Burin-blow like tip fractures

mousterian point near east burin likeThis is a Burin-blow like tip fracture on a retouched Levallois-point from the Levant.

Macro-traces on possible Paleolithic projectile points, that are usually interpreted as indicating penetrative weapon use (“diagnostic impact fractures” [DIF] sensu Lombard) are diagnosed if the damage could not have been produced by other tasks such as boring/piercing, on the one hand, and also not from accidents or taphonomic factors on the other hand. Burin-like fractures are generally seen as DIFs. Experimentally, longitudinal macrofractures (burin-like and flute-like fractures) become more frequent as speed increases and as the impact angle decreases, while transversal (snap) fractures are more common in slow impacts.

Very early examples of burin-blow impact damage on MSA-points were reported  from Gademotta / (Kulkuletti); Ethiopia, dated  as early as 279 k.a. years ago by Sale at al..  While not questioning other DIFs from the site (for example transversal snap fractures),  Katja Douze recently questioned the interpretation of the accidental character of burin-like breakage on tools from the sites in this area.

She demonstrated that breakage on the tips of uni- and bifacial convergent tools was rather created intentionally by a highly formalized procedure. This technical process created a lateral tranchet blow, also known from other archaeological contexts (Keilmessergruppe, occasionally in the Acheulian). Douze favors the hypothesis that tools with tranchet blow scars were used as cutting tools rather than hunting weapons. Tranchet blows can be differentiated from burin-like fractures by accurate platform preparation before removal and by the recurrence of defined technical steps before before its removal from the convergent instrument.

Burin-like fractures, indicative for the use of convergent tools as projectile tips, have been observed in the South African MSA (Kathu Pan: 500 k.a.?, from several layers at Sibudu with 27% of the examined points exhibiting such fractures), the Levantine Mousterian (Tabun D and B- facies; for example: Unit IX of Tabun Cave [Tabun D] :12.5% of the Levallois points) and from the European Mousterian since MIS 6 (Bouheben, La Cotte).

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Handaxe from the “Mousterien Chaud” at Montières and the diversification of the Paleolithic in N-France during MIS 8

amiens aggsbach

This is a heavily patinated pointed and elongated, 19 cm long handaxe from Montières in the Amiens region (Somme Valley, N-France).

The Somme Valley is famous for its archaeological sequence, where numerous rich Palaeolithic sites, such as Saint- Acheul, the type site of the Acheulian, have been discovered. The archaeological levels are often directly associated with fossil alluvial sediments of the River Somme or with slope deposits, including loess and palaeosols. In the middle course of the valley, near Amiens, the system of fossil-stepped fluvial terraces is particularly well developed and preserved, and occurs on 10 alluvial formations. These terraces, from +5 to +55 m above the present-day valley bedrock, allow the study of the environmental changes and the human settlement of this area through the Pleistocene.

The Somme valley has a long history of Palaeolithic research (de Mortillet in the 1870ies; Commont about 1900-1914; Breuil and Koslowski between 1931 and 1932; and their many  successors).  It is the location of two Palaeolithic type localities: Abbeville and St Acheul. The latter has given its name to the Acheulian, which accommodates all the Lower Palaeolithic handaxe industries.  The early archaeological discoveries from the Abbeville area are now considered less reliable than the well-dated younger in situ Acheulian assemblages from MIS 12-9, discovered during the last two decades.  The chronostratigraphic interpretation of the 50mme  terrace staircase is based on the recognition of a  cyclic glacial-interglacial pattern within the fluvial sequences  and the overlying loess-palaeosol deposits and has been confirmed by amino-acid geochronology and is  based on mollusc shells from the fluvial sediments, site-specific supplementary data from biostratigraphy and more recently by ESR and  Uranium-series dating.

A short description of the middle and upper terasses of the Somme and their archeological content has allready given during an earlier post (http://www.aggsbach.de/2012/09/st-acheul-again/). This handaxe comes from the lower terasse at Montières and is about 200 k.a. old (OIS8).

The low terraces of Northern France, especially those of the Somme Valley, are rich in Palaeolithic ensembles.  Recent researches have provided new facts about their dating through the results of stratigraphical study of the loamy cover and the results of palynological and malacological content of the fine fluviatile deposits. Most of the low terrace complex appears to be older than the Last Interglacial (MIS 5). The lithic industries of the fluvial deposits show an astonishing diversification compared to the ensembles od the middle and lower terasses and belong, for the most part, to the Middle Palaeolithic. The assemblages can be different from a typological point of view, but they are always rich in Levallois flakes.

At Montières, Commont in 1912 described a Middle Paleolithic assemblage, produced from Levallois flakes, which included numerous elongated blades and pointed handaxes. This ensemble was found in sandy and calcareous layers of the Low Terrace, now attributed to MIS 7. This assemblage appears to be one of the oldest Middle Palaeolithic industries of continental north-west Europe where a volumetric laminar débitage is present.

