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.

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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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The Badegoulian: Ugly Technocomplex- or Sophisticated Adaption?


badegoule aggsbach

The research history regarding the Badegoulian technocomplex began 1939 with the publication of Cheynier (1939) on a certain “Proto-Magdalenian” of the Badegoule site (not to be confused to the late Gravettian at Pataud, Laugerie and Le Blot!). The name of this cultural stage has changed through the last decades from Proto-Magdalenian to Magdalenian 0 and Magdalenian I, which has caused some confusion. The term generally in use today is the Badegoulian with oldest dates from S/W-France (23,500 and 20,500 cal. BP), generally suggested to be the region of origin of the Badegoulian.

The Badegoulian is the technocomplex short after the LGM and during the Lascaux oscillation.The time around the LGM was a cold and harsh climate attracting steppic animals such as reindeer, horse, saiga antelope and mammoth. During the following Lascaux oscillation, which is contemporary with the Badegoulian complex, the climate became warmer and more humid. These improved climate changes complemented the fauna situation with larger bovids as bison and aurochs and red deer during the Lascaux oscillation.

The Badegoulian is present from the South/West France to the Paris Basin with some outliners in Northern Spain and the Rhone valley.  The site of Wiesbaden-Igstadt in the central Rhineland , the Kastelhöhle-Nord Middle Horizon in the Swiss Jura and the Zoitzberg scatter close to Gera in Thuringia reveal great similarities to the early Badegoulian and may indicate an extension of the technocomplex to central Europe during short episodes.

Recent Badegoulian  research has been concentrated on south-western France, an unique environmental mosaic extending from the plains of the Aquitaine and Languedoc up to the foothills of the Pyrenees, incorporating the limits of the Poitou region to the north, the limestone plateaus of the Massif Central to the east, and bound to the west by the “Sands of the Landes”.


Generally the lithic industry was only moderate standardized and characterized by a prominent flake production. Blades and an independent bladelet production ( with secondary products:“pièce de la Bertonneare”) are present, but in smaller quantities compared to the later Magdalenian. The technology is characterized as a highly adaptive  “Travel technology”.

The tool assemblages from the Badegoulian are determined by two types, which have chronologically significance. The transverse burins together with star shaped perçoirs dominate the Early Badegoulian (Badegoulien Inferieur), whereas the raclettes dominate the Late Badegoulian (Badegoulien Superieur). Furthermore, the Badegoulian bone industry was produced by a unique technique where the reindeer antlers were worked by direct percussion, which was used to modify the flattened sagaies sections.

In S/W France, the second part of the Upper Paleolithic witnessed an abrupt change in the development of technological traditions: around 19,5 k.a. BP (23,5–23 k.a. cal. BP), the Solutrean industries disappeared and were replaced by very different Badegoulian assemblages. On the other hand,  it seems that the Badegoulian was one (but not the only one) root of  the Magdalenian around 17,5 k.a.BP (20,5 BP).



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The Acheulian of the Menashe Hills (Israel)


The Carmel region is bounded to the northeast by faults and on the southeast by the low Eocene Menashe hills, which is an elevated plateau between the Coastal Plain and the Jezreel Valley. The Menashe sources yield flint nodules in different sizes and quality, most of them are brown or grayish brown with white patches. They appear in rounded nodules of different size or as large blocks. The quality of most of these pebbles is rather bad, with cracks resulting from a rather inhomogeneous structure of most of the nodules.

Nevertheless these abundant flint outcrops were widely used from the early Paleolithic until Pre-Pottery and Pottery Neolithic Times. Near Ramot Menashe and Ein Hashofet, large quantities of cores, unfinished and broken tools and preparation flakes are the most common field findings while finished handaxes and especially cleavers are rare. The presence of flint seems to be the major, if not the sole attraction for most of these open-air sites.

Several thousand handaxes (mainly cordiforms and many discoidal handaxes) were collected during the last 70 years on the plateau and some of the best are exposed in the Archaeological museum of the Ramot Menashe Kibbutz, which was established in July 1948, mainly by immigrants from Poland, who had just escaped the Shoah in Europe.

