Everything is broken – Who made the African MSA ?

The artifacts shown in this post come from the North African MSA and are undated. They may be 300 – 30 k.a. old. There are only a few stratified early MSA sites in the Maghreb, that give some insights about the technological evolution during MIS 9-6 and the hominins who were responsible for it.

The late stage of the ESA in the Maghreb is characterized by the assemblage of Cap Chatelier near Casablanca showing the production of predetermined flakes and cordiform thin and small bifaces, flake tools  and a very few cleavers. It is older than isotopic stage 9 after new OSL dates obtained at top of Cap Chatelier section and date about 350 k.a. old.

The Early MSA in  North African MSA began at least by MIS 8 (250-300 k.a. BP) but more probable at the end of MIS 9. It lasted until the end of MIS 3 (30 k.a.) and in some areas until MIS 2 (30-15 k.a.).  The archaeological record is  known from a small number of coastal and hinterland cave sites, mostly located in Morocco.

Only a handful of these dated sites extend into the early MSA. Currently, the oldest chronometric dating estimates come from Jebel Irhoud in Morocco (315 k.a.) and the rock-shelter of Benzú which is located near the city of Ceuta in North Africa (250 k.a.).Both sites are of eminent importance for the understanding of North African Archaeology.

At Benzú the Levallois technique the use of centripetal-multipolar cores is well attested, together with archeological proof of hunting, collecting and exploitation of marine resources. Retouched pieces represent scrapers, notches, denticulates and convergent artifacts. Possible relationships and contacts between MSA / Mousterian societies on both sides of the Straits of Gibraltar were and are discussed, but remain completely hypothetical.

At Jebel Irhoud  the oldest lithics are already dominated by Levallois technology with a high proportion of delicate retouched tools, especially convergent forms. Human remains, recently described in detail document early stages of the H. sapiens clade with several key features of modern morphology. These findings indicate that the evolution  of H. sapiens was not restricted to East and South Africa, but  involved also other areas of the African continent. Morocco was not a an evolutionary cul-de-sac!

The MSA at Ifri n’Ammar , located 470 m above sea level in the Rif Oriental of Morocco, starts at OIS 6 (171  k.a.; lower  MSA occupation) and appears similar to older assemblages and comes to an end at 145 k.a, followed by by an MSA with tanged artifacts (“Aterian”)  dated between 130 and 83 k.a. BP.

One of the most inadequate practice in Paleoanthropological research is the hastily attribution of technocomplexes to specific hominins. This insight is not new, but has been substantiated during the last 15 years of research and new discoveries. While it seems probable that the early MSA in Morocco was made by archaic members of the H. sapiens clade, the early Mousterian in Europe was made by late H. heidelbergensis or early Neanderthals.

While the MSA at  Omo Kibish (Ethiopia) was made anatomically modern humans – that were dated at 190 k.a., we do not really know who was responsible for  earlier manifestations of the MSA in East and South Africa.

In this context, the discovery of  Homo naledi has broken old paradigms. Homo naledi from the Rising Star cave system  in South Africa shares many morphological traits with early hominin species including teeth, such as large molars, and femur structure similar to the Homo erectus, Homo habilis and Australopithecus. The fossil deposition of this hominin  is currently dated by ESR, OSL and uranium-thorium dating methods, between 335 and 236 k.a.Homo naledi provides strong evidence of the coexistence of hominin species in Africa. Who knows what else might be out there?

Everything is broken

Broken lines, broken strings,
Broken threads, broken springs,
Broken idols, broken heads,
People sleeping in broken beds
Ain’t no use jiving
Ain’t no use joking
Everything is broken
Broken bottles, broken plates,
Broken switches, broken gates,
Broken dishes, broken parts,
Streets are filled with broken hearts
Broken words never meant to be spoken,
Everything is broken
Seem like every time you stop and turn around
Something else just hit the ground
Broken cutters, broken saws,
Broken buckles, broken laws,
Broken bodies, broken bones,
Broken voices on broken phones
Take a deep breath, feel like you’re chokin’,
Everything is broken
Every time you leave and go off someplace
Things fall to pieces in my face
Broken hands on broken ploughs,
Broken treaties, broken vows,
Broken pipes, broken tools,
People bending broken rules
Hound dog howling, bull frog croaking,
Everything is broken
Songwriter: Bob Dylan
Songtext v© Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

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Allonne revisited

Allonne is situated in the Oise, Picardy region , in the north of France at 3 km from Beauvais, the department capital. Allonne is 64 km North from Paris. The brickyards of Allonne once played an important role in the reconstruction of the Early and Middle Paleolithic of Northern France.

The top of the Older Loess (older than MIS5) under warm interglacial conditions, formed the argile rouge, or where redeposited the limon rouge fendille, an important marker of the last interglacial in Loess stratigraphies of the Seine Valley and Northern France in general.

At the old brickyard of Allonne characteristic “Micoquian” bifaces (Figure 3) were found within the limon rouge fendille (MIS5 or late MIS6) with some cordiformes, subcordiformes, twisted bifaces, and unifacial convergent tools as the one shown in this post (Figure 1&2).

