Mousterian scraper from Saint-Germain-et-Mons


bergeracois2This is an enormeous large (15 cm long) scraper on a thick Levallois flake from the SaintGermainetMons, a commune in the Dordogne department in Aquitaine in southwestern France near Bergerac. The scraper is made from the typical local flint (Bergeracois chert). Such findings are an invitation for discussing the end of the Middle Paleolithic Neanderthal culture in S/W-France.

A “Levallois Mousterian with large scrapers” and a “Discoidal-Denticulate Mousterian”, have been proposed as a possible ending phase for the Late Middle Paleolithic in South-western France. These entities are dated firmly before the Heinrich Event 4, but if the Levallois Mousterian is systematically younger than the Discoidal-Denticulate Mousterian and if both entities are systematically younger than the MTA-B remains unclear.

Stratigraphically, both complexes are all more recent than the MTA, as it is generally regionally defined, when it is present in the same sequences (for example the Discoidal-Denticulate Mousterian at Le Moustier and La Quina). The Levallois Mousterian with large scrapers could be typologically confused with “Ferrassie Mousterian” assemblages due to the presence of recurrent centripetal Levallois debitage  and a tool component dominated by scrapers, particularly, large double and convergent scrapers. This entity is known from the sequence of Rochers de Villeneuve in the Vienne where it overlies a Discoid-Denticulate Mousterian and is dated to ca 41-45 k.a. BP. MtDNA analysis of a human femur fragment recovered from this level has confirmed its attribution as being Neanderthal.   Levels E, F1, and F2 from the Grotte du Bison and the late Mousterian at Galerie Schoepflin at Arcy (Yonne) present a comparable succession whereby a Levallois Mousterian overlies a Discoid-Denticulate Mousterian.

It remains unclear if these late Middle Paleolithic complexes fill the temporal gap between the latest Middle and earliest Upper Paleolithic in S/W-France or coexisted with a late MTA. Anyhow there is no MTA stratigraphically above the Levallois Mousterian with large scrapers and / or a Discoidal-Denticulate Mousterian.  On the other hand the MTA is the last Middle Paleolithic before the earliest Upper Paleolithic on numerous sites in the area.

Recent research therefore suggests a clear rupture with no transitional stage between the Late Middle Palaeolithic (MTA-A/B followed by  a Discoid-denticulate Mousterian, which is occasionally followed by a Levallois Mousterian with large side scrapers) and the beginning of the Upper Palaeolithic. The MTA-A/B-Chatelperronian succession may be a construct of excavation bias and a priori assumptions from the early 20th century.

Down with the “MP-UP Transitional Industries” of Europe !

The Châtelperronian: a fully developed Leptholithic Industry

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

The Neronian in the Rhone Valley

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Warren Hill, Acheulian near Mildenhall, Suffolk

warren hill1This is a sightly rolled finely made handaxe from Warren Hill , Mildenhall, Suffolk. This example displays the classic ‘toad-belly’, patination, a very distinctive characteristic of axes found in this location .

The Handaxe is perhaps one of the most distinctive symbols of the early Paleolithic. From their first appearance, handaxes have been created, used and discarded by hominins for nearly 1.7 million years. In N/W-Europe, Handaxes were first discarded in substantial numbers by Homo heidelbergensis at sites such as Boxgrove and Warren Hill dated to 500,000 BP (MIS 13). Assemblages in the Lower Paleolithic that contain handaxes are dominated by them as the major tool type and prepared core technology is rare or absent. Handaxes remain the dominant element of assemblages throughout the British Lower Paleolithic (500– 300 k.a. BP). The richest Acheulian findings are dated after the Anglian glaciation around 400 k.a during the Hoxnian Interglacial (MIS11;

Britain during the early and the early middle Pleistocene was a peninsula of continental Europe, connected by the Weald–Artois land bridge or link between the Boulonnais  and Sussex, Kent and southeast England. It is a predominantly chalk ridge carrying its own streams. In the Chalk, bands of flint occur and where these eroded (cliffs, gravel beaches, river valleys) they provided a rich lithic resource for tool-making hominins.

