Ferrassie-Ensembles in Europe


These are some typical artifacts from an early 20th century collection from one Mousterian site in the Perigord, which fit the definition of the Ferrassie-Mousterian. Technologically this facies is characterized by a recurrent uni- and bipolar Levallois debitage and typologically by a high percentage of scrapers, especially convergent and double scrapers, Mousterian points and a low percentage of denticulates and notches and the absence of Bifaces. The “Typical” and the “Ferrassie Mousterian” in S/W-France share common technological and typological features, the only difference between such Entities” is a higher percentage of retouched tools for the latter.(http://www.persee.fr/web/revues/home/prescript/article/pal_1145-3370_2000_sup_2_1_1274). Technologically there is a clear succession of Levallois-Quina-Levallois/Discoid systems between MIS5-3 in S/W-France and in Italy which means many of the “Ferrassie Ensembles” are older than MIS4.

The Levallois-system usually creates thin blanks of predetermined shape (e.g. points), ready for intermediate use without or with only light retouches. Depending on various factors (duration of stay, functional requirements, function of the site) even a heavier modification could be created on the blanks, as seen in the artifacts of this post and at the type site, where convergent tools with “Retouche écailleuse scalariforme” were present.

Ferrassie is an eminent Paleolithic site in Savignac-de-Miremont, in the Dordogne department, France. The site, located in the Vézère valley, consists of a large and deep cave flanked by two rock shelters within a limestone cliff, under which there is a scree slope formation. Denis Peyrony and Louis Capitan explored the site in 1905, 1907 and 1912; Peyrony in 1934 (Middle and Upper Paleolithic), Henri Delporte in 1969 and 1984 and Delporte with Tuffreau in 1984 (Chatelperronian, Aurignacian and Gravettian). Ongoing excavations by Dibble et al. are focusing on the chronology of the oldest strata (an Middle Paleolithic ensemble with bifaces) probably dating to MIS5, and the stata, that were used to define the Ferrassie Mousterian facies and that contained the famous “Neanderthal burials”. Interestingly, the Ferrassie Mousterian layers are attributed to MIS 3 by OSL, between 54 ± 3 and 40 ± 2 ka, and thus appear very late in the final Middle Palaeolithic of the region. These data fit to ESR dates, of two Neanderthal teeth which also indicate to an MIS3 age. Regarding that “Ferrassie ensembles” in the Aquitaine are usually said to be MIS5/early MIS4 (at Combe Grenal on geochronological grounds) preceding “Quina ensembles“ which are present during MIS 4 (Roc de Marsal  (F) , Pinaud Jonzac, Quina) – this date would indicate much more synchrony of the different ” Mousterian facies” that previously suggested.

If older “Ferrasie” ensembles  dated to MIS7 (Maastricht-Belvedère [K],  Rheindahlen [„Ostecke“ ; B3], Biache-Saint-Vaast) can be technologically compared with the classic ensembles of the Perigord remains an open question….

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Elongated Handaxes

aisne aggsbach paleolithique biface grandThis is a lanceolate handaxe, an old quarry find from the Aisne, made of quartzite and about 22 cm in length. Even larger lanceolates from this area, unfortunately undated,  have been described by Harper Kelley (Bulletin de la Société préhistorique de France via Persee; http://www.aggsbach.de/2011/08/handaxe-from-the-presles-et-boves-gravels-at-vailly-sur-aisne/).

Some handaxes were made much more elongate, than the average bifaces in Acheulian ensembles. As Gowlett recently suggested, it is improbable that this happened by accident: the elongation had to be “constructed”. In one approach, very common in Africa, a large preform or blank is struck by the maker as a single flake, and then trimmed to its final form. The other major approach, common in Europe, is to work the piece from a nodule, often on flint. A series of strikes roughs out the handaxe which may then be thinned in a long process. Again, it is not easy for the maker to maintain length, and it cannot be done without a specific intention.