Such discoveries ceased in the 1950s, with the closing of the Allonne brickyards, which unfortunately could not be re-studied with up to date archaeological and stratigraphical methods.

The tools of Allonne have a characteristic patina: patine blanc-bleutée. Most artifacts were produced by a hard hammer technique, but some bifaces, especially the Micoquian ones,show traces of a skilled soft hammer production. The Levallois technique is virtually absent. The artifact bearing stratum had a thickness of 40 cm maximum. Bordes and Fitte be assumed that the lithic industry was in situ and was homogeneous.

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

Before Combe Grenal: The early scientific work of F. Bordes and the Allonne Brickyards


 Similar artifacts from the classic publication (Figure 4): Bordes François et Fitte Paul, « Contributions à l’étude des limons et de leurs industries primitives. La briqueterie d’Allonne (Oise) », Bulletin de la Société préhistorique française, tome 46, n°1-2, 1949, p. 52-62.

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A Swedish Battle Axe


This is a typical Swedish battle axes of the Middle Neolithic B, also called boat axes because of their shape. The axe, shown here is a type B battle axe, an early  version of the type A Corded Ware battle Axe, only with shafthole socket and butt knob. It is especially common in Eastern Central Sweden.

At around 2800 BC, the Funnel Beaker culture mostly disappears from the archaeological record in Southern and Western Sweden and more or less novel types of artefacts appear. There are two alternative names for this new set of objects: Battle Axe culture or Boat Axe culture. The full name  is actually the ‘Swedish-Norwegian Battle Axe culture’, as the material culture found in southern Norway is very similar to the Swedish – initially at least.  The Battle Axe culture is a regional version of the Corded Ware culture complex.

In the third millennium BC a similar form of burial tradition and material culture appears in large areas of Northern and Eastern Europe.. The characteristic single graves contain crouched individuals seemingly buried according to a strict set of rules regarding orientation, position and gifts. There are new types of battle axes and new types of pottery – cord-decorated beakers.

Ever since this culture was publicised by Sophus Müller (1899), almost every aspect of it has been the subject of intense debate. Explanations have ranged from involving large-scale or small-scale migrations, or diffusion of ideas, ideologies and/or religion into the local population. Others have tried to find a middle road, explaining the change as resulting from a combination of both processes. A centre of origin for the Corded Ware culture, whether in terms of people or ideas, has been traced to Jutland, Germany and the steppes of Russia respectively. Recently genetic data point indeed to a migration process from the East.

As mentioned above, the Corded Ware culture was mainly known and defined through the burials, where individuals were placed in crouched positions. Orientation of the graves, as well as the position of the deceased and where he or she was facing, seem to have been strictly regulated and also dependent upon gender. The burial gifts are likewise very rigidly prescribed and placed in relation to the body. The groundstone battle axes are often seen as evidence for a patriarchal and individualistic social order, in contrast to the collective megalithic tombs of the preceding Funnel Beaker culture.

It should be noted, however, that the frequency of battle axes varies considerably across the Corded Ware region, being far more common in some parts of Germany and especially Scandinavia than in Poland, the Czech Republic or Switzerland. The common denominator, which has also given the name to the phenomenon, is the cord decorated beaker.The shape and to a lesser degree the decorative patterns on these beakers also vary, from slim, long-necked Protruding Foot beakers of Holland and parts of Germany to the far more globular, wide-mouthed beakers of Sweden and Finland.

Apart from the beakers and battle axes, the burials may include work axes of flint or groundstone, flint blade knives, bone awls, rings made from bone or amber, bone pins, tooth-shaped bone pendants and occasionally small copper ornaments. Less common, or more regionally specific, are hammer stones, arrowheads, wristguards, antler weapons, grindstones and quern stones. The typical grave is often described as being oriented east- west, with men placed on their right side and women on their left, both facing south. As with all such generalisations, there are plenty of exceptions. A problem is that bones are often not preserved enough for an osteological sex determination. In fact, often not enough remains of the body to even ascertain the position in which the dead was placed. Sex is therefore often determined solely based on the burial gifts, with the risk of a circular line of reasoning. The assumption that battle axes denote male burials seems to hold up on the occasions when actual skeletal remains are analysed, however, the other types of objects are generally not as easy to ascribe to only one gender. In fact, several of the other tools and artefacts seem to appear in both ‘male’ and ‘female’ burials, though possibly with different frequency or position. This is also something that is subject to regional as well as chronological variation.

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The Middle European Micoquian of the Franconian Jura

In the Late Jurassic, Southern Germany was part of the north-western Tethyan shelf. In outcrop, the marine epicontinental sediments are forming the Swabian and the Franconian Alb (upland) and their forelands. The Upper Jurassic of Southern Germany is a classical area of paleontological and archaeological research since the 19th century.