This Middle Paleolithic was been described as “Mousterien Chaud” (and falsely dated to OIS5 e until the late 1980ies) because the fauna (Elephas antiquus, Hippopotame, Rhinoceros mercki, Equus stenonis aff., Equus caballus, Felis leo sp., Cervus elaphus, Cervus sp., Bos priscus, Ursus arctos) found in the same units is typical of temperate conditions.

Other broadly contemporaneous findings are known from Biache, Argoeuves and Étaples.  The Middle Paleolithic from Biache-Saint-Vaast (Scarpe Valley) has been characterized as a rich Ferrassie type Mousterian without any handaxes. The Industry of Argoeuves (Somme Valley) is a Middle Paleolithic industry with some handaxes and a laminar tendency and was classified as an  “Épi- Acheuléen de faciès levalloisien” by French scholars. This ensemble is very near to the Montières industry and indirect proof, that the old findings do not represent a secondary mixed ensemble. Similar industries are known from the Aisne and Aa valleys.

Overall the late Middle Pleistocene in N/W-Europe is characterized by the slow disappearance of Handaxes from the Archeological record at the majority of sites. Sites from North-Eastern France and the Benelux countries during MIS 8/7/6 show varied proportions of Levalloisian, discoidal and simple flake core technologies, but they never have a strong handaxe component, for instance Mesvin IV in the Haine valley  and at the Rissori site. Further west, there is a stronger handaxe presence at the sites of Gentelles  (MIS 8 and 6) and especially at the exceptional handaxe-rich site of Gouzeaucourt (MIS 7?).

In S/W-France the site of Bouheben  (layer 2)  is dated to MIS 6. The artifacts consist of Acheulian handaxes with a very fine and elaborated “Mousterian” industry.

Harnham (MIS8) is the youngest well-dated example of an Acheulian industry without any emphasis on prepared cores and flake tools in the UK, and one of the youngest in northwest Europe, broadly contemporary with a distinct Levalloisian industrial tradition being practiced in the Lower Thames basin.

It has to be emphasized, that in W-Europe  handaxes never disappeared from the Archeological record until MIS 3. The hiatus between the Acheulian and the MTA is a chimera (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1040618214004273).

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Ahrensburgian Point from Pomeranea

shouldered poland1shouldered Poland

This is a late Paleolithic tanged point (5x2x0,3 cm)  from Pomerania / Poland made of Baltic flit stone. Taute (1968) established a typological definition of late glacial tanged points (Stielspitzen) on the basis of size and tang detail, designed in part to distinguish them from late Upper Palaeolithic tanged and shouldered points from the earlier Hamburgian. In terms of overall size, Taute considered that the length of an Ahrensburgian point should not exceed 55 mm, while the maximum breadth is normally 17 mm. The point shown here is somewhat broader but certainly no Bromme point. These are much larger (up to 12 cm) and were dated to the Allerød interstadial. Points, similar to the example shown here come  from an Ahrensburg context in Denmark and are dated to the Younger Dryas/Loch Lomond Stadial (GS-1): (http://www.donsmaps.com/iceagehunters.html).

The earlier Brommean points are rare, but not unknown from Poland. They are known from a narrow northern zone: the young moraine area around the Baltic Ice Lake, from Denmark, northern Germany, northern Poland up to Lithuania and Belarus.

Comparative analysis of the tangs of Ahrensburgian tangs resulted in the designation of four sub-types with unclear functional and chronological meaning:

  • Ahrensburgian point sensu stricto: the tang has been worked from the ventral face
  • Ahrensburgian point with alternating retouch
  • Hintersee point: the tang has been worked from the dorsal face
  • Chwalibogowice point: the tang has been worked from the ventral face, with supplementary invasive retouch of the base of the tang on the ventral face.
  • Ahrensburgian point with alternating retouch

In Ahrensburgian assemblages, the tanged points may be accompanied by Zonhoven points, which are small rhombic or trapezoidal points truncated obliquely at the tip and with additional basal retouch. Contrary to similarly shaped artefacts from the European Mesolithic, Zonhoven points were not manufactured by the application of microburin technique. To complicate matters, many Ahrensburgian tanged points were manufactured in microburin technique. In some cases, two opposed notches were retouched at the proximal end of the blank, which would subsequently be broken off to form a tang. Consequently, Ahrensburgian microburins have not one, but two opposed lateral notches.

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Yes-There are traditions and “culture” in Neanderthals-Victoria!


