Small Mousterian Handaxes from the Boucle de l` Orne


orne aggsbach

These three small Handaxes (Fig.1) were found in a secondary context at the gravels of the Orne valley at Thury-Harcourt (Basse-Normandie region, northern France), were the river formed a huge meander, called the “La boucle de l’Orne” (Fig. 2 at the end of the post). The sediments along the meander serve as a natural trap for artifacts and fossils, transported by the river from their primary context upstreams.

The Orne River river is 152 km long and flows through Orne and Calvados Départements to empty into the English Channel 13 km north-northeast of Caen. It rises in the Perche Hills, east of the city of Sées, after which it flows northwestward through Argentan and then westward through Putanges-Pont-Écrepin, below which it is dammed. Its course then runs through the Saint-Aubert gorges to Pont-d’Ouilly and Thury-Harcourt, traversing some of the most beautiful parts of a region sometimes called the Norman Switzerland.

Paleolithic sites are especially rich along the Orne. The valley exhibits not only a high number of Mousterian ensembles from the last glaciation, but also well preserved sites from the beginnings of the Middle Paleolithic in the Normandy. Ranville, a carstic site some km from the English Channel , is dated to MIS 7 (230- 200 k.a. BP) and showed two artifact ensembles. The older ensemble includes simple pebble tools extracted from the nearby river, the more recent stratum associated with fauna is characterized by flint, sandstone and quartz artifacts. The technique is flake oriented, using non prepared blocks and a recurrent unipolar flake production. Alongside with this ensemble there are few bifaces and a large quantity of sandstone and quartz pebble tools. Microlithic tools at the site resemble lithics from the famous Lower Paleolithic Bilzingsleben Site (OIS11) or the Schöningen site with its famous wooden spears of same age. Faunal analysis showed, that Ranville was a butchery site (Elephant, Rhinoceros, Wild Ox, Red Deer). Acheulian sites are rare at the Orne. At Olendon a non-dated well developed handaxe industry along with the Levallois technique is contested.

Most of the Mousterian sites are dated to the last glaciation (MIS5-3). The artifacts from this post are characteristic for a Mousterian with a strong bifacial component, better known from other sites in the Orne region like Saint-Brice-sous-Rânes. The site of Saint-Brice-sous-Rânes, la “Bruyère”  belongs to a cluster of middle Paleolithic production sites for bifacial tools covering about the area of 200 hectares. These sites were found on the plateau, the slopes and on top of a flat-bottomed valley. Surveys and limited excavations were performed in 1998 and 1999 and showed some material in situ, undisturbed by periglacial phenomena. Excavations were carried out between 1999 and 2010. Tl-data provided for the first time secure dates for an older series, characterized by the Levallois technique (MIS 6) and an abundant younger series  dated around 40 k.a. BP .

Fig. 2: “La boucle de l’Orne”le boucle de l orne carte postale aggsbach

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Man the Hunter, Leisure time in Hunter-Gatherers societies – Sans souci?


Epipaleolithic W-Sahara

Man the Hunter

This is an epi paleolithic arrow-point from the Western Sahara for the hunting of smaller game, certainly a highly effective projectile type in the hands of an experienced hunter.

A hunting and gathering economy virtually prevents individuals from accumulating private property and basing social distinctions on wealth. To survive, most hunters and gatherers must follow the animals that they stalk, and they must move with the seasons in search of edible plant life. Given their mobility, it is easy to see that, for them, the notion of private, landed property has no meaning at all. Individuals possess only a few small items such as weapons and tools that they can carry easily as they move. In the absence of accumulated wealth, hunters and gathers of Paleolithic times, like their contemporary descendants, probably, lived a relatively egalitarian existence. Social distinctions no doubt arose, and some individuals became influential because of their age, strength, courage, intelligence, fertility, force of personality, or some other trait. But personal of family wealth could not have served as a basis for permanent social differences.

At the 1966 “Man the Hunter” conference, anthropologists Richard Borshay Lee and Irven DeVore suggested that egalitarianism was one of several central characteristics of nomadic hunting and gathering societies because mobility requires minimization of material possessions throughout a population. Therefore, no surplus of resources can be accumulated by any single member. Other characteristics Lee and DeVore proposed were flux in territorial boundaries as well as in demographic composition.

Leisure in Hunter-Gatherer Societies

At the same conference, Marshall Sahlins presented a paper entitled, “Notes on the Original Affluent Society”, in which he challenged the popular view of hunter-gatherers lives as “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short,” as Thomas Hobbes had put it in 1651. According to Sahlins, ethnographic data indicated that hunter-gatherers worked far fewer hours and enjoyed more leisure than typical members of industrial society, and they still ate well. Their “affluence” came from the idea that they were satisfied with very little in the material sense.