Excellent raw materials found in large nodules or blocks are the prerequisite of large handaxe manufacture. From a functional point of view, elongated shapes demonstrate a better ratio of cutting edge to overall weight than less elongated shapes, although this is at the expense of a higher likelihood for end-shock to occur during manufacture. The influence of raw materials is most important at the beginning of the process of façonnage, but later steps are more dependent on reshaping and the knappers’ skills. If there were a mental template and the desire for symmetry involved in the creation of handaxes remains an open question- the pros and cons have beeen discussed in much detail during the last 30 years .

A good example of an large handaxe is known from Kathu Pan in the Northern Cape, South Africa, and dated by association with tooth-plates of the extinct Elephas Reckii  to approximately 750 k.a. BP. This handaxe is fully symmetric and measuring about 27 cm in length (http://www.aggsbach.de/2011/09/short-history-of-the-acheulian-in-south-africa-the-chronology/).

Large handaxes and cleavers, often with a lenght of ca 20 cm, are the halmark of many Middle Pleistocene Acheulian sites in the Rift valley, as already described in this blog http://www.aggsbach.de/2013/06/rift-valleys-acheulian-sites/).

At the Masek Beds, Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania, were found five finely shaped handaxes in white quartzite, measuring about 27 cm in length and were dated between 600 and 400 k.a. Superposed drawings of their outline shapes show them to be almost perfect matches. Mary Leakey described them as “elongate, with delicately trimmed tips…. In spite of the material being coarse grained, and intractable, these tools have been elaborately trimmed over both faces…. The close similarity in technique, size and form suggests the possibility that they may have been the work of a single craftsman”.

The famous Furze Platt hand axe (http://piclib.nhm.ac.uk/results.asp?image=001676)is dated to MIS 8-10 and was found in 1919. It weighs 2.8 kilos and is 30.6 cm long. Another large handaxe is known from Shrub Hill, UK and is dated to MIS 9 has a length of 29 cm. An important archaeological dig at Cuxton in Kent, dated most probably to MIS7 (250 k.a. BP) uncovered a sharply pointed 31 cm handaxe. The Handaxe was preserved together with a large Cleaver and is in almost mint condition and displays exquisite workmanship in addition to its extreme size (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/5098748.stm).

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Pebble Tools from the Terrasses of the Roussillon

rivesaltes 2 aggsbach

These Artifacts (a “Chopper” and a Polyhedron) were found at the Pleistocene Terrasse de Llabanere near Rivesaltes in Southern France (Pyrénées Orientales).  They come from a larger collection consisting mainly of quartzite and quartz tools, which at first glance look very “archaic” and of course some researchers wanted to describe such ensembles as “Preacheulian” and suggested that they were produced during the Lower/Middle-Pleistocene boundary by the earliest hominides entering South Europe. Anyhow, convincingly, the terasse of Llabanere was formed during the Middle Pleistocene, and therefore the many artifact concentrations of the terasse may not be as old as initially suggested (Giret 2014).

Surface findings from river terasses are notoriously difficult to date. These terasses can only be used as a terminus ante quem. Anyhow, excavated and dated nearby Archaeological sites show (often ambiguous) analogies for an age determination of surface collections. Fortunately the nearby Caune de l’Arago can help us to get an idea about the dating of such artifacts, which were in abundance found at other river terrases in the Roussillon (Terrasse de Cabestany, Terrasse de la Butte du Four, Terasse de Mas Ferreol…).

lllabaniereThe Caune de l’Arago is a large cave site (35 m long and 10 m wide) at Tautavel in southern France, near the town of Perpignan and has been systematically excavated for more than 40 years now and is a model for defining  some characteristics of Middle Pleistocene cave habitats in Southern Europe. The significance of the Cave has been known since 1828, when the famous paleontologist Marcel de Serres found animal bones, and classified them as “antediluvian”. In 1963, following the discovery of prehistoric tools by Jean Abelanet, Henry de Lumley decided to begin excavations at the Arago Cave.