The large number of finds of stone tools from East Anglia Anglia that relate to the gravels of the  Bytham River (a hypothetical Pleistocene river that has been suggested to have run through the English Midlands until around 450 k.a. BP), suggest that it was one of perhaps only two major entry points into the British area for our human ancestors prior to the Anglian.  Evidence from High Lodge  and Warren Hill provides clues to an entry route, via the river systems inland with constant access to water and food.  The only other possible entry route, the south coast, has produced the globally unique site of Boxgrove  as well as the cave sites of Kent’s Cavern and, slightly further north, Westbury-sub-Mendip, known for its early flake industry at ca 700 k.a. BP.

Warren Hill is notable for being a prolific Handaxe site, with an estimated 2000 handaxes recorded during gravel extraction. It is situated in the Three Hills area of Mildenhall Forest, Suffolk, less than 1 km south of another well-known early Paleolithic site, High Lodge (MIS13; Acheulian). The handaxes were mostly collected between the end of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Recent work  has confirmed the pre-Anglian date of the deposits, placing Boxgrove and Warren Hill in the same chronological period thereby validating the visual similarity of the handaxe assemblage from the two sites. However, in contrast to Boxgrove, all of the material from Warren hill is derived and none of it reflects occupation directly.

Warren Hill and Boxgrove represent the earliest Acheulian in Britain, which occurred in association with one of the most extreme interglacial to glacial transitions of the past 500 k.a., with MIS 13–12 in Britain being characterized by a shift from climates that were as warm as those of MIS 5e through to a glacial stage that was characterized by widespread periglaciation and lowland glaciation. Although there is good evidence to support the presence of Acheulean industries in Britain during temperate climate conditions in MIS 13, most of Acheulian archaeological sites, when found in association with robust multiproxy palaeoenvironmental data, suggest that early humans were existing largely under cool to post-temperate climates, boreal landscapes and/or under climatic regimes that are cooler than the present, notably with winter temperatures at or below freezing.

The temperature reconstructions from the “cool temperate” Acheulean sites suggest that the climate and environments of these early colonists have no analogue in modern-day Britain, primarily because of the extreme winter cold envisaged. This implies that human occupation occurred during episodes of enhanced continentality, most probably in association with the falling sea levels that occurred after the main interglacial peak. The ability of early human populations to adapt to these harsh winter conditions would appear to be the key factor when considering the nature of the earliest Acheulean occupation of Britain.

Swanscombe during the Hoxnian

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Early Paleolithic in the Center of France

handaxe touraine

Fig. 1 shows a Handaxe from the center of France are often made from large flint slabs from the Upper Turonian  as is the case throughout the Seuil, Poitou and south Touraine region.

Anyhow, there are exceptions: in the Loire valley around Orleans a grey whitish flint is prevalent. Some isolated findings (Gig 2:  Handaxe from L’Île-Bouchard, made of tabular quartzite) are made from other materials.

The human settlement of Europe during Pleistocene times was sporadic and several stages have been recognized, both from paleoanthropological and archaeological records. If the first phase of hominin occupation (as early as 1.4 Ma) seems mainly restricted to the southern part of the continent, the second phase, characterized by specific lithic tools (handaxes), is linked to Acheulean settlements and to the emergence of Homo Heidelbergensis, the ancestor of Neanderthals. This phase reached northwestern Europe and is documented in sites in Germany, Great Britain and northern France, generally after 600 ka.


In Charentes, well-known sand quarries in the Saint-Amand-de-Graves region yielded early lithic industries, from Saint-Même-les-Carrières to Jarnac. The Charente alluviums in Charente-Maritime also contain abundant Acheulean remains. Unfortunately, the interlocking terrace system is not well differentiated and often borders on the water table, making fieldwork difficult. In the north of the Deux-Sèvres, at the edge of the Massif Amorican, the Dive and Thouet alluviums contain Acheulean industries.


In Vienne, north of Châtellerault, several Acheulean sites were discovered in the 19th century. At La Roche-Posay, in the northeast of Vienne, the Creuse alluvions extend between the Vienne department on the left bank and the Indre-et-Loire on the right bank. At La Revaudière, on the commune of Yzeures-sur-Creuse, the 15-22 m terrace yielded an exceptional Acheulean industry. Regarding the absence of stratified sites, the site of La Grande Vallée, in Colombiers near Châtellerault, is a fundamental addition to old undated discoveries.  The open-air site of La Grande Vallée is in a very singular location and geological context. Unit 5 on the structural flat contains preserved archaeological levels due to the presence of significant slope deposits which sealed the complex. After Acheulean occupations, the archaeological levels were mobilized by solifluction. This phenomenon modified the spatial distribution of the remains abandoned by Hominids without any stratigraphic interference. Geological observations point towards an age of 350-600 ka for the archaeological levels, which corresponds to the second third of the Middle Pleistocene. This estimation is confirmed by preliminary thermoluminescence dates which tend to situate levels 5a and 5c in a 400-500 k.a. time bracket.


