Social memory in action: The use of mnemonic techniques during the Levantine Epipaleolithic


These are microliths from the Early Epipaleolithic of the Mt. Carmel Region /Israel. An original defining feature of the Epipaleolithic is the production of stone tools from small blade blanks less than 5 mm in length, which served as easily replaceable parts hafted into composite multi-purpose tools. The Epipaleolithic of the Near East has sometimes been described as the overture to  the “Neolithic Revolution”.

Historical processes are open ended. In retrospect human groups in the Levant after the LGM until the early Holocene seem to steadily move towards sedentary communities which began with farming at about 12 k.a. cal BP (11,5 k.a. BP). In reality this process was by no means as unilinear as once suggested and the human history of the late Pleistocene in the Near East could have been easily ended with the intensification of mobile foraging instead of switching to farming.

The Epipaleolithic (EP) in the Levant is generally be divided into Early, Middle, and Late EP phases. In general, there is a shift from gracile, narrow no geometric microliths  in the Early EP (Kebaran and other industries; c. 22- 17.5 cal BP) to geometric forms, especially trapezes and rectangles, in the Middle EP (Geometric Kebaran and other industries; c. 17.5-14.5 cal BP), and to small arrowheads and crescent-shaped microliths, called lunates, in the Late EP ( Natufian and other industries) .

Early Epipaleolithic:  While small Kebaran campsites are most common, other contemporary seasonally occupied sites have been identified in eastern and southern Jordan, the Negev and Sinai, and the Azraq Basin.

Large, dense, multi-season, and multi-phase sites in eastern Jordan, which have been interpreted as aggregation sites, do not conform to the model of isolated small, campsites during the eary pipaleolithic.  Jilat 6 and Kharaneh IV both have typical Early and Middle EP occupations, but also exhibit some characteristics unknown elsewhere. The El Kown area of southern Lebanon documents several large Kebaran settlements exhibiting the remains of structure and a high level of site organization. At these sites, the presence of several phases of occupation with living floors, hearths, hut structures, burials, marine shells, worked bone and stone, and extensive refuse deposits, are very similar to some later Natufian sites in density, organization, and reoccupation evidence.

While the organic remains at Kebaran sites are rarely preserved, the early Epipaleolithic at the submerged and water locked Site Ohalo II (Lake Lisan, 19 k.a. BP; 23 k.a. cal BP ) shows how we have to imagine life after the Last Glacial Maximum in the Levant. Excavations revealed the burnt remains of several brush huts, constructed from branches of local trees, shrubs and grasses, several hearths and a human grave. In the largest hut, the living floors have been renewed several times indicating a long and/or repeated occupation. Erect stones under the floors of two brush huts and their arrangement could be taken as an indication for the idea of ownership and continuity at this specific location.

Charred seeds and fruit were recovered in abundance at Ohalo II. The excavators reported the earliest direct evidence for human processing of grass seeds, including barley and probably wheat. An oven-like construction was recovered, suggesting that the cereals were used for the production of dought, which was baked.  Beside a wide range of plants that were used, the human diet at the site was also based on a variety of wild animals (fish, birds, and gazelle).

Geometric Kebaran sites of the Middle Epipaleolithic exhibit the broadest geographical distribution of all Early and Middle EP entities, with expansion into the arid zones and highlands; in some areas, they overlap with other groups, suggesting some form of direct interaction.  Middle EP sites again vary considerably in size and sometimes  include very large encampments. Determining seasonality of use is difficult and based largely on faunal and botanical remains. However, large sites contain dense, diverse artifact assemblages and show several episodes of reuse. For example, along the Coastal Plain of Israel, the Geometric Kebaran site of Neve David displays a highly dense and diverse material culture, as well as burials, a possible stone wall, and distinct activity areas. At Kharaneh IV, several superimposed Middle EP phases are characterized by compact living floors and associated hearths and postholes. Alongside these larger multi-occupation sites are smaller specialized ones. Their small horizontal and vertical extent, as well as low artifact density and diversity, suggest they were more specialized, short-lived camps. These findings suggest that duration of occupation and site function were quite varied.

2The early Natufian period marks the Late Epipaleolithic sequence in the southern Levant at relatively mild and moist climatic conditions during the Bölling and Alleröd interstadials. This phase shows an intensification in  the shift from mobile foragers to sedentary communities in the Mediterranean woodland and the intensified use of wild plants (cereals, acorn, wild grasses, figs, almonds) and animal resources, including the specialized hunt of gazelles and small and fast moving game.

Several distinct cultural markers provide evidence for population growth and increased social complexity in the Natufian period. These include thick archaeological deposits, artistic manifestations, ceremonial behaviour, cemeteries and perhaps even Shamanism (?). Archaeological manifestations typical of the early Natufian in the Mediterranean woodland include large settlements, durable architectural remains, ground stone tools left in place at sites, prolific microlithic stone and bone industries, ornamented objects and large cemeteries. Some 500 burials are known, which vary in composition (multiple or single, age and gender), burial position (flexed, extended) and mode of inhumation (primary or secondary; inclusion of stones or grave goods). Decorated burials are a characteristic feature of the Early Natufian while skull removal is a custom that appears in the later Natufian and continues into the Neolithic.

lunatesIt has to stressed, that in Mediterranean woodland and costal context, there is only a limited number of such large “village sites” inhabited by communities of up to several hundred people. Further east, in the Irano-Turanian steppe, subsistence strategies already established during the earlier Kebaran prevailed. Here we find more mobile hunters and gatherers, less thick archaeological remains, smaller villages, infrequent use of small game and intensified exploitation of cereals and other grasses from the open parklands and steppe.

During the late Natufian, partially triggered by the harsher conditions of the younger Dryas, the mobile strategies that were once established in the early Natufian in the steppe-zones became also the lifestyle in the costal area. There are clear indications that the exploitation of grass seeds became more important, but these strategies did not ultimately lead to the cultivations of cereals during the younger Dryas, as once thought. The Natufians simply successfully adapted to the new environmental conditions, but the advent of agriculture did not take place until the warm and moist Holocene during the PPNA.

Social Memory at work: During the whole Epipaleolithic some sites were temporary campsites of seasonally mobile hunter-gatherers, while others were clearly much more substantial, with evidence of long-term reoccupation, long-distance travel and exchange, and multi-season occupation. Phases of sedentariness and ideas how to manipulate nature emerged and disappeared during the Levantine Epipaleolithic, but certainly were never forgotten in the social memory of  Epipaleolithic societies.  During the early Holocene these ideas and experiences were readily recallable and contributed to the Neolithic transition invariable what were the most eminent contributing factors for the emergence of agriculture.

One eminent question in this process is how we have to imagine  social memory in action. One concise theorywas developed by Lynne Kelly, an Australian  researcher.  Her work focuses mainly on the study of primary orality, as well as the mnemonic  devices used by ancient and modern oral cultures.

Prehistoric societies needed a wide, robust body of knowledge in order to survive. It seems highly probable that such cultures simply would not have done so without mnemonic transmission of knowledge allowing it to span generations without the benefit of writing, using mostly fallible human memory and memory foci. In early societies, the elders had encyclopedic memories. They could name all the animals and plants across the landscape and the stars in the sky too. Using traditional Aboriginal Australian song lines as the key, Lynne Kelly has identified powerful memory techniques used by indigenous people around the world. She explores the notion that memories were or are encoded in ritual, songs, myths and spaces that can be marked by natural or build elements.