Important climatic fluctuations have been recorded within the cave’s thick stratigraphical sequence, which covers a period from MIS 14 through 5, beginning with a basal stalagmitic floor (700 k.a.). The infill of the cave, most of which is correlated to MIS 14, 13 and 12, has yielded numerous distinct occupation floors, exceptionally rich stone implements and animal fossils, while some of the levels have also yielded hominin remains attributed to Homo Heidelbergensis.

chopper aggsbachThe environment changed over such a long time. We observe humans in harsh climatic conditions and a steppe like environment, populated with reindeer, musk ox and even arctic fox but also warmer and moister condition characterized by fallow or red deer. Large herbivore carcasses were brought into the cave by humans and their bones often show traces of human intervention such as cut marks and systematic breakage whose interpretation reveals the characteristics and evolution of hunting and butchering techniques over time.

Archeologists have tracked several different modes of using the cave by early humans: the long duration habitat, where the cave was used as a home base; the temporary seasonal habitat, in which case the cave served as a secondary campsite; the hunting stopover, during which the cave was used as a refuge for short term stays. Behavioral patterns appear to be directly related to the type of habitat and oriented towards a principal activity: hunting.  Each of these modes is correlated with different modes of land use, procurement of raw materials and lithic production. Silex, quartz and quartzite, coming mainly from nearby procurement areas (5-20 km), were simultaneously used as raw materials. Traces of fire have been found only in the upper part of the sequence at Arago, in archaeological layers that are younger than 350 k.a. No charcoal, no burnt bones, nor any other evidence of fire have been reported from any of the assemblages from the lower levels (dated to MIS 14-12).

Deborah Barsky recently drew attention to the relationship of raw materials and tool types:

  • the largest supports were systematically chosen for the  shaping of retouched tools. This may be explained by the overall scraper dominance in the toolkits and by a  preference for long retouched cutting edges
  • the initial knapping stages for most rock types occurred outside ofthe cave, regardless ofthe distance from which the raw material was collected. Exception is made for limestone, a material reserved for pebble-tool manufacture which does appear to have taken place inside the cave;
  • vein quartz was the preferred raw material among alltechnological and typological groups, in spite ofthe availability of other kinds of rocks nearby. The only exceptions are pebble-tools, made mostly from limestone, and handaxes, made mostly from hornfel;
  • more complex and longer knapping sequences (globular, multiplatform or discoidal core types) were executed on best quality raw materials (flint, quartzite, translucent quartz).


polihedron aggsbachRecently, excavations have reached the so-called ‘‘P’’ levels, attributed to a series of occupation floors accumulated during short-term stays by hominin groups during a cold, dry phase of MIS 14.  It is interesting to consider the precise handiwork and care with which raw materials were selected for the confection of the fine quality instruments typical of the ‘‘P’’ levels” assemblages, whose “Acheulian” character is underlined by a relative abundance of symmetrical and remarkably well-worked handaxes.  “Choppers”, “Chopping tools”, polyhedrons and flake tools (Tayac Points, Quinson Points, Denticulations, Scrapers, some “Protolimaces”) , produced by a non-Levallois technique (“Clacton” , opportunistic and discoidal) were present during most of the  Middle Pleistocene layers. It was not before the Levels G-D (440-400 k.a.), that a technique which could be called “Protolevallois” began to arise.  A poor Mousterian was present during OIS7-5 with incontestable Levallois connotation. Handaxes, although in small numbers (1-5%) , were found during most of the Middle Pleistocaine deposits.

The Mode-2 sequence  and the gradual evolution of an early Middle Paleolithic at Arago has some counterparts in S-Europe:  In France, the industries from the Middle Loire Basin , the lower levels (H, I and K) of Aldène Cave, la Baume Bonne at Quinson and Orgnac 3 show similarities in their structural development to the Caune de l’Arago. In Spain, The Atapuerca Middle Pleistocene sites of Galleria and Gran Dolina show a similar evolutionary trend in sites ranging from around 500-300 k.a.