Later, in 1996, Ross Sackett performed two distinct meta-analyses to empirically test Sahlin’s view. The first of these studies looked at 102 time-allocation studies, and the second one analyzed 207 energy-expenditure studies. Sackett found that adults in foraging and horticultural societies work, on average, about 6.5 hours a day, where as people in agricultural and industrial societies work on average 8.8 hours a day. The hunter- gatherer community:”without worry” / “sans souci” ?

Sans souci

Mysteriously, the song “Sans Souci” receives the alternate title “Cyprus” in some sources, including ASCAP. A composition by Sonny Burke and Peggy Lee  for her 1952 album Lover. It’s worth noting that the lyrics seem to allude to a specific story – to a character who is in exile, or maybe to an illegal refugee. Here is the ultimative interpretation by Françoiz Breut: 

Sans souci, ah, sans souci
They got no room here for someone like me
Oh, the mountains start to giggle
When the springtime waters wiggle
Down the mountainside
I can hear the fishes swishing
Just as loud as I’m a wishing
When I hit the tide
Go, go, go, go
Go, go, go, go
Sans souci, ah, sans souci
They got no room here for someone like me
Go, go, go, go
Go, go, go, go
Try to tell me I was evil, try to trample on my soul
Try to make me think that they were righteous
But the plot of the lie was whole
Go, go, go, go
Go, go, go, go
Sans souci, ah, sans souci
They got no room here for someone like me
Ah, the earth, it starts a squaking
‘Cause it knows that love is walking
And it ain’t no dream, no, you ain’t no dream
Sans souci, you ain’t no dream
Go, go, go, go
Go, go, go, go
Try to tell me I was evil, try to trample on my soul
Try to make me think that they were righteous
But the plot of the lie was whole
Go, go, go, go
Go, go, go, go
Feel yourselves with all laughing and talking
That used to be
Go, go, go, go
Go, go, go, go
Go, go, go, go
Sans souci

Suggested Reading:

Devore; I (Ed.),  Lee, RB (Ed.) Man the Hunter; Aldine Pub (1968).

Sackett, R. Time, energy, and the indolent savage. A quantitative cross-cultural test of the primitive affluence hypothesis; Ph.D. diss ( 1996), University of California.

 Basic facts about the refugees from Syria:

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The Variability of Epipaleolithic Tanged Points in the Sahara

IMG_5673Tanged points from the late Pleistocene and early Holocene are common in the Sahara. There is no unified techno-typological approach for these artifacts available.  The spectrum of such implements includes the classic Ounanian point (upper row of Fig.1: the second point- a microlithic example; lower row of Fig 1: a classic non-microlithic example [7 cm long] on the right), first described by Breuil in 1930 at Ounan to the south of Taodeni in northern Mali. Ounanian Points are suggested to be the hallmark of the some Epipaleolithic industries  in the central Sahara, the Sahel and northern Sudan, and dated to the early Holocene. These industries differ from the Capsian, commonly found in the Mediterranean landscapes in the North.

In the Eastern Sahara many individual types of tanged and shouldered arrowheads occur on early Holocene prehistoric sites. In many cases, dating sites is not sufficiently accurate, and assemblages containing arrowheads are often mixed with artifacts of different chronological phases. Moreover, clear definitions of types and key forms are lacking. Compared to Ounanian points sensu Breuil, such points seem to be shorter and broader, and their distal ends are modified in a different way. Some examples were produced from uni- or bidirectional blade and bladelet cores. The microburin technique played a role in many of these ensembles, evoking possible links to the earlier Levantine Harifian. Therefore, the name Ounan-Harif point was proposed for the tanged points at Nabta Playa and Bir Kiseiba  (such points are shown in last row inFig.1 -the two small points in the center).

Riemer and Kindermann described a tanged point, designated:  Abu Tartur point, 14C-dated to about 7645 BP , characterized by a special  manufacturing technique. The points were made out of blades using the microburin technique with a notching of both edges. Similar points were also recognized from Kharga Oasis where a small number were found with concentrations of the “Bedouin Microlithic”

The Epipaleolithic culture of Foum Arguin stretched from the Oued Draa, in southern Morocco, to the Banc d’Arguin and from the Atlantic shore to the lowlands of northwestern Sahara in Mauritania. Dated to the 7 th millenium B.P. it antedates the Neolithic of this region by ca. 1500 years. Some of the points from Foum Arguin fit perfectly into the spectrum of several tanged points displayed in this post.