The open- air site of Champlost “Le Dessous de Bailly” is located in the Yonne department of Burgundy. The site is situated in a valley, on the bank of the Créanton- Brumance river and dated by TL to late MIS4/early MIS 3. Local flint was used for the production of stone tools.  Flakes were mainly created by the Levallois technique. The lithic ensemble (from the surface and programmed excavations) comprises many simple scrapers but there is also a small, but characteristic bifacial component with classic MTA-handaxes, like the one shown here (11 cm long), and backed and Leaf-shaped bifacial tools, which are usually not known from the late middle Paleolithic of  France but from the “Keilmesser Gruppen” (KMG) of  Middle-East Europe. In K. Ruebens view the Champlost ensemble can be best interpreted as the mix of two Neanderthal “traditions” in the contact zone between the  MTA and KMG interaction sphere:

“The MTA and KMG can be seen as two distinct cultural traditions, reflecting different lines of learned behavior, as expressed by different ways of making bifacial tools. The sporadic spread of KMG elements across Western Europe is indicative of Neanderthal population dynamics and the MBT is interpreted as the results of MTA- KMG interactions in an overlap zone where foreign influences were more easily absorbed. Finally, the distinct presence and absence of certain bifacial tool types in specific regions allow arguing for the presence of a collective cultural capacity among Neanderthals”.


Figure 2 shows Leaf-shaped artifacts from a KMG (Middle European Micoquian)  open air site in S/W-Germany. The largest artifact is about 4 cm long.

Ruebens approach may be provocative for some archeologists who think that they have still to deconstruct old myths in Paleolithic research and always scent the resurrection of “culture historical” approaches. Such people would not even recognize the obvious and fundamental different conceptional choices, Neanderthals made, when they produced for millennia ensembles  with cordiform MTA-bifaces in France, Keilmesser in Middle-East Europe and a Levallois-Mousterian without bifaces in the Middle East. While such scientists would happily agree, that AMHs had certain traditions in tool making (the Aurignacian; Gravettian etc.) they deny that such choices could have been part of the  repertoire of Neanderthals.

Of course, 34 years after “Ancient Men and Modern Myths” nobody will be  ignorant about  dynamic relationships of stone tool production and constraints imposed by: (1) lithic raw material economy, (2) differential access to lithic raw materials, (3) economizing behavior, (4) mechanical & physical properties of stone, (5) individual knowledge of alternative core and tool reduction strategies, (6) functional needs, (7) “expedient” and “curated” technologies, (8) faunal exploitation patterns, (9) intensity of reduction, (10) anticipated tasks, (11) intensity of utilisation, (12) longevity of occupation, (13) cave sites versus open-air sites, (14) recycling of tools, (15) hafting, (16) risk-reducing strategies, (17) cumulative effects of site revisits (palimpsests), (18) group size, (19) group composition, (20) mobility patterns, (21) low- and high-energy investment forager strategies, (22) climato-environmental change, (23) biology, (24) “ethnicity”, (25) social systems, (26) social density, (27) social position, (28) gender, (29) age, (30) physical abilities, (31) skill, (32) the training of children as future flint knappers (production of “unusable” blanks), (33) health status, (34) seasonality, (35) human (36) post-depositional factors and (37) a variety of other factors, which could influence everything people do.

But -to exclude a priori  the possibility that Hominins before H.sapiens built “cultures” with traditions that would determine the shape of typical stone tools is deeply unscientific and would neglect the very nature of humans. While our evidence of the strength of regional cultural traditions is strong for AHMs, it would be quite surprising if it basically had not been true for highly evolved earlier / contemporaneous humans.


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Sinker Stones during Prehistory


Early modern humans and Neanderthals shared  similar  marine exploitation patterns, first attested during MIS6 by shellfish gathering (Bajondillo Cave in Torremolinos, Spain, 150 k.a.; Pinnacle Point, South Africa, 164 k.a.).

While fishing would have played an integral part within the lives of prehistoric coastal and island communities, during prehistoric times, direct evidence for fishing is not well represented within the archaeological record. In part, this is as a result of the poor preservation of fish bones, which are affected by taphonomic factors such as physical, chemical and biological processes following their deposition.

Sinker stones, also known as net weight, net sinker, anchor stone, fishing weight, plummet, poids à pêche  may be the most common archaeological artifact found alongside or near water sources throughout the world.  The term is used loosely to describe any grooved, notched or perforated stone weight that was used to weigh down a fishing net or line.

The sinker stone shown here was once used by prehistoric or sub recent fishers on Seine River near Rouen. Such artifacts were found in considerable quantities during dredging operations at Bardouville (Département de la Seine -Maritime, Haute-Normandie).  It is a flattish D shaped pebble with one flat and one convex face (13 x 9 x 3 cm; 575 grams). The object has a hole drilled all the way through, large enough to get a strong rope through it.

Net sinkers were manufactured during prehistoric times until the 19th century from naturally rounded stones. The easiest way to produces such an artifact is  double-notching  along two opposites edges of a flat pebble.