This is a bifacial scraper made of flint (8 cm long) from an early 20th century collection of KMG- findings from the Franconian Jura. Located between two rivers, the Danube in the south and the Main in the north, its peaks reach elevations of up to 600 meters and it has an area of some 7053.8 km2. Many famous Middle Paleolithic sites  such as the Sesselfelsgrotte, the Klausennische and  the Abri I Schulerloch in the Altmühl Valley, the Hohle Stein at Schambach and the Steinerner Rosenkranz at Mörnsheim near Eichstaedt are situated in this area.

Within this context, the G stratigraphic complex (“G-Komplex”) of Sesselfelsgrotte  yielded one of the longest cultural sequences of late Middle Paleolithic bifacial industries during MIS3. It remains debatable, if pre-MIS3 KMG- inventories were present in S-Germany and if bifacial assemblages were the expression of a distinct socio-cultural behaviour of Middle / East European Neanderthals or not.

Anyhow, looking further west and north in Germany, there is no proof that the KMG-strata of Königsaue, Bockstein, Buhlen and Balve are older than MIS3, while Pouch-“Terassenpfeiler”,Salzgitter-Lebenstedt and Lichtenberg are securely dated to this timeframe.


Bifacial Scraper from Montguillain / Goincourt (Oise)

The Prądnik (KMG) complex in Central Germany revisited


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Point a face plane from Laugerie-Haute



This is a point a face plane Type A after P. Smith (1966) found in Protosolutrean layers at the large rock-shelter of Laugerie-Haute, on the right bank of the Vezere in Dordogne. The Solutrean techno-complex emerges is geographically confined to Southwestern France and the Iberian Peninsula, and occurring within c. 22–19 ka cal BP, that roughly matches the course of the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) and Heinrich Event 2 – a discharge of ice-meltwater into the North Atlantic, with cooling effects on European temperature.

Points a face plane are a group of very diversified artifacts. Some appeared not only during the protosolutrean but were also present during the later stages of the techno-complex.

Points a face plane: 
Type A: Nearly or fully symmetrical, pointed on both ends, or on only one end, which can be occasionally rounded. Upper face covered with flat retouches. Lower face plain or retouched over limited part of its surface. 
Type B: The most typical pointes at Laugerie : teardrop shaped or dejete usually to the right. Much of the upper face retouched along the left side of the median ridge. Occasionally the upper face is entierly retouched. Bulb at the base may have been removed  by retouches. 
Type C: “Chatelperron- like“, slightly curved and made on a long blade. The retouches  are concentrated on one side of the median spine of the upper face. Bulb at the base may have been removed  by retouches. 
Type D : Broad and heavy made on a flake with flat retouche covering the upper face and parts of the lower face. “Mousterian-like” and found throughout the Solutrean and not only in the earlier phases. Type-site: Badegoule
Type E: essentially only pointed blades. Single or double tipped. Flat terouche concentrated around the tip. 

Techno-typologically the Solutrean  represents a clear disruption from the previous pan-European techno-complexes and seems to contest  an evolution towards more  specialized hunting weapons that represent the adaptation of human groups to the rigorous climaticd context of the LGM. At Laugerie-Haute, which is seen as “the central pillar of the reconstitution of the French Solutrean” (Smith 1966) all the fauna associated with the Solutrean characterizes a generally cold and dry climate.

According to Smith (1966) the Solutrean is divisible into the Protosolutrean, Lower Solutrean, Middle Solutrean, Upper Solutrean and Final Solutrean. The Lower Solutrean features unifacial points, while the Middle Solutrean is characterized by laurel leaf points (Fig 2: from Solutre) . The Upper Solutrean sees shouldered points (Fig 3: from the upper Solutrean at Fourneau du Diable) and willow leaf points, some potentially too fine to have been used for practical purposes.

The Protosolutrean in known from very few sites in Southwest France, Laugerie Haute, Abri Casserole, and recently the site of Marseillon has been added to the list  albeit sharing more characteristics of the Protosolutrean as it is known in Iberia (Vale Comprido, Peña Capón, Calvaria 2, Portela 2) than with the French Solutrean. The lithic technology of Marseillon has been used to support evolution of the the Solutrean from the Gravettian, in riposte to the traditional view of the Solutrean representing a full break from the preceding phase. According to this hypothesis of evolution between the industries, the transition occurs across the entire Solutrean region, with a great deal of interaction between France and Iberia and with much long-distance exchange occurring. In this view the Protosolutrean is seen as a transitional industry between the Gravettian and the Solutrean. The early phase of this techno-complex seems to be characterized by the “Vale Comprido” point.

Laugerie-Haute,was discovered by E. Lartet and H. Christy in 1862 and recorded by them as a palaeolithic site. Since its discovery it  has since been explored in part from time to time by archaeologists, and was “under excavation” by H. Hauser when WW I broke out in 1914. It was acquired by the State on Hauser’s conviction of espionage. In 1921, Denis Peyrony began the systematic excavation of the shelter. It had never previously been examined below the Solutrean and Magdalenian levels. The investigations were carried on at intervals over a period of years, the excavation being completed in 1935. The last four years were devoted to the east end of the shelter, which had not been excavated before.

