Microlithic Mousterian / Microlithic Middle Paleolithic


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

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

carmel microlithic pIn the Levant, Rust described an undated  Micro-Mousterian  (which is technologically a microlithic Levantine Levallois-Mousterian)  from the Yabroud Rockshelter I /Syria. Level 5, which contained the industry was intercalated between several strata with a normal sized Levalloisian (Fig. 3 and 4). The Levallois points from this industry resemble the artifacts shown here. They vary between elongated and broad based specimens. Interestingly Rust described also many examples of smaller blades and bladelets often with serrated edges (maybe created by post depositional disturbances), which he called “saws”. It remains unknown if these blades were made by a Levallois- or a specialized blade-core  technology.

Similar Industries have been described by H. Fleisch in the Lebanon and near Mt Carmel Fig. 2) , embedded in the Kurkar-Hamra Succession** on the Carmel Coastal Plain, where the specimens, that are shown in Fig. 1  were found. The use of specialized cores in such ensembles has been documented, retouched tools are rare.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Suggested Readings:





Some Pages from Rust: die Höhlenfunde vonJabrud (Vor- und frühgeschichtliche Untersuchungen. NF 8 / Offa-Bücher) Neumünster: Wachholtz, 1950

micro1micro 2

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Deconstruction of the MTA-B

backed netherlands

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

netherlands mousterian

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

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

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

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

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

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A Cleaver from Ouarzazate


This is a bifacial cleaver found in Ouarzazate 

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

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

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

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

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The Prądnik (KMG) complex in Central Germany revisited


micoque kmg aggabch

Fig. 1 shows some implements of the Middle European Micoquian ( two bifacial scrapers and one flatt small biface / Faustkeilblatt), found during the 1950ies at Kleinheppach in S/W-Germany. Fig. 2 shows some Leaf-shaped artifacts from the same site.

The Middle European Micoquian (Prądnik Culture , Keilmessergruppen (KMG) or  Mousterian with Micoquian Option [MMO]) is characterized by bifacial tools, although a large monofacial (“Mousterian”) tool component may also be present. From a technological view the Quina, Discoid or Levallois system may be present in such ensembles.

The bifacial tools  may be symmetric but are more often asymmetric and are often plano-convex in their cross section. Bifacial tools consist of  handaxes (sometimes with a  trihedral concept (“Micoquian style”), but also cordiforms, very thin leaf-shaped handaxes (Faustkeilblätter) and very small handaxes (<5cm; “Fäustel”).

Research traditions sometimes prevent to see similar concepts on other continents. For example in an MSA context the small handaxes and Faustkeilblätter would be called: uni / bifacial points.

The most characteristic tools are Keilmesser (bifacial backed knifes). Much work has been invested establish a relative chronology of different types (Ciemna, Königsaue, Klausennische, Bockstein, Volgograd, Buhlen, Tata- knifes). Anyhow, such approaches were not very successful. Especially any Keilmesser can be the reworked example of another Keilmesser type after reworking. A Prodnik sensu stricto  is a bifacially worked tool, usually asymmetrical, often D-shaped, with one straight edge and  with a special resharpening called “tranchet” at the tip. The concept of a back opposite a sharp cutting edge in relation to a retouched tip (Keilmesser-concept) was carried out flexibly on simple flake tools, unifacial tools and bifacial tools and explains part of the observed variability of the Prądnik Complex. It seems that this tradition is deeply rooted in the early Central / North European Middle Paleolithic.

Towards the end of Lower Paleolithic a trend towards  “asymmetrisation” of bifacial artifacts over the European Plain and the bordering highland zone can be observed. This can, for example be observed at Mesvin IV (Belgium; U/Th dates: 250-300 k.a) and Pietraszyn 49 in Upper Silesia, dated by TL at 130±10 ka and at some sites in Northern France. A Micoquian camp  of Inden-Altdorf near Jülich in the Rhineland (Germany) has been securely dated to OIS 5e.The artefact assemblage from Inden Altdorf includes typical Micoquian tools like unifacial knives, Keilmesser, Levallois flakes and cores, but also “Upper Palaeolithic” elements like burins, end scrapers, blades and blade cores, but no handaxes. It is one of the rare Paleolithic sites where birch pitch residues were found on  tools and offers   evidence for the production of synthetic pitch for the use of composite tool technology from the Neanderthal world. Two flakes with birch tar residues from Campitello, Central Italy, dated before OIS 6 are the earliest indication for this technology so far.
leaf shaped micoque aggsbach