The earliest double-notched pebbles were recovered from in situ context at Ohalo II (Sea of Galilee, Jordan Valley), radiometrically dated to ca. 21 k.a. BP. The implements were made of limestone and basalt, and usually weigh 150-400 grams. Here several lines of evidence point to their use as sinkers: First, hundreds of thousands of fish bones were recovered from in situ at the site.  Second, small pieces of burnt strings were found on the floor of brush hut 1. These could be the remains of baskets or nets. The use of the double-notched pebbles as net sinkers was reconstructed on the basis of physical characteristics, use signs in the notches and ethnography.

The production of perforated pebbles as sinkers may be more sophisticated and is not known before the North European Mesolithic, were abundant evidence of exploitation of maritime and freshwater resources like fish bones, harpoons, leisters, fish hooks, net sinkers, and even basket traps were preserved in bogs.

Literature about such artifacts, maybe to trivial for Archaeologists  is notoriously scare. Some reviews can be found via the french portal Persee ( there is no German equivalent for this great source of knowledge!).

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MSA point from Lake Tumba: More questions than answers..


msa kongo aggsbach aaFigure 1 shows a MSA point made on a Levallois flake from Lake Tumba, Central Africa (Fiedler and Preuss: African Archaeological Review 3: 179–187). Such unifacial points were found together with material reminiscent of the Lupemban (Tumba-West) and the Tshitolian (Tumba East) on the surface.

Since the 1960ies the Sangoan and the Lupemban are widely acknowledged to characterize the regional MSA-sequence of central Africa. Overall, the Sangoan in central Africa is rare and the regional MSA is mainly represented by the Lupemban, which has been detected in the Congo basin, adjacent river basins and their respective bordering plateaus.

First named after an assemblage of tools recovered along the Lupemba stream in the Kasai province (Breuil et al. 1944), the Lupemban is characterized by fine lanceolates (Fig.2: personal picture of a famous lanceolate from Kalambo Falls: 22 cm long).

The Lupemban overlies the Sangoan industry at the sites of Muguruk, Kenya , Kalambo Falls, Zambia, and in northeastern Angola . The Sangoan itself overlies Acheulian industries at Nsongezi, Uganda  and Kalambo Falls, Zambia. The Lupemban appears to constitute the earliest archaeological signature for the sustained prehistoric settlement of the Congo basin.

lupemban zambiaThe Lupemban comprises both heavy- and light-duty implements, in addition to the large, bifacially-flaked lanceolate points that are the regionally-distinctive “fossile directeur” of the industry. Lanceolate points vary in size and shape, but share fundamental morphological features; they are foliate in planform profile, are pointed at one or both ends, and exhibit careful bifacial retouch along their lateral edges. If these tools been utilized as the tips of hafted spears or were handheld butchery tools or digging implements is the matter of discussions.

The heavy-duty component of the Lupemban toolkit includes core-axes and picks, which are generally more common than lanceolate points. Picks are minimally-worked, large, heavy pieces that may be pointed or rounds ended, and are commonly thought to have functioned as handheld woodworking tools. Core-axes are heterogeneous in form, occurring in parallel-sided, convergent and divergent types, with distal ends that are pointed or round ended. The greater refinement of many core-axes suggests they may have functioned as hafted heavy-duty woodworking tools. The light duty component of the Lupemban toolkit includes small unifacial and bifacial points-the unifacials very similar to the one shown in my Fig.1, backed flakes and blades, trapezia, and rare tranchets, for which hafted projectile functions have been suggested. Pollen samples and paleoclimatic reconstructions correlate the Lupemban industry both with deciduous woodland and open bushland or grassland palaeoenvironment.

At Kalambo Falls and numerous sites in northern Angola, the Lupemban is followed by lithic assemblages attributable to the LSA Tshitolian industry ( < 18 k.a.), which is similarly found across the forested lowland interior . The Tshitolian is a microlithic industry, manufactured mainly on quartz as the predominant raw material. This industry contains segments, tranchets, backed pieces and a small point retouched by pressure technique, and is widely acknowledged as a prehistoric hunting and gathering technology.

Anyhow, sequences with fine grained stratigraphy are poor in central Africa.  The acidic soils of central Africa typically lead to the rapid degradation of organic remains, the Quaternary sediments are poorly, the stratigraphies are usually disturbed by  the growth and movement of tree roots.

The lesions learned from the dating of Aterian ensembles in the North and from MSA ensembles in S/E- Africa are that any estimates of the antiquity by radiocarbon (14C), especially data beyond 40 k.a., have to be taken with extreme caution. Regarding the age of the Lupemban elsewhere in Africa, this techno complex, estimated by Optically Stimulated Luminescence (OSL) and Uranium-Series, may be dated to roughly 400-200 k.a.