Archeologists should be aware for indicators of such behavior-they  need not to be such spectacular as  Göbekli Tepe…..

Suggested Reading

Lynne Kelly:  Knowledge and Power in Prehistoric Societies: Orality, Memory and the Transmission of Culture; Cambridge University Press 2015.

PPNA at Nahal Oren

After the Cold: Kebaran from Kebara Cave

Enigmatic object from the Natufian at Kebara

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Early Middle Paleolithic (EMP) from the Mt. Carmel



Prehistoric Archaeology at the Mt. Carmel: When, in 1927, the British Mandatory government’s Public Works Department initiated the Haifa Harbor Project and quarrying threatened to destroy the caves’ cliff, Mr. Charles Lambert, Assistant Director of the Mandatory Department of Antiquities of Palestine, was assigned to check the complex of caves at Wadi el-Mughara to see whether it was worth saving. In autumn 1928 Lambert made five soundings in el-Wad Cave, three inside and two on the terrace, resulting in several important discoveries.

In fact, Lambert was the first to unveil the Natufian layers at el-Wad and to establish their stratigraphy. On the terrace, amongst stone walls and grinding implements, he came upon two burials, later known to be Natufian, the first ever unearthed at Mount Carmel. Inside the cave, a bone sickle handle carved as a young animal was found, the first prehistoric art ever published in the Near East.

The subsequent recognition of the Wadi el-Mughara caves (Tabun, Jamal, el-Wad and Skhul) as archaeologically important, and their registration as an antiquity site, was followed by six years of excavation directed, on behalf of the British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem and the American School of Prehistoric Research, by Dorothy A.E. Garrod (Garrod and Bate 1937). The Lower and Middle Paleolithic cave fillings from Tabun cave were opened during 1929.

Ninety years of archaeological research have revealed a cultural sequence of unparalleled duration, providing an archive of early human life in south-west Asia. This 54 ha property contains cultural deposits representing at least 500,000 years of human evolution demonstrating the unique existence of both Neanderthals andEarly Anatomically Modern Humans within the same Middle Palaeolithic cultural framework, the Mousterian. Evidence from numerous Natufian burials and early stone architecture represents the transition from a hunter-gathering lifestyle to agriculture and animal husbandry. As a result, the caves have become a key site of the chrono-stratigraphic framework for human evolution in general, and the prehistory of the Levant in particular.

tabun cave 2010

Wikipedia (GNU Free Documentation License) showing the Garrod section today.

Figure 1 shows a 13 cm long non retouched Levallois point from the Mt. Carmel, characteristic for “Tabun D” ensembles.  Such tools fit perfectly into a laminar phenomenon, found across the Levant around  200 k.a. BP. During the last 25 years it has been shown, that there is a lot of variability in these ensembles both by the chaine opératoires that was used and the typology of  the desired end-products.  Several types of “Points” have been described, although the boundaries between the types are volatile and reworking could easily change one type into another. Elongated blades / points have recently systematically described by their morphology and technology by Alla Yaroshevich, Yossi Zaidner, and Mina Weinstein-Evron. Figure 2 shows analogies from a collection from South Italy with similar characteristics (Probably dating from MIS5-3):


  • pointsLevallois point : Figure one shows an unusual elongated form
  • Retouched Levallois points: Levallois points, non-elongated with uni- or bilateral retouche
  • Abu-Sif points: elongated Mousterian points retouched along both edges by continuous retouche. Made from Laminar or Levallois convergent,  Preferential preparation
  • Hummal points: points with one fully or almost fully retouched edge opposite an edge that is either unretouched or retouched only on the tip Made predominantly on blades; some are possibly made on Levallois blanks.
  • Misliya points with tip modified by abrupt retouch in the form of an oblique truncation. Misliya points are made on small thin blades, Levallois as well as non-Levallois, or on small Levallois points.
  • Unnamed Points with bifacial, alternate or ventral retouch: points made on Levallois and non-Levallois elongated blanks and modified with invasive retouch which may be either bifacial, alternating or on the ventral surface
  • Off-set points with retouch creating either an oblique truncation or an arch-like back

This post gives a short account about what is currently known about the production, morphology and function of elongated pointed forms from the S/W-Asian  EMP at Mt. Carmel around 200 k.a. BP (MIS7).

The issue of Projectile Points: Investigations into the development of weapon systems are increasingly important in archaeological debates about human evolution and behavioural variability. Since the elongated points from the Levantine EMP are known, their use as projectile points is debated. While some researchers argue that their optimal design, combined with a relatively high frequency of “Diagnostic Fractures” [DIFs]), well beyond the frequency of accidental ones, produced by experimental debitage and trampling may be a strong signature as projectiles. But others are increasingly sceptic in identifying projectile points by simple breakage characteristics. These researchers vote for more experimentation and detailed functional studies and have by contrast stressed the numerous difficulties in recognizing projectile points. There seems not one single fracture type or attribute that is diagnostic for a use as armature.  Any reliable identification requires a close examination of all wear features on an armature, both on an individual and group specific level.

Tabun Cave was the first site where an Early Levallois Mousterian was described in the Levant. It lies at the mouth of Nahal Me’arot (Wadi el-Mughara), facing the coastal plain ca. 20km south of Haifa, Israel. The cave was first excavated in 1929–1934 by D.A.E. Garrod and later re-excavated in 1967–1971 by A. Jelinek. Excavations were continued between 1975 and 2003 by A. Ronen. Garrod removed an estimated 2,000m³ of sediment from the cave, leaving a stepped section approximately 24.50m deep that began in the inner chamber and ended at bed­rock in the outer chamber where a swallow-hole was un­covered. Garrod divided the stratigraphic sequence into seven layers, beginning with what she called Tayacian (F) and ending with the late Mousterian (Layer B) (the uppermost Layer A was mixed and included recent material. Jelinek’s excavations concentrated on Gar­rod’s stepped section in the intermediate chamber. The new section was 10m high, 5m to 6m wide and penetrated 2m into Garrod’s section. The exposed sequence was di­vided into 14 ‘Major Stratigraphic Units’ (identified with Roman numerals), each composed of multiple geological beds. Although the new excava­tions provided much better control over the stratigraphy, Garrod’s simple division of the sequence is still most com­monly encountered in the literature.

Unit IX of Jelinek’s excavations, which is equivalent to the lower part of Garrod’s Layer D (EMP) has recently reevaluated on a technological level.  Unit IX is the most intact EMP deposit at Tabun: Units III–VIII show evidence of considerable ero­sion and re-deposition. The assemblage from this layer is most often referred to as ‘Early Levantine Mousterian’ or ‘Tabun D-Type’ in the literature. Unit IX has been dated by TL to 256±26 k.a. BP. It is somewhat ironical, that the “prototype” of Tabun D ensembles is itself a technological abnormality. In contrast to many other contemporary sites, during MIS7 (Hayonim Lower E and F, Douara IV, Rosh Ein Moor and Hummal) where non-Levallois laminar production is strongly represented, the assemblage of Unit IX is dominated by recurrent, unipolar Levallois technology . The reason for this technological choice remains unclear.

