For an End of Linearity in Archaeological Thought

Europe is quite rich in finds of progressive Neanderthals from Middle Paleolithic contexts and early modern humans associated with evolved Upper Paleolithic (late Aurignacian and Gravettian). The Middle –Upper Paleolithic transition took place around 40 k.a. BP and was a one way ticket from the Mousterian to fully fledged leptolithic industries (some of them are still called “transitional”). But see: But Europe is the exception and not the rule, because incoming AMH had their own culture and the culture of the Neanderthals became extinct.

Most archaeological concepts have their origins way back in the nineteenth century with the early developments of archaeology, such as the Three Age System, the Antiquity of Man or the principles of stratigraphic succession. Within such arguments, series of natural and cultural groupings had been organised along a linear sequence from lower to higher, from simple to complex, from primitive to advanced. The fate of individual units contained within such sequences was fairly clear; their movement was passive and one-dimensional, on an axis between regress and progress.

During the last 40 years, many areas of research that are of interest to archaeologists witnessed an increasing use of yet another approach. According to this perspective, changes do not always occur at the same rate. Periods of gradual change may alternate with very rapid changes, or with time-spans in which there is very little change. Whereas a constant rate of change is graphically represented as a straight line in calculus, such accelerations and decelerations in the rate of change give rise to a curved graph. The processes concerned are therefore called ‘non-linear’

The investigation of non-linearity is rewarding, when we look on the Middle/Upper Paleolithic boundary of the old world.

Levant: Two technocomplexes, the Ahmarian and the Levantine Aurignacian, represent the early Upper Paleolithic in the Levant. The Ahmarian is estimated to start at Kebara IV between 42-43 k.a. (C-14 years) and is dated around 38 k.a. at Boker A in the Negev. The Aurignacian starts somewhat later for example 36 k.a. at Kebara unit I and II.

In Umm el Tlel (Syria), levels III2a’ and II base, the “Paléolithique intermédiaire”, sandwiched between the Mousterian and Aurignacian, have been dated rather late, at 36.5±2.5 k.a. by TL on burnt flint, and at 34.5±0.89 k.a. BP with AMS dating. Interestingly, while the lowest Stratum can be compared with a fully leptolithic blade production, comparable with the Ahmarian, the upper  strata show a modified Levallois concept and look like the Initial Upper Paleolithic, comparable with the much earlier industry at Boker Tachtit!

Thermoluminescence dates were obtained on five heated flint artifacts from the Mousterian layer C1 (Moustérien tardif), at Jerf al-Ajla (Syria) giving a weighted mean of 35.6 ± 3.4 k.a. Therefore this Mousterian was present thousand of years later than the Beginning of the Upper Paleolithic Ahmarian.

These observations show that in the Near East there is no linear development in lithic technologies. We have to assume a long time span characterized by the simultaneity of Upper Paleolithic industries and other technocomplexes that are “in transition” or purely Mousterian in their character.
Upper Nil Valley: Lower Nubia and Upper Egypt have a relatively well understood geochronology of the Late and Terminal Pleistocene and the human occupation in the period in question:

The early Nubian Complex roughly corresponds to early OIS 5 or even OIS 6, while numerical ages for the late Nubian Complex in northeast Africa fall in the latter half of OIS 5. Other Middle Paleolithic entities without the characteristics of the Nubian Complex, mainly based on a common Levallois technology during OIS 5 and later are known in Egypt and have been called: Local Nilotic Complex with (a) Denticulate Mousterian (K-Group), (b) Khormusan ( dated most probably to OIS5a), (c) Halfan and (d) Idffuan.

A late Middle Paleolithic ensemble, dated by OSL to 50-70 k.a. was found at a chert extraction site in the Nil-valley at Taramsa 1 superimposing one early Nubian ensemble with handaxes, foliates and Nubian points and a younger one without bifacial pieces but the persistence of Nubian technology . The Taramsian is characterized by a Levallois reduction system that is transitional to the systematic production of blades.  “there was a clear tendency towards blade production from large cores, where, instead of obtaining a few Levallois flakes from each individual core, a virtually continuous process of blade production made it possible to create a large number of blades from each core”  .This ensemble  with a changing Levallois production is not unlike the transitional assemblages known in the Negev at Boker Tachtit.

The Upper Paleolithic occupation of the Nile valley seems to have been very restricted. The assemblage from the nearby Al Tiwayrat is undated and might represent an early blade technology similar to the Taramsian but dated to OIS5. Other assemblages from the Upper Palaeolithic were described as Khaterian (42-30 k.a. BP; from Nazlet Khater 4 an extraction/mining site with a AMH burial sites at NK 4 and NK2) and the Shuwikhatian (about 25 k.a. BP; a blade industry with characteristic finely denticulated blades known from several small campsites). Anyhow, in the Upper Nile valley we note a clear trend from Middle Paleolithic entities to pure Upper Paleolithic industries.

But around the LGM and later, we observe again a Levallois based industries, for example the Halfan. This industry is dated between 22 to 14 k.a. BP and mainly restricted to Nubia, while further north in the Nil valley typical epipaleolithic industries were present. During the Halfan,  flake and blade production were performed on single and double platform cores, by an evolved classical Levallois method for the production of thin Levallois fakes. In living sites, burins, notches, and denticulates are found.

During survey in 1998–2003, on the left bank of the Nile around Affad in Sudan, many Paleolithic sites were identified. Testing in 2003 revealed undisturbed surface assemblages of lithic artifacts alongside animal bone remains. Since 2012, a research project run by the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology of the Polish Academy of Sciences has further investigated these sites.

Affad 23
 is dated by OSL around 15-16 k.a. Extensive refitting of lithics in the excavated assemblage show, that most of the lithic material is in situ. At Affad 23, preferential Levallois technique was prevalent and recurrent Levallois concepts of minor importance. In addition, discoidal – flake oriented methods were common. The ensemble has not revealed any presence of the “transitional” elements toward blade-based methods.

Moving to East Africa, the end of the MSA in this region was apparently a gradual and complex process rather than a a single event, with the emergence of the subsequent LSA developing from local MSA roots. At Enkapune ya Muto, Kenya, the sequence from ∼40 to 55 k.a. shows a basal MSA horizon with Levallois and discoidal methods of flake production and rare backed pieces. It is overlain by an industry attributed to the LSA dominated by the production of large (∼7 cm) backed blades and microliths, which is in turn overlain by an industry with abundant microliths (∼2– 5 cm), MSA-like core reduction strategies, and ostrich eggshell beads.

In contrast, at Mumba Rockshelter, Tanzania, the stratigraphic sequence suggests a gradual change in the frequency of typological and technologically important artifacts. Backed elements persist in low numbers across multiple strata, coincident with a reduction in the frequency of Levallois cores and points and an increased use of bipolar percussion for flake production from ∼30 to 68 k.a.. The nature of the change is such that the MSA or LSA attribution of a number of industries at Mumba is uncertain. Similar combinations of typically MSA (e.g., points) and LSA (e.g., backed pieces) artifacts are found at the Mochena Borago  in Ethiopia .