OSL dates from Sai Island have yielded a maximum age of 182±20 k.a. and minimum age of 152±10 k.a. The age of the Lupemban-bearing breccia at Twin Rivers by Uranium-series has resulted in a date range of ~170– >400 k.a. , including a date of 270 k.a. for a speleothem sample directly associated with the tool assemblage. Ongoing research at Kalambo Falls, Zambia will certainly give a reliable age estimate of the Lupemban through the application of luminescence dating. At the site of Katanda on the eastern margin of the Congo basin, dates of ca. 90 k.a. have been reported for an undifferentiated MSA associated with  bone harpoons. At Twin Rivers and Kalambo Falls there is the first African indication for backed tool technology, suggestive for hafting these artifacts.

In summary the Lupemban remains one of the most innovative technocomplexes of Homo sp. during the Middle Pleistocene and seems to be an industry well adapted to different habitats. Central Africa offers an immense potential for further evaluation of the Lupemban, which should defined not only by ensembles “from the margins” but also by stratified sites of the Lupemban heartland, yet to be excavated.

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Bifacial Foliates from the MSA of the Nil Valley

bifacial twin

This is a Bifacial-Foliate from the Thebes Region (brown chert; max 12 cm long), found early in the 20th century by selective tool hunting. We do not know the wider context of this finding, which was stored together with some handaxes, Nubian Levallois cores, classic Levallois cores, and hollow scrapers, which shows similarities to the Lupemban, the early Nubian MSA but also to lanceolates from the MSA at the Oases in the western Desert of Egypt.

There is no concise definition for Bifacial-Foliates in the Literature. In fact, Wendorf et al. apparently applied the term “bifacial foliate” to all MSA bifaces that they did not consider to be handaxes or cores. Foliates can be very small- in this case Africanists call them: “foliated points”.  Some of them are up to 20 cm long. Many of them have a pointed end, but others have not. They may be symmetrical, but many of the specimens are asymmetrical.  Some have a fine retouch suggestive for pressure flaking and are relatively thin and others are rather crude without being automatically only “preforms”. The term of a bifacial foliate subsumes forms that were almost certainly modified for hafting by basal thinning or a tang together with forms that were unlikely to have been hafted.

The Sangoan and Lupemban of Central Africa and the Eastern Lowlands are MSA- technocomplexes dated roughly between 400-150 k.a BP. They can be identified on the basis of “heavy duty” core axes and picks (Sangoan) and smaller and parallel sided core axes and bifacial lanceolates, often combined with a blade element and Levallois flake tools (Lupemban). At Twin Rivers and Kalambo Falls there is the first African indication for backed tool technology, suggestive for hafting these artifacts. JD Clark suggested these heavy duty tools were good for wood-working, based on association of Kalambo Falls site in Zambia with deciduous woodland, and preserved wood at site. However, a number of other sites, such as those excavated by McBrearty in Kenya and at Sai 8-B-11 were clearly occupied by open grassland or savannas.

At Sai 8-B-11 in northern Sudan the two lowermost strata can be attributed to the Sangoan because of the presence of core-axes and distinctive flake reduction strategies. Given the evidence of systematic blade production and the presence of a lanceolate in addition to small and regular core-axes, the upper assemblage of this sequence is qualified as Lupemban. This ensemble is overlain by dune sands dating to around 152 k.a. It is suggested, that this ensemble marks the beginning of the MSA in the Nil valley, which is later evolving towards the “Nubian -MSA”, during OIS6/5.

A Lupemban industry also occurs at the site of Taramsa 1, located on the west bank of the Nile in Upper Egypt, where it dates to 165 k.a. At the nearby site of Taramsa 8 this industry predates the Last Interglacial pedogenesis.

The Nubian Middle Palaeolithic is represented in both Egypt and Nubia, but the Egyptian finds so far discovered are not as well preserved as those in Nubia. Arkin 5 is a site that has been identified as Nubian Middle Palaeolithic and has been studied in some detail. Located on the west bank of the Nile on an area of ferruginous sandstone (which was used as the raw material for tool manufacture) Arkin 5 appears, from the large amounts of debitage and unfinished tools surviving, to have been a quarry site.  One of the phases at Khor Musa is possibly contemporary with Arkin – an occupation site with a conspicuous amount of fish remains. Similarly, it is possible that one of the Khartoum sites dates to the same period, with large foliate points.

Bifacial foliates are one important marker of Aterian technology in North Africa, which, unlike tanged pieces, is largely shared with other MSA regional industries.  Bifacial foliates are relatively common in the Egyptian Western Desert, where tangs are scarce. At Dakhleh and Kharga (KO6E) the Aterian is most probably dated to MIS3 and certainly later than the Medium sized MSA at Bir Tarfawi and Refuf VI (Kharga) and associated with Nubian Point cores.  Basally thinned bifacial foliates and tanged pieces may formed part of a hunting system, which may have been linked to early archery. However, it seems that the bifacial foliates often show very different morphological characteristics compared to tanged pieces, and it is unlikely that their place in the technological system was interchangeable. Bifacial foliates are likely part of a hafted technology, that sensu lato includes tanged pieces.