Misliya Cave is located on  the western slopes of  Mount Carmel, slightly to the south of Nahal (Wadi) Sefunim, at an elevation of ca. 90 m, some 12 km south of Haifa and ca. 7 km north of Wadi el-Mughara.  Excavations were carried out between 2001–2010 and revealed a rich EMP layer spread over the Upper Terrace of this collapsed cave  below a residual rock shelter. Preliminary TL dates on burned flint artifacts from the site suggest that they are older than 200 k.a. , thus corroborating the dates recently obtained for the same cultural phase in the nearby Tabun Cave. The EMP of all these caves have broadly assigned the site to MIS7.bWhile the cultural affinity of the finds on the Middle Terrace could not have been determined to date, Middle Paleolithic layers cover an extensive  surface of the Upper Terrace, most notably in its central/northern portion.  The Lower Terrace, where Acheulo-Yabrudain finds constituted the only existing cultural uni , yielded a small lithic assemblage rich in handaxes and Acheulo-Yabrudian side-scrapers.

Neuville. — Le Paléolithique et le Mésolithique du Désert de Judée. Archives de l’I.P.H., n° 24, 1951: Abu Sif Points

abu sif


“Tabun D type” Ensembles in the Levant


Hummalien at El-Kowm

The Carmel caves, Dorothy Garrod and the Backdirt from old Excavations

A. Rust and D.A.E. Garrod: Different Attitudes

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Acculturation, What Acculturation?-An Eurocentric view

complexity neanderthal


This is an MTA Handaxe from Lembras / Bergeracois in the  Perigord;  a Chatelperron Point from Les Cottes / Vienne and three implements from the Aurignacian (La Rochette / Vezere near Le Moustier). The master narrative tells us that the Handaxe was made by Neanderthal, the Chatelperron Point by acculturated Neanderthals and the Aurignacian scraper and burins by AMHs. In other wors intelligent AHMs were the teachers of their rather dull Cousins.

Anyhow, from an evolutionary perspective, the roots of advanced cognition of Hominins lie in the Middle Pleistocene, prior to the split of Neanderthals and AMS. Here I argue for an equivalence model, as archeology showed during the last 20 years, that there are marginal differences between he behavior repertoire Neanderthals and of AMHs, which are limited to the presence of artistic manifestations. I will not go much in detail here, excellent literature about this theme can be found at the end of this post. Here I discuss the “Acculturation” model, that is put forward by the partisans of the “Human Revolution” paradigm.

Acculturation comprehends those phenomena which result when groups of individuals having different cultures come into continuous first-hand contact, with subsequent changes in the original culture patterns of either or both groups“(Redfield, Linton, and Herskovits 1936).

The basic assumption of adeherents of the “Human Revolution” paradigma is, that Neandethals were acculturated by AHMs either by direct contact or by ideas, that moved over common networks. Transitional industries should in this view a signatures of this one-way interaction. Here I argue that “there was no such thing as acculturation during OIS3” (Modification of a famous sentence of M. Thatcher-one of the founders of the highly ambivalent European Neoliberal reality).

What are Transitional industries?

mauernVery  different entities and constructs in Europe are subsumed under this label of a MP-UP transitional industry: Althmühlian (Late Micoquian; Figure 2: Blattspitze from Mauern), Szeletian (sensu Valoch: the only really transitional industry with affinities between the Micoquian in Moravia and the Upper Paleolithic , Bohunician (Fully fledged Upper Paleolithic), Châtelperronian (Upper Paleolithic), Lincombian-Ranisian-Jerzmanovicien (LRJ) (Upper Paleolithic) and the Uluzzian (Upper Paleolithic). It is generally suggested, that such industries would combine Middle and the Upper Paleolithic components both on a typological and technological level and are the signature of “acculturated” Neanderthals. But this Mix of “old” and “new” holds true only for the Moravian Szeletian.maybe the only possible excample of a one-way acculturartion…….

Stratigraphical Realities

There is no stratigraphically proof that the Middle Paleolithic was interstratified with truly Upper Paleolithic Industries like the [Proto-] Aurignacian, Bohunician, Althmühlian, Uluzzian, Bachokirian. Stratigraphically there is no indication that Neanderthals and AHM ( if they were bearers of the [Proto-] Aurignacian ) really met (except by paleogenetics, but not from the Central and South European contact zone ). In contrast to such a meeting scenario, at least in Central Europe, there are often clear sterile strata between the Mousterien / KMG and the following UP (for example in the Upper Danube Region).

A short Time for interaction

protoaurignacian-957x1024Higham et al. used improved accelerator mass spectrometry 14C techniques from 40 good characterized Mousterian and Neanderthal archaeological sites, ranging from Russia to Spain. Bayesian age modelling was used to generate probability distribution functions to determine the latest appearance date.  According to calibrated dates Mousterian ended by 41–39 k.a. cal BP (at 95.4% probability) across Europe. The Chatelperronian and Uluzzian started at 43-42 and ended coincident with the Mousterian. The earliest Aurignacian in Central Europe starts at 43,3 k.a. cal B.P. in Willendorf, and 41 k.a. cal B.P. in the Aquitaine (Pataud) and likely at 42 k.a. cal B.P in Nothern Iberia. If the Chatelperronian was made by Neanderthals and the Uluzzian bei AMHs than the time for interaction between these groups would have been of 2,600–5,400 years (at 95.4% probability). If not-the interaction time would be almost zero! During most Parts of Europe the interaction between the Aurignacian, if the bearers were AHMs and the Neanderthal Middle Paleolithic would have lasted for max. 1000 yrs. Figure 3: Protoaurignacian bladlets.

Iberia: Since the early 1990s, it has been widely acknowledged that the region south of the Ebro River and Cantabrian Cordillera in Iberia provided a refugium for the final Neanderthals. In this view, the Mousterian persisted south of the Ebro until ca 32 k.a., while the earliest stages of the (Proto) Aurignacian were absent from Southern Iberia. This “Ebro Frontier” model was not really questioned until recently. In contrast, in northern Iberia the Aurignacian appeared around 42 ka calBP, shortly after the disappearance of the Mousterian, a Middle Paleolithic industry usually associated with Neanderthals.

It has to be remembered, that two-thirds of C-14 dates from the south are “old” conventional radiocarbon dates, and sampling and pretreatment protocols do not meet modern requirements.  Recently advanced C-14 AMS techniques combined with rigorous pretreatment protocols were for the first time used in the evaluation the reliability of chronologies of eleven Southern Iberian Middle and early Upper Paleolithic sites, including the Mousterian from Jarama VI and Zafarraya.

