Levallois- Mousterian in S-Italy


italia mousterian aggsbach

On the left this picture shows two Quina scrapers from the Gargano and from Venosa (Basilicata). While the Gargano has been introduced during earlier posts (http://www.aggsbach.de/2013/08/gragano-homo-heidelbergensis-was-here/) – the Basilicata also known as Lucania is a region in the south of Italy, bordering on Campania to the west, Apulia (Puglia) to the north and east, and Calabria to the south/west. The artifacts on the right are typical Levallois-based artifacts from a surface site in the Gargano. Two of them are pretty blade based and have affinity to the late Mousterian in N-Italy immediately before the arrival of AMH.

New excavations in N and S-Italy have shown, that the evolution of the Italian Middle Paleolithic follows in large lines the evolution of this complex in S-France. At the Grotta di Fumane, an important site in northern Italy, which has been extensively explored over the last two decades a succession of Mousterian- Uluzzian-Protoaurignacian and Aurignacian (and early Aurignacin parietal paintings  and an ochered shell in the late Mousterian !) was documented and extensively dated (http://www.ice-age-europe.eu/visit-us/network-members/fumane-cave.html). The 12 m thick sedimentary sequence are related to repeat and complex human occupations. The earliest assemblages record the almost exclusive use of the Levallois method (MIS 5-4) for the production of flakes with unidirectional and centripetal recurrent modalities. The first striking technological replacement occurs in BR6, up to BR3, where there is a complex of layers with the infrequent occurrence of bones, flakes and scrapers, made with a method closely resembling the Quina technique (MIS4). Further evidence of variability in lithic technology is provided by the re-appearance of the Levallois technology during MIS3, in layer A11 – although here focused more on blades than flakes – and by the Levallois/Discoid alternance throughout the transect from A10V to A5-A6 (MIS3).

Recently Levalloisian was reported from  San Bernardino Cave (N-Italy)  dated to the MIS8/7 boundary.  Although the Levallois method was suggested to be absent in S-Italia, stratified sites with Levallois based ensembles and absolute dates have been excavated during the last two decades, contradicting the view, that the Italian South did not share the technical and cultural innovations in the rest of Europe. First traces of the Levallois system in S-Italy are dated to MIS6. The Levallois technique during the last interglacial/glacial cycle (MIS5 and later) is now well established, especially in Puglia.  For example, the layer B of the Grotta Bernardini which recently was dated to a period just after 108 k.a. shows basically a Levallois mode of lithic production, as the industry  of  the G layer  at Grotta Romanelli  (MIS 4/3) and corresponding strata of the  Grotta Titti.

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A closer view on one of the Gargano retouched Levallois blades – a stiking convergence to the ca. 220 k.a. old Hummalian artifacts in the Syrian Desert! (http://www.aggsbach.de/2010/10/hummalien-at-el-kowm/).


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100-year Anniversary: Peyrony at the lower Rock shelter of Le Moustier

aggsbachs moustier

This is a classic Mousterian point, made on a thick Levallois point (8,5 cm long)  from the MTA-levels (Layer G) of the type site.

Le Moustier is an archeological site consisting of two rock shelters in Peyzac-le-Moustier, belonging to the community of Saint-Léon-sur-Vézère; Dordogne, France. Le Moustier lies about 10 kilometers northeast of Les Eyzies along the Vézère River.

The upper shelter was first excavated from 1863 by Henry Christy and Édouard Lartet, while the lower shelter was first opened for excavations by Otto Hauser during 1907. He discovered the famous Le Moustier Neanderthal adolescent in 1908. He sold it to the Völkerkundemuseum in Berlin, where most of the postcranial skeleton was destroyed during the bombing raids during the late WW II. The skull and mandible survived and the cranio- dental skeleton of Le Moustier 1 represents perhaps the most complete Late Pleistocene adolescent hominid skull. A second skeleton was later found at the site by Peyrony: Le Moustier 2, a Neanderthal neonate.