centre france indre loire

At la Noira (Brinay,eastern Central France), the Middle Pleistocene alluvial formation of the Cher River covers an archaeological level associated with a slope deposit (diamicton). The lithic assemblage from this level includes Large Cutting Tools (LCTs), flakes and cores, associated with numerous millstone slabs. The lithic series is classified as Acheulean on the basis of both technological and typological analyses. Cryoturbation features indicate that the slope deposits and associated archaeological level were strongly frozen and disturbed after hominin occupation and before fluvial deposition. Eight sediment samples were dated by the electron spin resonance (ESR) method and the weighted average age obtained for the fluvial sands overlying the slope deposits is 665±55 k.a. This age is older than previous chronological data placing the first European Acheulean assemblages north of 45th parallel north at around 500 ka and modifies our current vision of the initial peopling of northern Europe. Acheulean settlements are older than previously assumed and the oldest evidences are not only located in southern Europe.




The Neolithic production at the Grand-Pressigny area was always in the in the focus of public interest, but Lower and Middle Paleolithic artifacts have also been reported since the 19th century. Much material was discovered from La Sablière du Vivier, on the left bank of the Claise to Abilly and some exceptional pieces were published by de Mortillet as early as 1864. The excavations were extended by Paul Fitte, during the 1950ies and recently a detailed study about this material was conducted by Aurelian Bruchet (Bruchet, 1999).

Among numerous old quarry findings, another interesting site was detected at the Carrière de Ribault on the right bank of Creuse, just south of Descartes (Indre-et-Loire) also partially excavated by Paul Fitte in the 1950ies.

Unfortunately most of the Lower Paleolithic material near Grand Pressigny comes from a secondary context and cannot be securely dated. The debitage at these sites is usually non-Levallois and the handaxes are often thick without much sophistication.

The last Figure shows a subtriangular Handaxe found in the 1940ies near Abbily by a local teacher, allreadybelonging toa later period- the MTA.

central indre mta

Suggested Reading:

Grand Pressigny Flint


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Hand-held or Hafted?


nubian scraper msa 2 nubian scraper

This is a bifacial cortical „scraper” from the MSA of Upper Egypt, made from a flat chert pebble most probably made for a hand-held use.

Bifacial Tools act as blanks for different kinds of working. The tool thus acts as a “matrix”, which requires functional technical traits for its transformative (prepared area) and prehensile parts. The active edges are arranged on this matrix according to the intended function. We know variable prehensile modes like the hand-held mode, hand-held with a wrapping, or various hafting arrangements.

For long time it was suggested that it would it impossible to detect repetitive micro traces of a hand-held use and in many studies the identifications of hand-held use were based solely on the absence of convincing evidence for hafting. Anyhow prehension wear creates an extremely recurrent pattern, as  demonstrated by Rots during the last years. Compared to hafting, prehension scarring is more limited and scars are smaller and more evenly sized. (  ).

It is important to know, that cortical regions on a tool are areas, where no potential wear can form. Cortical regions are usually impossible to analyse by a microtraceological approach, although their prehensile qualities may be obvious, as shown by the artifact in this post or cortical scrapers from a Quina or Yabrudian context. Some researchers even see the boundary between the Acheulo-Yabrudian and the Levallois-Mousterian in the Levant as a shift from hand-held to hafted tools.

On the other hand  an “intuitive” approach without microtraceology can be misleading. Keilmesser, which in our imagination would be optimal for a  hand-held use were often hafted as shown from the Micoquian ( KMG) strata of the  Sesselfelsgrotte (Bavaria/Germany).

Now let’s take a further step: Is there any certainty that the scraper of this post is a scraper?

Adhesives for composite Tools during the Acheulian?