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A “Hollow Scraper” from the Middle Paleolithic / MSA of Ancient Thebes

1 2

Ancient Thebes was home to some of the greatest monuments of the ancient world—built to honor the living, the dead, and the divine. The city, known as Waset to ancient Egyptians and as Luxor today, was the capital of Egypt during parts of the Middle Kingdom (2040 to 1750 B.C.) and the New Kingdom (circa 1550 to 1070 B.C.).

Paleolithic artifacts from Thebes were collected since the 1850ies and are part of many important prehistoric collections in the western world. This is a wonderful example of a “hollow scraper” very characteristic for the Thebes Paleolithic (Fig.1. and 2). The brown patination of the tool is essentially diagnostic for Paleolithic chert tools from the area.

The famous archaeologist Worsaae first drew attention to flint tools discovered on the borders of Egypt in 1867. In the following years Arcelin, Hamy and Lenormant reported further examples. An influential publication came from the famous John Lubbock in 1875:“Notes on the Discovery of Stone Implements in Egypt”.

Despite such reports, several prominent Egyptologists argued that the flint implements recovered had only been used during the Dynastic Period for the construction of tombs or had been employed during mummification rituals.  The man who drew renewed attention to a possible Pleistocene age of “Egyptian Cherts” in 1882 was A.H. Lane Fox Pitt-Rivers (On the discovery of chert implements in stratified graves in the Nile Valley near Thebes; 1882).  It was not ignorance, but the insistence on  a certain scientific rigor to insist, that similarity between contextualized Paleolithic European and non- stratified Egyptian artifacts did not suffice to proof a very old age for the latter. It finally took many years  and a century of research of stratified MSA sites in Egypt until the Paleolithic age of these findings was generally accepted.

In addition, early doubts about the antiquity of Egyptian Paleolithic artifacts persisted for a long time because they did not match well with the 19th / early 2oth century idea that humans originated in Europe.

The piece, displayed in this post is a large crescent-shaped flint artifact. It is heavily reworked and retouched all over the concave edge 100 mm across. The artifact is called “hollow scraper” and very characteristic ( if not unique) for the  area around Thebes. The first description comes from Pitt-Rivers 1882 report. Figure 3 shows a nice example of Victorian illustration. Here Pitt-Rivers argued that Paleolithic artifacts were washed down from the high plateaus around Luxor to the great Wadi of the Tombs of the Kings, where these flints were first found. Fine examples of hollow scrapers are displayed on the internet portal of the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology.

aggsbach thebes

MSA assemblages in the Thebes area are usually discovered from surface scatters.  Many of these had been already plundered during the late 19th early 20th century and are nowadays cleared  from the “best pieces”.  In general, the artifacts tend to be large to medium in size. Typologically they include Levallois flakes, Levallois points, various sidescrapers, notched pieces and denticulated pieces. Hollow scrapers are often present in low quantities in such ensembles, while they were never noticed in association with tools from later periods. It therefore seems reasonable to link them to the local MSA.seligman thebes

The MSA of Northern Upper Egypt is manly ascribed to the Nubian Complex, but scatters from the “local” complex are also present. The stratified sites near the Nil and from the Western Oases have a documented Paleolithic sequence from the Acheulian, MSA and Early and late Paleolithic. The MSA was dated to MIS6 and 5, while stratified tools from MIS 4/ early MIS3 are unknown, most probably due to the hyperarid conditions during this time.

Seligman, in 1921 was the first to call attention to the fact, that hollow scrapers were probably prepared cores,  that were reworked for further use after their primary function had been accomplished. An early example of a “chaine operatoire” approach (Fig. 4)!

Seligman’s reconstruction remains very convincing. Judging from the retouches, a scraping function of these tools seems to be very probable, although the functional meaning of “hollow scrapers” remains essentially unknown, because the state of their preservation precludes further evaluation by use ware analysis.

Diffusion of innovation remains a key issue in Paleolithic research, because its reconstruction gives answers to group interaction and evidence of awareness, interest, evaluation, trial, and adoption of technical strategies by our ancestors. Why the production of “hollow scrapers” remained a regional phenomenon of Northern Middle Egypt remains a mystery.

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Mobility during the Middle Palaeolithic in Europe

lenderscheid micoquian aggsbach

This is a elongated Lydite scraper with scalar retouches from the Middle Palaeolithic Lenderscheid site near Kassel, where Neanderthals used an outcrop of fine-grained tertiary quartzite as raw material supply for the production of their artifacts. Numerous  quartzite cores were left at the site, together with a limited number of formal tools, often broken during the production process(http://www.aggsbach.de/2010/12/lenderscheid-2/). The raw material for the scraper, displayed in this post, comes from the Eder valley approximately 20 km away from Lenderscheid. Obviously the scraper was imported as a finished tool.