The handaxes from the Menashe plateau were repeatedly related to the Late Acheulian by the literature, because artifacts with a clear Yabroudian character have not been reported from the Menashe workshop sites. This definition ex negativo may not be sufficient to describe handaxe variability. Many smaller handaxes would metrically fit into the Acheulo-Yabroudian group as well, and stratified handaxes from the Carmel can also shed light on this issue.


The Flint from the Menashe was sometimes exported to living sites of early men in the Carmel area. While we do not know any examples from the Acheulian, some export was present during the subsequent  Acheulo-Yabroudian (400-200 k.a.) as evidenced from the excavation of  Misliya Cave ca.20 km north. Anyhow, even at Misliya, Nahal Galim flint from Mount Carmel was clearly preferred over the Menashe flint, because it appears in the shape of thin nodules better suited for production of handaxes. This type of flint was also used for production of special Levallois core-types and served as the main flint source during both Levallois-Mousterian and Acheulo-Yabroudian occupations of the site.

I personally do not know any example from the Menashe flint type during the Levallois Mousterian  of the Carmel area- but the huge material of Tabun has not been evaluated according the raw material of the B/C-strata so far .

Flint from the Menashe plateau reappeared in larger quantities in stratified context during the early Upper Paleolithic and the Late Natufian assemblage of  Raqefet cave, Mt Carmel, ca. 3 km east from the Menashe plateau, comprising about 8% of the ensemble during the Natufian. The cave is famous for its graves from the Natufian period (ca. 13 k.a. ago), where the last hunter–gatherers in the Mediterranean Levant ritually buried their dead with flowers. Although no flower fragments remaining in the graves were found, the excavators excavated many impressions left by the plants in the wet mud veneer (Salvia judica, Mints and other herbs from the the Lamiaceae [formerly: Labiatae] family and Cercis silliquastrum).

Natufian sites in the Menashe low hills were found during surveys of the 1970ies at Khirbet el-Mite, Iraq el-Hamra A et Wadi Abu el-Loz. Communities of the Pottery Neolithic Period in the Menashe Hills continued to use the Menashe flint, mainly as a raw material for the production of flint-axes (some nice examples are again displayed in the Kibbutz Museum). Nahal Zehora, aWadi Raba Site remains the best known of these sites.

menashe aggsbach

Great visual source for artifacts of Israel:


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Some late Magdalenian Projectile Points in S/W France

projectil magdalenien sw france


These are three late Magdalenian projectile points from S/W-France. The first one is a  5,7 cm long “Point de Teyjat”  found near Sarlat at the Pech de Bourre site and the other two are shouldered points from the Abri Morin in the Gironde region.  The late Magdalenian of the Aquitaine started before the Bölling oscillation  and  the latest dates for “Magdalenian VI” ensembles in this region come from the Dryas II cold phase.

During the Magdalenian V/VI  a diversified evolution of the lithic insets took place in S/W-France. First curved-backed points, then shouldered points and tanged points were made, and harpoons and a diversification in antler working, emphasizes the evolution in the conception of the hunting equipment.

Dog remains from Le Morin rock shelter indicate that Magdalenian groups already  lived with dogs, morphologically and genetically distinct from Pleistocene wolves. Other Magdalenian specimens from Bonn-Oberkassel and from the Kartstein cave, both in Germany, have been described. Dogs may have been already man’s best friend and helper for the hunt- but this issue remains speculative.

Teyjat points have some similarities to the tanged points of N-Europe (Ahrensburg, Bromme and Swidery-complex) but they appeared earlier. While the Bromme started not before the Alleröd oscillation, the other complexes together with the late Bromme were part of the Dryas III environment.

Shouldered points developed at the end of the Upper Magdalenian of the south west of France, essentially in the Gironde and the Dordogne. They technologically and morphologically differ from broadly contemporaneous shouldered points of the Paris basin (Cepoy-Marsangy) and the North European plain (the classic Hamburgian and the Havelte Group).