If we look for analogies of our  artifacts with those of Arago, the Llabanere material may be dated to a wide Middle Pleistocene time frame of 500-300 k.a.

polihedron aggsbach

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The oldest traces of Human Culture in the Rift Valley: The Oldowan

melka oldowan

This is an early “Chopper” or Flake-Core from Melka Kunture, an Ethiopian site, well known for its very Early Paleolithic. The earliest at findings at Melka Kunture come from the Oldowan (at the sites Karre and at level B of Gombore I); with a K/Ar age near to 1,6/1,7 m.y. A probably contemporaneous Oldowan site has been investigated at Garba IV with a radiometrical age between 1-5 and 1,5 m.y. The reevaluation of the Garba IV site by Gallotti showed, that unit D of Garba IV is characterized  by the emergence of a new chaîne opératoire focused on large flake/large cutting tool (LCT) production, and a large variability of small débitage modalities with systematic preparation of the striking platform and the appearance of a certain degree of predetermination , characteristic rather for an early Acheulian than for a Mode I industry-in good agreement with other early Acheulian dates in East Africa.

“Choppers” are stone cores with flakes removed from part of the surface, creating a sharpened edge that was used for cutting, chopping, and scraping. Microscopic surface analysis of the flakes struck from cores has shown that some of these flakes were also used as tools for cutting plants and butchering animals.

The term “Oldowan” is taken from the site of Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania, where the first Oldowan lithics were discovered by the archaeologist Louis Leakey in the 1930s.

The earliest traces of hominid cultural behavior begin with several sites in primary context at Gona, in the Hadar region of the Afar triangle in Ethiopia, dating to 2,6 – 2,5 m.y. The Oldowan Industrial Complex is characterized by simple core forms, usually made on cobbles or chunks, the resultant debitage (flakes, broken flakes, and other fragments) struck from these cores, and the battered percussors (spheroids) used to produce the flaking blows.

The materials of the tools were for the most part quartz, quartzite, basalt, or obsidian, and later flint and chert. Experiments have shown that the entire range of Oldowan forms can be produced by hard-hammer percussion, flaking against a stationary anvil, bipolar technique, and, occasionally, throwing one rock against another. Sharp flakes were obtained by various methods, some of which indicate that as early as 2.5 million years hominins had developed knapping skills and manual dexterities that allowed them to organize and predetermine the knapping and produce longer sequences of flaking.

The typological categories commonly applied to Oldowan cores ( “heavy-duty tools,” ) can be viewed as a continuum of lithic reduction with the intent of producing sharp-edge cutting and chopping tools . In this view, many of the cores and so-called “core tools” found in Oldowan assemblages may not have been deliberately shaped into a certain form in order to be used for some purpose; rather their shapes may have emerged as a byproduct of producing sharp cutting flake.

Current evidence shows an abrupt appearance at c. 2.6 m.y of fully competent Mode I tool making at multiple high density sites at Gona accompanied by cut-marked bone at OGS-6,  indicating that Oldowan were used in meat-processing or -acquiring activities, and the nearby Middle Awash site of Bouri. By ca 2.4–2.3 m.y, Oldowan tools appear elsewhere in the Afar as well as further south at Omo and the Turkana. They are present throughout much of East and South Africa by c. 2.0–1.7 m.y (Olduvai Gorge: 1,9-1,7 m.y.).  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 m.y. If change or stasis characterized the Oldowan is hotly debated. Different species of the genus Homo were the most probable makers of the Oldowan, while there are no convincing positive indications, that Australopithecus was also able for a continuous tool making behavior. An early Homo was recently found in Ledi-Geraru in the Afar triangle and dated to 2.8 m.y (http://www.sciencemag.org/content/early/2015/03/03/science.aaa1343.full.pdf). 

The distribution of the Oldowan is most consistent with diffusion of Mode I flaking from a single origin in the Afar Rift c. 2.6 m.y, accompanied by the adaptation of specific technological practices (e.g., raw material selection and associated reduction strategies) to local environments and possibly a limited amount of cultural drift. Within this evolution the Mode I industry at Melka Kunture is rather late.