According to D. and E. Peyrony (19389 the east side (Laugerie Est) was occupied continuously from the late Gravettian to the Solutrean until the Late Magdalenian. They observed the following stratigraphy: Level B B’ F H H’ H” I I” I”” J K (“Perigordien” VI and VII/Protomagdalenian, Lower Solutrean, Middle Solutrean, Upper Solutrean, Magdalenian I, Magdalenian II, Magdalenian III, Magdalenian V).

In contrast the west side, Laugerie Haute Ouest lacks any Magdalenian levels but has a well-developed Solutrean sequence instead. The stratigraphy has described by the Peyronies is as follows: Level B D G H’ H” H”’ (Gravettian,  “Aurignacian V”, Protosolutrean, Lower Solutrean, Middle Solutrean, Upper Solutrean).

F. Bordes and D Smith re excavated the site during the late 50ies / early 60ies with much more sophisticated excavation techniques. At the east of the site, for example, Peyrony’s 13 excavation complexes (layers A to K) correspond to 42 complexes from Bordes’ excavation.

Further analysis of the collections, which derive from the excavations of Bordes and Smith at the both sides of the shelter (east and west) shows that the both stratigraphics are different. They don’t date of the same time and there are gaps in the sedimentation.

The reevaluation of the data showed that:

  • The Laugerie-Haute stratigraphy and consequently the Solutrean chronology are more complex than those previously known. During the Solutrean, Laugerie-Haute was inhabited by a group who did not occupy the whole rockshelter. As the others Upper Paleolithic living groups, they travelled through a limited territory of the northern Aquitaine.
  • The study of raw material shows the prevaling exploitation of the local Senonian flint, especially those of the alluvial deposits of the river Vézère. These choices depend of the flintworking techniques weakly laminar. The laurel leaves are mainly fashioned in the Senonian brown flint. Exotic flints are also represented (Bergeracois and Fumélois flint, flint from the Hettangian of the Corrèze, Cenozoïc flint from the left bank of the Dordogne). They were notably used for unifacial point manufacture. The point shown here was made from a brown Cenozoïc flint, now heavily patinated.
  • the Aurignacian V level overlies the Protomagdalenian (Perigordian 7) level and not the other way around . It is characterized by carinated and nosed elements and may represent a final Gravettian.
  • It is not easy to establish the limits between the Solutrean complexes (Lower, Middle or Upper Solutrean), nor between the east and the west of the shelter.
  • several strata appeared to be mixed and disintegrated especially the Solutrean strata at the west end. Chronological studies should concentrate at the east side, rather than at the west of the site.

Panorama of Laugerie-haute from the wonderful  “Don`s map”

Badegoule- an important Archaeological site for the Solutréen and Badegulien in S/W-France

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Levallois- Mousterian near Geulah Cave (Mt. Carmel; Israel)

These are three Tabun-B surface findings from the Mt. Carmel, found during the 1950ies near Geula(h) cave.

Geula Cave is situated on the eastern slope of Mount Carmel , 205 m above sealevel. It is 2.5 km  south oft he point where the outlet of Nahal Gibborim- Wadi Rushmiya in Arabic- flows into the Mediterranean. The site now lies in the built-up area of the Geulah quarter of Haifa. The cave, and a narrow, undisturbed ledge along the face of the rocky cliff are remnants of a former, larger cave destroyed by recent quarry operations. Excavations in the two chambers of the cave and on the ledge-called a terrace by its excavator-were carried out by E. Wreschner in four seasons, 1958-1964.

Geula Cave was especially rich in small mammal remains and characterized by very little sign of human activity and is unique among the Carmel caves with a Levallois-Mousterian in yielding not only the presence of carnivores, but also that of porcupines, with limited evidence to scavenging and hunting by either hyenas or humans.

Three layers with “Tabun-B” characteristics were discovered, identical in archaeological content throughout the excavated area; only their thickness varied in the cave and on the terrace. In layer B two stages could be distinguished and were designated accordingly. In all Layers Levallois points were the most frequent artifacts (up to 20%)

Layer A: 10 to 30 em thick, with gray dusty soil; contained Levallois- Mousterian flint implements, horn and teeth fragments; and 2,176 animal bones.

Layer B1: 25 to 40 cm thick, with brown, powdery soil; contained Levallois flint implements, bone tools, animal bones, ocher, and Hyena coprolites.

Layer B2: 40 to 90 cm thick, with blackish-brown soil embedded with charcoal fragments; contained Levallois flint implements of uniform size all larger than those found in layer B1), bone tools, and animal bones. The two B layers yielded 9412 bones, including horns and teeth; 318 bone tools; and three small human bone fragments.

Layer C  5 to 20 cm thick, with light-brown powdery soil; rested on bedrock, filling cavities and crevices. The soil was sterile. A sediment analysis of layers C-A (from bottom to top) by E. Schmid showed a change from a warm, humid climate (layer C) to a warm, dry one (layers B2 to B1), followed by a change to colder, wet conditions (layer A). An early C-14 examination of charred bones from layer B1 gave a (minimum) date of  42 ± 1,7 k.a. BP. This is also the date of some human remains, most  possibly assigned to AMH.