Suggested Reading:

Robert Vernet: Le golfe d’Arguin de la préhistoire à l’histoire : littoral et plaines intérieures (via

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Balzi Rossi (Rochers Rouges) caves and the Ligurian Epigravettian



This are some Epigravettian artifacts from the Balzi Rossi caves:  A foliated point with partial flat retouches, Microgravettes and a 2,8 cm long shouldered point on the left, an ensemble that is very characteristic for the early Epigravettian of Liguria (Fig.1).

Shouldered points” during the late Paleolithic and the Epipaleolithic in Europe, S/W-Asia and Africa are a common phenomenon indicating recurring and probably independent technical solutions of the problem how to produce an artifact with a shoulder that can be inserted in a  hafting device. A good example is the elegant shape of Havelte Points during the late Glacial of N-Europe and almost identical pieces, called Ounanian points (sensu Breuil; Fig. 2) in larger parts of N-Africa during the late Pleistocene and Early Holocene. In many cases a “tradition” of making such artifacts over vast areas (for example for the Willendorf-Kostenki complex) is rather hypothetical than really proven.

There are some simple questions that are not resolved. For example: how is the relation between the  large and heavy Kostenki points to the smaller but typological very similar points that were found in Willendorf 2/9 regarding their functionality (projectiles vs. knifes). Are the shouldered artifacts at Krakow Rue Spadzista really topologically of functionally an equivalent to the shouldered artifacts 0f Kostenki 1 and Avdeevo?  Has the small shouldered Epigravettian point shown here any genetically or functionally relation to other much larger shouldered implements of East Central Europe?  Is the chronological status of shouldered points in Central East Europe really well defined and restricted to post-Pavlovian times? Are Shouldered Points sometimes the by-product of the production of backed implements?

Between 20,500-13,500 cal. BP, Europe was split into two technological large areas, the Epigravettian  in the East (Central-East Europe, Italy, Balkans and Greek) and the Magdalenian in the West. During the early Epigravettian, shouldered points played an eminent role in the Italian ensembles. In Liguria the early Epigravettian was enriched by leaf shaped “points a face plane”, characteristic for the contemporaneous Arenian in the Provence. Therefore the early Epigravettian in Italy is sometimes also called Arenian. Anyhow it has to be considered that the Arenian of France has very characteristic small but Kostenki style shouldered points (Pointe de Bouverie); very different from the shouldered points of the Italian Epigravettian. The other components of the early Italian Epigravettian include burins, scrapers (rare), Microgravettes, Gravettes (rare) and backed bladelets. The late Epigravettian (16 k.a. cal. BP until the end of the Pleistocene) in Liguria is sometimes also called Bouverian referring to the Epigravettian of the Provence. Shouldered and foliated points are absent and the toolkit encompasses microliths, Microgravettes and short endscrapers.

On the Liguria coast to the French border are the entrances of the complex of the caverns of the Balzi Rossi. The name of the locality derives from the color of the limestone walls that, because of the iron mineral presence oxidizes a red color. The first research activities took place in 1846-57, by the prince of Monaco, Florestano I. From 1870 to the early 20th century, the Balzi Rossi caves were central to the scientific debate, mostly because they yielded several, well preserved prehistoric human burials (from a Gravettian /Epigravettian context). Twelve burials, including two double and a triple burial, associated grave goods, fifteen figurines, expressions of parietal art, abundant lithic and bone industries and fauna, qualify these caves as one of the most important Upper Paleolithic complexes of Europe.

Fig. 3: Gravettian / Epigravettian at Balzi Rossi

balzi aggsbach


Unfortunately most of the caves were excavated “to early”. Scholars and laymen were variously involved, including not only well-known people as Emile Rivière and Albert I of Monaco, but also Stanislav Bonfils, Louis- Alexandre Jullien, the USA consul Thomas Wilson, the quarry owner Francesco Abbo and his son Giuseppe, as well as prehistorians such Edouard Piette, Gabriel De Mortillet, and René Verneau. There were also evidence of legal problems pertaining to the ownership of the caves, and their geographical position that many believed as belonging to France. Further difficulties were related to the ambiguity of the scope of research, which at the time is poorly formalized, with both scientific and economic goals at stake.

It was only after 1928, that regular diggings were started, by A.C. Blanc, L. Cardini and Mochi, on behalf of the Italian Institute of Human Paleontology. The excavations at some old and new sites are still ongoing and yield high qualitative data (for example at Riparo Mochi). 

Fig.4: Gravettian / Epigravettian at Balzi Rossi

balzi rossi 1111 aggsbach



Balzi Rossi: Some important Caves and Abris 

Grotta di Florestano: Where it all began in 1846 with the first diggings by the Prince of Monaco, Florestan I.