Goda Buticha is a newly discovered cave site in southeastern Ethiopia, containing MSA and LSA cultural material, faunal remains, beads, and human skeletal remains. On a macroscopic level there is a complete absence of indications for post-depositional mixture. A 2.3 m-deep sedimentary sequence records two occupational phases separated by a sharp chronological hiatus, in the Upper Pleistocene (ca. 43–31.5 k.a. cal BP) and in the mid- Holocene (7.8–4.7 k.a. cal BP). The lithic assemblage at the base of the sequence is clearly MSA, with Levallois production, unifacial and bifacial points, associated with a microlithic component, very similar to the MSA of the nearby Porc Epic cave, which may be somewhat older (about 50 k.a.?).

The overlaying Holocene assemblage contains diagnostic artifacts (backed microliths and bladelet production), with ubiquitous use of obsidian and MSA elements that appear in the Holocene.The apparent cultural continuity of MSA elements from the Upper Pleistocene into the Middle Holocene at Goda Buticha may represent another variation of the MSA/LSA transition in East Africa.

Lets look to West Africa, where new surveys and excavations are ongoing in the Senegal valley:  Recently, Scerri et al. reported  typical Middle Stone Age (MSA) technology at Ndiayène Pendao, Lower Senegal Valley , dated around the Pleistocene/Holocene transition, at ~11.6 ka. The ensemble consists of core axes, basally thinned flakes, Levallois points and denticulates mostly made from chert. Similar technological features characterize several, larger surface sites in the vicinity.

In Summary these data indicate, that cultural diversity in Africa was complex, that processes took place in a non-linear manner and that we should always look for the unforeseen-it makes the human story much more exciting…..

Fig. 1: Mousterian Point from Morocco, Fig. 2: Bladelets from the Protoaurignacian / Ahriman, Fig. 3&4&6 : Mousterian Points from Morocco,Fig.5: MSA-Sub-Saharan Points

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Bone Tools- The take-off of a new technology during the MSA and Middle Paleolithic

This are preforms of bone tools, made from Reindeer metacarpal compact bone, found at a famous Gravettian site in the Vézère Valley. The operational sequence begins with flaking technique, aimed to produce a straight or sightly curved fragment of compact bone, usually with two pointed edges. After this first step, different bone tools (awls, points….) were produced by knapping, scraping, polishing and grinding, maybe performed by a single “multi-purpose” stone tool.

Bone industry is a relatively less explored topic in comparison with ceramics, flint and ground stone. Therefore the number of open questions is greater. One of the important problems in analyzing bone industry is the reconstruction of the chaîne opératoire and other questions related to the organization of production, workshops and working areas, since manufacturing debris often remains unrecognized during excavations, i.e. it is either not collected, or it is stored among faunal remains, awaiting identification and a proper analysis. Furthermore, contextual data are often incomplete, especially when it comes to older excavations, when faunal remains were not recognized as important from the viewpoint of research questions and thus attracted limited attention.

The picture heading this post illustrates a short story of bone tools before the LSA / Upper Paleolithic. This story is even more complex than the story of stone tools. As with stone tools, we are dealing with inventions and reinvention made by different Hominines (H. erectus, H. Heidelbergensis, H. sapiens, Neanderthals), and with an enormous variability, both in the operational sequences and tools. In contrast to LSA/ Upper Paleolithic times with their overwhelming richness of bone , ivory and antler tools, during the MSA / Middle Paleolithic, we notice a discontinuous pattern with innovations at discrete sites without much diffusion into other regions. Anyhow, this pattern, which may be related to social, demographic, and climatic factors, is not well understood.

ESA in S-Africa: The Osteodontokeratic (“bone-tooth-horn”, Greek and Latin derivation) culture (ODK) is a hypothesis that was developed by Prof. Raymond Dart (who identified the Taung child fossil in 1924, and published the find in Nature Magazine in 1925), which detailed the predatory habits of Australopithecus species in South Africa involving the manufacture and use of osseous implements. His assumption were later rejected, especially by Bob Brain, who summarized the findings of his research spanning nearly 20 years in the authoritative volume entitled, Hunters or the Hunted?: An Introduction to African Cave Taphonomy (1981), which convincingly argued that early Australopiths were not, in fact, responsible for associated fossil accumulations found throughout southern Africa and that the ODK could be easily explained by Taphonomic factors.

It is not without irony, that later numerous bone artifacts dating to around 1.8 MYA have been found in association with P. robustus fossils in South African sites such as Swartkrans, Sterkfontein and Drimolen. Microscopic analysis of original and replica pieces have eliminated specimens created from weathering and faunal gnawing to show that real bone tools conform to certain characteristics: thick bone shaft fragments from medium to large mammals that have rounded tips and marked striations running parallel along the piece.] The striations of these artifacts were compared with those on bone tools used by local Bantu-speaking tribal groups and modern bone tools used in experimentation. Analysis by 2D and 3D computer software found that the artifacts were most likely used for foraging for termites. Although, digging for tubers and processing thick-skinned fruits were also possible uses.

The presence of an intentionally knapped bone handaxe and other knapped bone artifacts in a upper Bed II site at Olduvai  (c. 1.3-1.5 mys) suggests that Homo erectus could be the best candidate for their production. Acheulian Handaxes made from bone are especially well documented from the European continent. Acheulian-type bifaces, made by flaking elephant long bones, are known from three Middle Pleistocene sites in Italy: Castel di Guido, Fontana Ranuccio, and Malagrotta ( MIS11-9).

During the last 20 years an increasing number of bone tools are reported from African Middle Stone Age (MSA) sites and much progress has been made in the reconstruction of the operational sequences and the function of the tools by microtraceological and experimental techniques.

The earliest specimens come from Kabwe (Broken Hill) / Zambia, and are attributed to the early MSA (about 300 k.a. ),  interpreted as two gouges and a point. Anyhow, this interpretation is not shared by all researchers.  Other evidence for bone working in the MSA is provided by barbed and unbarbed bone points from the Katanda sites in the Semliki Valley, Democratic Republic of the Congo, dated 90–60 k.a. Because these sophisticated points were at their time (1995) an isolated finding, they were long suggested to be intrusive from the LSA. Later it became clear that bone tools during the MSA were no abnormality, but  more common, than once suggested.

A point tip, a mesial fragment, an almost complete spear point, a tanged bone point, and 26 awls are reported from M1 and M2 layers (the Stillbay strata) at Blombos Cave,  with ages  84–72 k.a. A single massive point, different from those found in the MSA and LSA layers at Blombos Cave, was recovered in the dune sand layer, with an age of  70 k.a. An awl and a possible flaked shaft fragment come from the Blombos M3 phase, with an age of ca 100 k.a. The morphological variability in the bone points from Blombos Cave, and the size and weight of the one complete specimen, suggests that they were probably used as spear points.

