What’s the Nubian Levallois-core technology got to do with “out of Africa ” dispersal and Boker Tachtit?


These are two Nubian Levallois cores from the Nil valley. On the left: a typical Nubian I-core with the characteristic protruding distal ridge, on the right a typical Nubian II core. The geographic extent for the “Nubian Complex” was initially confined to Upper Egypt/Northern Sudan and the surrounding Eastern Sahara. It was later shown, that some ensembles in the oases of the western desert had affinities to the Nubian complex, too. In Africa discoveries of Nubian cores have been reported from Kenya, Ethiopia, and the Libyan Desert.

The discovery of Nubian cores in surface assemblages from the Arabian peninsula led to the revival of the discussion as to their cultural significance. Most of the Arabian sites are undated, except the open-air site of Aybut Al Auwal in Oman. Two optically stimulated luminescence age estimates from place the Arabian Nubian Complex at  ca. 106 k.a. Due to an amelioration of climatic conditions during MIS 5, the desert barriers in the area were removed as indicated by the “green Sahara” period and the formation of paleo lakes in central Arabia , facilitating movement of groups across previously isolated areas. Recently open air sites from the Negev highlands (H2 surface collection, Har Oded and North Mitzpe Ramon) were published and tentatively dated to the same humid phase during MIS5. Three common explanations are used to explain the existence of technological similarities in assemblage compositions across the landscape: convergence, dispersal and diffusion. The latter two explanations may sufficiently define the “Nubian interaction sphere”.

nubLevallois technology is widely seen as a “type fossil” for the dispersal of Homo sapiens out of Africa and into Arabia and beyond. This assumption gained some credibility, as it is only Homo sapiens that were present during MIS 5/6 in the “Nubian interaction sphere”.In the levant, both Neanderthals and AMHs used the Levallois technology.

Conceptually the would be a long way from the Nubian Levallois-Technology and the Emirian. The makers of the Emirian (the earliest IUP in the Levant and maybe the oldest IUP  worldwide) are unknown.

Nubian technology is characterized by the preferential removal of an elongated and pointed flake or blade. The end product is not always a Levallois point sensu stricto (Fig.2). Elongation is one principle of the Nubian MP and of the early IUP in the Levant. Bidirectional cores and dorsal cresting are other traits of the Emirian.

tachtit-aggsbachAt Boker-Tachtit (47-42 k.a. BP) a special form of the Levallois technique that shifts over time (Level 1-4) to an upper Paleolithic blade technology. The aim of the operational sequences in all levels was the production of blades that are shaped like elongated Levallois-points (Fig.3). Technologically, upper Paleolithic tools (End-scrapers and Burins) are common in all levels, while Levels 1 and 2 are also characterized by the occurrence of Emireh points (“Emirian”). Short and broad Levallois points, often with a heavy faceted base, are characteristic for “Tabun B-ensembles” during to the end of the Levallois-Mousterian in Israel between 70-45 k.a BP. A new project to re-date this site had been launched by the Max Planck Society-Weizmann Institute of Science Center for Integrative Archaeology and Anthropology in 2013.

The antecedent industries to Boker-Tachtit have not been localized, yet. Researchers focus on older sites in the Arabian peninsula and the Levant either  with ensembles with elongated Levallois points  (Tabun D Ensembles, some Nubian ensembles) and/or Levallois ensembles with a bipolar technology  and/or dorsal cresting (some undated Nubian ensembles, some Tabun D ensembles).

tabun-B-aggsbachSuch short and broad Levallois points, often with a heavy faceted base, are characteristic for “Tabun B-ensembles” during to the end of the Levallois-Mousterian in Israel between 70-45 k.a BP. Tabun B ensembles are charaterized by the recurrent Levallois cores with unipolar convergent preparation and Levallois points seem to be the desired end-product.It seems to be improbable, but not impossible, that the makers of the Tabun B ensembles in the Levant, would have suddenly changed their knapping strategies into Boker Tachtit Level 1 industries with bidirectional cores.