Peyrony excavated the lower abri at Le Moustier during 1913-1914 along the western edge of the earlier Hauser explorations. He established an important sequence of Paleolithic strata traditionally numbered from A to L. A: sterile layer, B: Typical Mousterian; C/D. quasi sterile; E: sterile layer;  G: MTA-A (around 50-55 k.a BP*); H: MTA-B (around 42-48 k.a BP*); I: denticulated Mousterian (around 40,9 k.a BP*); J:, Typical Mousterian (around 40,3 k.a BP*);  K: cryoturbated and mixed Castelperronian / Mousterian (around 42,6 k.a BP*); L: Aurignacian ; (*Dates by TL). The most recent excavations were conducted by Laville and Rigaud in 1969.

The chaine operatoire of the MTA assemblage from Le Moustier  is characterized by a recurrent centripetal unidirectional Levallois concept with production of a series of unidirectional blanks. The Le Moustier G-ensemble is mainly composed of Senonian flint which displays gray to black colors. This flint is also known to have been used by Neanderthals at several nearby sites (La Rochette, Le Ruth, surface collection at Plazac…) and widely during the upper Paleolithic of the Vezere valley.  Cordiform flat handaxes (4-14 cm long) were found in abundance together with large quantities of simple side scrapers. Quina scrapers and convergent tools were rare.  Indeed, Le Moustier G together with the nearby La Rochette are considered as biface workshops, where tools were manufactured in advance to be brought eventually to other sites.

Levallois blanks from the MTA at Le Moustier G often have a laminar aspect, but these blanks are broader that Upper Paleolithic blades as you can see in the picture below .  It seems that they often were used without any retouches and for the production of backed pieces, which often are quadrangular in shape or had a curved back (Abri Audi knifes).

A large number of retouched Levallois points are known from Le Moustier G. Many of them have a bilateral ventral retouche, often of a unilateral quite steep aspect. This led Peyrony to suggest, that many of these “Points” were in reality rather knifes than projectiles.

The second picture shows two handaxes and a typical “knife”, along with the elongated point of the first picture from the Le Moustier site-all made from the raw material mentioned above. It is a pity, that 100 years after the excavation of Peyrony we have no comprehensive monograph of the site. Peyrony s report from 1930 is of poor quality (PEYRONY, D. (1930). Le Moustier. Ses gisements,  ses industrlos, ses couches géologiques, in  Revue Anthropologique, vol. 40, pp. 48-76).


le moustier aggsbach


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Look at the rich material you can get by the steadily growing and updated Paleolithic site in the net:


Don was a great help for me when I started this blog in 2010…

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The Gravettian at the Solutré Site


This is a highly patinated fragment of a “Spitzklinge“ (pointed blade) from the Gravettian at the famous Solutré  site- almost identical to examples from the Willendorf site in the Wachau region. Pointed blades have been identified as a major component of the  “Facies II” of the Pavlovian in Central Europe, which is characterized by the use of marginal retouches, pointed blades and by a reduced number of microliths (Předmostí; Dolní Věstonice II middle and upper strata, Willendorf II; 6/7/8 and Langenlois). The second picture shows two other fragments of retouched and pointed blades and a burin from the Gravettian of the site:

solutre gravettian

The Gravettian of the central-eastern region of France, geographically bridging central and South Europe, is concentrated in the valleys of the River Loire and of the River Saône, in the south of Burgundy. Lithic series were principally collected on the surface, and only three major have contextual informations about the Gravettian occupations of this region: the site of La Vigne-Brun, in the Loire valley and the sites of Azé and Solutré along the Saône valley.

Solutre, a well-known kill site, occupies a vast area at the foot of an escarpment. The slope deposits contained a series of archaeological layers representing most of the Paleolithic cultures from Mousterian to Magdalenian. The massive accumulation of horse bones under the escarpment, unique in the European archaeological record, intrigued both archaeologists and the general public. Inspired by reports of bison kills in North America, Adrien Arcelin proposed in a novel, an interpretation which attracted a great deal of attention. In this popular narrative, Paleolithic hunters chased horse herds up to the top of the escarpment and forced them to jump to their death (https://www.flickr.com/photos/capvera/14341911027/)..