Grotta dei Fanciulli  (Grotte des enfants) is important for double interment of children. The children were lying in the upper part of the deposit attributed to the Late Epigravettian. Coherently, a recent AMS date drawn directly from one of the two children (Grotte des Enfants 1) places the burial at 11,130 +/- 100 BP and thus to the late Epigravettian. The sequence offers a succession of Mousterian, Protoaurignacian, Aurignacian with a couple of split based bone points, Gravettian with points a face plane and Flechettes, Gravettian with Noailles burins, late Gravettian, Arenian (early Epigravettian) and the late Epigravettian burial site.

Grotta del Caviglion:  A succession of Mousterian, (Aurignacian?), Gravettian and (Epigravettien?) has been described. In 1872 Rivière discovered a first Upper Paleolithic burial while working in the Caviglion cave. The skull was ornamented with marine shells and pierced deer canines, both forming part of a headdress. Other shells, possibly decorating the legs, were found close to the proximal tibia. Abundant ocher marked the bones, grave goods, and soil with a red color. The skeleton was lying on its left side; hands close to the face, lower limbs slightly bent and showed a fracture of the distal third of the left radius healed with residual deformation. The attribution to the Gravettian of the Caviglion skeleton on archaeological grounds is supported by the age range provided by C14 dating of four shells from the headdress. The Gravettian was not the only Paleolithic entity that was present, as attested by some Aurignacian split based bone points from old collections.

Barma Grande:  L. Jullien and S. Bonfils discovered, buried at a depth of 8.4m, a grave dating from the Upper Paleolithic: “le nouvel homme de Menton”. Subsequently, there were the excavations by the quarry-worker Abbo and his sons, who revealed new burials, including a triple burial which included ornaments crafted from mammoth ivory.

Starting in 1928, the research of A. Mochi, G.A. Blanc and L. Cardini highlighted the site’s stratigraphy: at the base, a Tyrrhenian marine level (MIS 5.5); above, a long continental sequence from the middle Paleolithic including several Mousterian hearths with a fauna composed of large mammals. Retrospectively the burials of two other individuals and the triple burial can be dated to a Gravettian level (C-14: ca. 25 k.a. BP).

Barma Grande indisputably had a very rich archaeological record. Louis- Alexandre Jullien reported that more than 40000 stone artifacts were found and much more may have been found during clandestine digging by other persons. From the tools that remained in Museum collections, pieces of a typical Aurignacian, Gravettian and early and late Epigravettian were described.

Between 1883 and 1895, the Louis Alexandre Jullien discovered fifteen Paleolithic figurines in the upper Paleolithic strata, the largest series ever found in one place in Western Europe, at the two caves Barma Grande (probably in the Gravettian layers) and the nearby Grotte de Prince, a secluded cave filled with Mousterian, but reentered by men for a short time during g the LGM.

The Upper Paleolithic artifacts in addition to the female statuettes were kept by Jullien in his private collection. Jullien sold some of these artifacts one by one between 1896 and 1914 to other researchers – like Henri Breuil – and museum collections (Musée d’Archéologie national at Saint-Germain-en-Laye). With the advent of World War I, Jullien moved his family to Canada and took the rest of his collection with him. It wasn’t until the 1940s that the collection resurfaced again when one of Jullien’s daughters sold one of the statuettes to Harvard’s Peabody Museum. Again, a World War hindered the re-unification of the entire collection, and it wasn’t until the late 1980s and early 1990s that these figurines were all back together in the same place. In 1987, Jullien’s granddaughters decided to sell some of the remaining collection (various stone tools and five of the figurines) to an antique dealer in Montreal. Montreal sculptor Pierre Bolduc bought these artifacts and managed to locate two other figurines that were still in Jullien’s family members’ possession and the collection was finally reunited and published in 1994. This  part of the figurines is now hosed in the  Canadian Museum of History.

More about the fascinating figurines which are not in the focus of this post:

Barma del Bauso da Ture: Some Aurignacian material. Several burials from a  Gravettian context. Site later destroyed by quarry operations.

Riparo Mochi: Mousterien, Protoaurignacian, Aurignacien ancien, Gravettian with Noailles burins, late Epigravettian. The Protoaurignacian at Mochi Stratum G has recently been AMS dated and incorporated into a Bayesian statistical model at around 42.7-41.5 ka cal BP (68.2%). According to these data, there appears to be a close similarity between the dates for the Protoaurignacian and Early Aurignacian sites in Germany and Austria along the Danube and Protoaurignacian sites on the Mediterranean coast.

Riparo Bombrini: Adjacent to Riparo Mochi. Contains a Protaurignacian dated to roughly 42 cal. B.P,  separated from an underlying  Mousterian level by ca. 1,500 calendar years.