During the first weichselian interstadial (OIS 5c) human activities took place at the sandy shore of a shallow lake at the northern edges of the Geisel valley about 25 km south of the city of Halle ( site Neumark-Nord 2/0). The lithic assemblage contains several characteristic artefact types, indicating that the producer of the lithic artefacts belonged to the  the Micoquo-Prądnikian ( KMG).  Neumark-Nord 2/0 is at the recent state of knowledge the oldest KMG-site in central Europe. The artefacts, especially the bifacially backed knifes showing affinities to  the KMGs in the Russian plains and the northern Caucasus.

During the early last Glacial, Königsaue A-C (?) , Buhlen (?), Zwolen, and the Prodnik-Micoquien of numerous Rock Shelters in Poland are clear examples of an “asymmetric tradition”. “Keilmesser” represent a new conceptualization of asymmetry, reflected in many aspects of lithic technology including also debitage methods. During OIS3 some KMG sites in central/east Germany. show the variability of this group during this time interval.

The open-air site Königsaue is situated in the northern Harz foreland of Saxony-
Anhalt and could be placed either in early MIS 3 (by C-14 data outside the calibration curve and well beyond a reliable cut-off of the method) or MIS 5a (on good geological arguments), the exact dates being a hotly debated issue. Three strata on an ancient lakeshore have been described. Königsaue A and B are characterized by the Levallois technique with variable quantities of bifacial tools. 25 of 102 tools are bifacially shaped. KöA shows bifacial backed knives , leaf-shaped handaxes (Faustkeilblätter) and others, while a bifacial component at KöB is almost missing. KöC has also a blank production on prepared cores. Among the bifacial tools, there are bifacial backed knives, leaf-shaped handaxes, leaf points and bifacial scrapers. Eight of the bifacial scrapers have a Quina-like edge retouch. The Landesamt für Denkmalpflege und Archäologie Sachsen-Anhalt – Landesmuseum für Vorgeschichte published the most important artifacts on the web (search  at Google pictures with the tags: königsaue halle museum)

Salzgitter-Lebenstedt, allready introduced during an earlier post is situated about 12 km southwest of Brunswick, Lower Saxony  Stone artifacts have sharp edges and bones were found in anatomical connection in different geological layers suggesting low energy fluvial deposition with the finds not exposed to strong post depositional processes. Recent radiocarbon dates on worked animal bone  range from 1 ~45 k.a. calBP to ~50 k.a calBP and confirm the OIS 3 age obtained from prior dating efforts. The assemblage of Salzgitter-Lebenstedt  includes unidirectional, and bidirectional Levallois concepts as well as the presence of non-Levallois blade / bladelet cores.  The site is well known for its handaxes, and other bifacial tools include also leaf-shaped bifacial tools, bifacial backed knives and bifacial scrapers. Fascinating is the co-occurence of a Keilmesser-concept, Quina like scrapers, a blade-concept with pyramidal cores and a fully develloped Levallois industry with typical Levallois points. The Keilmesser-concept was appilied on scrapers with retouched tips, sometimes in combinations with a natural back (http://www.aggsbach.de/2011/02/salzgitter-lebenstedt-an-imprortant-paleolithic-site-in-n-germany/) .