A porcupine from the Royal Château de Blois (French: “Château Royal de Blois”) is located in the Loir-et-Cher Département in the Loire Valley, in France, in the center of the city of Blois. The residence of several French kings, it is also the place where Joan of Arc went in 1429 to be blessed by the Archbishop of Reims before departing with her army to drive the English from Orléans. (Free License by Wikipedia).

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

Dead End Street: The Levallois-Mousterian of the Carmel region

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The Middle Paleolithic of the North German Plain


Nearly the entire North German Plain lies less 100m above sea level. The lowland is drained by the north-flowing Rhine, Ems, Weser, Elbe, and Oder rivers; nowadays a network of shipping canals and inland waterways connect the rivers from east to west. Glacial action formed the region’s landform patterns, which can be divided into three major areas of relief from west to east: the alluvial deposits of the Lower Rhineland, the flat glacial sands and gravels of Lower Saxony west of the Elbe River, and the series of morainic uplands and troughs extending eastward from Schleswig-Holstein along the Baltic Sea.

Fig 1. shows a large core from LübbowLüchowDannenberg, Lower Saxony, dated to the Saalian (MIS 6). The  Saalian, which directly follows the Holsteinian in N-Germany, is a complex stratigraphic unit. Recently the Holsteinian interglacial was correlated on the basis of radiometric dates with MIS 9,  300 k.a. old, not 400 k.a.  as formerly thought. Therefore, the Reinsdorf interglacial from the Schöningen opencast mine, where the famous spears were found is most probably 300 k.a. old (correlated with MIS 9a) or even 240 k.a.  old (correlated with MIS 7). The Saalian sensu stricto (MIS 6) lasted from 230-120 k.a. with Drenthe and Warthe ice advances, between 150 and 140 k.a.

 The Early Middle Paleolithic in the North-German Lowlands, defined by the use of the Levallois technique, comprises sites which are stratigraphically underlying the Drenthe and Warthe ice advances. In general such ensembles are now dated younger than some years ago, and therefore younger than early Middle Paleolithic ensembles in France, Italy and the Iberian Peninsula. Most ensembles are small, except Markkleeberg (near Leipzig) with thousands of artifacts found so far. Here, the Middle Paleolithic archeological horizon is underlying the Drenthe gravels, which previously gave reason to date the archeological find horizon to early MIS 8, but might now be either as young as MIS 6. The Markkleeberg assemblage combines rare bifacial tools (handaxes and bifacial scrapers) with developed Levallois products of various kinds (Levallois points, scrapers). Moreover an important laminar component with volumetric blade cores has early identified in the Markkleeberg assemblage.

Another important site from the penultimate Glacial period was discovered in 1993 at Ochtmissen, Landkreis Lüneburg.  Until 1994 large numbers of flint artefacts were excavated from a 420 m2 sand layer, ca. 1.25 m beneath the surface. The ice wedges in the upper layers date back to the latter part of the penultimate Glacial period (ca. 150-130 k.a.) . The assemblage is interpreted as an Up- per Acheulian inventory including Levallois-technique. Fifty-six evenly worked hand-axes distinguish this find material, which is a quite unusual rate of recurrence for this tool.

The skeleton of a forest elephant with a yew lance is an outstanding piece of evidence that hunting took place in the Neanderthal period. This site from the Eem-interglacial was discovered in 1948 near Lehringen, Landkreis Verden. Detailed analysis of lance fragments by Thieme and Veil (1985) demonstrated the skill and care with which the weapon had been made; it featured no less than 40 knots and all the bark had been removed from the shaft.

Hundisburg near Neuhaldensleben, northwest of Magdeburg, now dated to MIS 6 shows a similar artifactual spectrum: Handaxes are rare (2 handaxes /270 artifacts) and a sophisticated Levallois technology is present. This ensemble also compromises some bifacial scrapers and Keilmesser. Renewed excavations at Hundisburg since 2005 recovered mostly sharp edged artifacts combined with the remains of large mammals and rich microfauna, while such contextual information is not available for Markleeberg.

Other findings most probably from MIS6 are only indirectly dated. The most important sites in Northern Germany  come from the Pleisse gravels near Leipzig (Cröbern, Zehmen), Gravels near Magdeburg (Magdeburg-Rothensee, Magdeburg-Neustadt, Gerwitsch).
In 1949 K.H. Jacob-Friesen published Paleolithic material from the gravels of Hannover-Döhren, Hemmingen and Rethen.  Fig 2 shows an handaxe found in the gravels of Döhren during the 1930ies. This was followed by a second publication of a handaxe rich ensemble in  1978 by Zedelius- Sanders.  The material of the Leine valley south of Hannover increased during the last 20 years by the work of  numerous voluntary helpers and assistants. While earlier studies allocated the artifacts to Pre MIS-5 times, new considerations take into account a Post MIS-5 embedding of the artifacts. The ensembles include many bifacial tools (handaxes, bifacial scrapers, some Blattspitzen and Keilmesser) and may be related to the Central European Micoquian (KMG), well attested at Lichtenberg and Salzgitter. The last Figure (Fig. 3) shows a bifacial piece from the Lichtenberg site (early MIS3). Regarding the Middle Paleolithic of the last Glaciation of the North German plain (and the North European plain, too: for example the Zwolen site) it is interesting to note the long persistence of classic handaxes in these ensembles-very different to the MTA/ non-MTA ensembles of N-France.