Fig 5: Balzi Rossi caves during the 19th century  balzi rossi

Fig 6: Balzi Rossi caves today (source: Wikipedia; GNU Free Documentation License)Le_caverne


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Hammerstones and Percuteurs

Hammerstone Paleolithic

This artifact (Diameter 66 x 56 mm, Height 60 mm, Mass 368 g)  was found during quarry operations during the 1940ies at Tournedos sur Seine (Eure; Haut Normandy) , at  “La Couture” , near the port.

It is a small Hammerstone made from a roughly spherical flint made from a flint nodule and worked from multiple directions. Substantial areas of the nodule show the original cortex.  Other areas  show the results of battering.  These objects are difficult to date but an early Neolithic date could be suggested for this artifact.

Experimental archaeology concludes that Hammerstones made of flint or similar materials are suited for finishing  various rock implements by picking, such as horse shoe axes and for the roughening of millstones.  Moreover they played a role in tenderizing organic materials.

Percuteurs, on the other hand, are made from  relatively soft rocks (sandstones, limestones, or quartzites) that are particularly and can absorb some of the impact energy without breaking , similar to devices from bone, antler or other organic materials (“Percuteur tendres”) . Such tools were used for the processing of flint, by striking off lithic flakes from a core during the process of lithic reduction

Percuteurs made of rocks  have their first appearance during the ESA / MSA in Africa and are among the oldest stone tools so far. Beginning with the first stone industries in East Africa ( at 2,75 Mio ago)  they were used to detach flakes from cores by the hard hammer technique. In Europe, Percuteurs are also known since the Early Paleolithic (for example from the Acheulian at Swanscombe), from the Mousterian (for example the famous “Bolas” at La Quina)  and of course during the Upper Paleolithic ( good examples are known from Pataud) and during later times.

This Percuteur comes  from la grotte d’Aurignac. Photo: Don Hitchcock 2014;  Source: Original, Musée d’art et d’archéologie du Périgord, Périgueux. With friendly permission from the one and only: please visit this great source!


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Flint Dagger from the Mid-Neolithic in the Gargano

gargano dagger katzman

Gargano is a mountainous peninsula ca. 30km from north to south and 40km from east to west located on the Adriatic coast just south of the latitude of Rome. This late bifacially flaked Neolithic dagger (11 cm long) was found many years ago as a stray find. If it was made from the characteristic Gargano flint, remains unknown, because the artifact is covered by a thick white patina, characteristic for many prehistoric flint tools from the area.

Since the early European Neolithic, human communities have developed specific competences, they have engaged in production and distributed either raw materials and/or specialized products.

It is only through long-term studies that provide a picture of southern Italian Neolithic exchange.  Such work helped to gain insight into inter- and intra-group organization of the Neolithic communities in the Gargano and adjacent regions.  Manufacture and circulation networks could have had economic values, as well as being ‘social signs’ for indicating competitive status. There is an important symbolic dimension to exchange relationships which is well known in anthropological literature.

The Neolithic exchange system from mines in the Gargano with nearby communities for flint was mainly used in blade production and for tranchet axes.

One study aimed to discover the chemical fingerprint of each type of flint and then to identify the exchange network of tools supposedly made with flint from the Gargano Promontory. In order to try to identify each mine chemically, ICP-AES chemical analyses were carried out on flint nodules from seven of the Neolithic flint mines identified in the Gargano Promontory which were dug into two different geological formations. Cluster and discriminant analyses on nine trace elements subsequently allowed the mines to be separated into two groups corresponding to the two geological formations.

Analysis was then carried out on some artifacts which had been sampled from two Early Neolithic sites in the Tavoliere area (Monte Aquilone and Ripa Tetta), located about 50-80 km from the Gargano mines. In some cases flint samples were attributed to mines where flint nodules had been mined. Following this first pioneering study, a more complete spatial and chronological flint database is now under construction to generate a larger model of flint movements and to discover exactly how far flint types traveled.

The numerous underground extraction structures in the Gargano promontory pose some important questions regarding modes of production and social organization. Can we consider the mine workers to have been specialists? What does ‘specialist’ mean in the context of Early and Mid-Neolithic society? On the basis of ethnographic comparisons and archaeological data from contemporary contexts in southern Italy, a definition of part-time specialists is currently proposed. Extraction activities were carried out by people who may be described as specialists given their technological skills, but who carried out this activity in a periodic and irregular way. Extraction may have been a collective activity which functioned according to the same cyclical or seasonal mechanisms of temporary cooperation typical of some agricultural or non-agricultural activities.