Lichtenberg is an open-air site in Lower Saxony.  The TL-ages for the find layer indicate an age between 60-50 k.a. and place the site most likely in early MIS 3 or MIS 4. The ensemble consists of  bifacial backed knives, leaf-shaped scrapers, handaxes and leaf-shaped handaxes which were often produced on frost fractured materials or natural cobbles that had already the shape of the desired tool and required less form shaping. The most common feature of the Lichtenberg bifacial and unifacial tools is a convex cutting edge opposite a blunt edge or back, which shows that the Keilmesser-concept had been adapted to the local circumstances and raw material characteristics. Levallois concepts are visible in Lichtenberg, although most flakes in this assemblage seem to be the result of retouch or bifacial knapping. See the wonderful pictures of some artifacts at:http: //kulturerbe.niedersachsen.de/viewer/objekt/isil_DE-MUS-163517_NLMH_AR_49521_494825/6/#topDocAnchor.

The site Pouch/„Terrassenpfeiler“ is situated in the former brown coal quarry Tagebau Goitzsche – Baufeld Rösa-Sausedlitz, east of Bitterfeld (Saxony-Anhalt)  was dated by OSL for the find layer between 46-47 k.a. BP  with consistent C-14 data ( C-14:  40 –44 k.a. calBP). The inventory consist of scrapers, flakes with use-wear, backed knives, backed bifacial knives and leaf-shaped scrapers. Blank production is dominated by uni- and bidirectional prepared core methods. Very interesting is the presence of backed knifes on flat flakes, similar to the backed knifes of the late MTA. Many years ago, Lutz Fiedler described such artifacts in the late Mousterian in Buhlen also. The ensemble has numerous similarities to Lichtenberg, Salzgitter and Königsaue. The publication of Marcel Weiß is worth reading at academia.edu:  Stone tool analysis and context of a new late Middle Paleolithic site in western central Europe – Pouch-Terrassenpfeiler, Ldkr. Anhalt-Bitterfeld, Germany.

The central German record of such ensembles is only one small detail of a much larger “Micoquian interaction sphere” stretching over vast amounts of eastern Europe (Poland, Russia, Ukraine, Krim peninsula  and the Caucasus region) much larger than the Mousterian regions in W-Europe. Neanderthals in this regions learned about and knew about  the “bifacial option” , and used it versatile when it was necessary.

“Bifacial tools are considered social makers. The entire operational chain is seen as reducing social insecurity by materially reinforcing intimate social ties in regular face-to-face-contacts, whereas the tools alone signal social identity in contexts of less frequent interaction with socially distant individuals or even random contact with members of other collectives” (Thorsten Uthmeier 2016)


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


These are two Nubian Levallois cores from the Nil valley. On the left: a typical Nubian I-core with the characteristic protruding distal ridge, on the right a typical Nubian II core. The geographic extent for the “Nubian Complex” was initially confined to Upper Egypt/Northern Sudan and the surrounding Eastern Sahara. It was later shown, that some ensembles in the oases of the western desert had affinities to the Nubian complex, too. In Africa discoveries of Nubian cores have been reported from Kenya, Ethiopia, and the Libyan Desert.

The discovery of Nubian cores in surface assemblages from the Arabian peninsula led to the revival of the discussion as to their cultural significance. Most of the Arabian sites are undated, except the open-air site of Aybut Al Auwal in Oman. Two optically stimulated luminescence age estimates from place the Arabian Nubian Complex at  ca. 106 k.a. Due to an amelioration of climatic conditions during MIS 5, the desert barriers in the area were removed as indicated by the “green Sahara” period and the formation of paleo lakes in central Arabia , facilitating movement of groups across previously isolated areas. Recently open air sites from the Negev highlands (H2 surface collection, Har Oded and North Mitzpe Ramon) were published and tentatively dated to the same humid phase during MIS5. Three common explanations are used to explain the existence of technological similarities in assemblage compositions across the landscape: convergence, dispersal and diffusion. The latter two explanations may sufficiently define the “Nubian interaction sphere”.

nubLevallois technology is widely seen as a “type fossil” for the dispersal of Homo sapiens out of Africa and into Arabia and beyond. This assumption gained some credibility, as it is only Homo sapiens that were present during MIS 5/6 in the “Nubian interaction sphere”.In the levant, both Neanderthals and AMHs used the Levallois technology.

Conceptually the would be a long way from the Nubian Levallois-Technology and the Emirian. The makers of the Emirian (the earliest IUP in the Levant and maybe the oldest IUP  worldwide) are unknown.