A bone point from Peers  Cave was retrieved from either the Howiesons Poort (HP) or Still Bay layers at the site. A single bone point was discovered at Klasies River in layer 19 of Shelter 1a at the base of the HP. A date of approximately  70 k.a., was suggested for the HP at Klasies River. The only other pointed bone implements known from the MSA come from Sibudu Cave. Sibudu is a site from KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa featuring a stratigraphic sequence with pre-Still Bay, Still Bay (SB), HP, post-HP, late and final MSA cultural horizons. Twenty-three pieces from the  pre-SB, HP, post-HP and final MSA were described in detail using use-wear analysis, experimental data and ethnographic analogies. The excavators found “a number of specialized bone tool types (wedges, pièces esquillées, pressure flakers, smoothers, sequentially notched pieces), previously known only from the Upper Palaeolithic and more recent periods, (that) were manufactured and used at least 30,000 years earlier at Sibudu Cave. These tools appear to be part of a local tradition because they are absent at contemporaneous or more recent southern African sites” (d’Errico et al. 2012). A symmetric small bone points from the the end of HP at Sibudu even may signify bow and arrow-technology, together with the classic HP-lunates, that were probably  inserts of arrows.

Middle Paleolithic in Europe: The Abri Peyrony (Dordogne) produced a rich Mousterian of Acheulian Tradition (MTA) industry (calibrated AMS dates: 47,7 to 41,1 k.a. Cal BP). Here, recently three special bone tools, Lissoirs, for leather processing, were excavated and called the oldest “formalized” bone tools made by Neanderthals anywhere in Europe.  Almost identical specimens have been found in the nearby , Pech-de-l’Azé I (Pech I) site.  Lissoirs  are a formal, standardized bone-tool type, made by grinding and polishing, interpreted as being used to prepare hides.

The Micoquian /KMG site of Salzgitter-Lebenstedt, dated around early MIS3, yielded several mammoth ribs modified by percussion and then shaped by grinding. Some modified bone tools had already been described in 1952 and in more detail in 1982 as a part of an excellent monograph by Alfred Tode. Today, the bone tool assemblage consists of 23 intentionally modified bones (pointed elephant ribs and fibulae), a modified antler and a triangular bone point. A reevaluation by modern analytical methods would help to accept these artifacts as genuine, because similar objects have been shown to be the result of natural processes.

Middle Paleolithic bone retouchers: The use of bone or antler bases to retouch stone artifacts is documented at many Mousterian sites from Europe including Combe Grenal, Artenac, and La Quina in France, Riparo di Fumane and Riparo Tagliente in Italy, and on the Crimean peninsula. Recently, a human skull fragment from the Mousterian site of La Quina has been shown to be the oldest evidence of a human bone used as a tool in the form of a retoucher.

Middle Paleolithic Points: In Europe, Bone and antler points are reported from at least 12 Middle Paleolithic sites. Some of the pieces were interpreted as points hafted on throwing or thrusting spears, while others were described as awls and borers. Some of them could be the result of natural processes.

Firm evidence of worked, and in some cases decorated, bone awls comes from the Ahmarian / Protoaurignacian around the Mediterranean and some Châtelperronian and Uluzzian sites in France and Italy – but here we enter into the Upper Paleolithic and therefore this short story now ends.

Suggested Readings:


Illustration about the  Osteodontokeratic bone culture- how a Hyena mandible was thought to have been used by the Australopithecus “Killer-Ape”:

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A Quina Scraper with thinned back from Soyons

This is a nice, 9 cm long Quina-scraper with thinned back from Soyons (Ardèche, France; exact find spot unknown). This artifact is characteristic for the Rhodanian / Quina oriental, dating to MIS4. This facies is found in the Rhone valley, Gard, Gardon and the Ardèche. Made on thick flakes, scrapers often show a retouche Quina or Demi-Quina. Bifacial, convergent and foliated  scrapers  are not rare and the technique of secondary thinning is common. Technologically we find a mélange of discoidal, Levallois and blade techniques. Anyhow some researchers question the Quina Rhodanian as a separate entity. They do not deny that original features are present, but argue that they are rare and variable. We wait for a detailled comparisions with classic Quina ensembles from the French S/W to answer the question of orginality for the Rhodanien: The last synthesis about this topic war writen by the great prehistorian J.-M. Le Tensorer in 1978.

During the last glacial, Southern Europe is considered as being continuously populated while northern territories were abandoned during colder periods (MIS4, LGM). Retreat of northern populations into Mediterranean region is sometimes suggested and the Rhône Valley might be a corridor for human movements. The Soyons region is embedded in a larger framwork of the Middle Rhone valley, where beginning with late MIS6 a continuous settlement of humans is well contested.

The village of Soyons is located in the middle Rhone Valley, on the right bank of the river, 6 km south-west of Valence. This town is backed by limestone massif (Massif de Guercy) overlooking the Rhone valley from  nearly 120 meters above the river.

This village has a remarkable natural and archaeological heritage. The different archaeological sites of Soyons cover about 30 hectares. The human occupation can be traced from Middle Paleolithic times (MIS 5-3) until the middle Ages. Although first diggings began as early as 1870, the archaeological potential of this area remains considerable since only surveys or non-exhaustive excavations have been carried out.

An exceptional set of cavities was discovered in the massif of Guercy, since 1870: la Grotte de Néron, la Grotte des enfants, la Grotte de la Madeleine, le Trou du Renard, le Trou du mouton, le trou Roland and  l’abri Moula. These caves were used as habitats / hunting halts by Neanderthals with a Mousterian industry.  The caves during these periods were occupied by humans alternating with large predators. To date two caves are important for the understanding Neanderthal societies in the French S/W: the Grotte Néron and the Moula-Guercy cave:

The Grotte Néron was discovered by the Vicomte Lepic and Mr. Jules de Lubac in 1870. In 1955, Jean Combier had defined Levallois points with inverse retouches, found in the Mousterian deposits at Néron, as “pointe de Soyons” (Fig. 2&3). Quina ensembles are stratigraphically situated below the “Neronien”, already described by Combier.

The Moula-Guercy cave, below the cave of Néron, contains an important stratigraphic sequence attributed to the Mousterian, of Middle and Upper Pleistocene age. It was discovered in 1972 by Michel Moula during a hunting party. This deposit, untouched by any previous excavations, was the object of planned excavations carried out since 1972 to 2002.

The more recent excavations yielded a total of 2595 lithic artefacts from 11 layers. The vast majority of the lithics, 92.3%, were found in four layers (IV [late MIS4/3 boundary], VIII [MIS4), XIV and XV). The lithics of layers IV and VIII are technologically and typologically distinct from those of XIV and XV [MIS5e].  The débitage belongs to the Levallois/discoidal technology. Over 30% of the lithic materials have been identified to comefrom ca 40 km south of the Rhône River between the municipalities of Meysse and Rochemaure, which contains high quality flint.

Layer XV, representing a temperate optimum (MIS 5e), yielded over a hundred Neanderthal remains with evidence of cannibalism on six specimens. According to  faunal analysis Layer XV appears to correspond to a summer or autumn hunting halt.