There is a long-standing question over the nature of Neanderthal mobility, with some authors arguing that Neanderthals moved over long distances during their lifetimes, others arguing that Neanderthals only moved only over a limited area  for most of their lives. The evidence for mobility comes mainly from indirect evidence such as tracing the sources of lithic raw material at Neanderthal sites as well as the presence of “exotic” (non-local) artefacts or objects, such as sea-shells at sites far from the coast.

An almost universal pattern exists for the Middle Paleolithic lithic raw material procurement in Europe. According to the first in-depth studies by Féblot-Augustin (1993, 1997) 60–98 % of all lithic materials including cores and blanks came from within 5 km of all the sites; usually 1–2% of materials came from 5- 30 km distance from the sites and consisted mainly of tools and blanks; A few entirely finished tools consistently were made on materials from 20 or 30 to 100 or even 300 km away. This pattern appears to be fairly consistent across western Europe. The very small number of tools that are made of raw materials from further afield may be tools that were part of a person’s personal gear and “survived” several residential moves.

In contrast, the sites of Early Upper Paleolithic humans generally ignored “second choice” raw material and relied more upon exotic materials often coming from more than 100 km away. In some cases, marine shells from more than 500 km away are present.

The Quina-Mousterian site of Champ Grand in the Loire Valley between the Paris Basin and Massif Central for example  features ten raw materials (1% of the assemblage, but numbering 568 artifacts) that were found to originate from sources >80k m distant in several different directions. The estimated distances include 180-200 km northwards from the site, and c. 240 km southwards, the latter actually a minimum value due to straight-line crossing of mountains and high plateaus. In the case of Abric Romaní (N-Spain), the location of raw material sources was more fixed, with flint available in a radius of 5–10 km and limestone and quartz in the immediate (1 km) surrounding of the rock shelter. During the “Swabian Mousterian”,  lithic raw materials from all the sites are dominated by local Jurassic cherts from within about 3 km, with lesser quantities of radiolarite, quartzites and other raw materials. With the rare exception of examples of Bavarian tabular flint originating from ca. 100 km distance, these raw materials can be found in the sources within ca. 20 km of the Swabian caves.

During the Middle Paleolithic transfers >200 km are more frequent in Central Europe (for example during the “Taubachian” at Kulna / Moravia), which may be linked to a more extreme topography and increased continentality in terms of environmental conditions.

Raw material studies were used to substantiate the hypothesis, that Neanderthals lived in small groups that had little contact with one another, focusing heavily on “magnet-locations” in the landscape (Binford 1984).

But raw material studies are more ambivalent and flawed, than generally suggested. For example we are not able to construct the mentalities of the Neanderthal society. Was there any need or desire for long distance prospection or exchange? Was long distance prospection for Neanderthals with their limited hunting equipment probably more dangerous compared to Upper Palaeolithic times? Did the wish of social intimacy within the local Neanderthal groups prevent the possibility of meeting new friends beyond the “border”? Even today I know a lot of people within rural Southern Lower Saxony; that experience more than 90% of their lifetime within a radius of 30-40 km (except for their holiday trips of course!). This does not mean that these lower Saxonians are non AMHs- they are just conservative.

Some other variables that may affect our perception:

  • The accessibility of raw materials during climatic fluctuations is not known for most of the sites.
  • Site functions, duration of stay, different mobility patterns and settlement systems have a deep impact on the choice of raw materials.
  • Specialization on specific raw materials  is another factor that may influence decisions.

Strontium isotope analysis of from a Neanderthal tooth from the site of Lakonis, Greece at ca. 40 k.a. BP showed that the LHK 1 individual spent a portion of childhood at a location away from the site and region in which the individual was found. This may have been a region 20 km away, or even further. This is a clear indication that Neanderthals did move longer distances over their lifetimes and were not confined to limited geographic areas as suggested by raw material studies, which were evaluated in a mono-dimensional and deterministic manner. There is a clear need for better theories about mobility during Palaeolithic times.

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

pech de bourre aggsbch

This is a blank for a Châtelperronian point found at Pech de Bourre by D. Peyrony early in the last century. Pech de Bourre is one of the numerous smaller Abris near the tributaries of the Dordogne, excavated to early to be of importance for current scientific discussions.  Occasional diggings began with Dupiellet (1900) who was followed by M Mortureux (1921) and finally by D. Peyrony (1921). Peyrony described three layers of Mousterian (probably a succession of Charentian-MTA as suggested by Mellars) followed by a Chatelperronian. This succession ended with a typical Aurignacian, contested by a fine carinated scraper [(core); Sonneville-Bordes 1960).

Very different entities and constructs in Europe are subsumed under this label of a MP-UP transitional industry: Althmühlian, Szeletian, Bohunician, Châtelperronian, Lincombian-Ranisian-Jerzmanovicien (LRJ) and Uluzzian. It is generally suggested, that  such industries would combine  Middle and the Upper Paleolithic components  both on a typological and technological level.

