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.

tihodaine1The 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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Mousterian scraper from Saint-Germain-et-Mons


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

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

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

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

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

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

The Châtelperronian: a fully developed Leptholithic Industry

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

The Neronian in the Rhone Valley

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Warren Hill, Acheulian near Mildenhall, Suffolk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Swanscombe during the Hoxnian

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Early Paleolithic in the Center of France

handaxe touraine

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

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

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


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


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


centre france indre loire

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




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

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

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

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

central indre mta

Suggested Reading:

Grand Pressigny Flint


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