The invention of Hafting and Backing


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Trachy-Andesiteis at Melka Kunture (Garba III)


melka kuture katzman aggsbach

This is a 10 cmlong unifacial convergent scraper from Gombore II made from Trachy-andesite, a volcanic rock, that was used in smaller quantities at different sites and chronological stages at Melka Kunture (for example at Gombore I, Garba, Melka-Garba).

Andesite is an extrusive igneous, volcanic rock, of intermediate composition, with aphanitic to porphyritic texture. In a general sense, it is the intermediate type between basalt and dacite, and ranges from 57 to 63% silicon dioxide (SiO2) .

Classification of andesite may be refined according to the most abundant phenocryst. For Example: hornblende-phyric andesite, if hornblende is the principal accessory mineral. At Melka Konture Trachy-andesite was used during the Acheulian and MSA. Trachy-andesiteis a  mesocratic lava, lighter than the basalts, with generally numerous large phenocrystals of alkaline feldspaths.

The knowledge  of the different volcanic episodes which occurred over the last several million years in the environment of the Melka Kunture prehistoric sites allows a new appraisal of the nature and abundance of emitted lavas that are represented in the alluviums of the Awash River and its tributaries. Moreover, the most compact facies can also be seen in the different archaeological sites. Several alluvial units and some archaeological layers have been sampled  and petrographic counts performed on the basis of mainly macroscopic and some microscopic determinations of the lavas by recent research. They allow comparisons between samples and offer a better understanding of local available raw materials for use by hominins.

Melka Kunture lies in the upper Awash valley, 50 km south of Addis Ababa, at 2000m asl.  The Awash basin extends for about 3000 km² at a height between 2500 and 2000 m a.s.l. It is delimited by several Pliocene volcanoes, the largest being the Wachacha and the Furi to the north, and the Boti and Agoïabi to the south. It is bordered to the east by the Ethiopian rift, part of the great rift system of eastern Africa. Fluvial sedimentation (pebbles, gravel, sand, and clay) was frequently interrupted by volcanic activity, whose products are important markers for stratigraphic correlations between the different archaeological sequences identified so far. Over 70 archaeological levels have been discovered so far, and more or less wide extensions of about 30 of them have been excavated.

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.

A later phase of the African Acheulean is well represented by several sites in the area of Gombore II (dated to about 0.8 Myr). The latest Acheulean site is Garba I, dated to ca. 0.5 Myr, while the end of this long sequence is represented, at Melka Kunture, by the site of Garba III, where there are also Middle Stone Age layers.

The East African Late Stone Age is poorly documented at Melka Kunture, being found so far at Wofi and Kella. A little less than 7 km from Melka Kunture, at Balchit, obsidian outcrops. As evidenced by the analyses of samples from several sites, this volcanic glass was an important raw material, frequently used ever since the Oldowan. The exploitation of obsidian in the Melka region went on until historical times, leaving in the area of Balchit extensive accumulations of tens of thousands of blades, cores, and residues.

 Suggested Reading:

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

Don’t follow leaders. Watch the parkin’ meters: Levallois technique at Melka Kunture and Africa

Twisted Obsidian Handaxe from Melka Kunture (Gombore II)

Let Us Now Praise Unknown Men and Women…….

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Adhesives for composite Tools during the Acheulian?


Two late Acheulian Handaxes (ca 7 cm long) made from Quartzite from the  Tassili n’Ajjer (Arabic: طاسيلي ناجر‎) is a mountain range in the Algerian section of the Sahara Desert. It is a vast plateau in south-east Algeria at the borders of Libya and Niger, covering an area of 72,000 km2. The range is composed largely of sandstone. Erosion in the area has resulted in nearly 300 natural rock arches being formed, along with many other spectacular landforms. Intensive research was conducted in the area during the 1950ies by several French “equipes”, who assembled huge material from the Early Paleolithic, the local MSA and the Holocene lithic industries.

Around  1960 a multidisciplinary French team, among them Archeologists and Geologists, screened the Algerian Sahara for prehistoric artifacts by Trucks and Helicopters and brought more than 2000 kg of artifacts back to Algiers four weeks later (“recherché pure”). This enormous collections were never published and may are stored in Algiers and Paris. Most of these ensemblenow are stored untuched for more than 60 years

What is of interest are is a black substance occurring on  surface of one of these handaxes, The shape of this black substance suggests that the organic traces are remnants of a hafting material used by early Homo sp. during the late ESA. In a sample of ca 400 Handaxes and Cleavers from the same region, I found a second artifact (a large Cleaver) with similar traits.