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The forgotten Paleolithic heritage of Tunisia


aggsbachs gafsa

This post displays several chert MSA tools from different surface scatters from the Gafsa area (Literary Arabic: قفصة Qafṣah ; Tunisian Arabic: ‎ [ˈqɑfsˤɑ] Qafṣa , southern accent: [ˈɡɑfsˤɑ] Gafṣa ), originally called Capsa in Latin, which is the capital of Gafsa Governorate of Tunisia. It lends its Latin name to the Epipaleolithic Capsian culture.  MSA / Aterian scatters are also common in this area.

Many Paleolithic sites in Africa are located at artesian springs or groundwater upwellings. The wetter climates may have provided preferred landscapes that were periodically inhabitable by Pleistocene hominids.

A unique Acheulian spring site was found at Amanzi, near Uitenhage in the south-eastern Cape; South Africa. Several occupations, in part relatively undisturbed, were located around marshy and well-vegetated spring eyes, at a time of accelerated artesian discharge.

Much work has been conducted in the dating of spring sediments in the Oases of the Western Desert in Egypt. The episodes of higher humidity and consecutive  lake expansion and regression suggest the presence of habitable landscapes from around 400,000 years ago until after 100,000 years ago, corresponding to fluctuating global climates between OIS 11-OIS 3.

Iron-rich sediments in Dakhleh Oasis, Western Desert of Egypt, have been recognized as spring mounds and as archaeological sites where Paleolithic materials (Acheulian and Middle Paleolithic /MSA assemblages) have been recovered.  The spring mounds of Dakhleh Oasis represent a shallow-water, bog-like environment that existed prior to lacustrine development in the oasis. This landscape was utilized in some manner by all Paleolithic groups, as indicated by the recovery of artifacts from spring mound vents and sediments.  In the eastern basin Acheulian and MSA materials have been found within spring sediments at several different vents, whereas in the western basin artifacts belonging to several different Middle Paleolithic phases have been excavated from a single vent.

tunisia aggsbach 3At Bir Tarfawi, southern Egypt, Acheulian and MSA artifact assemblages were typically found in sands that underlie deposits composed of high amounts of carbonate or fine muds indicative of expanding lakes and wetter climates. At Kharga oasis, first discovered and analyzed by Gertrude Caton-Thompson in the 1920s, the same holds true for the Acheulian and MSA deposits.

Sidi Zin, in Northern Tunisia, is a site where rich “Upper Acheulian” assemblages (undated) and fossil faunal remains were recovered by Gobert from deposits laid down in and around the pool of a spring at the confluence of two ravines. There are three Acheulian horizons plus a MSA horizon in the capping tufa. The Acheulian assemblages differ from each other in a manner that seems to involve both style and perhaps activity and function. The faunal remains, which seem to be food-refuse, include elephant, rhinoceros, an equine (Equus mauritanicus), aurochs, gnu, Bubalis, gazelle and barbary sheep.The small number of rather crudely made artifacts ascribed to the Middle Stone Age include side-scrapers, thick points, three small bifaces and several abruptly retouched pieces of flint.

Several important Tunisian MSA-sites are associated with artesian springs and certainly provide an exceptional archeological potential. Data from renewed excavations at these sites  are urgently awaited.

tunesia aggsbach2A enigmatic structure of approximately 60 spheroidal stone balls which formed a regular cone 75 cm high and 1,50 m in diameter was recovered from a fossil spring at the site of El-Guettar. Mixed in with it were a large number of retouched flint tools and manufacturing waste together with many teeth, splinters and pounded fragments of bone. The circumference at the base appeared to have been ringed by a number of larger stones. While a few flint balls had been placed on at the top of the pile; all others were limestone spheres. They had diameters ranging between 4·5 and 18·0 cm. The smaller and more regular were at the top while the stone heap base, larger, were only roughly spherical. Most of these spheroids were natural, and only a few had been regularized by picketing. . Notably, the excavator did not find such pebbles in the immediate vicinity of the deposit. It is suggested that the pile could indicate some ritual / symbolic behavior.  Less appealingly, but not impossibly, it could be an accumulation of occupation waste that had either fallen into the eye from an adjacent living-floor, or been intentionally piled in the spring since, if this lay within a fissure well below the surface, it might have been necessary to have a place to stand to collect the water.