Currently accepted view proposes that hunters intercepted animal herds as they moved through the Solutré valley during their seasonal transhumance from the Alluvial Plain of the Saône to the Macônnais Uplands.  They forced their prey into natural rock traps along the southern flank of the Roche just under the falt line where they could be slaughtered. 

The lithic material at Solutré is highly patinated (96% of the parts). Especially during the Gravettian, postdepisitional disturbances of the Archeological material by trampling and cryoturbation, is present. The limitation of old biased collections makes it difficult to reconstruct the operational sequences. 

From a typological view, J. Combier attributed the Gravettian industry at Solutré to a final phase of the Gravettian. The low number of tools (old and new excavations) should lead to some caution. Moreover, the entire cluster including Microgravettes, a point of La Gravette, a La Font-Robert along with some endscrapers and burins could be more reasonable linked to an early Gravettian. The view of an early Gravettian is also consistent with the MSA data (Sector J10: 28,420 ± 160 BP; Sector L13: 28 280 ± 150 [Montet-White et al. 2002 p.186]).

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Quina Mousterian from the Gargano


quinaquinaThis is a Quina scraper made of high quality flint, found near Mattinata in the Gargano together with a pure Quina Mousterian ensemble. The scraper combines a scraping edge, covered with a „Retouche écailleuses scalariforme“ and an a oposite edge, allowing a handhold use or the hafting of the artifact. Intentional backing of stone tools in Europe was known since the Acheulian (http://www.aggsbach.de/2013/08/backed-handaxe-from-remi-sur-creuse-france/).

quina aggsbach2Neanderthals successfully colonized the Italian peninsula, coping with different ecotones / niches and climates during a considerable time since the Middle Pleistocene. As already known from Northern France, Middle Paleolithic industries and regional differentiation of the lithic industries in Italy appeared long before the last interglacial (http://www.aggsbach.de/2014/06/handaxe-from-montieres-and-the-diversification-of-the-paleolithic-in-n-france-during-mis-8/). They are assigned to a late Acheulian with or without a Levallois component rare in bifaces (Pagicci in Apulia, Torre in Pietra-Level D [Rome], Levallois- Acheulian of the N/E-loess belt; http://www.aggsbach.de/2013/08/gragano-homo-heidelbergensis-was-here/).

The Yabroudian of the Near East is a flake industry with minor production of blades dominated by the conspicuous presence of a Quina Chaîne Opératoire for the shaping of scrapers. These scrapers are quite distinctive and well known from Middle Paleolithic Mousterian of Europe, however the Yabroudian is much older than the European manifestations and shows the Quina phenomenon and scrapers as early as (420-200 k.a.) in the Levant. It is thus quite untenable to suggest any kind of connection between the two very similar or almost identical, EuropeanQuina phenomena (Bakai 2013)..

Quina Mousterian sites in Europe are usually dated to MIS 4 and early MIS 3. Technologically and typologically, Quina ensembles are chacterized by the near total absence of Levallois technology and are dominated by single side-scrapers and transverse scrapers and Limaces with typical Quina type, stepped retouch.  At the type site La Quina (Charente) large transversal scrapers up to 20 cm long with invasive retouches, called by Henri Martin: “hachoirs” are present. Many of them are made on bifacial blanks, although their frequency may be exaggerated by a selection bias from older collections. The so called Bola stones, while not abundant, are well known from the Quina Mousterian and are also present in the Quina levels at Combe-Grenal and Chez-Pinaud Jonzac. Based on the probable traces of impact on their most prominent points, their size and their weight, it seems likely that they may have served as hammer stones. Such items are only known from the French South-West.

aggsbachs scraper backedIn Italy, the Quina technological system  was dominant during the “Pontinian” in the Latium region where the raw material consisted of small flint pebbles, which were not usable for the Levallois technique, but of excellent knapping quality.

