fully comprehend a stone tool, if you know it only from pictures. Only the tactile experience of the three-dimensional artifacts will give you a feeling for the potential use of the tool. You can feel the polished parts, you can see the makoscopic traces of hafting. If you do not have the opportunity to hold it in your hands, a photograph or a three-dimensional reconstruction of a short gif-animation will help. Anyhow, most computer-programs are still unable to produce images that include the tiny detail that human eyes can detect. For example, delicate gloss and traces of hafting may not be visible photographic depictions. A drawing of the tool from different views and-what is very important: in original size- to get an impression of the artifacts real dimensions is therefore still important because a drawing can render more detail and provide more exact measurements than any photograph.

The dilemma of a topological analyst: The larger Levallois Point from the Levant in the first picture  is 6 cm long, the smaller has only a length of only 1,7 cm. Both belong to a “Tabun B-ensemble”. The third one is considerably older (about 200 k.a.), and more elongated (13 cm) and belongs to a “Tabun-D ensemble”. I personally even know specimens from the Levant being as small as 0,8 cm. There is much variation in the size and reworking of this tools.

A Levallois point is a defined as the desired end product of the Levallois reduction sequence (preferential or recurrent). Using such a categorization, large and small Levallois Points are put into the same class of artifacts. Taking different specimens in your hands will immediately give you the impression, that they must have been used for different tasks. Indeed, microtraceological studies and excavations have shown, that they Levallois points were used putatively as projectiles (At El Kowm, although the tip of the point is broken and lost), knives and if they were retouched, also as wood-working and scraping instruments (http://www.aggsbach.de/2014/05/the-story-of-levallois-points/). Some of them were certaily used as hafted artifacts.

Another dilemma about labeling stone tool industries like the “Levallois-Moustian” was recently noted by S. Shea. He argues that: “Labeling an assemblage “Mousterian”, tells one little about its antiquity. Mousterian occurrences are spread out over all of Europe, western Asia, the Arabian Peninsula, the Indian Subcontinent and North Africa between 30-200 k.a. It tells one nothing about the palaeoenvironmental context in which the assemblage was deposited. Mousterian assemblages occur in deserts, grasslands, temperate woodlands, boreal forests, and alpine steppe. Classifying an assemblage as Mousterian does not help one pin down the biological identity of its authors. We currently lack any method deduced from contrasts in hominin fossil morphology for differentiating Mousterian tools made by Neandertals from ones made by H. sapiens or other hominins”.

Shea calls for new constructive and more scientifically grounded approaches to the lithic evidence for human evolution but to tell the truth we are still very far from an inovative new accepted theory and practice that could replace the traditional structuring of the archaeological record. Therefore I would argue not to give up old labels-instead I argue to use them very critical and always aware of their many shortcomings. Talking about the Mousterian must always implicitly  include the critique of this construct.

Further Readings: 

John J. Shea (2014) Sink the Mousterian: Named stone tool industries (NASTIES) as obstacles to investigating hominin evolutionary relationships in the Later Middle Paleolithic Levant.  In Huw Groucutt and Eleanor Scerri (Eds.) Lithics of the Late Middle Palaeolithic: post MIS-5 technological variability and its implications.  Special Issue of Quaternary International 350: 169-179.


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“Point de Tursac” / “Lame de Tursac”

tursac point blade aggsbach

These are broken Tursac Points from Vigne brun (1) and Pataud (2) . The apical part of both examples  has been lost, but the remaining fragments have the characteristic traits for a proper designation of the tools. If unbroken, the lenght of the points would have been about 7-8 cm.

The Tursac point is an armature made from a long (ca 6-8 cm), narrow blade, with a maximum thickness as low as 4mm. Such artifacts have been shaped by very fine direct (semi) abrupt retouches. Typically the retouche on the right margin is continous or present on the basal and apical parts only and the left sided retouche is limited to the medial parts of the artifact. The contour may be foliated or bipointed and has affinities both to a Flechette and a large Gravette point.

At the type-site Tursac (Abri du Facteur), such points have been detected in stratum 15, a niveau which was deposited immediately in an area in front of the rockshelter.  Stratum 15 has been interpreted by the excavator Delporte as an “Aurignaco-Perigordien”, because elements of both Aurignacian and Gravettian (Perigordian IV) were present.
Delporte interpreted the stratum 15 at Tursac as mainly undisturbed, bearing a transitional industry between the Aurignacian and Gravettian, but this interpretation remains doubtful, because such transition has not been documented elsewhere and because postdepisitional disturbances and mixing of artifacts by older “excavations” were present as documented by Delporte himself.