Tabun D ensembles on the other Hand are very much older in the Levant (250-120 K.a BP) and all attempts to find younger Tabun D-sites were unsuccessful.  Tabun D ensembles are characterized by recurrent Levallois cores with unidirectional and bidirectional parallel preparation. The blanks are usually elongated with minimal striking platform preparation. They are not confined to the small Mediterranean strip, but are also found in Galilee and Transjordan and to the Syrian desert and the Anti Lebanon.

One example, not mentioned till now in my blog is ‘Ain Difla. Excavations since 1984 at this  rock-shelter (Wadi Hasa Survey Site 634) in west-central Jordan produced a Tabun D lithic assemblage dominated by elongated Levallois points with very few retouched tools.The ‘Ain Difla sample is dominated by elongated Levallois points. Blanks were obtained from both uni- and bipolar convergent and predominantly Levallois cores that show evidence of bidirectional flaking. TL and ESR dates from ‘Ain Difla show a wide range of age estimates between 90- 180 k.a.

Typologically the Wadi Surdud Complex  in Yemen, where two assemblages dating between 63 and 42 k.a. were found inter-stratified within a six-meter fluvial accretion, fits under the broad Tabun D umbrella. Over 5,000 artifacts were excavated, and in both archaeological horizons, the most prominent reduction system was, by far, a simple unidirectional convergent strategy producing elongated pointed flakes and blades.  The excavators noted that the makers of these ensembles followed  primarily a non-Levallois strategy, since most striking platforms (>70%) are either non faceted or cortical, and less than 10% exhibit any kind of faceting. Elongated pointed blank production was flexible, grading from occasional instances of preferential, unidirectional convergent Levallois preparation to the more frequent use of recurrent “frontal” or “semi-tournant” core exploitation .

Some researchers argue, that an undated Arabian Nubian Complex ensemble (the “Mudayyan”) with bipolar technology from Dhofar and the new sites from the Negev, showing similar technological patterns  may provide the missing link to the Levantine Middle to Upper Paleolithic transition at Boker Tachtit.

Regarding a time-gap of at least 40 k.a. in the line of these arguments it will be prudent to  remain skeptical. From an archaeological view, the immediate antecedent industries to Boker-Tachtit remains unknown.

Things get even worse if we link the archaeological record with genetic of anthropological data. Such mixing will inevitably lead to premature conclusions.  Here are some possible scenarios  assuming the Boker Tachtit is the earliest IUP in the region:

First scenario: At ca. 50 k.a. BP AHMs entered the Levant via Arabia and/or the Nil valley. They already used a new technology (IUP) and introduced it into the Levant.

Second scenario:  At ca. 50 k.a. BP AHMs entered the Levant via Arabia and/or the Nil valley. They used a Levallois based industry and developed this industry in the Levant to the IUP further.

Third scenario:  At ca. 50 k.a. BP AHMs entered the Levant via Arabia and/or the Nil valley. They used a Levallois based industry. When they arrived in the Levant they were responsible for  the Middle-Upper Paleolithic shift together with late Neanderthals.

Suggested Reading:

Jeffrey Rose: Through a prism of paradigms: a century of research into the origins of the Upper Palaeolithic in the Levant (via academia.edu)

Steven L. Kuhn , Nicolas Zwyns: Rethinking the initial Upper Paleolithic (via researchgate)

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Mostly convergent


mostly convergent

This as small part of a “Ferrassie” Ensemble from the Gargano-S. Italy, dating to OIS5-3.

Neanderthal populations are known to have used convergent tools and diversified types have been described, such as points and convergent scrapers. The proportions of these tools vary according to the site. The frequencies of these tool classes have been used to define different types (facies) of Mousterian assemblages, but little information exists to address the question of whether they are primarily a product of different cultural practices or, alternatively, are activity-related.

Most flaking methods in Europe between MIS 9–3 produce various triangular blanks for convergent tool making  or show a standardized production of real points (for example in a Levallois debitage), and this probably explains their high variability, both in shape and/or function. Theoretical approaches to the reduction sequence and the relationship between points and scrapers have been proposed but do not necessarily apply to every series.