For a long time the Levallois technique seemed to prevalent only in the North-East while in Southern Italy the Quina system was suggested to be omnipresent.  It is now clear, that this view was biased (http://www.aggsbach.de/2014/09/levallois-mousterian-in-s-italy/).

In contrast to other S-Italian sites, in the Gargano region high quality chert was always available during OIS4/3 . The Levallois technique is attested at Piani di San Vito (an open air site) and the Grotta di Spagnoli (a cave site) and at many non-stratified sites in the region. On the other hand, excellent raw material and large cobbles of flint, do not preclude the use of a pure Quina system, as shown by surface findings from an open air site at the Monte Sacro (north of Mattinata). At this locality a classic Quina ensemble was found during 30 years of meticulous surface collection. The Quina scraper shown here  is one example from this site. 


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A Mousterian Point from Le Placard / Charente


aggsbach katzman placard

This is an convergent Middle Paleolithic artifact (usually called Mousterian point with Quina retouche) from an early excavation at the famous Placard cave in the Charente. Le Placrd could have served as one reference site for the region if it only had beeen properly excavated, which was definite not the case. Anyhow its stratigraphy played an important role in the famous  “bataille aurignacienne” between the priest-scientists around  the Abbe Breuil and the Materialistic Prehistorians, followers of G and A de Mortillet during the early 20th century.

The Grotte du Placard, originally called Grotte à Rochebertier (Commune de Vilhonneur; Charente), is a large cave on the left bank of the Tardoire 13 kilometers upstream from La Rochefoucauld. Carved into a limestone cliff, the entrance to the cave is 17 meters above the river level, with a wide porch giving access to a room 25 meters long and 10 wide at the entrance. It is itself extended to the right by two narrow galleries, and to the left by a more important gallery. There are several smaller grottoes with Paleolithic material spanning  a time span from the Chatelperronian (?) to the Magdalenian in the immediate vicinity (Grotte de Moradie [Magdalenien], de La Combe, de l` Ammonite [Chatelperronien?; Magdalenien final] and du Sureau).

It seems that the first excavations at the Placard cave took place in 1853. The Placard site was first mentioned in the literature by J. Fermond in 1864. He was totally focused on the extraordinary rich middle and upper Solutrian levels of the site. During the later years A. de Maret, the land owner, made extensive and disastrous excavations and virtually emptied most of the cave fillings. He remains the “bete noir” of the excavators at Placard, because his technique of extracting the artifacts was below any standards of his time. He was on hunt for first-quality pieces and destructed all other artifacts to prevent others to sell pieces from Placard and to keep the prices high. It is suggested that thousand shouldered points from the Solutrean were lost during this destructive “curation”.  Later more methodic excavations by Fermond, Masfrand, A. de Mortillet and by Chauvet followed. Finally the deposit, which was without doubt one of the richest in Western Europe, was not subject to any protection and suffered numerous digs that fed many museums and private collections for almost one half of a century. Therefore J. Roche in 1958 made an attempt to reconstruct the stratigraphy from what was left (mainly Middle Paleolithic) after 80 years of devastation. As a result of renewed illegal excavations, Duport resumed the excavations in 1988 and the discovery of rock art panels has led to the opening of a rescue campaign by J. Clottes and others.

A. Masferad described a course stratigraphy in 1902:

  1. Magdalenian (1,5 m thickness)
  2. Solutrean (1 m thickness)
  3. Mousterien (1,5 m thickness)

During his early excavations, Maret he had detected one stratum of Mousterian, two strata of Solutrean (a middle Solutrean with large leaf shaped points followed by a rich upper Solutrean with thousands of shouldered points) and four Magdalenian strata (beginning with a Badegoulien / early Magdalenian a raclettes, topped by a Middle Magdalenian and traces of a “Magdalenien final”).

Based on Marets communication, the “official “and somewhat theoretical stratigraphy was published by A. de Mortillet in 1906. He described a “Robenhausien” on the top and below, three Magdalenian levels, two Solutrean levels and, at the base the Mousterian. On Mortillets stratigraphy, each level was isolated by a sterile layer formed by the debris, which fell from the cave ceiling.