Suggested Readings:

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Large Acheulian Handaxe from S-Italy


The handaxe shown here was found at the Monte Sacro, Gargano, Apulia. It is 20 cm long and heavy (1,2 kg) and has been made by a sophisticated technique  from local Gargano limestone. It certainly  belongs to the advanced Acheulian of the Gargano area (MIS 11 or 9).

As elsewhere, the principal aim of earlier Paleolithic research in Italy has been the identification of different “cultural groups” and the understanding of their evolution in time and space, often at the expense of more functional and techno-typological approaches. This research was heavily influenced by a cultural historical approach and by influential French researchers. As a result most the variations in the Middle Pleistocene Paleolithic record were attributed to cultural factors.  Anyhow, there are some obvious other factors, that may have influenced the composition of in-situ ensembles. For example, the lack of handaxes at some Middle Pleistocene sites, for example Monte Poggiolo and La Polledrara, can be easily explained by a lack of suitable raw material.

According to these researchers, different Middle Pleistocene “cultural” entities, defined  on a purely descriptive level, until very recently (Comptes Rendus Palevol Volume 5, n° 1-2 pages 137-148 [2006]):

  • a “Tayacian” , characterized by small lithic industry, by the presence of dihedral ventral surface, by a high carinal index, by common Quina-type retouch and by a variable percentage of denticulates and scrapers. Tayac and Quinson points are present. Handaxes are rare, or even totally absent (Loreto di Venosa, Visogliano A couches 46-40, Visogliano B);
  •  a “Clactonian” group characterized by large, thick, but rarely carinated flakes, a large number of scrapers and a few denticulates. Handaxes are rare or absent (Eastern Italy, Sicily and Sardinia)
  • an “Acheulian” group, with different subgroups , relying upon the number and form of Handaxes as well as the characters of the flake industry. In Latium and in Notarchirico di Venosa, flakes are small and often carinated; Early Acheulean handaxes from Gargano and the Adriatic area are accompanied by large, massive flakes (mainly scrapers). Late Acheulian findings are often associated with the Levallois technique.

Old excavations and interpretations contribute to a rather confusing picture of the Middle Pleistocene in Italy. However, ongoing research at sites such as Isernia la Pineta is beginning to clarify this and Italy certainly looks to be an interesting area for future research into Middle Pleistocene assemblages. In addition, new excavations at the important Valle Giumentina open air  site, located in Abruzzo on the Adriatic side of Central Italy will certainly deconstruct some of the old paradigms about independent “cultural groups” during early Paleolithic times towards to a more technological and functional interpretations of these enesembles.

In recent years, new lithic assemblages with Acheulian features have been appearing dispersed around Southern Europe which, for the first time, date to the end of the Lower Pleistocene. In Spain, the Solana del Zamborino (Guadix-Baza, Granada) and Quípar (Murcia) have been dated to 900 k.a. (these dates being debatable) and La Boella, Tarragona, has been dated to around 700 ka. In France, La Noira has been dated to 700 k.a. and there is also level P of L’Arago (570 k.a.). Other examples have been found at Notarchiricco in Italy, dated to 650 k.a.

Multiple sites have been found in Europe that date to 500 k.a. or later. The evidence currently available indicates that Acheulean handaxes spread in the fluvial basins of Western Europe mainly during MIS 11 and 9,  ca 400-300 k.a. ago, associated with Homo heidelbergensis, although a number of early Middle Pleistocene Acheulean assemblages have been dated from MIS 16 onwards. In Italy, besides Giumentina, Valle di Popoli and Svolte, several deposits in stratigraphic context are traditionally assigned to the Acheulean such as Torre in Pietra (MIS 9), Castel di Guido (MIS 9) and Fontana Ranuccio, to name just a few.


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Burin-blow like tip fractures

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

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

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

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

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

Suggested Reading: 


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

amiens aggsbach

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

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

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

A short description of the middle and upper terasses of the Somme and their archeological content has allready given during an earlier post ( This handaxe comes from the lower terasse at Montières and is about 200 k.a. old (OIS8).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It has to be emphasized, that in W-Europe  handaxes never disappeared from the Archeological record until MIS 3. The hiatus between the Acheulian and the MTA is a chimera (

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