Micro-Traceological analyses suggest that convergent tools have been used as multifunctional scrapers but some of these convergent tools most were probably mounted on spear shafts and used as weapons.Experimental and ethnoarchaeological studies also suggest that any type of convergent tools ( “Points”, dejete scraper, convergent scraper) can be employed for various tasks. These studies demonstrate that convergent tools need not have a perfect triangular morphology and specific morphological characteristics to be used as a specific tool. In Europe since MIS 8–7 any flakes with minor modification were potentially usable as tools with two retouched convergent edges for various tasks but rarely used for its pointed shape (except for piercing and sometimes as projectiles-most probably on spears) according to functional analysis.

In this respect, the Neronian level (ca 50 k.a.) of Grotte Mandrin appears as an anomaly in the Mousterian record of W-Europe, both from a technical and a functional perspective. The level is characterized by an enormous sample of almost microlithic Levallois points. I personally know only a limited set of sites with similar ensembles (Mt. Camel; Israel and the “Micro-Mousterian” at Yabrud; Syria).

At Mandrin in 80% of these small Levallois points, the thickness varies by less than 3 mm, with a thickness of between 2 and 5 mm, and with a width of between 16 and 25 mm for 60% of them. An impactological study of the Mandrin E points reveals that at least 15.5% of them were used as weapons, maybe indicative of an early Neanderthal bow and arrow technology.

Suggested Reading:



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Badegoule- an important Archaeological site for the Solutréen and Badegulien in S/W-France


This are some artifacts from the Badegoule. The first tool (Fig. 1) is a “point a face plane”, prototype to the later  “feuilles de Laurier” – during the late phases of the Solutréen (Fig. 2 and 3).

Points a face plane were repeatedly invented during the Old World paleolithic. Their first appearance have been documented during the IUP of Ksar Akil (Lebanon) at ca 40 k.a. BP.  They reappeared during the late Gravettian of s/W- France (Corbiac) and the early  Epigravettian at the Ligurian Coast ( e.g. Balzi Rossi) but also in S-Italy (Paglici cave). Microtraceology indicated their use as projectiles but also as knifes.

The history of research at Badegoule extends back to virtually the beginning of the science of Paleolithic archaeology, when François Jouannet made first soundings at this large site in 1815.

Jouannet (1765–1845) was one of the first who, early in the 19th century dug in the Perigord’s rock shelters and, with considerable insight, distinguished their Paleolithic chipped stone tool industry from the ground and polished forms he found nearby in open-air Neolithic stations. Anyhow, Jouannet´s reference frame in the interpretation of his findings remained the holy bible.  He assumed that the two industries were more or less contemporary and argued that their makers were probably descendants of Noah’s grandson, Gomer, who many antiquaries believed colonized Northwestern Europe following the Deluge.

badegoille 1

The site of Badegoule is located  in the Lardin-Saint-Lazare commune (38 km east of Perigueux, Dordogne, France) at the base and the extremity of a limestone cliff facing south, on the left bank of a tributary of the Le Cern brook, a right tributary of the Vézère. The site consists of three abris and terasses, covering a large surface on the slope of the present relief (ca. 100 m long and 20 m deep).

After first diggings 1815 by F. Jouannet, Badegoule was well known as an archaeological site since the 19th century.  It was mentioned in the seminal works of Lartet and Christy (Reliquiae Aquitanicae) in 1865. The lateral  terasses have been more or less emptied during he 19th century by Hardy, Massenat, Piard and others. In the beginning of the 20th century many more or less conscientious excavators worked there. Between 1909/10 and 1911, the infamous Otto Hauser rented the site and as usual we have no precise information about his research. M. Peyrony made the first scientific excavations and published his results in 1908. More recently, there have been excavations by A. Cheynier (1930, 1948) and by J. Couchard (1966). The latter has worked in a different locus named Badegoule Ouest.