This advanced technique now puts the Mousterian from Jarama VI and Zafarraya to a pre-42 k.a. date. It seems that the demise of the last Neanderthals in Iberia happened before Homo sapiens reached larger parts of the Iberian Peninsula.

aggsbach-musterienIn S-Europe
a Protoaurignacian or an Uluzzian always lies below an Aurignacian, if both entities are present. Wherever the (CI) Y-5 tephra marker is present (South East Europe), the classic Aurignacian consistently overlies the Campanian Ignimbrite. In these parts of Europe the classic Aurignacian therefore seems to be relative young. The Mediterranean Protoaurignacian (at Castelcivita) and Uluzzian (at Castelcivita and Cavallo) and the “Transitional” Paleolithic industries of the Kostenki area (loci 14 and 17) are found below the tephra and must therefore be older than 39 k.a. cal BP. These data are affirmed by the fact that pretreated-AMS dated-C-14 samples at of the Protoaurignacian in Italy situate this techno complex at ca. 41-40 k.a. cal BP and the Uluzzian at 43 to 41 k.a. cal BP. Figure 4: South European Middle Paleolithic Scraper.

solutreen blades coreIn S/W- France the earliest Aurignacian of Abri Pataud dates slightly later than Willendorf to around 41-40 k.a cal BP.  Other sites in the Aquitaine seem to be younger. Towards the Paris basin, at Les Cottes the Protoaurignacian is dated to a short episode around 39 and early Aurignacian around 39-36 k.a. k.a. cal BP. The Chatelperonnian starts at 43 to 41 k.a. cal BP at the site. Figure 5: Upper Paleolithic cores from Badegoule (commune Lardin-Saint-Lazare; S/W-France).

neanderthal coreCentral Europe: The heavily debated lowermost Aurignacian levels at Geissenklösterle (AHIII) in the Swabian Jura dates to 42,9- 39,9 cal B.P k.a cal BP if we take for sure that AHIII is an archaeological reality and not a secondary reconstruction bias. The chronostratigraphic position of AH 3 (Willendorf II) is now the best evidence for a an early Aurignacian technology in Central Europe at least slightly before 43,3 k.a. cal B.P. Mousterian ended by 41–39 k.a. cal BP (at 95.4% probability) across Europe. In Central Europe, there could be a contemporaneous Middle Paleolithic and Aurignacian, which is not substantiated by stratigraphy (Swabia, Lower Austria) and proven by the evidence of absence  of the Middle Paleolithic in Lower Austria near Willendorf (except the non dated Gudenus cave). Figure 6: Mousterian prepared cores from Lenderscheid, Hessen, Germany.

The dating for the Bohunician cluster at Brno is less clear. Radiocarbon age estimates from charcoal associated with Bohunician sites suggest a wide age range between 33 and 41 ka 14C BP (non-calibrated). The weighted mean of 48.2+/-1.9 ka BP TL for heated flint samples from Brno-Bohunice, the type site of the industry,  provides  non-radiocarbon data on archeological material from the Bohunician. I have my problems with the “frog- leap migration” of AMHs from the Negev to the Brno basin and the makers of this industry remain completely unkknown.

Who were the makers of the  Upper Paleolithic and the “Transitional Industries” 

We should not a priory rule out that Neanderthals and AHMs were both the bearers of the same technological traditions. This possibility heavily depends on the question if these anatomical and genetical distinct humans recognized each other as different or not.

Since the discovery of Neanderthal remains associated with Chatelperronian industries (Grotte du Renne and Saint Césaire), it became probable, but not definitely proven, that Neanderthals were the maker of the Châtelperronian. Anyhow according to our present knowledge, the Chatelperronian is older than the first AHM remains found in Europe inside Peștera cu Oase cave in south-west Romania (<41 k.a. cal. BP).

That means that the Chatelperronian may be the invention of Neanderthals. Knowing the complex history of skilled laminar Middle Paleolithic tool production in France during the last glaciation, this hypothesis comes not as a surprise. Anyhow, genetic analysis of the Oase jaw bone shows an early modern human had a Neanderthal great-great-great-great-grandparent, but most probably in the Near East and not in the Dordogne….

Recently the  morphology of two deciduous molars and radiocarbon ages from layers D and E of the Grotta del Cavallo (Lecce, Italy), which were assigned to the Uluzzian, was taken as an indication that AHMs were the makers of the Uluzzian. Anyhow, a meticulous reading of the excavation records show that Uluzzian, Protoaurignacian, Aurignacian and Early Epigravettian lithics exist in the assemblages from layers D and E. There was a major geological disturbances at this site and therfore the data remain highly ambivalent.

In sum: we cannot answer to the questions who were the makers of all these technocomplexes.  From our standard of knowledge, safe ground under our feet, appears only during the advanced Aurignacian and the Gravettian, where AHMs (you and me) were left alone as the only European Human Species. Maybe AHM were not teachers of the Neanderthals…

Suggested Reading: 

R. M. Wragg Sykes: To see a world in a hafted tool: Birch pitch composite technology, cognition and memory in Neanderthals (via reserchgate)

At the same time?

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

Interesting presentation given by  Tom Higham. Plus a Figire of Dufur bladelets from Aggsbachs blog  around the 52th minute of his spech…..

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Copper and Gold in European Prehistory





The beginning of the metal ages was not driven by economical needs.  Apparently copper was initially used to make jewellery: The earliest metal finds are mostly small copper beads. Experimentation with metal, at first with native copper, began as early as the PPN in Anatolia, during the 9th millennium BC. In Aşıklı Höyük copper beads are found foremost in graves. In Çayönü there is a large spectrum of beads, pendants made of malachite and copper, and small tools such awls. There are even indications of the specialised production of beads. As in Aşıklı Höyük, the objects are made of native copper that was either cold-hammered or formed in a warmed state. The Copper Age also saw the appearance of gold, most likely as a result of the rather frequent joint occurrence of copper and gold; the various objects made from this metal. The melting point of these two metals is similar (1083 °C and 1063 °C) and their contemporaneous utilization can in part be attributed to the similar techniques necessary for their processing. There is little evidence for the use of gold before the Copper Age

The profusion of copper artefacts in the Carpathian Basin led Ferencz Pulszky, as early as 1876, to speak of an independent Copper Age there.The question as to the provenance of these artefacts had to remain open at that time, as evidence of production was unknown. But with the discovery of mines in Rudna Glava (Serbia) and Ai Bunar (Bulgaria), dated as early as the 5th millennium BC, the exploitation of copper ores could be definitively proven. Copper had not been imported from afar, but instead procured locally; copper axes were not made from native copper, but were produced by casting.


Gold began to be worked at an early stage at the dawn of metallurgy between the 5 th and 3th millennium BC in different regions in South-West Asia and East Europe. This early use contrast with the limited availability of these metals compared to others like copper or lead. The efforts necessary to find and process gold and silver stands in no relation to any productive advantage that could motivate such an interest. The first use of gold was definitely not related to any economic use as we understand it today but rather served to express notions linked to a new social reality memerging gradually after the introduction of early metallurgy.

Gold has physical properties that result in an unique combination of reflectivity, resistance against corrosion workability and durability that makes it an  ideal symbolic expression  of those values and notations perceived as most transcendental and invariable by a society, group or individual.

The most important early concentrations of worked gold in the 5th millennium BC is the well-known  Varna necropolis. The most important grave was grave 43 that held the remains of a 40–50-year old male in extended supine position. His grave gifts included several weapons made of copper: two shaft-hole axes, one broad and one narrow one, and a copper spearhead or dagger that is a singular piece in itself. The deceased male also had a pointed flint blade, with bilateral retouching and a rounded base. The stone axe with a wooden shaft covered with gold sheet can be understood as a sceptre.