Three cranial fragments were recovered from coarse-grained deposits dug up by a suction dredge from gravel pits on the Leine river flats in the vicinity of Sarstedt. Also recovered were a number of artefacts which, upon careful inspection, could be assigned to the Middle    Paleolithic with  KMG affinities. The geological pattern of the Leine Valley in this region suggests that these fragments were deposited in the lower terrace during a yet undetermined warm period—possibly Brörup or Odderade—during the Weichsel glaciation. However, attribution to the Eemian period or a Saale interstadial cannot be ruled out.

The Prądnik (KMG) complex in Central Germany revisited

Salzgitter-Lebenstedt: an important Paleolithic site in N-Germany

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Out of Africa II- Buried under Arabian Sands?

This is a 7 cm long MSA-Bifacial foliate-from our African ancestors. Stone tools have been repeatedly used to reconstruct the “out-of-Africa II” event(s) and Arabia which had a marginal mention in human evolutionary discussions in the past, is now suggested to be the most probable gateway for such dispersals.

One  model of dispersal is based on the archaeological site of Jebel Faya in the United Arab Emirates. Here, stone tools dating to the last interglacial are reported to show strong affinities to MSA lithic technology in eastern and northeastern Africa. The authors base this assessment on the presence of reduction by façonnage which was used for the production of small hand axes and foliate tool forms.As the eastern African MSA around this timeframe was made AHMs, the technological affinities between these regions are interpreted as early dispersals from Africa across the Red sea during times of low sea level and increased rainfall which facilitated the early colonization of Arabia until the Persian Gulf at around ~120 k.a. If true, this would represent one of the earliest identified populations of AHMs outside of Africa, and a support for arguments for an southern migration route of Homo sapiens into Asia and Oceania .

Documentation of so-called “Nubian cores” in southern and central Arabia has been used to infer demographic exchange across the Red Sea, suggesting that modern humans entered the region with this particular technology before 100 k.a.

The hypothesis maintains that the “Nubian technocomplex” in both northeast Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, defined largely on the presence of Nubian cores, reflects the same group of people using this specific reduction technology. While the chronological control over many sites is weak, the slightly later presence of Nubian cores in Arabia is interpreted as evidence for modern humans dispersing from their source area in northeast Africa.

Finally, Mellars  has used the occurrence of microlithic technologies with backed segments in southern and eastern Africa (from HP or “HP- like” sites in these regions) and a later appearance of similar tools in India and Sri Lanka (at Jwalapuram, Patne and Batadomba-lena) to infer population movements out of Africa and along a coastal route by ca. 60–50 k.a.

In all of these cases, the MSA record and its tool stones are used as a baseline “African” signal for the source populations of modern humans that later dispersed to other continents. In other words, supposedly “African” elements of stone artifact technology in non-African contexts are used to infer dispersals out of Africa.

The degree to which lithic artifacts can actually help in tracing migrations in general – and early dispersal of modern humans from Africa to Eurasia in particular – is an open debate.  Recent studies emphasize that a major problem facing such approaches is the fact that similarities in material culture between different areas can arise by three principle pathways: convergence (independent invention; similar local adaptations), diffusion (movement of ideas and objects; cultural exchange) or dispersal (movement of people).

What’s the Nubian Levallois-core technology got to do with “out of Africa ” dispersal and Boker Tachtit?

Paleolithic Foliates in Africa


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Bronze Age razor : Masculinity, the Horse and the Sun Chariot

This is a Bronze Age razor with a horse- and waterbird-handle from Denmark, maybe from a funerary context-but contextual information is not known from this 19th century finding. The outlines of the artefact are suggestive of a ship corpus with animal applications, three elements which played their role in the Ideological and Beliefs systems of North Europe during the Bronze Age.

Razors with horse head handle are especially well known from the Middle/Late Bronze Age of Denmark:  Grisby, Løve, Grave 204, Sperrestrup, Grave 42, Broholm, Lundtofte, Grave 101 Trappendal (Grave 13). The bronze razor with the horse-head handle appeared in Scandinavia in the fifteenth century BC. The razor had some antecedents in the Aegean, although none of these objects were imported to the north. It is suggested that the Scandinavian warrior class consciously adopted elements of the Mycenaean warrior package, including a clean-shaven face.

The warrior aristocracies from the Aegean to Scandinavia shared the same basic appearance and body culture, reflected in the employment of similar dress, weapon types and combinations, similar instruments for body care – razors and tweezers – and similar rituals in burial. This demonstrates the acculturating force of the new institution of warrior aristocracies during the Bronze Age in Europe.