The Trou du Renard cave was discovered by Vicomté Lepic and Monsieur Jules de Lubac in 1870. They found Quina artifacts. The other caves in the Massif de Guercy are mainly known for their faunal material.

The late Middle Paleolithic of the Rhone valley between the 50th and 35th millennia BP shows specific traits, different from the “classic” succession in the Aquitaine.

It was Jean Combier (1967), who pointed to a Leptolithic industry, later called Neronien by Ludovic Slimak.  The reference site for this industry is the Grotte Mandrin, 100 km North-West from Soyons and left to the Rhone valley.

At Mandrin the Neronian is located at the base of the sequence underneath five Mousterian post-Neronian layers followed by a Protoaurignacian, the earliest Upper Paleolithic in this Region. The Neronian is not the latest Middle Palaeolithic in the Rhone region, the post-Neronian industry do not show any evolution into a Leptolithic industry. Therefore the first appearance of the Upper Palaeolithic in Southern France must be regarded as an implanted process maybe connected with the arrival of AMHs.

The Neronian is characterized by the production of fakes together with blades and bladelets. The blade component is inversely retouched into retouched blades, points and micro points. The flakes were transformed into scrapers with some “Rhodanian” characteristics.

At the Abri Maras, Combier found within a Middle Paleolithic sequence, a gradual increase in the number of Levallois points with a semi-abrupt inverse retouch in the upper layers. These “Soyons Points” (Fig. 2&3), are an exclusive “fossile directeur” of the Neronian, not found in any other Paleolithic entity in Europe. Similar findings are known from the Abri Moula , the Grotte de Néron and the Grotte du Figuier.

The Neronian level (ca 50 k.a.) of Grotte Mandrin is characterized by an enormous sample of almost microlithic Levallois points.  Fig. 4 shows similar microlithic levallois points from Israel. 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 Fig. 3).

In general the Neronian used high quality raw materials and exploited larger territories than the post-Neronian Middle Palaeolithic groups or the Protoaurignacian that followed. This indicates a different a social organization and different lifestyles of these entities. The lower stratum of the post-Neronian is characterized by the production of small flakes, produced by local raw materials and Kombewa technique. The following 4 strata represent the final Mousterian at the Middle Rhone. The operational sequences are orientated to the production of large flakes, massive implements, especially large scrapers- similar to the one shown in this post.

Suggested Readings: 

The Neronian in the Rhone Valley

Neanderthals in the Upper Loire River Valley

Quina scrapers from the Carrière Chaumette…devoile-ses-mysteres…p?RH=Societes_traces

Soyons and the Massif de Guercy (Postcard from the early 20th century)


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Quina Mousterian in Central France and the Collections of François Reignoux

This are four Quina scrapers (two transversal,one bifacial and one convergent) from the Grand Pressigny area found around 1900, very similar to the Quina- Mousterian found by François Reignoux during the late 19th century / early 20th century (Collection Reignoux ).

Since its discovery in 1953 by Fernand Berthouin and Gérard Cordier, L’Abri Reignoux has been a reference site for the Mousterian de la Touraine. However, its publication has always been preliminary and even today we have very little information on the rich lithic industry and the fauna found there. Especially because much of the series, is still kept in the home of one of the excavators, it is still unavailable for study. The 1953 drill holes, dug at the foot of the hill at the Champs Penais in the Brignon valley, aimed to find the shelter, where François Reignoux at the end of the 19th century had excavated several thousand Mousterian tools. It remains rather uncertain if the 1953 excavations really led to the rediscovery of Reignoux`s original site.  The character of  the L’Abri Reignoux differs from the collection of Reignoux (more simple scrapers, transversal scrapers are much rarer)

This local collector at the Grand Pressigny died in 1938 without ever revealing the exact provenance of his impressive findings. According to a  letter of May 12, 1896, addressed to Gabriel de Mortillet , the whole collection came from a single deposit, a cave collapsed near Grand Pressigny. Almost certainly the find spot was a collapsed limestone shelter of the right bank of the Brignon.

The collection of Reignoux, now housed at the Musée Préhistoire Grand-Pressigny  (Indre et Loire; Touraine) is certainly biased versus nice and large retouched pieces. 98% of his collection (n=1010) consists of scrapers, similar to the four implements, shown above. Beside transversal scrapers, up to 15 cm long dominating the series (n = 413), followed by simple (n = 165) and double (n = 77) sidescrapers, are present. Convergent and déjeté scrapers are relatively common (n = 87).  Bifacial scrapers (n = 5) and scraper with a cortical back (n = 17) are rare. Scalariform retouche is common, especially on the tranversal scrapers.

Upper Turonian flint is the most prevalent raw material in the collection. Hard hammer production is prevalent. Several items are made from “first generation” cortical flakes.  Others show smoth, roughly facetet  or cortical platforms . They are characterized by a certain morphological variability, essentially linked to their dimensions (from 50 to 150 mm length l) and the selection of supports.

While it seems that in the Touraine and adjacent areas the Acheulean occupation was confined almost exclusively to the floodplains, we observe a diversification of sites, which were localized not only at the river banks but also at slopes, plateaus and sometimes caves and rock-shelters, during the Middle Paleolithic. In these regions a Mousterian with bifacial artifacts (MTA) is known almost exclusively from open air sites, while a poor Mousterien with or without Levallois affinities,  mainly characterized by the occurrence of  large scrapers is exclusively found in caves and rock shelters along the valleys of the Brignon, Anglin, the Gartempe and the Vienne (e.g Abri des Roches d’Abilly). The most ineteresting site is La Roche-Cotard site (I-IV)  located on the right side of the Loire valley, about 20 km down-river from Tours, where symbolic character productions of Neanderthals were claimed to have been found (

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How to kill a beast?- The thinning of Stone tools

This is a convergent scraper or a long “Mousterian Point” (12 cm long), an old surface found  from central France*, made on now heavily patinated blue flint, by an operational sequence that was clearly not Levallois. It shows basal thinning, removing the thickness of the base from 1,3 cm  to 0,3 cm (Fig.1,2). But not only the base is thinned,  the tip of this convergent artifact is also , in this case by bifacial invasive flat retouch (Fig.1-4).

Basal thinning
is a technique, characterized by the intentional removal of thickness by small flakes from the ventral and / or dorsal base of a chipped stone tool, usually to facilitate hafting (See the retouches on the dorsal base in Fig. 2).  Basal thinning in Africa appears first at Gadometta, Site ETH728 B, dating to >279 k.a. Ago. The technique becomes more common during the late MSA (<60 k.a.; MIS3) , for example at Nasera Rockshelter, in Tanzania, or at Shambyu/Rundu, as shown in an earlier post of my blog. In S/E-Africa many triangular convergent artifacts are now seen as stone-tipped projectiles. This assumption is supported by data from velocity-dependent microfracture features, diagnostic damage patterns, and artifact shape.

Thinning is described as a concept of the Acheulo-Yabroudian (400-200 k.a.) The scraper assemblage from Zuttiyeh has been described and analyzed in some detail. Here an interesting phenomenon is removal of the bulb of percussion, either by a single blow or through thinning. Similar observations were made by Le Tensorer   at the Yabroudian layers in Hummal (Syria).