In Africa and the Near East there are several examples of hafting materials found on MSA artifacts. A scraper and a Levallois flake, were discovered in the Mousterian levels (dated around 40k.a. BP) of the Umm el Tlel site in Syria in 1992. Gas chromatography–mass spectrometry (GC–MS) analyses of both C15+ alkanes and C15+ aromatics confirmed that the black substance is highly weathered bitumen, the source of which remains unknown. The scraper and the Levallois flake  were the first reported examples of Middle Palaeolithic artefacts hutted with bitumen to handles.

traces1In 1992 Boëda et al. published new findings from the same site, from the Mousterian complex VI 3, dated to 71-72k.a. BP, which has yielded fragments of black cobbles and eleven Levallois artefacts with traces of black material demonstrated to be bituminous. Thus, rather than being a material used occasionally, bitumen is shown to be of key importance in the technological system of these populations, hypothesized to have been used as an adhesive to attach hafts made of organic matter to tools.

To date it is suggested that Hafting during the early Paleolithic, a technology that dates back at least 300,000 years in Africa and Europe  was not made by the use of adhesives. Examples include the probable wooden clamp shafts from Schöningen, Germany and the hafting of Sangoan core axes from Saï Island, Sudan.

In this evolutionary model, Adhesives should  represent a later phase of innovation. Starting in the Middle Paleolithic and Middle Stone Age, three geographic areas of adhesive use can be identified: 1) in Europe the earliest evidence for use of birch pitch comes from Campobello, Italy (ca. 200 k.a.), Inden-Altdorf, Germany (ca. 120 k.a.), Königsaue, Germany (ca. 40-80 k.a.) and Les Vachons, France (ca. 30 k.a.); 2) in the Levant the use of bitumen is reported at Umm el Tlel and Hummal in Syria (ca. 40-80 k.a.), and 3) in Africa the use of multicomponent glue made of gum, ochre and fat is documented from Sibudu, South Africa (ca. 70 k.a). While bitumen can be found naturally, birch pitch and gum ochre glue has to be produced in multistage processes that require complex knowledge, experience and control of several factors.

It would be worthwile to screen for possible Adhesives on the surface of Early and Middle stone tools in the large “forgotten” collections stored in  Museum magazines in France and the Maghreb. For me it would be no surprise, that hafting with the help of adhesives was rather common at such an early time point.

Usually we imagine that handaxes were used as hand hold devices. But this remains to be proven . Rots in her seminal work showed, that for example Keilmesser, which are usually suggested to be used non-hafted show subtle microwear traces of hafting under the microscope (

The last picture shows a 25 cm Handaxe from the Western Sahara with an abrupt oblique change in the patination on one side, maybe indicative for an hafting device, that did not survive the last 300000 yrs on the base of the artifact


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The Ahmarian and Protoaurignacian along the Mediterranian





On the left: A bladelet from the Protoaurignacian of S-Europe; on the right: A bladelet from the Ahmarian of Kebara cave in Israel. Both technocomplexes, which show much similarities but also regional and diachronic variability are ascribed to Homo sapiens who entered Europe before the H4 Event at 41 k.a. Cal BP.

But were the toolkit of AMH on their way to Europe really characterized by the Ahmarian / Protoaurignacian technology, initially invented in the Middle East? Seeking origins is looking for the beginnings of something, finding out why and when something that did not exist before did so afterwards. Rather than looking for the origins of new technologies, we should focus on transitions using a evolutionary gradualism and keep in mind the low temporal resolution of current dating techniques.

15345051-3b5c-4d6b-a490-4a5a4f5d5816 (1)The new chronometric results and Bayesian model from the reference Palaeolithic site of Ksar Akil suggest that both the EUP (Ahmarian) of the northern Levant is roughly contemporaneous with, and not older than, their corresponding (Proto- or Early Aurignacian) technocomplexes in Europe. At the moment we do not know where (Proto)-Aurignacian innovations were first developed and adopted. We just know they were widespread, beginning roughly around the same time around the Mediterranean. It could be possible that the knowledge of Aurignacian and Ahmarian techniques circulated in European hunter-gatherer networks first- and not in the Middle East. Insofar these technologies cannot seen as the signatures of an “out of Africa” event by AHM via the Levantine corridor.