Nubian technology is characterized by the preferential removal of an elongated and pointed flake or blade. The end product is not always a Levallois point sensu stricto (Fig.2). Elongation is one principle of the Nubian MP and of the early IUP in the Levant. Bidirectional cores and dorsal cresting are other traits of the Emirian.

tachtit-aggsbachAt Boker-Tachtit (47-42 k.a. BP) a special form of the Levallois technique that shifts over time (Level 1-4) to an upper Paleolithic blade technology. The aim of the operational sequences in all levels was the production of blades that are shaped like elongated Levallois-points (Fig.3). Technologically, upper Paleolithic tools (End-scrapers and Burins) are common in all levels, while Levels 1 and 2 are also characterized by the occurrence of Emireh points (“Emirian”). Short and broad Levallois points, often with a heavy faceted base, are characteristic for “Tabun B-ensembles” during to the end of the Levallois-Mousterian in Israel between 70-45 k.a BP. A new project to re-date this site had been launched by the Max Planck Society-Weizmann Institute of Science Center for Integrative Archaeology and Anthropology in 2013.

The antecedent industries to Boker-Tachtit have not been localized, yet. Researchers focus on older sites in the Arabian peninsula and the Levant either  with ensembles with elongated Levallois points  (Tabun D Ensembles, some Nubian ensembles) and/or Levallois ensembles with a bipolar technology  and/or dorsal cresting (some undated Nubian ensembles, some Tabun D ensembles).

tabun-B-aggsbachSuch short and broad Levallois points, often with a heavy faceted base, are characteristic for “Tabun B-ensembles” during to the end of the Levallois-Mousterian in Israel between 70-45 k.a BP. Tabun B ensembles are charaterized by the recurrent Levallois cores with unipolar convergent preparation and Levallois points seem to be the desired end-product.It seems to be improbable, but not impossible, that the makers of the Tabun B ensembles in the Levant, would have suddenly changed their knapping strategies into Boker Tachtit Level 1 industries with bidirectional cores.

Tabun D ensembles on the other Hand are very much older in the Levant (250-120 K.a BP) and all attempts to find younger Tabun D-sites were unsuccessful.  Tabun D ensembles are characterized by recurrent Levallois cores with unidirectional and bidirectional parallel preparation. The blanks are usually elongated with minimal striking platform preparation. They are not confined to the small Mediterranean strip, but are also found in Galilee and Transjordan and to the Syrian desert and the Anti Lebanon.

One example, not mentioned till now in my blog is ‘Ain Difla. Excavations since 1984 at this  rock-shelter (Wadi Hasa Survey Site 634) in west-central Jordan produced a Tabun D lithic assemblage dominated by elongated Levallois points with very few retouched tools.The ‘Ain Difla sample is dominated by elongated Levallois points. Blanks were obtained from both uni- and bipolar convergent and predominantly Levallois cores that show evidence of bidirectional flaking. TL and ESR dates from ‘Ain Difla show a wide range of age estimates between 90- 180 k.a.

Typologically the Wadi Surdud Complex  in Yemen, where two assemblages dating between 63 and 42 k.a. were found inter-stratified within a six-meter fluvial accretion, fits under the broad Tabun D umbrella. Over 5,000 artifacts were excavated, and in both archaeological horizons, the most prominent reduction system was, by far, a simple unidirectional convergent strategy producing elongated pointed flakes and blades.  The excavators noted that the makers of these ensembles followed  primarily a non-Levallois strategy, since most striking platforms (>70%) are either non faceted or cortical, and less than 10% exhibit any kind of faceting. Elongated pointed blank production was flexible, grading from occasional instances of preferential, unidirectional convergent Levallois preparation to the more frequent use of recurrent “frontal” or “semi-tournant” core exploitation .

Some researchers argue, that an undated Arabian Nubian Complex ensemble (the “Mudayyan”) with bipolar technology from Dhofar and the new sites from the Negev, showing similar technological patterns  may provide the missing link to the Levantine Middle to Upper Paleolithic transition at Boker Tachtit.