Razors in male graves during the Bronze Age were initially interpreted as having a purely functional purpose in the context of male personal hygiene. However, razors are mainly found in burials and hoards and their appearance in such contexts suggests that they played a symbolic as well as functional role should not be regarded as an isolated object, but as part of a larger ideological or social statement.  It seems that razors served men during this time as personal symbols of identity and were a means of facilitating the construction of a primarily male identity.

The article “The Warrior’s Beauty” by Paul Treherne (1995) presents the emergence of a warrior elite in the Bronze Age as linked to change in the expression of identity as well as material culture. The Bronze Age warrior elite are identified based on “personal consumables” found in male burials during the Early Bronze Age, centered around warfare (weaponry), alcohol (drinking vessels), riding/driving (horse harness/wheeled vehicles), and bodily ornamentation (personal hygiene equipment and dress).

Treherne highlights the fact that “‘toilet articles’ appear to have been exclusively ‘male’ funerary goods at this time”. In fact, by the late Bronze Age in some regions items of personal hygiene appear to be “the main male status item in graves”. He also argues that the primary “ideology” of the middle Bronze Age revolved around the “male (gendered) individual and the display of his personal accoutrements acquired through inter-regional exchange and emulation, with novel themes of drinking, driving/riding, body decorating, and fighting”. This change in burial practice, according to Treherne, mirrors the change in identity and social status of certain individuals. Since the corpse was only visible for a short time, as opposed to a longer display after death, “the message communicated by the body and its accoutrements to the audience had to be unambiguous and this lent itself to highly formalized or stereotyped representation”.

The “warrior package” in northern Europe in the Bronze and Iron Ages is associated with weapons, personal hygiene paraphernalia, drinking and feasting equipment, and horse trappings. Although none of these object categories on their own (apart from the razor) communicate a strictly “male” identity and many of the same objects can be found in high status female burials, it is the combination of these objects that creates an identity of maleness.

Masculinity, while continuing to be closely associated with weaponry, horse trappings, and drinking and feasting equipment, changes its association with personal hygiene paraphernalia at the beginning of the Iron Age. Razors in particular are no longer found in burials and hoards in Britain, Ireland, and Scandinavia in the Iron Age, although “warrior” graves are still present. However, the “warrior package” Terherne describes is only associated with a few select men of the community and does not necessarily represent the concepts of masculinity applied to most of the population.

Other applications on this artifacts are symbols of the sun. The razor also has the form of a  Sun Chariot (Fig. 2).

The journey of the sun across the sky was an important element in  Scandinavian Bronze Age religion. We find the motif on bronze objects such as razors but also  on rock carvings in N-Europe, but the finest example of them all is The Sun Chariot. The pictures can be interpreted as a narrative about the sun’s journey across the vault of the heavens by day and through the darkness of the underworld by night.

The framework of existence was the eternal cycle with its constant alternation of light and darkness. This was illustrated by The Sun Chariot, where a divine horse pulls the sun. The horse was not the sun’s only helper. The imagery of the period is full of ships. On its journey the sun was also transported by the Sun Ship. Other mythological helpers of the sun were fish, snakes and swimming birds.

John Coltran: Sun Ship! 

“Almost Cut My Hair”: A Razor from the German Bronze Age

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Bifacial Scraper from Montguillain / Goincourt (Oise)

This is a 9 cm long excellent bifacial scraper from Montguillain (Oise), found during the 19th century. A very similar artifact can be found in F Bordes` Typologie du Paléolithique ancien et moyen.

Gabriel De Mortillet’s 1873  described several locations, that he thought to be characteristic for the Mousterian, among them the multilayered site of Montguillain (Oise). Together with other sites, which were early recognized in the 19th century by their abundant material and eye-catching artifacts, such as:

  • Le Moustier (“Moustiers”; Dordogne), 
  • Chez Pourré-Chez Comte” (Corrèze)
  • Grotte de Néron (Soyons; Ardèche)     
  • Grotte abri de l’Ermitage, Lussac-les-Châteaux (Vienne)
  • Chez Pourré-Chez Comte” (Corrèze)
  • Grenelle and Levallois-Perret (Paris).

tools from Montguillain  found their way into  important Museums (such as the Musée d’Archéologie nationale at Saint-Germain-en-Laye and the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington). Artifacts from  Montguillain are displayed in important textbooks (Mortillet’s Musée préhistorique and  Bordes’ Typologie du Paléolithique ancien et moyen). Of course some of them cumulated in the collections of early collectors.