Flint mining continued to be used in the 4th and 3rd millennia and production was specialized for making daggers, mainly from large blades. Insofar the production of large blades was part of a pan-European phenomenon, the “large blade tradition”*.  The morphology of the blades is quite different from those made in earlier periods. Such blades are always around 20–21cm long. Almost all the large blades of the region are made on local flint and were retouched into daggers through pressure flaking. The extension of the retouch was variable on the upper face, and covers only the proximal part and the tip on the lower face.  The typology of the blade daggers is varied. There are some differences in the morphology of the blade, the extension and the regularity of the retouch. For the moment, it is not possible to relate clear types with one period or one area.

Compared with the blade daggers, bifacial daggers in the Gargano region are much rarer. Their size and their morphology have been used to distinguish them from the arrowheads. They are longer, and they are always wider. They are between 9,5 cm and 33 cm long and measure at least 3,5 cm wide. Their tang, if they possess one, is always large, unlike the tang of the arrowheads. The latter aspect, along with their increased width, is the most important feature for distinguishing the very long (larger than 10cm long) – and probably non-functional – arrowheads from the smallest daggers. The bifacial daggers and the arrowheads are made by fine, bifacial pressure flaking. The only preform known to have been subjected to heat treatment was that of the dagger from Telese, but heat treatment seems not to be a regular part of the production process.

16 of the 21 daggers in one study were made from Gargano flint; the others were produced in diverse flints of unknown provenance. The typology of the bifacial daggers is very varied and it is still impossible to associate types with regions or periods. Several daggers show clear signs of use and resharpening. This was confirmed by traceological analyses. The over representation of bifacial daggers among stray finds may be biased by their high visibility.

*The most famous mass production of extraordinary long blades, which were used to produce Neolithic daggers in Europe, is known from the Grand Pressigny area, dating to the mid 3th millennium BC cal. These blades were massive: 25 to 38 cm long, 4 to 6 cm wide and about 1 to 1.5 cm thick and detached from special cores (“livre-de-beurre” cores). In 1970, a cache of 134 to 138 fresh blades was discovered at “La Creusette” and carefully excavated. The technological analysis of this cache revealed, that the blades were detached from the “livre-de-beurre” cores by an individualized indirect percussion technique. “Livre-de-beurre” cores as smaller scatters have been detected at some other sites in S-W-France, suggesting that some craftsman ordinarily working at Grand Pressigny helped to spread the “savoir faire” of such long blade and dagger production around an extended area.


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The Ordinary and the Special

bihorel quary

This is an extremely flat elongated cordiform handaxe from Bihorel / N-France (11×7,5×0,8 cm). It was produced by the typical MTA method of shaping bifaces by the creation of a bi-convex transverse section by sophisticated façonnage techniques and the use of a soft hammer.

Ordinary is the nature of how we see the world; it is our default state. Ordinary is a dynamic social quality actively managed through our use and interactions.  As a thing becomes ubiquitous in a culture it becomes ordinary.  We don’t look at everyday objects as being special, but at the same time we can’t imagine a world without them. Our collective sense of ordinary is shaped by our experiences over time, so as we learn new things our sense of ordinary changes and evolves. Not only does ordinary highlight the useful nature of a thing, it reveals cultural appreciation and acceptance.

Ordinary is the „fond commun Moustérien” which mainly consists of encoches, denticulés, and racloirs. Such tools are omnipresent during the European Middle Paleolithic. Focusing on the special nature of ordinariness we get the opportunity to better understand what makes a thing truly special.

Assemblages with bifaces were termed “Mousterian of the Acheulean Tradition”, or MTA, following the French, meaning that they recalled high frequency of bifaces found during the much earlier Acheulean. Although most of the bifaces from the Mousterian are broadly cordiform some pieces stand out as tending to extremes of the cordiform shape. Triangular bifaces are one “end” of this shape continuum, where the base and edges are very straight rather than curved. Triangular bifaces seem to be most common in northern France during the Mousterian, rather than in the “homeland” of the MTA. Here we argue that MTA-bifaces are truly special.

If utilitarianism would be the main avenue of producing handaxes, men would never invested such sophisticated work in an artifact. The minimalist ensemble of Terra Amata is a good example for a pure utilitarian approach, while other contemporaneous  or even earlier handaxe ensembles show a great investment in symmetry that goes beyond utilitarianism.

Beyond their biased view, early prehistorians had a sense for the special and characteristic of lithic ensembles, when they intuitively collected the most eye catching artifacts they found.

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Early Bronze Age decorated Flat Axe: An artifact of Prestige and Power?


This is an early flat decorated  and slightly flanged Bronze axe from S-Germany (19 x 3 x 6 x 0,7 cm). Such artifacts are rare in central Europe but more common In W-Europe, especially in the UK. They have forerunners during  the Chalcolithic period in the Near East and Europe. It remains unclear if these early copper flanged axes or the know -how of their production came from the Levant or were invented several times at different places.