Several MSA strata were reported from the site. Levallois cores, Levallois flakes, blades  and retouched tools were present in varying amounts: Scrapers (simple, double, convergent, dejete), Mousterian points, denticulated tools and a single tanged Aterian point in the lowermost level. Leaving the one tanged point aside the technocomplex would be described as a Levallois Mousterian (in European terms: type Ferrassie). Some small Handaxes, similar to the one shown in this post,  were also present.

The pollen diagram from the El-Guettar clearly shows that the Mediterranean vegetation was able to spread into southern Tunisia during MSA times whereas the site today is on the border between plateau and desert steppe. This holds also true for the  Pollen counts from the Oued el-Akarit site, east of El-Guettar and on the coast, which similarly show the presence of Mediterranean-type forest.

tunisia aggsbachIn Tunisia, there are several very similar MSA assemblages without any or with a negligible quantity of “Aterian (tanged) ” tools, found stratified within chott (salt lake) deposits, partly cut through by spring activity and intercalated with the sandy deposits. The most prominent is that from Ain Metherchem.

Here different methods of the Levallois technique were used (preferential, recurrent, un- and bipolar and centripetal) for the production of simple, convergent and double scrapers, Mousterian points and only two pedunculated  tools.

Recent field prospecting and tests in the Meknassy Basin (Central Tunisia) have revealed many prehistoric sites; among these, some belong to the MSA. The potential of these new sites seems to be promising.  Maybe these new and renewed excavations of the “old” sites will help to resolve open chronological questions and help to clarify the old question if the “Aterian” is only a facies of  a general North African MSA or has to be seen as an independent  technocomplex.

Fig. 1: Biface (also on Fig. 2) and triangular scraper (also on Fig.4) on a thick Levallois flake (patinated Flint)

Fig.2: Asymmetrical bifacial scraper ona thick non-Levallois flake (patinated Flint)

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Popular Prehistory: Is there anything new for the interested German speaking public?


neolithic theory

Archeological objects can only be understood by knowing their exact context and by careful interpretation using modest middle-range theoretical approaches emphasizing their material, social and ideological meaning.

Books about Prehistory written in German for an interested non-professional public are notorious rare. Screening the web-pages of large book stores shows astonishing results. The most popular German books about the topic are children’s books, esoteric publications or re-editions of books, presenting a decades-old state of knowledge. The situation of the French or Anglo-American market is completely different: There are a lot of popular science books dealing with prehistoric research on a high level and written by experts (Example:  Chris Stringer, Henry de Lumley and many others ; even the very prominent German expert Gerhard Bosinski is writing popular books mainly for an interested French audience). What is the reason for this observation?

katzmans books paleoithic

Archaeology provides a window to the past which is able to help clear away the mists of time; it gives insight into those periods for which there is no written evidence. However, the very nature of archaeology makes it inherently dangerous, because of data manipulation by ideologies.

During the 19th and early 20th century Archaeology was as a powerful tool in the building of modern nations (in the sense of „Imagined communities” according to Benedict Anderson). Unfortunately ultra-nationalistic, antidemocratic and racist concepts became immensely popular in German prehistorians after the lost WW1 and during the important formative years towards a professionalized prehistory. One of the most influential figures in the process of ideologisation of German prehistory before 1930 was Gustaf Kossinna (1858-1931), a linguist and a professor of prehistory in Berlin, who tried to define archaeological cultures by specific artifact types.

According to him the superior Aryan race could be equated with the ancient Germans, an expansive and powerful culture, which spread through heroic migrations from the Nordic Countries into the South and East. Regions, where artifacts had been found that he considered being “Germanic”, were part of ancient Germanic territory. Using these arguments Kossinna was an early mastermind and pioneer of national socialistic (NS) expansionistic and repressive policy.