Due to a better technological understanding of many of these entities, “MP-UP transitional industries” have become a suspect typological construct, as recently shown for the Châtelperronian and the LRJ, which are by no means “transitional” at all, but fully Upper Paleolithic (http://www.aggsbach.de/2014/03/chatelperronian/).

In contrast to older observations of mixed ensembles, the Châtelperronian, as defined from newer excavations, seems to be a pure Upper Paleolithic industry without any Mousterian component. Châtelperronian points, endscrapers, especially semi-circular end-scrapers, and some burins on a break and borers/becs are always present, although the production of Châtelperronian points is always the focus of lithic production (up to 70% of the retouched artifacts) . “Middle Paleolithic” technological components like Denticules and side scrapers, which by the way, are found in small numbers in many Upper Paleolithic industries,  are absent or rare from modern excavations of Châtelperronian layers.

The Châtelperronian blade production differs both from Middle Paleolithic and Aurignacian / Protoaurignacian blade production. The blades are detached by direct percussion with a soft hammer and are relatively standardized in their dimensions and morphology. Chatelperronian points were made from rather straight and slightly curved blanks, as seen in this post.

At Quinçay, Roussel described cores with a asymmetrical volume, that were exploited from  two surfaces, one narrow and one wide, with a triangular section. Blades were subsequently removed by independent unipolar series of blades on the narrow and on wide surfaces of the core. Each surface of a blade core was an independent flaking surface. The goal of the blade production was to obtain blanks, symmetrical or asymmetrical in section for Châtelperron points. Twenty percent at of the Châtelperron points Quinçay have an asymmetrical section with a natural back, ready for further backing by only minimal retouching.

The next picture shows a 6 cm long Jerzmanowice point fro Kleinheppach, Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany:

korb kleinheppach er1

The LRJ complex has been identified at 41 sites, dating to ca 40-35 k.a. uncalibrated BP. Most of them are found in Great Britain, assemblages from continental Europe (Belgium, Netherlands, Northern Germany, and Kraków-Częstochowa Upland) being clearly less numerous. Main Features of the LRJ Lithic Industry Jerzmanowice points being the” fossile directeur” On average, they have a length around 9–10 cm, width of 3 cm, and thickness of 1 cm.

No use-wear study has ever been made on Jerzmanowice points. Nonetheless, these pieces being pointed and symmetric, and likely axially hafted as suggested by the importance of proximal shaping  as well as likely impact fractures (burinlike removals, “spin-off” removals, strongly marked bending fractures).  In addition to Jerzmanowice points, LRJ assemblages may also contain bifacial Leafpoints. Other tool types are much less common. However, pointed blades, retouched blades, end scrapers, and burins (dihedral, on truncation or on break), sometimes made on former Jerzmanowice are part of larger ensembles.

The most common knapping method corresponds to blade production using cores with two opposed platforms (bidirectional) of blades from bidirectional debitage, although unidirectional blade production is sometimes also documented. Blade knapping is most of the time done with an organic soft hammer, based on the relative thinness of blade platforms and the frequent presence of a lip. Blade production is volumetric, involving preparation of the cores by different crests.

What is independent from any archaeological discourse is the question, who made these industries. It remains odd that even intelligent researchers often mix this question with the description of “transitional entities” to prove or disprove their personal views about the Neanderthal / H.. Sapiens interaction.

Elongated Levallois point like blades were the desired end product of the Bohunician / Emiran technology. The reduction strategy of these entities may be, according to P. Skrdla reconstructed as follows: the core was shaped as a typical upper Paleolithic prismatic core with a frontal crest and two opposed platforms were created. 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 (Levallois point) has affinities to the older Middle Paleolithic Levallois technologies, the volumetric concept is fully Upper Paleolithic and not a “transitional” industry! The Bohunician / Emiran  dates roughly between 45-32 k.a. BP.

This technology was first independently described at Boker Tachtit 1 and at Brno Bohunice in  Moravia in the 1970ies. Ensembles similar to Boker-Tachtit 1 were found in not only in the Levant (Üçağızlı and Ksar-Akil)., but also in Bulgaria (Temnata  TD2/6,  Bacho Kiro 11), near Brno (Bohunician at Brno Bohunice, Stránská skála Ss-IIIa-4, Brno Líšeň , Tvarožná, and Želeč), in Moravia (Rataje, Ondratice, Mohelno) in eastern Slovakia (Nižný Hrabovec), in the Ukraine,at Obi-Rakhmat Grotto, situated 100 km northeast of Tashkent in the  Republic of Uzbekistan and in the Altai (Kara Bom).

Levallois-like pointed blade from the Bohunician / Emiran:

tachtit aggsbach

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