The Initial Upper Paleolithic (IUP) of the Levant is characterized by a parallel blend of old (MP) and new (UP) traits. Refitted cores from Boker Tachtit demonstrated that morphologically Middle Paleolithic artifacts (Emiran points,  Levallois points) were produced by Upper Paleolithic  blade technology; a change in the knappers’ concept of the nodule’s volume. Emireh points are the hallmark of the IUP in Israel and the Lebanon and have described as a triangular point, Levallois or not, struck from a bipolar core after which all of the striking-platform and most of the bulb of percussion were removed by lamellar bifacial retouch (i.e. carried out on both faces of the proximal end) forming a bevel, V-shaped in profile and straight or slightly wavy in cross-section.

Similar thinning concepts are known from the IUP at Umm el Tlel (Syria). Technologically the sequence at Umm el Tlel provides a long span, containing industries from the Lower to the Upper Palaeolithic. Three layers (III2b\ III2a’, JIbase’) are regarded as “intermediate”, sandwiched between Mousterian and fully Upper Paleolithic levels, and separated by sterile layers. A blade concept of Upper Palaeolithic type, which can be regarded as Ahmarian, is characteristic for layer III2b’, whereas several volumetric reduction concepts were used in III2a’ and Ilbase’. During the lower “intermediate” levels, most frequently a Levallois technique aimed at the production of elongated triangular blanks (Levallois points), often with thinning of the proximal end and by the removal of several small elongated flakes, was employed (Umm el-Tlel point type). The regulation of the proximal end produces the same result as the (basal/bulbar) thinning of Emireh points as at Boker Tachtit. It is unknown if Umm el-Tlel points or Emireh points were projectile points or  hafted for other reasons.

Although thinning of artifacts in Europe is usually assigned to the Mousterian of the last Glacial, especially to the variants of the Quina technique, and to the KMG-groups of central Europe, systematic thinning appears earlier. In S/W-France the site of Bouheben (layer 2; Late Acheulian) is dated by geostratigraphic arguments to MIS 6. The artifacts consist of Acheulian handaxes with a large set of very fine and elaborated “Mousterian” convergent scrapers and points. Convergent tools, which resemble the one, shown in this post, are abundant at Bouheben. Especially elongated forms usually show basal thinning. The tips are sometimes thinned, too. Morphometric and impact scar analysis suggest that at least some of the points at Bouheben were part of hunting devices.

This brings me back to our artifact. As noted earlier and shown from both sides in Fig. 3 and 4, the tip was retouched by bifacial invasive flat retouche, removing the thickness of the tip from 0,8 cm  to 0,2 cm. Such thinning on the base and the tip is highly suggestive of a large point hafted on a spear.

The Schöningen Spears, eight wooden throwing spears from the Lower Palaeolithic and an associated cache of approximately 16,000 animal bones, excavated under the management of Dr. Hartmut Thieme between 1994 and 1998 in the open-cast lignite mine, Schöningen, county Helmstedt district, Germany are ca 300 k.a. old, and represent the oldest completely preserved hunting weapons worldwide. Their discovery led to a change in paradigms, namely that Homo before Homo sapiens was a poorly equipped scavenger, the hunted, but not the hunter.

Since this paradigmatic change the search for Paleolithic stone projectile tips delivered with thrusting and throwing spears become again a focus of Middle Paleolithic and MSA research.Stone tipped Projectile weapons (i.e. those delivered from a distance) enhanced prehistoric hunting efficiency by enabling higher impact delivery and hunting of a broader range of animals while reducing confrontations with dangerous prey species.

In this sense our artifact could be an early document for this technique.

*The department Cher is part of the current administrative region of Centre-Val de Loire. It is surrounded by the departments of Indre, Loir-et-Cher, Loiret, Nièvre, Allier, and Creuse.

Suggested Readings:


MSA from Shambyu / Rundu

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The Bohunician and related Technocomplexes in Europe and Asia

This is a 9 cm long Levallois point from N-France displaying exactly the Bohunician-Type of this artifact. Certainly the traits of this artifact represents a convergence phenomena.

The term “Bohunician” is derived from the word Bohunice, the name of a suburb in the western part of the city of Brno (Moravia), where this specific lithic industry was first discovered and described by  Karel Valoch in 1976. The Bohunician occupation is concentrated in a 100 sq. km area within the Brno Basin, where two clusters of stratified sites (Bohunice and Stránská skála), several other stratified sites (Líšen, Podolí, Tvarožná) and a series of surface artifact clusters have been documented.

These clusters in Moravia, include the Bobrava area,  Prostějov area with the important Ondratice site and  the Mohelno area. Isolated sites with evolved Levallois industries have also been reported from adjoining regions including Hradsko in Bohemia, Nižný Hrabovec in Eastern Slovakia, and Dzierzyslaw I in Poland.

The Bohunician industry is technologically characterized by the utilization of a specific technology described as a fusion of the Levallois and Upper Paleolithic crested core techniques. The desired end product of the operational sequence was the creation of elongated Levallois points.

The Bohunician typological spectrum represents a mixture of Middle and Upper Paleolithic tools. Among the Middle Paleolithic tools, side scrapers of different forms are frequent followed by Mousterian points, Quinson-points and notched and denticulated artifacts. The Upper Paleolithic tool kit is represented mainly by end scrapers and rare burins. Blanks selected for the retouched tool production were both blades and flakes; however, the flake blanks prevail significantly, even in the case of characteristic Upper Paleolithic tool-types, e.g., end scrapers. Bifacially leaf-shaped points within stratified assemblages are selectively known from Bohunice and have been interpreted differently (Szeletian influence, palimpsest character of the findings including Bohunician and Szeletian tools?).

Elongated Levallois points were the desired end product of the Bohunician technology. The reduction strategy was reconstructed as follows:

  • the core was shaped as a typical upper Paleolithic prismatic core with a frontal crest
  • Two opposed platforms were created.
  • The striking platforms of these blades were faceted, allowing better control of the strike.
  • Consequently a series of blades was removed from both opposed platforms in order to form the frontal face of the core into a shape (triangular, elongated) which allows Levallois point production
  • Although the end product (elongated Levallois point) has affinities to the genuine Middle Paleolithic Levallois technologies, the volumetric concept is fully Upper Paleolithic.
  • The prevailing dorsal scar pattern of the Levallois points is bidirectional or opposed directional.
  • Concave faceted platforms of the Levallois points are an important hallmark of the Bohunician.

While the calibrated radiocarbon have a relatively broad range (between 48–40 k.a. BP), a TL weighted mean result of 11 artifacts from the Bohunice 2002 excavation
yielded a result of 48.2 ±1.9 k.a. BP, which corresponds to some the OSL dates (60–40 k.a BP). Generally, luminescence dates tend to be older than the radiocarbon

In Moravia, the Bohunician as well as the Szeletian suddenly seem to disappear around 40 k.a. BP. This moment corresponds with the Campanian Ignimbrite although Moravia was not immediately affected by volcanic ash.