For Peyrony from the base to the top it is possible to distinguish : A = Solutrean (brown level), B = Poor (scree), C = Solutrean (red level), D = Magdalenian (dark brown conglomerate), E = Poor (sandy level), F = Magdalenian (brown level), G = Recent soil. For Cheynier from the base to the top of the stratigraphy, there is : I = Solutrean, a sterile level, II = Middle Solutrean (rubble), III = Middle Solutrean (black with ashes), IV = Upper Solutrean (grey level), V = Final Solutrean (grey level), VI = early Proto-Magdalenian (dark-red hard brecchia), VII = early Proto-Magdalenian (clear-yellow fine, smooth, powdery brecchia). Cheynier principally verified this stratigraphy at Badegoule central. According to Taborin and Thiébault (1994), the correlation between the Peyrony and the Cheynier stratigraphies could be the following : A, C and D = IV and V ; D and F = VI and VII. Note that the Magdalenien and Proto-Magdalenian entities at the site have been renamed in Badegulien.


Geographically confined to Southwestern France and the Iberian Peninsula, and occurring within a moderately short chronological range (c. 25–19 k.a. cal BP) that roughly matches the course of the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM), the Solutrean represents a clear techno-typological disruption from the preceding pan-European Gravettian / Epigravettian techno-complexes.

Typological chronologies and “fossil directeurs” do not have the time resolution once thought, although it is clear that during the early Solutrean, which is present in S/W-France and Iberia, Points a face plane are common. In the middle and advanced Solutrean, these points are gradually replaced by laurel-leaf points, willow-leaf points and shouldered points.

Local styles appeared, like “the large Laurel leaf phenomenon “, tanged points at Parpallo ( “Parpalló-type” points are now dated to a much earlier time at ca. 25 ka cal BP than previously thought), points with a concave base in Iberia, and bizarre implements, with notches or asymmetrical shapes. The presence, absence and relative frequency of supposedly diagnostic Solutrean points are variable among individual levels and sites for reasons of functional, stylistic and sampling differences.

There is no way to subdivide the Solutrean into general chronological phases based on C-14 dating . Calibrated C-14 data question the status of the traditionally-defined type-fossils as precise temporal markers for each Solutrean phase in S/W-France and Iberia.

New aspects / Suggested Reading: 




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Lateglacial short-time pioneer human re-colonization of southern Scandinavia?


These are some of Late-glacial artifacts, found together during the 1940ies in the Hesselager region (Fyn; Denmark). While one artifact resembles a broken Ahrensburg-point, the others are chronological insensitive endscrapers and a burin. Interestingly there are some becs / Bohrers which are made from the same flint- very unusual for any of the late Paleolithic phases (Hamburgian, Brommean, Ahrensburgian, Federmessser) in this region. In addition Hamburgian and Federmesser Ensembles have not been described in the literature from Fyn so far.  Most probable the ensemble belongs into the Ahrensburgian tradition.

Humans respond in a variety of ways to climate and environmental change. They may adapt, migrate, evolve new technologies, or experience breakdowns in their socio-cultural and economic systems. Although environmental change triggered early colonization and retreat; social processes,  traditions and and human decisions play an immense impact on the visible archaeological record.

The area of Lateglacial pioneer human re-colonization of N-Europe stretches from the Netherlands in the west to Poland in the east and from northern Germany across Denmark and southern Sweden to the edge of the Scandinavian ice sheet, which at that time covered most of what is now Norway and Sweden. The  iconic so-called Hamburgian culture of northern Europe is associated with the first movement of hunter-gatherer people into the newly deglaciated, desolate and deserted landscapes of northern Europe sometime during the late Glacial.  Anyhow, the early phase of this complex is restricted to the lowlands of N-Germany and Poland and seems to be not present in Scandinavia.

How did people cope with moving in regions where the details of the resource distribution were unknown and where the nearest relatives were far away? Foragers are known ethnographically to rely on a range of coping strategies including mobility, storage, economic intensification or diversification as well as social networking to handle such challenges.