In the 1920ies Prehistoric research in Germany a poorly funded academic subject. After 1933, the year of Hitler’s accession to power, the situation changed and the Nazi-party did much for funding prehistoric excavations and institutionalize prehistoric archaeology at universities and on an administrative level. The number of university chairs was raised from 5 to 25 until 1942 and the number of institutes of the state archaeological service (“Landesämter für Vorgeschichte”) to fourteen. At the end of the Nazi-era, prehistory was firmly established as an independent discipline. Irrespectively if German prehistorians during 1933-45 in Germany were convinced National socialists  or only opportunists, they went “where the money was”- mainly to Himmler’s “Ahnenerbe”- organization, which funded a lot of excavations at this time. Mutual benefits for both sides are self-evident (http://www.aggsbach.de/2010/09/adaption-of-prehistoric-research-to-political-cir/).

After the lost second World War and the moral disaster left by the National socialists, Prehistoric research in Germany was disqualified as a “Nazi-Wissenschaft” in the public. Anyhow, many of the leading archeologists, who had started their first career under the auspices of Himmler’s “Ahnenerbe” organization soon made a second career after the “Stunde Null” in Western Germany.  The consensus of democratic parties in Western Germany was to integrate former Nazis en masse (including most of the University professors) to the gradually consolidating post-war society, but not to tolerate the re-establishment of a nationalistic / racist reference frame in public discourses** (http://www.diss.fu-berlin.de/diss/receive/FUDISS_thesis_000000094873?lang=en) .

This is one reason that German Prehistoric research moved into a self-chosen extensive theoretic deficit and partially lost touch to the international discussion. Empiricist approaches, following a research aim which focused on the classification of material culture, without attempting to develop a new theoretical framwork, were common.

Such attitudes dominated the field until the late 1980ies, when younger scientists, unbiased by and somtimes in direct opposition to the Nazi past, started their career. These researchers opened for a multitude of new methods and theoretic approaches and began to build up networks with other professionals on a global style. Hermann Parzinger is one proponent of this age cohort.

Hermann Parzinger, a specialists for the late metal ages, well known to the public by spectacular excavations of Scythian tombs from southern Siberia, quickly became one of the most renowned contemporary researchers of the antiquity in Germany. He was head of the German Archaeological Institute which he expanded and modernized. In 2008 he became the President of the Foundation of Prussian Cultural Heritage – Europe’s largest cultural complex with 2000 members of staff and encompasses a total of 17 museums, libraries and research institutes. Parzinger was always an expert on making science “public knowledge”, but without banalising his message.

In his heavy weighted, almost encyclopedic book:  “The children of Prometheus „Parzinger already described in more than 800 pages 2,5 million years of human prehistory from the first hominids in Africa to the invention of writing in Mesopotamia. During the last years this book became the first modern publication about global Prehistory written by an expert for a German speaking audience.

A condensed version of the book and with an extension until the archeology of protohistoric and historic times will now appear as on-line seminar of the weekly newspaper “Die Zeit”. The seminar is unpretentious and follows a minimalistic approach centered on the Speaker. Parzinger speaks about and explains the human career during prehistory and early history in 12 chapters and his narrative is straight forward and up to date with the international mainstream of archeologic thinking:


The use of media (some maps and significant pictures) is very cautious and avoids the usual sensationalist effects; already known ad nauseam from the usual TV-productions, that transport minimal information with a maximum of useless animation.

Parzinger’s narrative begins with an excellent methodological introduction to his subject and describes the human career as a long way from our scavenging ancestors to Homo sapiens and “Cultural modernity”. Parzinger nicely shows that the Neolithic was as a point of no return in human prehistory and competently describes the later phases of prehistory as a process of increasing complexity. He highlights how new materials were changing division of labor and social differentiation in early societies. Parzinger never neglects the impact of religious thinking and ideologies thinking on human (pre) history. Overall his approach is structuralistic and well trained by sociological theories of Protohistoric societies.