A very similar technology has been found at isolated find spots over S/E-Europe and Asia. To name just a few:

Temnata Dupka Cave is located in a limestone cliff above the Iskar River, near Karlukovo village in northern Bulgaria. The assemblage with evolved Levallois technique has an age range of 50–45 ka. It was excavated from sector TD-II, Layer VI. Technologically, the cores show bidirectional reduction, some of them possessing a frontal crest. However, Levallois points and other blanks with facetted striking platforms are rare.

The site of Kulychivka in the Ukraine is located on a strategically elevated position (Kulychivka hill) above the Ikva River, on the outskirts of the town of Kremenets, Ternopol Province. The vicinity of the site is an important raw material outcrop. Nodules of a high quality Turronian fint were extracted from Cretaceous chalk deposits. Artifacts in layer 4 and overlying layer 3 show traces of evolved Levallois technique – concavely faceted striking platforms, elongated blanks (blades and points) with bidirectional dorsal scars, and related bidirectional cores. Crested blades indicate the preparation of a frontal crest. Layer 3 differs from underlying layer 4 by a lower number of Levallois points and a greater number of bladelets and endscrapers often made on long massive and steeply retouched blades. A single radiocarbon date of 31k.a. BP is younger than the generally accepted age for the Bohunician.

Kara-Bom in the Altai is a multilayered site in the Altai Mountains at an altitude of over 1000 m asl. The site is situated near an active spring at the foot of a black rock wall. The source of a high quality raw material, subvolcanic rock, is situated in nearby gravels. Layers 5 and 6 dated by radiocarbon to 50–37 k.a. BP produced an evolved Levallois industry attributed to the Middle to Upper Paleolithic transitional period. The assemblages from these layers are characterized by the production of elongated blanks with concavely facetted striking platforms of bipolar cores. In contrast to the western Eurasian sites, the Kara-Bom assemblage has a more distinct bladelet/ microbladelet component. A bladelet burin-core on a massive Levallois flake was also refitted.

The Shuidonggou site cluster in China (localities 1– 12) is situated on the bank of Border River (tributary of the Yellow River) in the transition zone between the Maowusu Desert and the Loess Plateau in Northern China. Several occupational horizons from Paleolithic to Neolithic periods were recorded. J. Svoboda noted the similarity of a portion of this industry with the Levallois-“leptolithic” technology. Artifacts from localities 1 and 9 show characteristic features of the Bohunician, including Levallois artifacts and bipolar cores. The onset of Levalloisian blade technology at Shuidonggou Locality 1 has recently be dated to ca. 43 k.a. by C-14 and OSL.

Suggested Reading, especially about the “Emirian” in the near East

The Story of Levallois Points

The Initial Upper Paleolithic of the Negev


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What do we know about the Acheulian in the Bourgogne?


These are two handaxes and a large Levallois flake from the Pays d’Othe. The Pays d’Othe area is bordered on the west by the Yonne valley, on the north by the Vanne valley, and east by the city of Troyes in Northern Bourgogne. The region was a “hunting ground” of collectors during the 19th century and the surface findings were sold for cheap money, mainly in Papeteries in Paris, either tied onto a board using wire, or glued on carton using strong glue. Fig. 2 shows such a trade good with Quina scrapres and Neolithic blades, mainly from the Grand Pressigny area.


What is known from the  RhôneSaône Corridor, during the Early Paleolithic? One of the oldest Paleolithic in the Bourgogne comes from the Azé Cave (Sâone-et-Loire, France), dated through faunal remains to 400-300 k.a. This industry is made up of local rocks, mostly poor quality flint, and also chert and crystalline rocks. The process of knapping is opportunistic and the cores, seldom exhausted, usually bear two opposite reduction faces. The flakes often reveal patches of residual cortex. They are moderately thick and the striking platform angle varies within a wide range of values. Some of them seem to be the result of a tearing-off motion. All the flint pieces have been heavily retouched; half of them have been simply utilized, others are proper tools, mostly scrapers, usually with steep retouch. A good number of more or less trimmed cobbles are also part of this collection. However, handaxes are completely missing.

Stratified sites with Handaxes are rare and only known from the North of the Bourgogne, but can be used as a proxy for our surface findings.
Since 1900, the archaeological survey of the Pleistocene alluvial deposits of the north of the Yonne valley (North Burgundy), in the southeast of the Paris Basin, has allowed the discovery of twelve Palaeolithic settlements (Lower, Middle and  Upper Palaeolithic [Magdalenian, Azilian-Federmessser]), the plotting of the evolution of the Yonne terrace system and the proposal of a chrono- stratigraphical hypothesis. The settlements were found in the six alluvial terraces (Soucy 1 to 6, Etigny Le Brassot PLM, Le Fond des Blanchards and Le Chemin de l’Évangile 3 at Gron, Le Brassot at Étigny). Fig. 3 shows a handaxe from the Yonne valley, similar to the excavated pieces at Soucy.

Since the quarry at Soucy (ca 300
km south/ west of the Pays d’Othe) was opened in 1990, nine archaeological horizons have been identified across 6 sites, four of which have been excavated (Soucy 1, 3, 5 and 6) and two of which have been preserved in situ for  excavation at a future date. Stratigraphic, biological and radiometric dating places these sites between c.345 and 365 k.a. (MIS10/9).  The Soucy localities tell a story of successive hominin occupations in a fluvial landscape. Many of the occupations show distinctive patterns of behavior by the presence or absence of typical Acheulian bifaces. The operational sequences for the production of flakes were either “Clacton” (sensu Boeda), diskoid, or oportunistic. No Levallois cores or products were observed. Formal tools were mainly scrapers and notches.

The timeframe of the Soucy occupations falls into the Holsteinian complex sensu lato, which has been correlated by different authors from MIS 11 to 9. Differentiating the two interglacials MIS 11 and 9 is not always possible, as they were short and sometimes shared common climatic and environmental features. MIS 10 is also considered to be short and is not always preserved in the sedimentological record. The Soucy Acheulian seems to be older than the Acheulian shown here, because the Levallois method is absent.

The Rhodanian corridor yielded little evidence of Acheulean open-air settlements while in the Centre of France, they are numerous. Moncel at al. published in 2011 data about the assemblages of five Final Acheulean open-air sites near Roanne, ca 300 km south from the Pays d’Othe (La Garde, La Ronzière, Féchet, Goutte Mordon et L’Hospice). The sites were probably multi-activity places including large tools and flakes, according to the strategies used by humans.

Three main categories of large bifacial tools mainly made of flint can be described, with a triangular or oval shape and with a transversal cutting edge (biface-hacherau). At La Garde and à La Ronzière, large scrapers and micro-chopping-tools were present. The Levallois flaking is always present and associated to various other types of methods. Therfore the sites can not be older than OIS9/8 (first appearance of the Levallois technique at Orgnac III in this part of Europe).  The sites, located on plateaus on the two banks of a small valley, suggest human circulating between the Saône-Rhône corridor and the interior basins of the Massif Central Mountains.