Housley et al. have suggested that the first human occupants were seasonal visitors arriving several hundred years after the initial spread of vegetation and animals. These pioneer hunting groups were followed a few hundred years later by permanent residents. The almost simultaneous occupation of Britain and southern Scandinavia speaks to the regularity of this colonization process as human groups spread to the north and west from refugia in southern Europe.

Sites at “the margins” of the Hamburgian human ecomene  may  help to evaluate the very early colonization process. Findings of the Hamburgian complex in Scandinavia are notorious rare after 80 years of research and may relate to a short and unsuccessful localisation. Indeed there are no valid arguments to construct continuity with the following Federmesser groups.

In the early 1980s, the first find from the Hamburgian in Scandinavia was excavated at Jels in Sønderjylland (site Jels I).  The site of Slotseng in South Jutland yielded stratified findings from the Hamburgian and later Federmessser complex. A more recent discovery of a Havelte-phase site of the Hamburgian was made in eastern Denmark at Krogsbølle near Nakskov.

With Hamburgian sites being virtually absent in more southerly parts of the British Isles, the newly discovered Havelte-phase Hamburgian site of Howburn Farm in Scotland may indicate one of the rare travel events of late Hamburgian foragers across Doggerland.

The very first Late-glacial pioneer human re-colonization of southern Scandinavia can be seen as a series of successes (colonization pulses) and failures (collapse and/or retreat; Riede et al. 2014). In this view, the Hamburgian exploration of Scandinavia and Scotland via Doggerland was probably much shorter than the span of 500-700 years, usually assumed.  Riede suggests that the sparse material from N-Europe probably represents “no more than one human generation and perhaps much less, as little as a few seasons of occupation”. Read his inspiring thoughts (a rare example of combining the archaeological data with different theoretical approaches) in the following publication (via Researchgate):

Suggested reading:

Lateglacial and Postglacial Pioneers in Northern Europe: Edited by Felix Riede, Miikka Tallaavaara. BAR International Series 2599 2014

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Notched Points during the late Paleolithic and Mesolithic of Europe

harpoon aggsbach

This is a notched bone point (16 cm long) of unknown age. The base is  flattened, thus indicating that it was produced for permanent hafting. Points with a row of fine oblique teeth. (Kunda type point) first appeared during the Middle Magdalenian of the greater Aquitaine and were mainly replaced by barbed points  during the Upper /Late Magdalenian over large Parts of Europe. Anyhow, Notches Points , like the one shown here, had their great appearance during the Preboreal and Boreal  N/W-Europe.

Paleogeographic investigations of the Baltic region at the Pleistoceine / Holocene Boundary have demonstrated that reindeer was almost exclusively found in the Younger Dryas, while products of moose bone and antler were associated with the Allerød , as well as the early Boreal Friesland-Dryas IV climatic oscillations .

Notched and barbed  points may be classified either as “fixed,” when permanently attached to a spear or arrow shaft, or as “harpoons” (sensu strictu) when they separate from a shaft on impact and remain attached to it by line. Barbs and notches ensured that the point stayed embedded in the flesh of the animal once it was harpooned.

A permanently hafted point, for which shafts of light woods and tips of harder materials are preferentially used, has several advantages. The projectiles have a more secure trajectory and because of their hardness can penetrate even thick bones without losing their functionality and needing to be repaired. For hafting, the base of the barbed or notched points has generally been more or less flattened and rejuvenated towards the end in order to increase the stability of the connection. The connection itself can be achieved through a socket, with sinew, bast and other plant fibres  and/or through resins, pitch or tar .

An ethnography shows a clear functional trend: « simple » barbed points are mostly used for fowling, for hunting big and small land game, and for war; while « true » harpoons are mostly used for fishing and hunting sea mammals and aquatic mammals.