0baadd40-6c9c-475d-b608-564d6779ee60 (1)Based on the currently published dates and Bayesian modelling, the Emiran (layers I–F) in Üçağızlı starts between 44.3–43.5 k.a. Cal BP and the Early Ahmarian (layers E –B) starts around 41.6–40.3 k.a. Cal BP (68.2%).  The Early Ahmarian is roughly contemporaneous at both Ksar Akil and Üçağızlı. In Umm el Tlel (Syria), levels III2a’ and II base, described as “Paléolithique intermédiaire”, have been dated rather later, at 36.5±2.5 ka by TL on burnt flint, and at 34.5±0.89 k.a. BP with AMS dating.

Anyhow, a set of early charcoal dates from Kebara Cave place the start of the EUP, specifically the Early Ahmarian Unit IV at, 48–46 k.a. Cal BP. This dates remein an anomaly, because  Kebara would currently the only site where such early determinations have been obtained for a classic Ahmarian assemblage. Complex site-formation processes render the association of the dated charcoals with the archaeology they are thought to date more than problematic.

Suggestedd Reading:

A thick retouched Aurignacian blade from Meyrals / Périgord Noir

At the same time?

For a long chronology of the Early Upper Paleolithic in Europe

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The Aurignacian of central-western Italia

aurignacian km 83In Italy Aurignacian evidence is found with some substantial settlement practically everywhere, from the  Riviera to the gulf of Naples and, further south, to the Cilento; as well as from the prealpine piedmont to the Salento. Even in the pre-Alps and the Apennines, at elevations of 1300-1600 m , as well as in Sicily across an arm of the sea, were distinct traces of the Aurignacian discovered.

The first Upper Paleolithic in Italia is the Protoaurignacian. The most important sites  are situated in Northern Italy: Riparo Mochi, layer G in Liguria, Tagliente, levels 25a-c and Fumane, levels A3-A1, D6 and D3  in Verona and Venice provinces, but this entity is also present in the South (Cala, Castelcivita, Serino).

It does appear that the beginning of the early Upper Paleolithic in Europe  was a continent-wide  “punctuational” (in geological terms) event in Europe, which occurred in the middle to late 40 thousands k.a. cal BP.

There are at least two possibilities on how these entities entered the continent. According to one hypothesis, Homo sapiens followed the Danube, which formed a natural corridor into the heartland of the continent which was, at the time, thickly forested.

A  different hypothesis is that the early (Proto)-Aurignacian was formed around the Meditterranean and / or entered Europe via the Balkans and Italy. Distinguishing between the two hypotheses depends on obtaining reliable chronological estimates for the Mediterranean and Central European Aurignacian. A recent dating of a site in the Swabian Jura and of Willendorf II suggested that the Aurignacian was earlier attested in Central Europe than in the South, but  the Protoaurignacien  in the Mochi rockshelter and Fumane are just as early. Certainly one has to imagine several and complicated colonization events by H. Sapiens to the continent at this early date.

While the makers of the Aurignacian are unknown (maybe AMHs), an upper deciduous incisor from Grotta di Fumane contains ancient mitochondrial DNA of a modern human type. These teeth are the oldest human remains in an Protoaurignacian-related archaeological context, confirming that by 41,000 calendar years before the present, modern humans spread into southern Europe.

The classic Aurignacian in Italia is dated within the time frame between 40-30k.a. It remains to be evaluated if the colonization of the Peninsula and Sicily was continuous or not.  There seems tobe much inter-site variability. The latest Aurignacian in Italy comes from from Grotta Paglicci located at Rignano Garganico (Apulia). Level 24A1 is attributed to the Aurignacian and dated to 29,3 k.a. BP  and is characterized by marginal retouched tools, denominated “lamelles à dos marginal déjetées de Paglicci”, which at the moment were found only in this site.