Anyhow, using mainstream paradigms for argumentations always carries the risk of making things too simple for the sake of intelligibility. One example is Par zinger’s repeated use of the term “Behavioral modernity” for the description of the behavioral repertoire of Homo sapiens when compared with other hominids.  This hypothesis has turned to be an oversimplification at least, if not a useless paradigm that should be dismissed, because it precludes a better understanding of the variability of the Genus homo ((http://www.aggsbach.de/2011/06/sede-boker/).

Understandably, Parzinger uses the “Behavioral modernity”-paradigm for telling his story about the “unstoppably” rise of Homo sapiens more concise, but in reality his narrative is weakened by such an implicit teleological approach. Parzinger is  working in Berlin, which may carry a certain risk  to get under the influence of Hegel’s “Weltgeist”. 


** Unfortunately this consensus has been weakened during the last years in Germany.

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Let Us Now Praise Unknown Men and Women…….


Figure 1 shows a Middle Paleolithic / MSA point from Melka Kunture / Etiopia, which is at least 120 k.a. old. In the archaeological record of both Eastern and Southern Africa as well as in the Middle East there is immense lithic variability associated with Homo sapiens sites. It is important that adaptions and innovations of our Species are embedded in a Middle Paleolithic technology for most of the time. Typical Upper Paleolithic ensembles appeared only at ca 45-40 k.a. BP.

According to the modified replacement model, that I personally prefer, Homo sapiens is supposed to have appeared in East Africa around 200,000 years ago. The oldest individuals found so far are the Omo Kibish remains (195 k.a), found with an elaborated MSA industry (Levallois and Discoidal technology, scrapers and denticulated tools / bifacial points and small handaxes: rare but present)  and the Homo sapiens Idaltu (160 k.a.), that was found at the Herto/Middle Awash site in Ethiopia together with a typical Sangoan industry with some handaxes.

Figure 2 shows some Middle Paleolithic / MSA points from a certain site at Shambyu / Rundu in the Kavango River region of Namibia.

middle paleolitic msa namib

AHMs in South Africa, were present at Border Cave between 115-90 k.a. and at  Klasies River Mouth at ca 90 k.a. Modern humans reached the Near East 100-120 k.a., producing several variants of the “Levallois- Mousterien “. If they stayed here until OIS3 or retreated back to East- Africa remains controversial. In the Nil valley the Taramsa child is coming from a late Middle Paleolithic, Levallois based context ca 55 k.a. Figure 3 shows  two Nubian foliates from the Nil valley-part of the early “Nubian complex”, probably dating to OIS5.


It is now believed by strong genetic evidence that the first modern humans to spread east across Asia left Africa about 75 k.a. years ago across the Bab el Mandib connecting what is today Ethiopia and Yemen. Anyhow we lack of any paleonthological proof for this hypothesis. Figure 4 shows some MSA-Foliates from Yemen, very similar to the East African MSA, but pure Levallois ensembles without a bifacial component have also found in the South of the Arabian peninsula.

middle paleolithic yemen aggsbach

From the Levant (Menot cave 55k.a; Figure 5 shows some Mousterian Points from Northern Israel) and probably from the Arabian peninsula Homo sapiens went east to South Asia (Tam Pa Ling: 46-51 k.a.), East Asia (Tianyuan Cave, Zhoukoudian, near Beijing City: 42- 38 k.a.) and on to Australia. The oldest Australian human fossil remains date to around 40 k.a-this is 15 k.a. after the earliest archaeological evidence of the continents human occupation.  First traces of our species in Europe are dating late, around 35-40 k.a. old (Peştera cu Oase).



Morocco has yielded one of the richest and most complete hominin fossil records of AHMs, dating to OIS5/6 including important cranial remains from Jebel Irhoud, Dar-es-Soltan II, and Contrebandiers Cave.  Early Moroccan H. sapiens is always associated with Middle Paleolithic (Aterian and “Mousterian”). The oldest trace of an archaic Homo sapiens is a 160 k.a. old skull from Jebel Irhoud . If these populations contributed to the genetic pool of modern Humans  that  moved “out of Africa” at 50 k.a BP is unknown, but possible. Figure 6 shows typical Middle Paleolithic tools from the area.

mousterian Marocco

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