A jade axe is an import from afar: The raw material derives from the Alps and the axe likely made its long way from western Europe to ultimately reach the Black Sea coast, where it was brought into the typical shape of east Balkan axes. Among the many flint blades is one outstanding example of almost 40 cm in length. Its significance lies in the fact that there is still no plausible explanation for the strength and prowess that was necessary to strike such a long blade from the core.

The spondylus from which the originally red bracelet was made came from the Mediterranean. The bracelet must have been repaired once, for which gold sheet was used, an indication indeed of how precious it was. This solitary piece was worn together with two arm rings of gold on the left arm. All together 1413 grams of gold were found in the grave. Aside from the armrings, there was a myriad of golden beads that had been attached to the bracelets or worn as necklaces. The various gold discs were likely sewn onto garments, so that the entire body of the deceased was covered in gold.

Varna 43 is the beginning of an innovative physical symbolic relationship between new forms of power and “noble metals”, which  had definitively become sanctioned by the time of the first Mesopotamian dynasties during the first half of the 3th millennium, as the diadem and other artifacts of the royal tomb of the queen Puabi of Ur express very vividly. This appropriation of  gold and its social significance by the dominant social classes has prevailed until our days on a global scale.

Social stratification during the Upper Paleolithic?

Non Utilitarian Objects collected by Early Humans: The Archaeology of Curiosity

Neolithic / Chalcolithic Jade artifact from Varna

Suggested Reading:



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Quartz during the Paleolithic: More important than usually assumed



This is a small discoidal handaxe from the Mousterian site at Kervouster (6x5x2 cm) made from Macrocrystalline Quartz (Fig. 1, Fig. 2&3 showing the translucent character of the piece).  The site has been described during an earlier post ( and is putatively dated to MIS 3. The industry is assigned to a Mousterian with Bifacial Tools, MBT, a term coined by Karen Ruebens some years ago. The principal characteristic of the MBT at Kervouster is the preferential bifacial treatment, with most of the industry made from flake supports.

The main raw material for the production of bifacial tools at Kervouster was a fine grained glossy sandstone. Among the thousands of artifacts; only a handful were made from translucent Quartz, as the one shown here.

“Quartz” is a term that includes both well crystallized and compact forms of silica. All varieties are chemically the same substance, silicon dioxide, SiO2 also known as silica (from the Latin: Silex). Silica is one of the hardest and most common materials in the Earth’s crust. Due its ubiquitous availability it always played a role as raw material during the Stone Age and beyond- if you remember most microchips are currently made from SiO2 due to its effective semi-conducting properties.

For a long time the classification of Quartz was mostly based on the visual appearance and the possibility to resolve structural elements in an optical microscope. Today the petrographic characterization is complemented by   X-ray diffraction, Scanning Electron Microscopy, and Energy Dispersive X-ray analysis.

Macrocrystalline varieties that develop visible crystals or are made of large intergrown crystals: Rock crystal, Citrine, Milky Quartz, Rose Quartz and others, while the dense and compact forms are either called Cryptocrystalline or Microcrystalline Quartz (Chert, Flint, Chalcedony and others). It is astonishing that one chemical compound can have such different appearances such as a “Berg Crystal” and Flint.

Quartz fractures less predictably relative to other tools tones and have a tendency to shatter and fragment. In addition Quartz requires different techniques and tools than are normally used to knap flint or chert. There seems to be a prolonged learning curve for the knapper how to produce predictable flakes and blades compared to task of knapping flint. There is almost no scientific literature about this theme and no systematic review about the use of Quartz during the Paleolithic so far I know.

translucent trans

The Perception of the role that Quartz once played on lithic economies may be biased to a certain degree, especially by a selection bias of excavations until the late mid-20th century. Discussing his recent research in Portugal, Almeida (2006) noted that data from earlier excavations in Portugal were difficult to use in analyses because most of the non-flint materials were discarded, along with the smaller artefacts. Especially, European Archaeologists have only recently recognized Quartz as a significant part of prehistoric stone technologies. Quartz is abundant in many areas and was utilized extensively during prehistory. However, research biases have obscured a fuller understanding of it, with the evidence either having been overlooked or ignored. Often dismissed as a poor alternative to flint, and impossible to analyze due to perceived irregular fracture properties, quartz is best understood as a different material with different physical characteristics to cryptocrystalline materials such as flint and chert that were used in prehistory.

Africanists, on the other hand were always aware of the importance of  Quartz even during the earliest Paleolithic. Quartz is  common during the Oldowan in East Africa. Comparison of the geological and archaeological samples at Gona , dated to about 2, 6 Mya,  clearly demonstrates a high degree of raw material selectivity exercised by the hominids at this site. Preference for felsic volcanic rocks, using them in much greater proportion than would be expected from their representation in the gravels was found. Quartz, on the other hand was preferably used by Late Pliocene toolmakers (ca. 2, 3 Mya) in assemblages from Omo Shungura Member F, where its frequency is most probably a reflection of local availability and not ofdeliberate choice.

At Olduvai, Bed I (1, 85 e 1, 70 Mya), the archaeological assemblages are dominated by volcanic cobbles from local streambeds. These cobbles appear to have been selected for size and composition. In Bed II (1, 7 Mya), assemblages show a clear tendency toward the increased use of quartz and exotic volcanic rocks. Causes underlying the increased selective use of quartz over time remain unclear, and may include changes in raw material availability, hominid ranging patterns and tool using behaviors.

tihodaineThe use of quartz persisted during the East and North African Acheulian and east African MSA. A wonderful 500 k.a. old small handaxe from Bed IV in Olduvai Gorge is shown at the British Museum ( Figure 4 shows a 20 cm long translucent Quartz cleaver from Tihodaine (Tassili n’Ajjer). Here the Acheulean artefacts are  associated with  interglacial fauna at the playa of a  Paleolake.  In general, Quartzite, Quartz and Rhyolite were used as raw materials.

Raw material selectivity of early Homo sapiens can be nicely demonstrated from the MSA in South Africa. At Sibudu Cave, the presence of quartz backed tools is restricted to the lower and middle part of the Howiesons Poort sequence (MIS4) These implements are smaller, and not as highly standardized than backed tools made from other rock types. Quartz backed tools are recorded in other HP sites in South Africa, for example, Klasies River and Umhlatuzana Rock Shelter.Interestingly, a preferential use of Quartz is not restricted to the Howiesons Poort, as the most common rock type in post- Howiesons Poort assemblages at Sibudu is Quartz.

melka-msa-aggsbach-920x1024Figure 5shows an extraordinary appealing MSA point made from Macrocrystalline Quartz from Melka Kunture / Ethiopia, which is at least 120 k.a. old. The Garba II industy is based on Levallois operational sequences.  The archaeological evidence towards MSA from Garba III, together with a few other finding relatable to this same period, represent up to now at Melka Kunture the only MSA occurrences, which are otherwise, in Eastern Africa, rather common. A Quartz artifact from Garba III, is a rare finding, as a wide range of finer grained lavas and obsidian, played the most important role in raw material procurment  on this site .

During the 19th and early 20th century, in Europe Rock crystal was occasionally recognized, from the Mousterian in S/W-France (Les Merveilles and Laussel in the Dordogne, La Chapelle-aux-Saints and Chez-Poure in the Corrèze). Rock crystal Solutrean leaf points are known from Le Placard (Charente), and from the rock shelter of Badegoule (Dordogne). Rock crystal was also used during the Hungarian Epigravettian and during the Magdalenian at Zitny, Kulna and Pekarna caves in Moravia and  during the late Magdalenien of the Gudenus cave in Lower Austria.