Around the Monte Circeo the non-dated classic Aurignacian of the Grotta del Fossellone remains the reference site for west central Italy. Most of the lithics were produced using flint pebbles, allreadydescribed in my Blog. A long sequence of Pontinian layers is also documented at Grotta Del Fossellone, below level 21, which is the Aurignacian one. Of the ca.1400 retouched tools of level 21 ca 900 are endscrapers, most of them carinated and therefore bladelet cores. Blanc mentions thousands of bladelets, which are mostly unretouched. Over 100 Aurignacian blades (blades with uni and bilateral steep retouche) were noted. Burins, points, scrapers, denticulates, and splintered pieces were rare. The bone industry is unusually abundant for an Italian site, and includes a number of split-based points the southernmost such occurrence.

large and smallThe Aurignacian artifacts displayed here were foundat a surface scatter 17 km north of the Monte Circeo. The sizes of tools are mainly attributable to local raw materials, which consist of small, heavily rolled pebbles of excellent flint seldom exceeding 10 cm in diameter. This Aurignacian  is literally microlithic in comparison to the Aurignacian of S/W-France or the Danube region, but has all characteristics of a classic evolved Aurignacian. Figure 2 shows a lLarge and a small bladelet core from Laussell and the “Microaurignacian” near Monte Circeo.

In the collection displayed here,  the uni-and the bipololar technique is contested by small cores. Beside many carinated and pyramidal scrapers for bladelet production, endscrapers with lateral retouches are very common, some with a „tanged” aspect. There are some “thumbnail scrapers” which seem the endproduct of repeated reworking and reduction of “normal” blade scrapers. The absence of bladelets is certainly a collection bias.

Suggested Reading:

The Aurignacian in Lower Austria revisited

Les Cottes and the Stratigraphy of the Early Upper Paleolithic in France

Abri Lartet

Strangled blades

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The Pontinian: pebble-derived late Middle Paleolithic at the central-western Italian coast

circeoThis are centripedal cores, micro chopping-tools and scapers made from cortical flakes from the Pontinian in the Monte Circeo area at the central-western Italian coast

The “Pontinian” Mousterian, is a regionally bounded “facies” of the Middle Paleolithic occurring only on the Tyrrhenian coast of west-central Italy in the regions of Latium and Tuscany.  The Pontinian was first described by Blanc in 1939 in the Grotto of Fossellone (Monte Circeo).  It is dated betweenMIS4 and early MIS3.  For the sites at Monte Circeo, flint pebbles have been most probably brought in to the Pontinian Plain by the Tevere, Aniene, and other local rivers from the Apennines Mountains and were available in conglomerates in the beach and/or river deposits, clearly exposed by erosion during the early stages of Weichselian glaciation (OIS 4–2)

Dated strata from the sites of Grotta Breuil and Grotta di Sant’Agostino in the Monte Circeo massive appear to have been formed around 55 k.a.BP or later. Pontinian assemblages are characterized by a predominance of simple and transverse sidescrapers (up to about 80% in some sites) often with “Retouche écailleuse scalariforme” resembling superficially the “Quina technique” in S/W-France. Double scrapers are frequent at some sites, resembeling limaces. There are a few denticulates and notches.

Centripetal core technique and “Pseudo prismatic “core technique were common during the Pontinian. In about 20-30% of the cores the hammer and anvil technique was used.  This technique (“a spicchio”) was already described in some detail by A.C. Blanc in the 1940ies.

The “a spicchio” mode of knapping was an effective way splitting the pebbles at the beginning of the operating chain in two or three parts. As a result, many cortical flakes or pebble halves were processed immediately after this initial step into retouched tools (mostly simple or double scrapers), as noted in the Fossellone cave, at Grotta Guattary or in the lower layers of Grotta Breuil at Monte Circeo. Other products of this initial knapping step were further processed and sharpened into complex admirable three dimensional tiny artifacts.

A variety of artifacts, which were denominated  „Choppers“ and „Chopping tools“ are also present and may related to uni- and bipolar  cores, except those symmetric examples that were obviously designed as tools. The Levallois indexes have been reported as absent or very low from all sites. Tools average slightly more than 3 cm in length (Fig 1: Largest Tool 4,7 cm). Figure 2 shows a wonderful tiny retouched convergent tool / point (2,1 x 1,5 x 0,5 cm), almost identical with numerous similar artifacts described by Blanc from the Grotta Guattari.

sophisticationThe sizes of tools and probably some of their typological characteristics are mainly attributable to local raw materials, which consist of small, heavily rolled pebbles of excellent flint seldom exceeding 10 cm in diameter. These  have also been used during the Aurignacian in the area, which is literally microlithic in comparision to the Aurignacian of S/W-France or the Danube region. Today, as in the past, flint pebbles are found in fossil and active marine beach deposits widely scattered along the coast and the coastal plains. Depending on the locality, the pebbles may have been difficult to locate and collect as well. As such, the Pontinian provides an excellent context in which to study Middle Paleolithic technological behavior in a limited raw material environment. Stasis and change during the Pontinian have been described in the seminal book by Kuhn, who took a new processual view on the old material. He found diachronic Neanderthal adaptations during the Pontinian expressed in the different choices in the methods of debitage and ways of site and land occupation.