Bronze Age metal tools were formed using moulds to shape the molten metal into the desired form. The technology for moulding bronze improved through the Bronze Age. Initially, items were cast by pouring the bronze into hollowed out stone moulds. By the Middle Bronze Age, people had invented two part moulds, where two hollowed stones were put together and metal poured into a gap at the top. This allowed for sophisticated objects like axes and spearheads to be produced. By the end of the Bronze Age, metal smiths were making wax or fat models of what they wanted to cast, putting clay around them and then heating the clay to melt the wax. The melted metal was then poured in and once set, the clay was chipped away.

The social stratification during the Early Stone age has been taken for granted since the beginning of research into their material remains since 150 years ago. The burials which make up the bulk of the evidence seem to leave no doubt that marked social inequalities emerged during these times. According this view, the development of metallurgy, a specialized technology mainly for the manufacture of display items, involves an elaborate system of production and exchange and thereby suggests the existence of a permanent elite to consume the goods so arduously brought into being. The broad geographic distribution of “elite” artifacts helped the upper  classes to establish a web of widespread, mutually supportive partnerships. Indeed, the very passage from collective to “individualizing” burial rituals, a change occurring at the start of the Bronze Age over much of Europe, suggests the development of social stratification (Renfrew 1976).


According the general opinion, decorated bronze axeheads, as the one shown here, would have been an object of great wealth and a symbol of power to its owner. If made from raw materials – copper and tin – the tin would have had to be imported. Only the very wealthy in society would have access to such Materials-anyhow other explanations should also be considered.

Let’s think different and forget, at least for a while, hierarchies, “the big man theories” , assumptions about Prestige goods and other elements of the current paradigm.  We need new testable hypotheses about an alternative social organization as the basis for the European early Bronze age. No genuine attempt has been made to think about and model Bronze Age societies other than as hierarchical systems. We need to take into consideration other aspects of ancient reality than just executive power and institutionalized ranking. The arguable parallel between social complexity and socio-political hierarchical organization has certainly to be reconsidered.




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Emireh points and the Levantine Initial Upper Paleolithic

.emireh aggsbach

These are two convergent triangular “points” (3 and 3,2 cm long) from the Early Upper Paleolithic of Israel ( Carmel area) with basal thinning (Emireh points). Except the absence of ventral laminar retouch they fulfill the rather narrow definition of this artifact. They have a marked dorsal basal retouch (Fig.3), a scar pattern suggestive of a triangular point blank, a V-shaped profile and a basal bevel, straight in cross-section (Fig. 1,2).

emireh aggsbach22Lorraine Copeland  (Paléorient, 2000, vol. 26, n°1. pp. 73-92) concluded that  a “Standard Emireh point”  could be “described as a triangular point, Levallois or not, elongated or of moderate length, struck from a bipolar (or more rarely a unipolar) core after which all of the striking-platform and most of the bulb of percussion were removed by lamellar bifacial retouch (i.e. carried out on both faces of the proximal end) forming a bevel, V-shaped in profile and straight or slightly wavy in cross-section. The piece would emireh aggsbach1most often have a Y-arete pattern on the distal dorsal face and either a straight or convex profile. …. not every specimen conforms perfectly ; each may lack one or other of the criteria noted above but this is acceptable unless a piece is deficient in more than one respect, or has no bevel on the base”.

The Initial Upper Paleolithic industries (IUP / Emiran) of Levant date back roughly to about 45 k.a.  BP.  Ksar Akil in northern Levant and Boker Tachtit in southern Levant are the best reference sites showing evidence of continuity for the intermediate phase between the local Middle and Upper Paleolithic.

Typologically the “index fossil” of the IUP is the Emireh point and /or the chamfered pieces. Emiran points are known from the Lebanon and some sites in Israel, including Boker Tachtit. Chanfreins are more isolated to the Lebanese coast and known from the IUP at Haua Fteah cave (Cyrenaica, northeast Libya). On this tool a bevel has been formed at the distal end by a transverse blow resembling a burin blow, but probably functioning as a scraper-edge.

The IUP of the Levant is characterized by a parallel blend of old (MP) and new (UP) traits. Refitted cores from Boker Tachtit demonstrated that morphologically Middle Paleolithic artifacts (Emiran points,  Levallois points) were produced by Upper Paleolithic  blade technology; a change in the knappers’ concept of the nodule’s volume. During the IUP of Ksar Akil (stratum XXV-XXI /Ksar Akil Phase A), blades were manufactured by recurrent Levallois cores, which were later transformed into volumetric cores for the production of Levallois points and “Upper Paleolithic” tools.