Regarding a time-gap of at least 40 k.a. in the line of these arguments it will be prudent to  remain skeptical. From an archaeological view, the immediate antecedent industries to Boker-Tachtit remains unknown.

Things get even worse if we link the archaeological record with genetic of anthropological data. Such mixing will inevitably lead to premature conclusions.  Here are some possible scenarios  assuming the Boker Tachtit is the earliest IUP in the region:

First scenario: At ca. 50 k.a. BP AHMs entered the Levant via Arabia and/or the Nil valley. They already used a new technology (IUP) and introduced it into the Levant.

Second scenario:  At ca. 50 k.a. BP AHMs entered the Levant via Arabia and/or the Nil valley. They used a Levallois based industry and developed this industry in the Levant to the IUP further.

Third scenario:  At ca. 50 k.a. BP AHMs entered the Levant via Arabia and/or the Nil valley. They used a Levallois based industry. When they arrived in the Levant they were responsible for  the Middle-Upper Paleolithic shift together with late Neanderthals.

Suggested Reading:

Jeffrey Rose: Through a prism of paradigms: a century of research into the origins of the Upper Palaeolithic in the Levant (via academia.edu)

Steven L. Kuhn , Nicolas Zwyns: Rethinking the initial Upper Paleolithic (via researchgate)

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Mostly convergent


mostly convergent

This as small part of a “Ferrassie” Ensemble from the Gargano-S. Italy, dating to OIS5-3.

Neanderthal populations are known to have used convergent tools and diversified types have been described, such as points and convergent scrapers. The proportions of these tools vary according to the site. The frequencies of these tool classes have been used to define different types (facies) of Mousterian assemblages, but little information exists to address the question of whether they are primarily a product of different cultural practices or, alternatively, are activity-related.

Most flaking methods in Europe between MIS 9–3 produce various triangular blanks for convergent tool making  or show a standardized production of real points (for example in a Levallois debitage), and this probably explains their high variability, both in shape and/or function. Theoretical approaches to the reduction sequence and the relationship between points and scrapers have been proposed but do not necessarily apply to every series.

Micro-Traceological analyses suggest that convergent tools have been used as multifunctional scrapers but some of these convergent tools most were probably mounted on spear shafts and used as weapons.Experimental and ethnoarchaeological studies also suggest that any type of convergent tools ( “Points”, dejete scraper, convergent scraper) can be employed for various tasks. These studies demonstrate that convergent tools need not have a perfect triangular morphology and specific morphological characteristics to be used as a specific tool. In Europe since MIS 8–7 any flakes with minor modification were potentially usable as tools with two retouched convergent edges for various tasks but rarely used for its pointed shape (except for piercing and sometimes as projectiles-most probably on spears) according to functional analysis.

In this respect, the Neronian level (ca 50 k.a.) of Grotte Mandrin appears as an anomaly in the Mousterian record of W-Europe, both from a technical and a functional perspective. The level is characterized by an enormous sample of almost microlithic Levallois points. I personally know only a limited set of sites with similar ensembles (Mt. Camel; Israel and the “Micro-Mousterian” at Yabrud; Syria).

At Mandrin in 80% of these small Levallois points, the thickness varies by less than 3 mm, with a thickness of between 2 and 5 mm, and with a width of between 16 and 25 mm for 60% of them. An impactological study of the Mandrin E points reveals that at least 15.5% of them were used as weapons, maybe indicative of an early Neanderthal bow and arrow technology.

Suggested Reading:



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


This are some artifacts from the Badegoule. The first tool (Fig. 1) is a “point a face plane”, prototype to the later  “feuilles de Laurier” – during the late phases of the Solutréen (Fig. 2 and 3).

Points a face plane were repeatedly invented during the Old World paleolithic. Their first appearance have been documented during the IUP of Ksar Akil (Lebanon) at ca 40 k.a. BP.  They reappeared during the late Gravettian of s/W- France (Corbiac) and the early  Epigravettian at the Ligurian Coast ( e.g. Balzi Rossi) but also in S-Italy (Paglici cave). Microtraceology indicated their use as projectiles but also as knifes.