The Handaxes were made from large flakes and worked rather crude by hard hammer. In this respect, they resemble the handaxes shown in this post. We have to discuss a similar age for our small ensemble, because the Levallois technique is well attested.


Suggested Readings:

Marie-Hélène Moncel · Marta Arzarello · Angeliki Theodoropoulou · Yves Boulio : Variabilité de l’Acheuléen de plein air entre Rhône et Loire (France). Oct 2014 · L Anthropologie.

Vincent Lhomme · Nelly Connet · Christine Chaussé · […] · Pierre Voinchet : Les sites et les industries lithiques du Paléolithique inférieur, moyen et supérieur de la basse vallée de l’Yonne dans leurs contextes chronostratigraphiques. Bilan de dix ans d’activité archéologique pluridisciplinaire dans le sud-est du Bassin parisien. Jan 2004 · Bulletin de la Société préhistorique française.

Explore the Bourgogne!


Handaxe from Cosne-sur-Loire

Colméry(Nievre): Middle Paleolithic flat Handaxe (Faustkeilblatt)


Acheulean in Northern France: Handaxe from the Yonne Valley

The European World during MIS 11-9.


Mont-les-Etrelles: Surface Mousterian ensembles in the Upper Saone region


Handaxe from Oudry and the Rhône/Saône axis during the Paleolithic


A Leaf Point from Solutré

Solutré: Stratigraphy and Technocomplexes


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Handaxe from Oudry and the Rhône/Saône axis during the Paleolithic

The first picture shows a handaxe found at Oudry (Saône-et-Loire) during the 19th century ,most probably from the MTA.

People living in the 21th century have enormous difficulties to imagine river landscapes not modified by men. In general, glacial rivers were perhaps some of the most physically diverse ecosystems on earth and characterized by tremendous habitat complexity that shifted in space and time at a wide variety of scales (look at the last picture).

Glacial rivers typically adopt one or both of two general channel forms: braided or anastomosed, while meandering rivers seem to be connected with interstadial and interglacial conditions. Braided rivers are characterized by relatively high stream power, high rates of erosion, deposition, and channel change. Anastomosing rivers are show lower channel slope gradients, and perhaps higher rates of deposition. Meanders forms, when moving water in a stream erodes the outer banks and widens its valley, and the inner part of the river has less energy and deposits silt. Worldwide shifts from braided to meandering patterns near the end of the Late Pleistocene and marine Oxygen Isotope Stage 2 (MIS 2; 29–11 k.a. cal. BP) are well documented.

Rivers can play a role as mobility and communication vectors but also act as barriers and their role varies considerably over time. The Danube valley and the Rhine are well known examples for the impact that large-scale river systems had on the spatial organization of the Central European Magdalenian.

The RhôneSaône Corridor represents a major fluvial route in Europe. It is linked to the upper valley of the Loire in the West, and in the East to the Rhine via the Meuse. While, the Rhône/Saône axis was fast becoming the most important trade route in pre-industrial Europe and provided access to the center of Western Europe through the Mediterranean region, it was  was a barrier during the onset of the Last Glacial Maximum. This can be demonstrated by  the sharp separation of the Solutrean technocomplex from the Early Epigravettian further east. It seems that periglacial permafrost conditions in the Rhône Valley, with successive freezing and flooding events, hampered communication between human groups east and west of its banks.

Burgundy, located between northern and southern Europe and has always been a gateway between Western and Central /Northern Europe .Since the second half of the 19th century, Southern Burgundy  has constituted as an important region for Paleolithic research. It contains important remains from the Middle Paleolithic, the Châtelperronien, the Aurignacian and the Gravettian. While the Saône and Doubs constituted the eastern border of the Châtelperronian and Solutrean interaction sphere, there seem to be links between the Aurignacian and early Gravettian of Burgundy and S/W-Germany.

It seems that the Rhône/Saône axis was rather a gate to Middle Europe than a barrier during the long time span of the Middle Paleolithic (300-40 k.a.). KMG elements are found in the Northern Burgundy in the context of the OIS 5 (Champlost), while other sites with KMG- affinities could be from MIS3, like  several Middle Paleolithic sites in Dept. Saone-et-Loire that contain  classic Keilmesser (bifacially backed knifes with or without para-burin blows) like the Grotte de la Mere Grand  a Rully;  La Roche a Saint-Martin-sous-Montaigu; the Grotte de Teux Blancs  a Saint-Denis-de-Vaux; the Grottos de la Verpilliere I and II, the latter have been re-excavated during the last years.

On the other hand we find classic MTA-ensembles near Charolles. In the vicinity of Charolles, numerous surface stations were discovered, most of them situated on hill ridges; among the surface material, the Paleolithic dominates largely. In the Charolles area there are several Middle Paleolithic scatters:  “Les Tyrs” and “Brèche”, Champlecy (“la Grelesse”) and  Oudry.

Oudry, a site already known since the 19th century in contrast, shows the characteristic lithic elements of the MTA: Cordiform bifaces and backed knifes (but mixed with some Quina scrapers).

For your imagination: The last picture shows a braided drainage pattern near the junction of the Yukon River and Koyukuk River under glacial conditions (Wikipedia Commons):

Suggested Reading: The paper of the year!- a nice synthesis of theory and big data

Shumon T Hussain, & Harald Floss: Streams as Entanglement of Nature and Culture: European Upper Paleolithic River Systems and Their Role as Features of Spatial Organization (via researchgate)

Mont-les-Etrelles: Surface Mousterian ensembles in the Upper Saone region

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Things you saw when crossing Doggerland: Boute Coupe handaxes


This is a fine bout coupé handaxe, not from Britain, but from the Low Terasse of the Somme near Amiens.

Together with another bout coupé handaxe from N-France, shown in my Blog, it indicates specific contacts between the Neanderthals in Britain and France during MIS3.

Sites with MTA are concentrated in the South and East of England, and around water sources, with isolated finds occurring elsewhere representative of hominin hunting ranges. MTA sites in Britain are found both in the open and in caves. Those that can be conclusively dated are all of Middle Devensian date (60-40,000 BP; MIS4/3).

Assemblages in Britain are characterized by non-laminar debitage, a lack of cores and a limited Levallois component. The lack of Levallois was suggested to be due to a lack of flint, but this has to be discounted as many of the sites where MTA is found have abundant raw materials. It has been noted, that there are many similarities between British and N/W-French MTA sites (Late MIS5; MIS3), although the latter have a larger Levallois component.

While cordiform handaxes are common both in Britain and N/W-France, and per-se seem indicate contacts between Neanderthal Groups of both areas, bout coupé handaxes were suggested specific for the British Archaeological record.  Tyldesley (1987) described a bout coupé handaxe as: “A refined and fully bifacial medium-sized cordiform or rectangular handaxe with a symmetrical planform, having a straight or slightly convex butt edge, slightly convex sides and a rounded tip, and showing a marked discontinuity of curvature at the intersection of the sides and the base. Both the butt and the tip are well worked, frequently with delicate soft-hammer removals, and there are no large unworked areas or cortex patches. The cutting edge runs right round the circumference of the piece and is straight or only slightly twisted; tranchet scars may or may not be present at the tip” (Tyldesley, 1987, 155).