The Mousterian of Placard is testified by a rich collection of artifacts characterized by a non- Levallois production system of the blanks. Thick flakes were modified into convergent tools (convergent scrapers and “points”). There are many transversal scrapers with a typical “Quina retouche”. Roche described in total five strata of a Charentian (Quina and an industry between Quina and Ferrassie), seven strata with a typical Mousterian and one with a denticulated Mousterien. Roche was able to identify 17 Mousterian strata during his final excavations, some of them only 5 cm thick. This observation gives us an idea about the informations that were lost during the early diggings….

A small Middle Solutrean point from the site. A gift from A de Mortillet to the Austrian Prehistorian Hoernes who gave it to my Grandfather around 1905:



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The “Pebble Culture” near Casablanca

chopper old stone age aggsbach marocThis is a “chopper” from the Carrière Schneider at Maarif Airport near Casablanca, which is situated near the Carrière Deprez, where the term of an older “Pebble Culture” in Morocco was once stablished. This chopper is made from a quartzite cobble and was found within early Pleistocene deposits by P. Biberson and his coworkers during the 1950ies. He gave the piece to an Austrian globetrotter, who travelled through the Maghreb and the Sahara from the 1950ies until the 1990ies.

Such unifacial “tools” may be of non-human origin, as new investigations at the Carrière Deprez site indicate, where the artifacts of the “Pebble Culture” assemblages appear to be pseudo-artifacts generated by high-energy deposits. Anyhow, “Choppers and Chopping tools” are also known from an Acheulian context in the Maghreb. Such early Acheulian sites, ca 1 Mio years old, always show numerous pebble-tools and only a few handaxes. In a broad African perspective, the Lower Acheulian in Morocco seems considerably later than in Ethiopia and in Olduvai.

In Morocco, a series of sites located on the Atlantic coast in the vicinity of the town of Casablanca have been investigated by Biberson during the 1950ies and 60ies. These sites are: Arbaoua, Oued Mda, Douar Doum, Terguiet el-Rahla, Carrière Deprez, Carrière Schneider (lower and upper), Chellah, Souk Arba-Rhab, and Sidi Abderrahmane (niveau G). A number of these do not constitute well-defined archaeological sites but are localities from which mainly pebble tools were picked up from the surface.

According to Biberson, Stage I includes the oldest artifacts obtained using simple unidirectional technological gestures. The site of Targuiet-el-Rahla illustrates this stage. His stage II incorporates “pebble tools” characterized by bidirectional flaking. The site of Carrière Deprez in Casablanca represents this stage. In stage III the multidirectional technique appeared where the artifacts are considered to be more evolved. This stage is represented by the site of Souk-el-Arba du Rhab. The last stage (IV) is represented by level G of the Sidi Abderrahmane sequence, and is characterized by the emergence of the first Acheulean artifacts.

Chronologically, Biberson correlated stages I and II with the marine climatic cycle Mesaoudien dated to Late Pliocene, and stages III and IV with the cycle Maarifien dated to Early Pleistocene. Revised dating programs now assign both cycles within the early Pleistocene.  Biberson later renamed his cultural historical nomenclature by replacing the term “Pebble Culture” with Pre-Acheulean and condensing the four stages into two major phases. Based on the new classification, the “Pebble Culture” stages I and II constitute the “Early Pre-Acheulean” while the stages III and IV form the “Evolved Pre-Acheulean”. Such a designation implies an evolution from the “Pebble Culture” to the Acheulian, now rather unlikely according to the East African Archaeological record, where the Acheulian appears “suddenly” (in geological terms) as early as 1, 75 Mio years ago.

However, later systematic investigations of the Plio-Pleistocene and Pleistocene littoral deposits in the Casablanca area have modified Biberson’s interpretations. The revised investigations emphasize the total absence of evidence of a very early human presence in Atlantic Morocco, demonstrating that assemblages of Pebble Culture Stage I are either surface finds or reworked materials. Artifacts assigned to Pebble Culture stage II were extracted from high-energy deposits. Materials of Pebble Culture Stage III are from polycyclic colluviums. Stage IV of the Pebble Culture is reconsidered as Acheulean. In addition, new investigations at the Carrière Deprez site indicate that “Pebble Culture” assemblages appear to be pseudo-artifacts generated by high-energy deposits.