In Iberia there are a lot of Middle Paleolithic sites with the preferential use of Quartz like the recently published microlithic Mousterian from Navalmaíllo, dated to MIS4.  Other examples are known from  Catalonia at Cueva 120 level G ; Avellaners and Diable Coix  (Comarca de la Selva, Girona); Arbreda (Serinyà, Girona) level H-43 and many more. Up to 91% of the artifacts at these sites are made on Quartz.

Similar sites are also known from France, beginning with the Quartz tools, that are part of the Lower Paleolithic industries of the Garonne and Roussillon terasses and from cave sites like Arago.

The most important question, what made Quartz so attractive for our ancestors has not been answered up to now. What characteristic of this material made them not to use high quality flint from the vicinity of their camps but instead Quartz, sometimes from a 20-30km distance? Maybe one of my readers knows the answer…

Gudenushöhle: Rock crystal during the Magdalenian


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The European World during MIS 11-9.


This is a 18 cm large elongated Biface, a Limande, from the Yonne (surface finding, probably from MIS9).  In the Yonne River valley (North Burgundy), handaxes were reported from the sand and gravels of the Soucy Formation, dated to MIS 10 by ESR and ESR/U-series. However, the most important data come from the study of the Soucy Acheulean site excavated in the upper part of calcareous fluvial silty sands of the same locality, dated from MIS 9 by the same methods. 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 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.

Archaeological data and human activity all over Eurasia show an increase in the number of sites after MIS12 (the Anglian or Elsterian glaciation), which is considered as the major climatical crisis before MIS 4 and 2- but H. sapiens was better prepared to cope with the cold, that his Heidelbergensis ancestors. MIS 11-9 on the other hand  is characterized by warm interglacial condition, high biodiversity, large-scale faunal dispersion associated with the regionalization of mammal communities and hominin morphology variability.

The time period between MIS 11-9 is considered to record evidence of new subsistence behaviors with demonstrations of an increase in hunting, suggesting the development of skills and social interactions starting as early as early as 500 k.a (i.e. Gran Dolina  TD 10-1, La Cotte-Saint-Brelade, Boxgrove, Schöningen). Management of local game resources led to another type of land use with seasonal settlements and evidence of specialized hunting in territorial networks.

At Schöningen, the horse bones come from Equus mosbachensis and are indicative of at least 20 individuals. They show numerous cut marks made by stone tools, but only a few bite marks made by animals. The site is interpreted by the excavator Harald Thieme as testimony of a hunting event as well as the following cutting up and preparation of the kill.

Systematic behaviors are observed on ungulate and small game carcasses. Bone retouchers are rare but existed from MIS 11. They have been found at  Terra Amata (south-east France, MIS 11), Orgnac 3 (south-east France, MIS 9), Cagny l’Epinette (Northern France, MIS 9), Gran Dolina TD10 in Spain, and La Micoque (Sout-West France MIS 9) .

Specialized sites, such as those considered as butchery places, indicate the role of activities on lithic strategies for examples at Terra Amata, La Polledrara or Castel di Guido (North-West-Italy, MIS9). The exploitation of elephant (Palaeoloxodon) carcasses is documented in a number of Middle Pleistocene sites in Spain (Aridos 2, MIS 11 , Ambrona MIS 12) Italy (Notarchirico, early Middle Pleistocene, Castel di Guido, MIS9) and France (Terra Amata). Some of the lithic series discovered among elephant and large herbivore remains contain bifacial tools, others do not. Some production on small and locally available nodules is frequent. Bifaces, bifacial tools and scrapers on large fragments of bone are episodically present, and are indicative of the lack of large locally available raw materials. Similar shaping on bones and some large stone pebbles is observed.

Evidence of early fire control is subject to debate. Some sites attest that fire was controlled as early as 400 ka (Beeches Pit; Suffolk; UK), contributing to new hominin abilities to expand territories and modify their behavior.

From MIS 12 onwards, some sites (Cagny-la-Garenne I-II, North of France, or Saint-Pierre-les-Elbeuf, West France) yielded some “pseudo-Levallois cores” or “prepared cores”.  Guado San Nicola (Monteroduni, Molise; Italy) was recently dated to the MIS 11-10 boundary  by the 40Ar/39Ar method and provided an ensemble of clear Levallois products within an Acheulean context. In contrast, at the same time, La Grande Vallee (France), dated to 400-450 k.a, yielded a series with bifacial technology and a core technology based on unifacial and bifacial cores. Certainly the wider use of the Levallois technique was not established in Europe before MIS9 (Orgnac 3; south-east France).

In southern Europe, at Aridos I, Aldene A-H, Arago, Baume Bonne unit I, Fontana Ranuccio, Galeria II base, Gran Dolina TD10, La Grande Vallee, Terra Amata or Vaufrey XII; core technology and flake-tool kits are diversified during MIS11-9, and show similarities to earlier techniques – clearly not Levallois.

Bifaces, when they were present, exhibit different shaping modes according to sites, dependent on the environment, resources, blank selection but with astonishing similar configurations to the final morpho-types. They are rare or numerous, on bones or stones, sometimes more similar to core-bifaces. There are also cleavers, bifaces or partial bifaces in other cases. In Western Europe during MIS 15-9 the biface diversified into several technical entities (such as the “biface used as a blank for tools”, the “biface as a tool”) or was completely abandoned.

In sum, diversity, adaptions, inventions and innovations  during MIS11-9 were clearly the overture for what was following during the early (post-MIS9)  Middle Paleolithic in Europe.

-- Download The European World during MIS 11-9. as PDF --

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It ain’t nothin’ like it used to be: Endscrapers during the European Upper Paleolithic

scraper _aggsbach

Fig. 1 shows a Magdalenian scraper from N-France. The relationship between form and function is a ambiguous issue that needs to be demonstrated rather than assumed. A Middle Paleolithic “point” may have been a projectile point but more often was used as a scraper for wood and hide-working,  large “Gravette points” were used as knifes,  burins are formidable bladelet cores  and a “microlithic saws” may have been used as a projectiles.

thumbnailA Levallois point embedded in the vertebra of a wild ass, as found at Umm el Tlel (El Kowm basin of Central Syria; strata older than 50 k.a) certainly shows that this artifact was part of a hunting device, but does not mean that every Levallois point, or even that the majority of these artifacts may have been used in this way.

Simple end scrapers from the European Upper Paleolithic were typically made from blades or flakes without modification except to produce a convex scraping edge.  A number of (sub-) parallel flakes were removed from the end or
side of the distal part of the blank to produce a thick wide-angled “scraping edge”.  The retouches on this edge varies from irregular to a perfect regularity.  The scraping edge typically has an angle that ranges from 70 to 90 degrees. Edge wear is very characteristic of end scrapers and they must have been repeatedly  resharpened in order to serve effectively. Consequently, scrapers became shorter and shorter in length with continued usage.

