An Acheulean handaxe from the Somme Valley. In general the design of such an artefact does not imply any information about its age.
The Paleolithic of the Somme valley in northern France has a long history of Paleolithic research especially at two Paleolithic type localities: Abbeville and St Acheul. While the “Abbevillian” has to be questioned as a original technocomplex, several Acheulean assemblages in St Acheul, Cagny and the St. Acheul vicinity have been dated during the last decades to the MIS 9-12. The oldest in situ human occupations are dated at 450–500 ka maximum (Early MIS 12).
Most of the data indicate that human occupation of the Somme valley has been discontinuous and highly influenced by climate and environmental factors. It seems that our ancestors preferred the interglacial conditions and the transition from late glacial open landscape to open forest environment of early interglacial periods.
Ten stepped alluvial formations have been recognized between 5 and 55m relative height, each representing an interglacial / glacial cycle. Regarding recent excavations several of the Middle Pleistocene formations are of special importance:
- The Freville Formation (MIS 14–13) with handaxes particularly at Rue Marcelin Berthelot, Saint-Acheul. These handaxes were unfortunately not in situ.
- The Garenne Formation (MIS 12–11) with the site Cagny-la-Garenne and the Saint Acheul type locality. The famous Atelier Commont overlies the Garenne Formation at Saint-Acheul and was located within younger sediments of unknown age.
- The Epinette Formation (MIS 9) , exposed at its type locality, Cagny-l’Epinette.
Even older findings may have be present at the Carpentier-quarry at Abbeville (‘‘Abbevillian’’). Unfortunately it is not clear if the Abbevillian handaxes (sensu Breuil and Bordes) represent an unbiased collection and if they come from sediments that can be reliably dated to 600 ka by ESR (Marne Blanche at MIS 15) or from the overlying younger loess.