The history of research at Badegoule extends back to virtually the beginning of the science of Paleolithic archaeology, when François Jouannet made first soundings at this large site in 1815.

Jouannet (1765–1845) was one of the first who, early in the 19th century dug in the Perigord’s rock shelters and, with considerable insight, distinguished their Paleolithic chipped stone tool industry from the ground and polished forms he found nearby in open-air Neolithic stations. Anyhow, Jouannet´s reference frame in the interpretation of his findings remained the holy bible.  He assumed that the two industries were more or less contemporary and argued that their makers were probably descendants of Noah’s grandson, Gomer, who many antiquaries believed colonized Northwestern Europe following the Deluge.

badegoille 1

The site of Badegoule is located  in the Lardin-Saint-Lazare commune (38 km east of Perigueux, Dordogne, France) at the base and the extremity of a limestone cliff facing south, on the left bank of a tributary of the Le Cern brook, a right tributary of the Vézère. The site consists of three abris and terasses, covering a large surface on the slope of the present relief (ca. 100 m long and 20 m deep).

After first diggings 1815 by F. Jouannet, Badegoule was well known as an archaeological site since the 19th century.  It was mentioned in the seminal works of Lartet and Christy (Reliquiae Aquitanicae) in 1865. The lateral  terasses have been more or less emptied during he 19th century by Hardy, Massenat, Piard and others. In the beginning of the 20th century many more or less conscientious excavators worked there. Between 1909/10 and 1911, the infamous Otto Hauser rented the site and as usual we have no precise information about his research. M. Peyrony made the first scientific excavations and published his results in 1908. More recently, there have been excavations by A. Cheynier (1930, 1948) and by J. Couchard (1966). The latter has worked in a different locus named Badegoule Ouest.

For Peyrony from the base to the top it is possible to distinguish : A = Solutrean (brown level), B = Poor (scree), C = Solutrean (red level), D = Magdalenian (dark brown conglomerate), E = Poor (sandy level), F = Magdalenian (brown level), G = Recent soil. For Cheynier from the base to the top of the stratigraphy, there is : I = Solutrean, a sterile level, II = Middle Solutrean (rubble), III = Middle Solutrean (black with ashes), IV = Upper Solutrean (grey level), V = Final Solutrean (grey level), VI = early Proto-Magdalenian (dark-red hard brecchia), VII = early Proto-Magdalenian (clear-yellow fine, smooth, powdery brecchia). Cheynier principally verified this stratigraphy at Badegoule central. According to Taborin and Thiébault (1994), the correlation between the Peyrony and the Cheynier stratigraphies could be the following : A, C and D = IV and V ; D and F = VI and VII. Note that the Magdalenien and Proto-Magdalenian entities at the site have been renamed in Badegulien.


Geographically confined to Southwestern France and the Iberian Peninsula, and occurring within a moderately short chronological range (c. 25–19 k.a. cal BP) that roughly matches the course of the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM), the Solutrean represents a clear techno-typological disruption from the preceding pan-European Gravettian / Epigravettian techno-complexes.

Typological chronologies and “fossil directeurs” do not have the time resolution once thought, although it is clear that during the early Solutrean, which is present in S/W-France and Iberia, Points a face plane are common. In the middle and advanced Solutrean, these points are gradually replaced by laurel-leaf points, willow-leaf points and shouldered points.

Local styles appeared, like “the large Laurel leaf phenomenon “, tanged points at Parpallo ( “Parpalló-type” points are now dated to a much earlier time at ca. 25 ka cal BP than previously thought), points with a concave base in Iberia, and bizarre implements, with notches or asymmetrical shapes. The presence, absence and relative frequency of supposedly diagnostic Solutrean points are variable among individual levels and sites for reasons of functional, stylistic and sampling differences.

There is no way to subdivide the Solutrean into general chronological phases based on C-14 dating . Calibrated C-14 data question the status of the traditionally-defined type-fossils as precise temporal markers for each Solutrean phase in S/W-France and Iberia.