A survey of the archaeological literature shows, that the  functional characterization of Paleolithic and Mesolithic notched and barbed points was not successful till now. This survey shows that notched and barbed points do not present a preferential association with one type of game, and that they cannot be interpreted as harpoon heads on a simple morphological basis. According to the ethnographic data, the list of their possible functions is even longer than once expected. Indeed, we even should not no  a priori dismiss the use of barbed and notched points as weapons in violent human conflicts.

Suggested Readings:



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Bronze Age and the transformation of Neolithic societies in Europe


This is 19 cm long  Bronze Age lance head from an old S/W-German Collection. A very fine example of prehistoric weaponry. When we consider the beauty of Bronze Age weapons, we must not forget the terror brought by specialized warriors on Bronze  Age communities.

The concept of dividing prehistorical ages into systems based on different materials was introduced by the Danish archaeologist Christian Juergensen Thomsen (1788–1865). Thomsen was able to use the Danish national collection of antiquities and the records of their finds as well as reports from contemporaneous excavations to provide a solid empirical basis for the system. He showed that artifacts could be classified into types and that these types varied over time in ways that correlated with the predominance of stone, bronze or iron implements and weapons.

This kind of epochalism has much criticized. For example Graham Connah asserts: “So many archaeological writers have used this model for so long that for many readers it has taken on a reality of its own. In spite of the theoretical agonizing of the last half-century, epochalism is still alive and well … Even in parts of the world where the model is still in common use, it needs to be accepted that, for example, there never was actually such a thing as ‘the Bronze Age.”

Anyhow we have still to ask for the impact of metals on society, social systems, social agency and ideologies.  Many researchers argue that that there is a qualitative difference between Neolithic and Bronze Age social formations in prehistoric Europe, which fundamentally changed both their worldviews and their political economies.


During the Bronze Age we see the development of permanent higher-level institutions in charge of trade and alliance formation. There was a rapid development of inter-regional economic dependency and new levels of division of labor compared to the preceding times.

One aspect of  this transformation was the the formation of a complete new set of weapons (swords, lances, protective body amour) and for the first time the formation of more permanent warrior groups and retinues, which among other things is evidenced by systematic use wear on swords and lances, and trauma on skeletons. These new weapons were much more deadly and efficient than anything preceding them, and the warriors also demanded regular training to master effective swordsmanship. In short the swords introduced a new institution of warrior elites with retinues that could be mobilized and hired as mercenaries when needed. This new panoply of weapons was to be in continued use until historical times , and it became an institution that could be mobilized by chiefly leaders, but which could also overthrow them….IMG_4428




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Late Acheulian Handaxe from Central France


middle loire acheuleenThis elongated handaxe (15 cm long) comes from an old collection of surface findings from the Middle Loire valley. It was found together with other bifaces and cores-some with a clear Levallois appearance. The handaxe has been produced from a LCT displaying the typical honey-colored flint of the Region.  Its final appearance was made by fine retouches probably by a soft hammer.

The introduction of biface technology in the Lower Palaeolithic arguably marked a fundamental change in how early hominins dealt with their world. It is suggested to reflect changes not just in tool form and innovative shaping, but also in planning depth, landscape use and social structures. While handaxes appeared in Africa as early as 1.8 Ma, this tradition appeared considerable later on the European continent and was apparently then only present in Western and Southern Europe.Several scenarios may be envisaged to account for this delay, for example either 1) rapid and ancient dispersal throughout South Europe before diffusion to the North;  2) multiple dispersals of new technical habits from the Levant or Asia through corridors of diffusion, or 3) a local origination in some areas due to an increase in skills of established populations.

In recent years, new lithic assemblages with Acheulian features have been excavated, especially in Spain and were dated to the end of the Lower Pleistocene (Brunhes- Matuyama shift at 800 k.a.). The Solana del Zamborino (Guadix-Baza, Granada) and Quípar (Murcia) are of special interest here, but their dating is heavily debated.