In his book: “Le préhistorique: Antiquité de l’homme” G. de Mortillet gave the first (and last) account about the material from Montguillain. He wrote:

“Dans la vallée de l’Oise, une localité célèbre qui a donné de très belles pièces, avec une magnifique patine toute particulière, est la ballastière de Montguillain à Goincourt (Oise). Les silex moustériens y abondent : racloirs, pointes, types Levallois, scies, lames, nucléus et percuteurs ; industrie complète. Mais il y a certainement divers niveaux dans cette ballastière. On y trouve d’assez nombreux instruments chelléens. La belle collection Baudon, à Mouy, en contient depuis 51 millimètres jusqu’à 318 millimètres de long. On y rencontre aussi des lames et grattoirs qui doivent être rapportés au magdalénien, et même quelques grattoirs et pointes de flèche du robenhausien. Malheureusement cet important gisement a été exploité par de simples ouvriers, sans qu’on l’ait jamais étudié sérieusement”.- this remains unfortunately true till now…..

Bifacial scrapers are components of the European Middle Paleolithic  and incorporated into different systems- especially into the Quina system in S/W-France (Fig.2) , the Quina Mousterian of the Rhone Valley, the bifacial Mousterian of N/W- France and the Keilmessergruppen (KMG) of Central and East Europe.

Most classic “Mousterian” assemblages, both in western and central Europe, are characterised by a almost completely lack of bifacial tools. In some assemblages bifacial scrapers or handaxes may be present, but never in large number (Gouzeaucourt layer G;  MIS8). Only from MIS5 onwards, in the MTA, are handaxes and other bifacial tools more common . The MTA handaxes are thin, symmetric and (sub)cordiform or (sub)triangular in shape . Several regional MTA variants can be recognised represented by cordiform handaxes in southwestern France, triangular handaxes in northern France  and bout-coupé handaxes in England. Furthermore a rich bifacial Mousterian with small handaxes is recognised in western Europe. In the  latter bifacial scrapers are rather common (Saint-Brice-sous-Rânes, la “Bruyère” (Orne), Saint-Julien de la Liègue (Eure)).(http://www.aggsbach.de/2010/08/the-mousterien-a-pieces-bifaciales-dominantes/).

In contrast to the Mousterian, which almost totally lacks bifacial elements, a high occurrence of bifacial tools is the defining character of the Keilmessergruppen (KMG). In general the KMG “type fossils” are Keilmesser (asymmetric bifacial backed scraper-knives) together with Faustkeilblätter (artefacts with a finely retouched point, blunt base and one face which is flat and covering retouched), Halbkeile (elongated unifaces with a D-shaped cross-section) and Fäustel (small bifaces (<6cm) ). These bifacial elements are most often asymmetric. Besides handaxes, bifacial scrapers and leaf-shaped bifacial scrapers (Figure 3: from the Lichtenberg site; MIS3)are also very common whilst leaf points only appear sporadically.

Most of the KMG sites of central Europe were excavated long ago and lack high resolution data (except data from the Sesselfelsgrotte,  the Kulna cave and from recent excavations from Poland). In contrast, sites on the Crimean Peninsula  and northern Caucasus, excavated more recently give a much more differentiated picture of this  technocomplex.

The Eastern KMG assemblages of the Northwestern Caucasus and the Crimean Peninsula, excavated and analyzed during the last 25 years were widespread in these regions in the time range from late MIS 5/MIS 4 through MIS 3, from ~90 to 40 ka BP. Many studies indicate that local Neanderthal groups were well adapted to various local environments, including cold and dry steppes, upper mountain wood zone, forest-steppes with mid-mountain woods, and broad-leaf woods . During this long period, the local Neanderthal population preserved a strict lineage of socially transmitted behaviour related to manufacturing of bifacial scraper-knives.

At Kabazi V, a site on the Crimean Peninsula with interstrartifications of Levallois-Mousterian and KMG strata, the dynamic transformation of the shape of bifacial tools, and therefore their typological definitions was reconstructed. Bifacial Leaf-shaped bifacial scrapers where the second common artifacts in some KMG-strata. Some of them look very similar to the one example shown in this post. After production, which could start with a reworked bifacial knife of small handaxe, the were used, mainly for butchering and reutilized after they were broken in the course of production and/or exploitation and this transformation resulted in important changes of the initial typological structure of tool-kits.

In other words, the categories of handaxes, KMGs, partial bifaces and bifacial scrapers are in fact inseparable parts of an underlying chaîne opératoire of biface manufacture and the typological results vary according to the precise social and economic circumstances of each technical act.

Bifacial scrapers are present in  Quina ensembles of S/W-France  but never in large number. Quina ensembles are usually dominated by single side-scrapers and transverse scrapers with typical Quina- type, stepped retouch. The function of large bifacial “scrapers” within the Quina system was recently studied at Chez-Pinaud Jonzac in the Charente- Maritime department of southwest France. What was particularly striking, however, about the scrapers was that many of them are made on bifacial blanks. Therefore these implements served as cores.

These data fit well with the results of Émilie Claude, who compared MTA bifaces with bifacial Quina scrapers:  MTA bifaces were often used as butchering instruments while bifacial Quina scrapers were mainly used as cores.

Handaxe from Le Bois-l’Abbé at Saint-Julien de la Liègue: Is the “Moustérien à petits bifaces dominants” an Archaeological Reality?

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