It was at the small cave of Abu Halka, 6 km south of Tripoli in northern Lebanon, that the first stratified Emireh points were found ; they occurred in two levels, IVf and IVe, on virgin soil and were overlain by the Aurignacian. The ensemble at Abu Halka IVf/e is made from flakes and blades with faceted platforms. Among the formal tools, chamfered pieces, Levallois points, Emireh points and endscrapers are present- a classic Emiran.

A continuity between the Emiran and the Early Ahmarian (beginning at ca 42 k.a. BP) has already been recognized. This continuity  is expressed by some similar technological characteristics, exemplified by the continued use of faceting as part of core preparation. The Early Ahmarian is characterized by the production of blade and bladelet from several types of prismatic cores with the purpose of manufacturing blade/bladelet tools, particularly el-Wad points.

While usually an Emiran is followed by the Ahmarian (Manot cave, Ksar Akil, Boker area) undisturbed sites like Mughr el-Hamamah in the Jordan valley document operational sequences and characteristic lithic artifacts of both entities together, revealing a greater technological variability than previously thought.

This brings me back to the cave where all began: The Mugharet el-Emireh consists of three small caves, where F. Turville-Petre excavated an ensemble, which he insisted to come from one single archaeological level.  This ensemble was not only characterized by a typical “IUP” ensemble, but also by the presence of  El Wad points. Maybe the “type-ensemble” at Emireh is  a mixing between an IUP and an early Ahmarian or showed the same variability as Mughr el-Hamamah. The ongoing discussion about  the best dating techniques and high resolution archaeological data certainly will remain exciting…

emireh aggsbach2


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Obsidian tools of Pastoral Neolithic groups from the Lake Naivasha basin (Kenya)


Saharan herders and hunters spread southward to the Sahel, reaching eastern Africa by 4.5 k.a. cal BP. The earliest pastoralists entered southern Kenya through the Great Rift Valley by 3,2 k.a. cal BP, having migrated southward from the Lake Turkana region where they had arrived ca 4 k.a. cal BP. They  eventually reached southern Africa with sheep and cattle around 2 k.a. cal BP.

Exploratory lithic analysis in southern Kenya has identified numerous stylistic attributes that differentiate two distinct Pastoral Neolithic (PN) groups from one another, and from the hunter-gatherers who occupied the region during a time period of roughly 2000 years, approximately between 3,2 and 1,2 k.a. cal BP. These early migrants relied on herds that include African cattle, goats, sheep introduced through the Nile corridor, and donkeys. There is no evidence of plant cultivation or agriculture being practiced in southern Kenya during the PN.

These entities associated with domesticated fauna co-occupied a large territory for almost 2 k.a and yet maintained rigid differences in material culture, ceramic styles and burial practices. Geo-chemical  sourcing analyses have added an additional dimension to these differences, showing that the “Elmenteitan” and “Savanna Pastoral Neolithic” (SPN) groups obtained obsidian for tool production from two discrete sources in the Great Rift Valley.

For both SPN and Elmenteitan producing groups, Obsidian was the dominant source of lithic raw material for tool production, although there was occasional use of lower quality alternatives. SPN groups were linked together through their reliance on a small cluster of grey obsidian sources in the Lake Naivasha (picture below) basin while Elmenteitan sites are sourced to a discrete outcrop of green obsidian on the northeast slope of Mt. Eburru, only 10 km north of the SPN source.These sources do not appear to have been exploited by foraging groups before and the patterns of SPN and Elmenteitan source preference are maintained within a 250 km radius from the Rift Valley sources.Naivasha_lake

Qualitative differences in lithic typology and technology exist, and provide a means of distinguishing between Elmenteitan and SPN assemblages. Elmenteitan blades are longer and less curved than those of the SPN, and are more likely to be notched /strangled and retain evidence of intensive use.

The close proximity of these sources to each other, but long distance from the dense pastoral occupations to the southwest has stimulated discussion on social institutions and exchange networks during the Pastoral Neolithic. These discussions are largely structured around the assumptions that people acquired obsidian primarily through exchange network and that transport costs increased with distance from the sources, leading to more intensive reduction of obsidian tools at distant habitation sites. This hypothesis has falsified recently:  The reduction pattern and intensity of obsidian scrapers clearly indicates that communities across a large landscape had regular and consistent access to obsidians from distant sources.

How this pattern can be contextualized within a technological organization framework and what this pattern means for the co-occupation  of the same areas by a least two distinct groups remains an open question..

elmentaita katzman aggsbach

„Naivasha lake“ von undeklinable from España – Naivasha lake. Lizenziert unter CC BY-SA 2.0 über Wikimedia Commons -
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