During the Pontinian,  the region was inhabitated by Neanderthals. The Grotta Guattari, is the most famous cave of the Monte Circeo, becaus of its Neanderthal remains. It was uncovered accidentally by vineyard workers in 1939. At the time of the discovery, the Circeo I Neanderthal cranium and an assemblage of animal bones and hyena coprolites were found lying atop a “pavement” of limestone blocks. The Guattari discovery touched off a debate over possible ritual cannibalism among Neanderthals that has later discarded. It is now generally suggested that at Grotta Guattari, the apparently purposefully widened base of the skull (for access to the brain) was caused by carnivore action, with hyenas tooth marks found on the skull and mandible.

This does not mean that the issue of cannibalism or (ritual) defleshing in Neanderthal communities is resolved. The cave site of Moula-Guercy, 80 meters above the Rhone River, was occupied by Neanderthals during OIS 5. Analysis of bones of 6 Neanderthal individuals seems to suggest cannibalism was practiced here. Cut-marks are concentrated in places expected in the case of butchery. Additionally the treatment of the bones was similar to that of roe deer bones, assumed to be food remains, found in the same shelter. A similar context was present at El Sidron cave in Northern Spain, where several lines of evidence point to cannibalism of 12 individuals.

Convergence in the Paleolithic: The archaeological site at Tata, 70 km WNW of Budapest, has yielded a Mousterian lithic industry of small artefacts chipped from small chert pebbles, similar to the Pontinian. Th/U ages on travertines from the site yielded dates of 116±16 k.a. and 70±20 k.a. (OIS5 sensu lato). From the publication of Kormos; 1912:

tata mouserian aggsbach

Suggested Reading: (This is the original A.C.Blanc publication about the Grotta Guattari!)

Bifacial Quina Scraper

Quina Mousterian from the Gargano

Scraper from the Quina Type Site

The Monte Circeo region (Wikipedia/commons):

Monte Circeo is located on the southwest coast of Italy, about 100 kilometers south-southeast of Rome, near San Felice Circeo, on the coast between Anzio and Terracina. It is a mountain remaining as a promontory that marks the southwestern limit of the former Pontine Marshes. At the northern end of the Gulf of Gaeta, it is 541 meters high, about 5 kilometers long by 1.5 kilometers wide at the base, running from east to west and surrounded by the sea on all sides except the north.


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Hengistbury Head: The Mesolithic findings


hengis hengstburyThis is a microlithic artefact from the Mesolithic of Hengistbury Head, made from local flint.

During the Upper Paleolithic Britain was a peninsula of the European mainland, with the area of the North Sea still dry land (Doggerland). Herds of reindeer and wild horses roamed the area of this extended North European Plain on seasonal migrations, followed by the Late Upper Paleolithic hunters, equipped with specialized hunting kits.

In general the Upper Paleolithic record in the South West is dominated by its cave sites, with the obvious exception of Hengistbury Head. TL-dating together with lithic distribution and re-fitting evidence has indicated that there is only a single Late Upper Paleolithic occupation at the site , while the lithic materials have provided evidence for the spatial separation of activities (such as the primary production of tool blanks in a peripheral zone away from the hearths), knapping and blade production sequences, and raw material procurement and use .(

Early Mesolithic finds from Hengistbury Head have been recovered on a number of occasions. Excavations in 1980-1984 located a dense scatter of material, comprising over 35,000 flint artifacts in total. TL dates center on 9750±950 years BP. and indicate an occupation during the Boreal or Pre-Boreal, when Hengistbury may have been as much as 20 km inland of the contemporary coastline. Although the majority of the raw materials (both flint and non-flint) are of probable local origin, there is evidence for the use of sandstone originating from much further into the South. In general the narrow range of tool types at Hengistbury (microliths, end-scrapers and microdenticulates) has been seen as suggesting a specialized activity site, probably associated with game hunting.

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