This definition, whilst substantially more specific than previous definitions is still one that is open to criticism (Coulson, 1990). In fact we know variants of this type, for example with thick buts and cortex remnants.  Another observation that has been made of bout coupé handaxes is that the classic shape may be as a result of intensive resharpening and there is new data which suggests a continuum of handaxe to scraper morphology which may indicate a high level of resharpening in line with the notion of a flexible design.

For major parts of the Palaeolithic, substantial areas of the current southern North Sea and what later became the English Channel were dry land. Those areas, now covered by tens of meters of sea, were occasionally core areas for large herds of herbivores and the animals that preyed upon them, including Palaeolithic hunter-gatherers.  This is demonstrated by the large amounts of Pleistocene mammal fossils, artefacts and a Neanderthal fossil, submerged in the Northern Sea, recovered during the last one and a half centuries. Any consideration of the Pleistocene occupation history of northwest Europe needs to deal with the fact that a major part of the landscape available to Pleistocene hunter-gatherers is currently submerged under the waters of the North Sea, one of the most prolific Pleistocene fossil-bearing localities world-wide.

Archaeologists tend to refer to the land that once existed between Britain and the continent as a land bridge. It was, however, a landscape as habitable as neighboring regions, and here called Doggerland to emphasize its availability for settlement by prehistoric peoples.

Well-stocked but treeless grassland, with short, cool summers and long, cold winters marked by blasting winds, frozen ground and persistent snow. This is what Neanderthals apparently faced as they headed northwest from their more southerly glacial refugia during OIS4/3. This time-Interval, often referred to as a failed interglacial, the isotopic record shows that OIS3 was actually a period of extreme climatic instability, with dramatic alternations between milder and colder conditions at millennial or sub-millennial timescales.

Beyond cordiform handaxes, in Britain the bout coupé handaxe has been singled out as an almost unique regional variant. Conversely, other types – the exaggerated triangular form of NW France and the KMG-influences – are largely absent from Britain. Chronology may explain the typological absences from Britain, certain forms being used in Europe during periods when Britain was not visited, but this cannot account for the quasi absence of bout coupés in continental Europe, leaving the typological data apparently contradicting the notion of a contiguous seasonal home-range.

It is of course possible that the uniqueness of the bout coupé handaxe is a fallacy, a mere artefact of classification, and, regarding that I hold 2 examples in my modest collection may indicate  that many examples remained unrecognized in the huge French museum collections. In contrast, recent surveys suggest that this is not the case; there are a few possible examples in the Paris Basin but their overall occurrence and frequency seems to be lower compared to the British situation.

It is also possible that the bout coupé was used exclusively in summer by peripheral task-groups – as Hopkinson (2004) has argued for the Althmühlian leaf-point – although it is hard to imagine why this would be the case for such a multi-purpose versatile object whose edges supported a number of different functions . Another possibility is that the territory of the Neanderthals for whom Britain formed a summer hunting ground did not extend onto the southern and eastern „uplands‟ of continental Europe, but remained fixed in the now submerged Channel and North Sea Basins, bounded by the major rivers that once flowed west and north.

Anyhow, the fact, that bout coupés existed in N/W-France points to  interaction not only between Neanderthals of the same local group but clearly to more intensive interaction with socially distant individuals over Doggerland.

MTA-Biface from La Chapelle Aubareil

Bout-coupé Handaxes and Neanderthals in N/W-France and Britain

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The earliest Upper Paleolithic in the Nil Valley


Last year Douka et al. published that McBurney’s Layer XXV Haua Fteah cave (Cyrenaica, northeast Libya), associated with Upper Palaeolithic Dabban blade industries, has a clear stratigraphic relationship with the (CI) Y-5 tephra. Regarding this more complete “long stratigraphy” for the EUP on both sides of the Mediterranean, it remains unclear where the EUP really started. Maybe not in the Levant, as it has been suggested since Garrod’s time. However the redating of key-sites like Boker Tachtit  remains an important cross check for the new model and is urgently awaited…

The Upper Paleolithic blades, shown here, come from the Nil Valley near Thebes. It is exactly the Middle and Upper Nil where the first Upper Paleolithic industries of Egypt appeared.

Taramsa Hill, near Qena in Upper Egypt, is an isolated landform, situated some 2.5 km southeast of the Dandara temple. Excavations have been carried out at several sites; among them the important site Taramsa 1, since 1989 by the team of the University of Leuven. During the Paleolithic, Taramsa 1 was used for systematic quarrying of chert cobbles, as demonstrated by numerous pits and trenches. On the basis of both typology and stratigraphy, multiple quarrying phases fall into three main extraction periods, of early, mid and late Middle Palaeolithic respectively. The early Middle Palaeolithic is characterized by the presence of handaxes, foliates recalling Lupemban features and dated to OIS6. Nubian point and Levallois methods were rather scare. In stratigraphically superimposed assemblages, assigned to the mid Middle Palaeolithic, foliates and handaxes are lacking but the Nubian point and flake Levallois methods was strongly represented (OIS5).

The latest assemblages (IV, V, VI; about 60 k.a. BP), established through stratigraphically observations, do not contain were characterized by different volumetric Levallois reduction systems transitional to the systematic production of blades. In these late Middle Palaeolithic assemblages (“Taramsan”) there is a changing from planimetic to volumetric Levallois production, not unlike the “transitional” assemblages known in the Negev (Boker Tachtit), but maybe about 10 k.a. earlier. During the Taramsan “there was a clear tendency towards blade production from large cores, where, instead of obtaining a few Levallois flakes from each individual core, a virtually continuous process of blade production made it possible to create a large number of blades from each core”  (Vermeersch and Hendrickx 2000).

A child burial was found at Taramsa-1 dating to this time (c.55 k.a BP): The poorly preserved bones were those of a subadult AMH. The position of the body, as well as the depth of the pit in which it was found, suggest that the child had been deliberately brought here to be buried.

The Upper Paleolithic occupation of the Nile valley seems to have been very restricted. The assemblage from the nearby Al Tiwayrat is undated and might represent an early blade technology similar to the Taramsan but dated to OIS5. Other assemblages from the Upper Palaeolithic were described as Khaterian (42-30 k.a. BP; from Nazlet Khater 4 an extraction/mining site with a AMH burial sites at NK 4 and NK2) and the Shuwikhatian (about 25 k.a. BP; a blade industry with characteristic finely denticulated blades known from several small campsites).

Until now we do not know how the Taramsan relates to other IUP phenomena on the Sinai and the Levant between 50 and 40k.a. BP like the “Emirian” at Boker Tachtit, the Ahmarian at Boker, Ksar ‘Akil Rockshelter, Üçağızlı Cave and Kebara Cave.

Emireh points and the Levantine Initial Upper Paleolithic

The Initial Upper Paleolithic of the Negev

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