Tursac points have been documented from Vigne Brun (early Gravettian) and Pair-Non-Pair (Gravettian) and are generally interpreted as rare markers of an early stage of this technocomplex.

Excavation report from Tursac (1968). To my knowledge new excavations are just ungoing:




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Spotlight on the Iberian Mousterian

aggsbach musterien

This is a convergent and small ( 3,5 cm long) scraper from the Jarama VI site in Central Spain and the first Iberian Middle Paleolithic lithic artefact displayed within the blog.

Unfortunately, the wealth of Middle Paleolithic sites in Iberia is not accompanied by a solid chronostratigraphic framework. Anyhow, Atapuerca TD 10.1. was dated to ca. 350 k.a. and could represent the earliest evidence of Middle Paleolithic technology in the peninsula, comparable to the age of other Early Middle Paleolithic industries in Europe. Its large lithic and fossil assemblage shares some elements of continuity with the Acheulean (e.g., handaxes), but cores and retouched flakes indicate more diversified knapping systems typical of the Mousterian.

A more complete cultural succession from the latter part of the Middle Pleistocene is that from Bolomor, in eastern Spain. Here, radiometric dates bracket between OIS 9 and OIS 5e more than a dozen archaeological units in which denticulate and sidescraper-rich layers alternate and no handaxes are recorded. The earliest levels of Bolomor (XVII–XV) are positioned between 347 and 242 k.a. and are considered as early Middle Paleolithic, which is in agreement with the Atapuerca TD 10.1.data.

During the last glaciation, using Bordesian description, Denticulate Mousterian, Charentian, Typical Mousterian, MTA, and a Mousterian with cleavers (the last two entities only in the north) have described. Technological the Quina, Levallois and Discoid system were present but without any clear diachronic trends.

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

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

Using improved pretreatment protocols, the existing Paleolithic chronologies at sites such as Fumane, Italy, Abri Pataud, France, and Geissenklösterle, Germany have lengthened by several millennia (http://www.aggsbach.de/2014/01/13656/). It therefore is not surprising that this advanced technique now puts the Mousterian from Jarama VI and Zafarraya to a pre-42 k.a. date. It seems that the demise of the last Neanderthals in Iberia happened before Homo sapiens reached larger parts of the Iberian Peninsula.

The Upper Jarama Valley is located is located on the southern slope of the eastern part of the Spanish Central Ridge. Here, the rock shelter of Jarama VI is located on the left bank of the Jarama River. First controlled excavations were carried out between 1989 and 1993 and revealed the presence of three archeological units. The industry in level 1 has been identified as Mousterian, as have the assemblages in levels 2.1, 2.2 and 3. A human metatarsal (H. sapiens?, H. Neanderthalensis?) was recovered from level 2.2. The Jarama VI site contains evidences of settlement during OIS 3 and the last OIS 4. The lithic industry is not described anywhere, but according to what I have seen, mainly non-Levallois techniques were used for the production of scraper rich ensembles. Most artifacts are heavily reworked by intensive retouches indicating a considerable length of stay of their makers at the site.

A view to the Jarama Valley. Note the carstic environment in the background


The Battle of Jarama (February 1937) was an attempt by General Francisco Franco’s Nationalists to dislodge the Republican lines along the river Jarama, just east of Madrid, during the Spanish Civil War. Elite Spanish Legionnaires and Moroccan Regulares from the Army of Africa forced back the Republican Army of the Centre, including the International Brigades, but after days of fierce fighting no breakthrough was achieved. Republican counterattacks along the captured ground likewise failed, resulting in heavy casualties to both sides (source: Wikipedia).


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Sophisticated Neanderthals

st meme aggsbach

This is a symmetric and well executed elongated cordiform biface (133 x 73 mm), produced by the use of hard and soft hammer technique, from the Saint-Même-les-Carrières site (http://www.aggsbach.de/2012/03/saint-meme-les-carrieres-300000-years-ago/).

Expert performance via long-term working memory is the centerpiece of problem solving in Neanderthals. Long-term working memory is a long-term storage that does not fade rapidly and generally takes more trials to establish than for verbal or declarative memories. It consists of skills (whichis labeled savoir faire) or the ability to replay motor behaviors, techniques, or procedures such as stone tool knapping. It also includes the declarative knowledge of those skills (which is sometimes labeled connaissance). Long-term working memory is one prerequisite for enhanced social interaction and social transmission of different technologies in knapping stone, leading to the flexible discrete pattering of certain operational sequences in the archaeological record.