It was a surprise to find an intact Acheulian ensemble in Central France at La Noira, in the Cher valley, a tributary of the Middle Loire. The site is securely dated to the early Middle Pleistocene. La Noira is the oldest evidence of Acheulean presence in north-western Europe and attests to the possibility of pioneering phases of Acheulean settlement which would have taken place on a Mode 1-type substratum as early as 700 k.a. (MIS16/17)

At La Noira some pieces have isolated areas of bifacial working, several are bifacially worked opposite a natural back, and three are bifacial cleavers, while others are bifaces sensu strictu with shaping of the volume and symmetrical, convergent edges. These are cordiform, triangular or ovate in plan-form with rounded or pointed tips. Cross-sections are plano-convex or symmetrical dependent on the mode of shaping of the slab. Not only hard hammer, but also the soft hammer technique has been used. Core technology is focused on the production of medium to large flakes from which some larger flakes were used as further cores or the production of LCTs.

The introduction of the Levallois technique into central France occurred much later (MIS9) and therefore this handaxe belongs to a late Acheulian, not older than 300 k.a. Unfortunately no late Acheulian site with an in-situ ensemble from the middle Loire region has been excavated up to now.

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Out of Africa-into Asia and out of Asia into Africa again?

pebble tools

These are some “pebble cores” of unknown age of the the “Serre Pluma” site in St Marcel d’Ardèche.  If these selectively collected objects are artifacts or geofacts remains open for discussion. After the discoveries at Olduvai Bed I, many series comparable  to the one shown here, all over Europe, were used to substantiate the presence of an Oldowan / Pre-Acheulian on the continent at a very early time-point (Early Pleistocene; > 800 k.a. BP). The ensemble shown in this post is very similar to findings  at the Pont-de-Lavaud in the Creuse Valley (see below).  Anyhow  it would be prudent to remain skeptic about such “surface” findings but we should stay open minded for new findings within an undisturbed and convincing context. In general we should accept such findings only, if major parts of the refitting sequences can be reconstructed from the lithic material and point to human agency .

Out of Africa: The first core and flake ensemble (“Oldowan”) so far were recently found at Lomekwi in Kenya incorporated in sediments about 3,3 million years old. Therefore the beginning of tool making seems to have occurred long before the advent of the genus Homo.  After  2,7 Ma such “Mode I” ensembles are common along the Rift valley and South Africa. Thes ensembles comprise flakes and the cores from which they were struck. The cores are simple in that they were not shaped prior to flaking, and no attempts were made to detach flakes of particular sizes or shapes. The main types recognized are choppers ,chopping tools, unretouched flakes and simple scrapers.

The very early prehistory of hominins in Asia before 300 k.a. is often summarized as the outcome of one ore multiple dispersal event from Africa around 1,8 Ma. (“Out of Africa 1”). However, very little is known about the faunal record of much of Asia before 1.8 Ma, and it remains unclear when hominins first left Africa.

Into Asia and back to Africa again? : Early human peopling outside Africa  is well established in the Near East, including the Caucasus, at 1,8 Ma at Dmanisi, Georgia and 1,0-1,4 Ma at Ubeidiya, Israel. A mixed landscape of open parkland with surrounding forested hills had developed when the earliest hominins entered the region. Some sites in the basin of El Kowm with “Oldowan” artifacts may also belong to late Early / early Middle Pleistocene human sites of the Near East.

The Dmanisi hominins had small brains (ca. 630–775 cc), and were probably 1,5 m or less in height, and their post-cranial skeleton exhibited a mixture of modern and archaic features. There is ongoing debate over whether the Dmanisi sample represents a new species, H. Georgicus, a new sub-species, H. Erectus Georgicus, more than one species, or is part of a polytypic species of H. Erectus that might also include the East African H. Habilis and H. Rudofensis.

Despite these differences of opinion, most researchers would agree that they are a primitive form of the genus Homo. Some even suggest they may also be ancestral to both early East African populations of H. Erectus (or H. Ergaster) as well as the Javan and Chinese H. Erectus sensu strictu. That is to say, H. Erectus may have originated in Asia, and then migrated back into Africa, as well as eastwards across southern Asia to Java and possibly north China. Without more specimens from Southwest Asia, this possibility cannot be excluded.