New aspects / Suggested Reading: 




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Lateglacial short-time pioneer human re-colonization of southern Scandinavia?


These are some of Late-glacial artifacts, found together during the 1940ies in the Hesselager region (Fyn; Denmark). While one artifact resembles a broken Ahrensburg-point, the others are chronological insensitive endscrapers and a burin. Interestingly there are some becs / Bohrers which are made from the same flint- very unusual for any of the late Paleolithic phases (Hamburgian, Brommean, Ahrensburgian, Federmessser) in this region. In addition Hamburgian and Federmesser Ensembles have not been described in the literature from Fyn so far.  Most probable the ensemble belongs into the Ahrensburgian tradition.

Humans respond in a variety of ways to climate and environmental change. They may adapt, migrate, evolve new technologies, or experience breakdowns in their socio-cultural and economic systems. Although environmental change triggered early colonization and retreat; social processes,  traditions and and human decisions play an immense impact on the visible archaeological record.

The area of Lateglacial pioneer human re-colonization of N-Europe stretches from the Netherlands in the west to Poland in the east and from northern Germany across Denmark and southern Sweden to the edge of the Scandinavian ice sheet, which at that time covered most of what is now Norway and Sweden. The  iconic so-called Hamburgian culture of northern Europe is associated with the first movement of hunter-gatherer people into the newly deglaciated, desolate and deserted landscapes of northern Europe sometime during the late Glacial.  Anyhow, the early phase of this complex is restricted to the lowlands of N-Germany and Poland and seems to be not present in Scandinavia.

How did people cope with moving in regions where the details of the resource distribution were unknown and where the nearest relatives were far away? Foragers are known ethnographically to rely on a range of coping strategies including mobility, storage, economic intensification or diversification as well as social networking to handle such challenges.

Housley et al. have suggested that the first human occupants were seasonal visitors arriving several hundred years after the initial spread of vegetation and animals. These pioneer hunting groups were followed a few hundred years later by permanent residents. The almost simultaneous occupation of Britain and southern Scandinavia speaks to the regularity of this colonization process as human groups spread to the north and west from refugia in southern Europe.

Sites at “the margins” of the Hamburgian human ecomene  may  help to evaluate the very early colonization process. Findings of the Hamburgian complex in Scandinavia are notorious rare after 80 years of research and may relate to a short and unsuccessful localisation. Indeed there are no valid arguments to construct continuity with the following Federmesser groups.

In the early 1980s, the first find from the Hamburgian in Scandinavia was excavated at Jels in Sønderjylland (site Jels I).  The site of Slotseng in South Jutland yielded stratified findings from the Hamburgian and later Federmessser complex. A more recent discovery of a Havelte-phase site of the Hamburgian was made in eastern Denmark at Krogsbølle near Nakskov.

With Hamburgian sites being virtually absent in more southerly parts of the British Isles, the newly discovered Havelte-phase Hamburgian site of Howburn Farm in Scotland may indicate one of the rare travel events of late Hamburgian foragers across Doggerland.

The very first Late-glacial pioneer human re-colonization of southern Scandinavia can be seen as a series of successes (colonization pulses) and failures (collapse and/or retreat; Riede et al. 2014). In this view, the Hamburgian exploration of Scandinavia and Scotland via Doggerland was probably much shorter than the span of 500-700 years, usually assumed.  Riede suggests that the sparse material from N-Europe probably represents “no more than one human generation and perhaps much less, as little as a few seasons of occupation”. Read his inspiring thoughts (a rare example of combining the archaeological data with different theoretical approaches) in the following publication (via Researchgate):

Suggested reading:

Lateglacial and Postglacial Pioneers in Northern Europe: Edited by Felix Riede, Miikka Tallaavaara. BAR International Series 2599 2014

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Notched Points during the late Paleolithic and Mesolithic of Europe

harpoon aggsbach

This is a notched bone point (16 cm long) of unknown age. The base is  flattened, thus indicating that it was produced for permanent hafting. Points with a row of fine oblique teeth. (Kunda type point) first appeared during the Middle Magdalenian of the greater Aquitaine and were mainly replaced by barbed points  during the Upper /Late Magdalenian over large Parts of Europe. Anyhow, Notches Points , like the one shown here, had their great appearance during the Preboreal and Boreal  N/W-Europe.