Therefore, the new evidence suggests that the earliest human presence in Atlantic Morocco is later than Biberson assumed. The oldest occupation dates to late Lower Pleistocene, and appears to be Acheulean as illustrated by the level L of Thomas-1 quarry cave site. This site yielded an early Acheulean assemblage made of quartzite and flint, comprising bifacial choppers,  polyhedrons, cleavers, bifaces, Trihedrals, and flakes. The associated fauna, probably slightly older than that of Tighenif (Ternifine) in Algeria, includes hippozebra, gazelles, suid, and micromammals species. Based on fauna and Palaeomagnetic data, an age of 1 Million years is suggested for the level L.

Olduvan-like artefacts have also been found in at least four localities in the vast Algerian Saharan landmass. These include  Aoulef, Reggan, Saoura region and Bordj Tan Kena. While the specimens from Aoulef and Reggan are surface collections, those from the Saoura region and Bordj Tan Kena were excavated in situ. Some of these in situ sites also contain crude handaxes and should therefore better assigned to an Acheulian.  In additions there are doubts about the integrity of some of the sites. 

The best contextualized location for a Olduvan in the Maghreb remains the site of Aïn Hanech, near Sétif in northern Algeria, and the nearby  site of El-Kherba. Both sites exhibit an Oldowan ensemble, dated to at least 1,2 Ma.

The discussion about a “Pebble Culture” in N/W-Africa has direct implication for the essentially non-dated river terasse findings not only in S-Europe (Garonne, Tarn),  but especially in Central Europe (in Bohemia, near Vienna, at the Rhine and high terasses of the Fulda: http://www.museum-kassel.de/index_navi.php?parent=1548), where dates for a “Pebble Culture” of 1-2 Mio years have been assumed by some scholars. One should remember that if the Middle Pleistocene ensemble from Terra Amata (400-200 k.a) would be a surface find, it probably would be interpreted as Oldowan, if the few Handaxes would have been lost by taphonomic processes in a disturbed Archaeological record.

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Nubian MSA Foliates

msa nubian foliate aggsbach
This are two bifacial foliates from the Nubian desert (brown chert; max 12 cm long), found in the 1930ies, which show strong similarities to the Lupemban and early Nubian MSA of East Africa. The Sangoan and Lupemban of Central Africa and the Eastern Lowlands are MSA- technocomplexes dated roughly between 400-150 k.a BP. They can be identified on the basis of “heavy duty” core axes and picks (Sangoan) and smaller and parallel sided core axes and bifacial lanceolates, often combined with a blade element and Levallois flake tools (Lupemban). At Twin Rivers and Kalambo Falls there is the first African indication for backed tool technology, suggestive for hafting these artifacts. JD Clark suggested these heavy duty tools were good for wood-working, based on association of Kalambo Falls site in Zambia with deciduous woodland, and preserved wood at site. However, a number of other sites, such as those excavated by McBrearty in Kenya and at Sai 8-B-11 were clearly occupied by open grassland or savannas.

The Sangoan is thought to be older than Lupemban, but the stratigraphic relationship is not well documented except for the great Site of Kalambo Falls in Zambia where the Sangoan is stratified beneath the Lupemban and at the site of Sai 8-B-11 in northern Sudan.

At Sai 8-B-11 the two lowermost strata can be attributed to the Sangoan because of the presence of core-axes and distinctive flake reduction strategies. Given the evidence of systematic blade production and the presence of a lanceolate in addition to small and regular core-axes, the upper assemblage of this sequence is qualified as Lupemban. It is suggested, that this ensemble marks the beginning of the MSA in the Nil valley, which is later evolving towards the “Nubian -MSA”, during OIS6/5. During this MSA foliates with a technology and typology that resemble the pieces shown here, appeared.

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