Function:  As the name suggests, the scraper has traditionally been an artifact assigned to one specific function: namely the scraping and working of hides or animal skins. This assumption is substantiated, at least for many European specimens by microtraceology. At Pavlov I 15/18 end scrapers were used for hide working and 2 /18 for Antler / Ivory work. The picture at other sites is similar: hide working is most prominent, but scrapers had been used multifunctional, for example as adzes for woodworking (during the Magdalenian at  La Garenne; Indre; France). The end scraper as a tool may hold more functions than had been previously thought. Instead of having a one- dimensional use for the scraping of hides, it may have demonstrated several different forms of use throughout its life, on several different substances. In addition, the function of the scraper may have changed during the course of its life as wear and retouching altered the edge angles.

several types of scrapers exist. These include the side scraper (working edge on the long edge), the classic artifact of the MSA and MP but not absent during the Upper Paleolithic and the end scraper (convex working edge on the distal end of a flake or blade). End scrapers can be combined with a second scraper edge (double scrapers) or with a burin edge (for hafting?).

Some end scrapers are denominated according to their size (thumbnail scraper, approximately the size and shape of a thumbnail) Fig. 2shows laugerie2such a scraper  from the PPNB at Nahal Oren, Carmel; Israel).  Other characteristics of scrapers may be eponymous (for example for the  carinated scrapers / cores; Fig. 3). “Spoon scrapers” first appeared at Ehringsdorf (OIS7) and were common during the Aurignacian (Fig. 4:  Aurignacian near the Mont Circeo in West-Italy south of Rome) . Cortical scapers are made on a cortical blade or flake and are known from the Solutrean in S/W-France and as tabular scrapers from the Levantine Bronze age ( The cortical scrape on Fig.5 is also from Laugerie haute.

laugerieOther scrapers  are named according to the site, they were first found. For example the Ksar Akil scraper (; found at Ksar Akil, in Stratum 4/5 (C-14 data: 29-30 k.a. BP). Other specimens are known from Tha’lab al-Buhayra (Wadi al-Hasa in west-central Jordan; 24-26 k.a.) and Boker D (Negev; Israel25-27 k.a.).

Laugerie scrapers (Fig.5) are flat (double) scrapers with lateral retouches, first found during  the 19th century diggings at the Grimaldi caves (“Grimaldi scrapers”) and at Laugerie haute west where they are characteristic for an swabiaevolved Solutrean with bilateral Leafpoints.

End scrapers in Europe are common since the Early Upper Paleolithic (including “transitional industries” such as the Châtelperronian and
), although they can occasionally observed during Lower and Middle Paleolithic ensembles. Nice examples were present at the “Atelier Commont” (OIS9) at St. Acheul.

During the earlier stages of the Aurignacian in France and Central Europe end scrapers with lateral retouches were common.  These lateral retoches may have allowed a better hafting (Fig. 6: double end scraper obviously after strangledmultiple resharpening cycles from the Swabian Aurignacian).  An interesting combination found both in the French and central European Aurignacian are endscrapers on strangled blades (Fig.7).

During the earlier Gravettian complex simple end scrapers are found in abundance (for example during the early Perigordian in S/W-France, in the Rhone valley, but also in central Europe at Pavlov I, while the domestic tools during the later phases are more characterized by burins. It is unknown, why endscrapers lost their role at this time. The Magdalenian has a large variety of end scrapers ranging  from tiny specimens to very large and robust ones. Small thumbnail scrapers during the final European Paleolithic are characteristic for the late Epigravettian and the Azilian.

The scraper may be hafted onto wood or antler, as indicated by microtraceological studies on some examples. The only scraper embedded into a haft I know comes from the Magdalenian of the Pekarna cave in the Moravian Karst.

A great potential for a better characterization of the scraper function will be the search and evaluation of organic residues by sophisticated techniques of organic chemistry. This methodology promises to achieve a lot of new insights, as recently demonstrated for  Fat Residue and Use-Wear Found on Acheulian Biface and Scraper Associated with Butchered Elephant Remains at the Site of Revadim, Israel ( via PLOS ONE).

Suggested Reading:

Abri Castanet and the Aurignacian I in S/W-France

Thumbnail Scrapers

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The Pavlovian in Moravia and Lower Austria: “Microsaws”


The “Pavlovian” is a filiation of the central European early Gravettian (28-25 k.a. BP), defined by an unique character of settlement patterns, stone and bone artifacts, the use of fired clay for the production of figurines, artistic expression and funerary practices.

Microlithic denticulated implements are one hallmark of the Pavlovian in Moravia and Lower Austria. The morphological spectrum includes a wide range of varieties, from tiny examples to relatively massive examples and varying from very finely to coarsely denticulated bladelets and blades. Some of the artifacts are backed and some are without any backing. Complete findings are relatively rare. At Jarošov-Podvršťa (17%) of the “microsaws” were pointed (“Jarošov-type pointed microsaw”), a phenomenon which is occasionally also known from other Pavlovian clusters.

“Microsaws „were first published by Absolon from Dolni Věstonice I. They were later described from Dolni Věstonice II, Pavlov VI , Pavlov I, and Pavlov I Southeast, where non backed uni- and bilateral fine denticulated lamelles, which were often broken, were found together with backed examples. At Pavlov, backed denticulated lamelles make maximal 2, 6 % of the inventory.

Some examples are known from the Gravettian sites in Lower Austria (Krems-Hundssteig, findings from the 19th century and new excavations), Krems-Wachtberg I and Krems-Wachtberg II, the new site at Gösing am Wagram) which together with fragments of zoomorphous burnt clay figurines and the  famous  children burials from Krems underline strong connections to the Pavlov hills in the north.  On the other hand Microsaws are absent from other large Lower Austrian Gravettian sites (Willendorf, Aggsbach, Grub Kranawetberg). It seems to be wise not to lump these sites under the “Pavlovian” label. On the other hand small parts within the Dolni Věstonice and Pavlov “Megasites”, which are characterized by “microsaws” may allow to identify functional or cultural peculiarities within the larger “Pavlovian” frame.

Microtraceological investigations about the use of the saws are absent. Almost ident
ical objects were reinvented during the late Magdalenian in S/W-France and of course during the N-African Epipaleolithic with its overwhelming spectrum of stone tools .

Lartet in the 1860ies already noted that the tiny “Magdalenian saws” may have been used for the production of ivory needles at La Madeleine and Bruniquel. The idea is attracting as fine needles are also known from the Pavlovian sites.

Another idea about the pointed subclass of “Microsaws” which can be extended to the non-pointed examples would be their use as component of complex hunting devices , which is  supported by documented traces of impacts in a longitude direction on one of the pointed “microsaws” from Jarošov.

” If the hypothesis that these artifacts were used as inserts in hunting implements is accepted, the denticulated edge may be interpreted as a means of increasing the productivity of these weapons – the denticulated edge causing increased tissue damage, resulting in increase bleeding” (P. Skrdla).