The most significant aspect of the Dmanisi evidence is that hominins did not need large brains or bodies in order to leave Africa; this clearly implies that earlier, small-bodied and small-brained hominins might also have done the same. Some researchers have, for example, suggested that the late Pleistocene, diminutive H. Floresiensis from Flores, Indonesia, has Australopithecus affinities, which may in turn imply a very early dispersal event by the hobbit’s ancestors from Africa.

At present, the earliest securely dated skeletal evidence for hominins further east of Georgia   dates from 1.63 Ma from China (Gongwangling, Lantian County), and approximately 1.6 Ma from Java (Sangiran ;approximately 1.5–1.6 Ma.).

However, artifactual evidence points even to an earlier presence: examples are a small assemblage from Riwat, Pakistan, that is at least 1,9 Ma old and new dates from Longgupo, China, with artifacts dated to approximately 2,2 Ma.The next oldest sites with stone tools are from the Nihewan Basin in North China, where the sites of Majuangou and Xaiochangliang are dated by paleomagnetism to approximately 1,66 and 1,36 Ma, respectively. All these assemblages are broadly similar to Oldowan ones from East Africa dating from 2,75 Ma. In summary “Out of Africa 1” was probably a series of dispersal events that according to the data were not always necessarily one-way from Africa to Asia.

chopper aggsbach

Out of Africa and out of Asia into Europe? The earliest fossil hominid remains in Europe, from around 780 k.a BP or older were found in the Gran Dolina, layer TD6, a site in the Sierra de Atapuerca, Burgos, Spain. At Level TD-6 the micromammal species represent the late Biharian (Mimomys savini zone), and the lithic artifacts exhibit a Mode-1 technology. The origin of the TD-6 hominins is unknown, but they may represent a speciation event from Homo ergaster/Homo erectus. The results for TD6 provided a mean age of 731± 63 k.a., which is in agreement with the paleomagnetic and biostratigraphic data. Taking all this information into account, TD6 level should be located at the end of the Early Pleistocene (i.e. >800 k.a.) In addition along with the Atapuerca TD6 site, the BL and FN3 sites in the Orce basin, dated here as older than 780 k.a BP and probably older than 1.07 Ma and the newly discovered Vallparadís site (Barcelona, Spain), dated from the upper boundary of the Jaramillo subchron.  

Monte Poggiolo is a Mode 1 site is found in northeast Italy, on the southeastern margin of the Po river valley. The archaeological locality lies on the Monte Poggiolo hill, 180 m. above sea level, in 5 m thick sandy coastal gravels.  Paleomagnetism and ESR analysis on quartz grains carried out on the detrital sediments of the archaeological provided an upper Matuyama age, around 800 Ka. The lithic assemblage is in fresh condition and shows no traces of significant fluvial or marine post depositional transport. This is supported by the 76 refit tings recorded at the site. Some of them amazingly reconstruct the complete original core and each refitted group is found in the same stratigraphic level and in a narrowly defined area.

The Pirro Nord site, situated at the north-western margin of the Gargano promontory in Apulia, close to the village of Apricena was dated between 1.3 and 1.6 Ma on a bichronological basis. Pirro Nord became important by the discovery of an unequivocal Mode-1 industry. The reduction sequences at this site were always short and opportunistic, finalized to obtain flakes that were only rarely retouched.

Evidence for Early Palaeolithic industries with an in situ context indicates that Hominins were allready present on the European continent  in the center of France around 1.1 Ma (Pont-de-Lavaud in the Creuse Valley, Lunery in the Cher Valley and Saint-Hilaire-la-Gravelle in the Loire Valley). At Lunery, for example, ca. 500 pieces have been collected and can be related to a human action. At these early sites, Hominids are present in deposits that relate to the beginning and end of cold Periods. This Evidence indicates that Hominids reached the latitude of 45 N and indeed further north towards eastern England during warm and temperate episodes.

Suggested Reading: 



http://whc.unesco.org/documents/ publi_paper_series_33_en.pdf


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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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