Innovative and experimental thinking was not confined to H.sapiens but is also contested in Neanderthals. Regarding Neanderthal behavior in the Aquitaine, Turq reports a change from unidirectional and bidirectional recurrent Levallois in pre-MIS5 assemblages to centripetal recurrent Levallois in Last Glacial sites. He also states that from MIS5, centripetal methods dominated alongside Kombewa and Quina flaking. According to Delagnes and Meignen, preferential Levallois is consistently older and commoner in the north than in southern France, and centripetal recurrent Levallois became dominant after MIS5. In Central Europe, on the other hand, bifacial tools, which are part of ensembles which display Levallois or more often non-Levallois characteristics, are omnipresent during the last glaciation.

Usually façonnage and debitage are considered as opposites, but in reality, both methods side by side can be observed in the archaeological record during the European Lower and Middle Paleolithic. Gilliane F. Monnier and Kele Missal recently stated (for Western Europe) that:  “Our results show that bifaces are not characteristic only of the “Acheulean” and the “Mousterian of Acheulean Tradition.” They occur continuously and in low frequencies across the European landscape from MIS 14 onwards”. In this view it is no surprise, that at Ferrassie, Handaxes are present during MIS5 and below the classic Ferrassie Mousterian, which is earlier than the MTA in the Aquitaine. The continuous presence of Handaxes in Northern France during the middle Paleolithic has also been demonstrated during the last 20 years.

Advanced working memory of Neanderthals enabled them to adapt their techniques to actual circumstances and needs as exemplified by the flexible use of different façonnage and debitage techniques that were always present in their social memory.

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Neanderthals in the Upper Loire River Valley




champ grand katzman quina

This is a convergent scraper (7×2,5×0,7 cm) made of local flint with a facetted platform indicating to a Levallois production system reworked by Quina retouches. Such a combination of technological traits is often found in the Mousterian sites in the Rhone valley.

La Champ Grand is located in the eastern Massif Central, 5 km upstream from Roanne in the Loire river valley. It is one of several open-air Palaeolithic sites at in the Villerest district. Other important sites nearby are Le Roche de la Caille, la Goutte-Roffat (a Magdalenian with 182 engraved schist plaquettes) the Vigne Brun site (early Gravettian) and the nearby Carriere Chaumette (http://www.aggsbach.de/2010/12/quina-scrapers-from-the-carriere-chaumette/)(also known as Notre Dame de Boisset) with a Mousterian ensemble. Initiated in 1979, the systematic excavation of large portions of the site was organized as a salvage operation aimed at collecting as much material and contextual information as possible before the site was submerged due to the construction of the Villerest dam in 1983.

The Champ Grand lithic production is characterized by discoidal and Levallois flake reduction strategies and the Quina Mousterian of this site is therefore somewhat different from the Quina production in S/W-France. In addition a well defined, albeit marginal prismatic core blade and bladelet productions is known to exist at Champ Grand. The blade and bladelet component is particularly interesting as prismatic blade production has long been considered a defining criterion of Upper Paleolithic lithic industries. According to Slimak, the comparison of the general dimensions of the blades and bladelets suggests that those two components were manufactured following two distinct sequences.

Production of bladelets has been securely identified in French Mousterian assemblages, e.g. at Combe Grenal (layers 30–29 and layers 16 and 14), Champ Grand and Grotte Mandrin, in Spain at sites such as El Castillo and Cueva Morin and at the MIS3 dated Salzgitter Lebenstaedt site in Northern Germany. All these assemblages belong to the final Mousterian, with the exception of Combe Grenal and Grotte Mandrin; at the latter site, a layer with blades, bladelets and microlithic points is overlain by five layers with flake-based Mousterian assemblages. At Combe Grenal layers 29–30 have an estimated age of late MIS 4, i.e. around 60 ka. Bladelets and bladelet cores are not abundant (5% of the assemblage at Combe Grenal layers 29–30), yet they show that Neanderthals, like late MSA humans and the makers of the Protoaurignacian, mastered the technology of bladelet production.

The Champ Grand features ten raw materials (1% of the assemblage, but numbering 568 artifacts) that were found to originate from sources >80km distant in several different directions (Slimak and Giraud 2007). The estimated distances include 180-200 km northwards from the site, and c. 240 km southwards, the latter actually a minimum value due to straight-line crossing of mountains and high plateaus. Anyhow, during the Middle Paleolithic  transfers >200 km are rare, and more frequent in Central Europe, which may be linked to a more extreme topography and increased continentality in terms of environmental conditions.

Suggested Reading:

Slimak L. D. 2008 – Artisanats et territoires des chasseurs moustériens de Champ Grand. Aix-en-Provence


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