Suggested Reading:


Serrated Stone Artifacts

Paleolithic saws

Abri Pataud / Les Eyzies Stratum 4: Three Rare Artifacts

BOUYSSONIE, J. & H. BREUIL, éd: Musée d’ethnographie et de préhistoire du bardo: collections préhistoriques. Some examples of  Algerian Epipaleolithic „Saws and pointed saws“


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Battle Axes and the Corded Ware-culture


This is a rther amall, 12 cm long,  faceted battle-axe from S-Germany coming from a 19th century collection.  Since the early Neolithic period when stone axes were first introduced, they were used as tools or weapons. However, subsequently they were also used as important valuables maintaining trade as well as social communication between individuals, communities and regions. In the period of Corded Ware Cultures, stone axes mediated a symbolic relationship between the body of the buried individual and the respective society. Stone axes served as an important part of the burial assemblage and attributes of particular social categories, indicators of wealth and social status of an individual.

The archaeological phenomenon referred to as the Corded Ware (CW) culture is one of the more enigmatic, as well as widely discussed, in European prehistory. Archaeologically it has been defined by a set of material traits, such as cord-ornamented beakers and amphorae, shaft-hole battle axes, and standardized burial practices involving single, sex-differentiated inhumations under barrows, oriented east-west, in contracted (hocker) positions. These burials generally date between ca. 2800–2200 BC and are found over a very large area in central, northern, and Eastern Europe.

battleaxe1Under the general CW rubric, a number of regionally-defined cultures have been subsumed, such as the Single Grave Culture in Denmark, Holland and N. Germany, the Battle Axe Culture of Sweden, Norway and Finland, and the Fatjanovo Culture in Russia. The wide geographic distribution and the perceived homogeneity of the culture, coupled with the lack of identified settlements, have given risen to debates regarding the interpretation of this phenomenon.

The discussions have concerned among other things the origin of the culture, the mechanism behind its introduction, the identification of a network instead of a mono- or polythetic “culture”, the identification of marriage practices, the spread of a common ideology, whether its carriers were also Indo-European speakers, and the nature of settlement and economy.

Regarding the formation of the CW, some archaeologists point out the contribution of different regions to the material set of the “CW-network”, while others note similarities with the steppe, in particular with the Yamnaya culture, as a possible area of origin. This is based on similarities in burial rituals. Some authors have suggested that this culture practiced a form of mobile pastoralism, which spread towards the west through migration and/or cultural influence, and gave rise to the CW.

In the process, Indo-European language would also have spread over Europe, but I still have some reservations of linking a linguistic theoreticalconstruct with archaeological and genetic data. Recently, these hypotheses have gained support from aDNA studies of Yamnaya and CW burials. It was shown that a genetic transformation took place in areas where previous Neolithic DNA was heavily reduced and complemented by Yamnaya DNA. This new genetic presence was lasting and provided much of the genetic material for contemporary European populations.

There is increasing evidence for some kind of population reduction or crisis toward the end of the middle Neolithic facilitating this introduction of new genes and recent research has documented the presence of plague among Yamnaya and Corded Ware individuals, which may have spread among Neolithic populations prior to the migrations. This needs to be explored in future research. At the macro-historical level, the old debate over migration versus local adaptation thus seems to be solved. However, we still do not know how migration and other formation processes unfolded in the various regions, and regional variability is evident.

Isotope Studies from South Germany  suggest that Corded Ware groups in this region were subsisting on a mix of plant and animal foods and were highly mobile, especially the women.This may be interpreted as a pattern of female exogamy, involving different groups with differing economic strategies.

The Boat Axe Culture

Corded Ware Axe from S-Germany

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A “Point de Verrières” found near Briennon

point1 pointer

This is a Middle Paleolithic  “Point de Verrières” found  in the Roannaise near the river Loire, a single stray find 370 km south of the eponymous Verrières-le-Buisson Paleolithic site.

Laminar production is the main production system in several Middle Paleolithic sites in N/W-Europe, dated to MIS 5 s.l. E. Boëda pointed out some critical features which distinguish blade production strategies from those of the Levallois system. Most importantly, the core-volume organization is radically different: the active surface of the core from which the removals are struck extends along most, if not the entire core’s periphery rather than being restricted to one delimited surface.

Middle Paleolithic blade cores can be reduced according to four different strategies: semi-rotating method, rotating method, frontal method and facial method. These different options may occur in full or partial combination in the archaeological assemblages, the semi-rotating method being most common. Variability is also expressed in the number of striking platforms present on the cores (one or two opposed). The method of core reduction (recurrent unidirectional or bidirectional) generally involves the production of crested blades, although this is not an absolute rule. Usually, Middle Paleolithic blade cores are only minimally prepared, and the volume is not thoroughly shaped out before starting the production of blades.

The blades were detached with a hard hammer and consequently show significant variation in shape and size. In Middle Paleolithic assemblages, blade production is generally found in combination with flakes produced following the Levallois concept, the latter being in most cases the dominant mode of reduction.

The Levallois recurrent uni/bidirectional methods are most commonly associated with laminar production systems in Mousterian assemblages. The need to produce quadrangular elongated blanks which implied the use of this peculiar method could have contributed in the same assemblages to the emergence of a blade production. The few blades that are retouched are modified through marginal retouch. In fact, the laminar production in the Middle Paleolithic is aunique phenomenon, clearly distinct from Upper Paleolithic blade production in the striking technique used (direct percussion with a stone hammer) as well as in the way core volume was exploited, in the characteristics of the end-products and in its systematic association with flake production.

Predominantly non-Levallois blade assemblages with little secondary modifications include La Butte d’Arvigny (Seine-et-Marne, France), Wallertheim D (Germany) Rocourt (Liège, Belgium), Saint-Germain-des-Vaux/Port-Racine (Manche, France), Riencourt-lès-Bapaume – CA Horizon (Pas-de-Calais, France) and Seclin – D7 (Nord, France).

There are some sites with Micoquian (“Keilmesser Gruppen” / KMG) elements at the S/E Margins of the Paris basin (sensu Bosinski and Richter) associated with Levallois and/or non-Levallois, semi-rotating prismatic cores for the production of blades, unknown from Central Europe: Vinneuf (Yonne; OIS5d) and Champlost (Yonne; late OIS4) and the very interesting open air site of Verrières-le-Buisson (Essonne, OIS5d).

Vinneuf N1 (Yonne, France) represents a late Last Interglacial s.l. “KMG” lithic assemblage. Indeed, the assemblage of Vinneuf N1 is characterized by bifaces (n=27) and tools (n=148), which have affinities to the KMG. There is a certain abundance of semi-rotating prismatic cores for the production of blades.

Verrières-le-Buisson shows the combination of asymmetric bifaces and other KMG-elements together with a mainly Levallois blade production. Some cores show volumetric conceptions and are suggested to have started as pure Levallois cores, with subsequent change in the their operational conception.  Most interesting are abundant “Points de Verrières” which are retouched asymmetric Levallois-blades. These pointed blades show a continuous, semi-abrupt invasive retouche on both margins, mostly direct, sometimes inverse or alternating. They cannot be easily confused with retouched European elongated Levallois points and show some similarities to Hummalian and Abu Sif Points from the Near East. Interestingly some “Points de Verrières”  have also be found at Champlost, showing another unifying element of these three extraordinay sites.

Suggested Reading:

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

The Prądnik (KMG) complex in Central Germany revisited

From: Daniel Marguerite, Daniel Raoul, Degros Jacqueline, Vinot André. I Le site paléolithique du Terrier. In: Gallia préhistoire, tome 16, fascicule 1, 1973. pp. 63-103.


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