Paleogeographic investigations of the Baltic region at the Pleistoceine / Holocene Boundary have demonstrated that reindeer was almost exclusively found in the Younger Dryas, while products of moose bone and antler were associated with the Allerød , as well as the early Boreal Friesland-Dryas IV climatic oscillations .

Notched and barbed  points may be classified either as “fixed,” when permanently attached to a spear or arrow shaft, or as “harpoons” (sensu strictu) when they separate from a shaft on impact and remain attached to it by line. Barbs and notches ensured that the point stayed embedded in the flesh of the animal once it was harpooned.

A permanently hafted point, for which shafts of light woods and tips of harder materials are preferentially used, has several advantages. The projectiles have a more secure trajectory and because of their hardness can penetrate even thick bones without losing their functionality and needing to be repaired. For hafting, the base of the barbed or notched points has generally been more or less flattened and rejuvenated towards the end in order to increase the stability of the connection. The connection itself can be achieved through a socket, with sinew, bast and other plant fibres  and/or through resins, pitch or tar .

An ethnography shows a clear functional trend: « simple » barbed points are mostly used for fowling, for hunting big and small land game, and for war; while « true » harpoons are mostly used for fishing and hunting sea mammals and aquatic mammals.

A survey of the archaeological literature shows, that the  functional characterization of Paleolithic and Mesolithic notched and barbed points was not successful till now. This survey shows that notched and barbed points do not present a preferential association with one type of game, and that they cannot be interpreted as harpoon heads on a simple morphological basis. According to the ethnographic data, the list of their possible functions is even longer than once expected. Indeed, we even should not no  a priori dismiss the use of barbed and notched points as weapons in violent human conflicts.

Suggested Readings:



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Bronze Age and the transformation of Neolithic societies in Europe


This is 19 cm long  Bronze Age lance head from an old S/W-German Collection. A very fine example of prehistoric weaponry. When we consider the beauty of Bronze Age weapons, we must not forget the terror brought by specialized warriors on Bronze  Age communities.

The concept of dividing prehistorical ages into systems based on different materials was introduced by the Danish archaeologist Christian Juergensen Thomsen (1788–1865). Thomsen was able to use the Danish national collection of antiquities and the records of their finds as well as reports from contemporaneous excavations to provide a solid empirical basis for the system. He showed that artifacts could be classified into types and that these types varied over time in ways that correlated with the predominance of stone, bronze or iron implements and weapons.

This kind of epochalism has much criticized. For example Graham Connah asserts: “So many archaeological writers have used this model for so long that for many readers it has taken on a reality of its own. In spite of the theoretical agonizing of the last half-century, epochalism is still alive and well … Even in parts of the world where the model is still in common use, it needs to be accepted that, for example, there never was actually such a thing as ‘the Bronze Age.”

Anyhow we have still to ask for the impact of metals on society, social systems, social agency and ideologies.  Many researchers argue that that there is a qualitative difference between Neolithic and Bronze Age social formations in prehistoric Europe, which fundamentally changed both their worldviews and their political economies.


During the Bronze Age we see the development of permanent higher-level institutions in charge of trade and alliance formation. There was a rapid development of inter-regional economic dependency and new levels of division of labor compared to the preceding times.

One aspect of  this transformation was the the formation of a complete new set of weapons (swords, lances, protective body amour) and for the first time the formation of more permanent warrior groups and retinues, which among other things is evidenced by systematic use wear on swords and lances, and trauma on skeletons. These new weapons were much more deadly and efficient than anything preceding them, and the warriors also demanded regular training to master effective swordsmanship. In short the swords introduced a new institution of warrior elites with retinues that could be mobilized and hired as mercenaries when needed. This new panoply of weapons was to be in continued use until historical times , and it became an institution that could be mobilized by chiefly leaders, but which could also overthrow them….IMG_4428




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