The Iberomaurusian of N-Africa

Implements from the Gafsa-area (Tunesia).

 The Iberomaurusian represents the earliest Upper Palaeolithic in the Maghreb. This technocomplex was introduced in 1909 by Pallary who described an microlithic industry from Abri Mouillah (western Algeria).

 Geographically, the Iberomaurusians occupied the Mediterranean littoral from Morocco to Tunisia and the Cyrenaica region (“Oranian”) further east. Today the Iberomaurusian is believed to be of essentially local origin, although possible forerunners from the Levant (Late Ahmarian, early Kebaran), Italia (Epigravettian) and the Nile valley have been discussed in the past.

 Chronological evidence for the Iberomaurusian is limited. During the last years an AMS dating program in northern and eastern Morocco (Ghar Cahal, Kehf el Hammar and Taforalt) revealed a time frame of 18-11 k.a. BP (between 21 and 11 k.a. calibrated BP). Similar dates were recently published from the important Ifri n’Ammar site. It seems that Iberomaurusian bladelet industries made a fairly sudden appearance soon after the LGM. The Iberomaurusian ends with the younger Dryas and thus with the end of the Pleistocene.

 The late Pleistocene of N-Africa offered an arid open steppe environment. Subsistence elements from Iberomaurusian sites show a wide variety of hunted or collected food components typical for the “broad spectrum revolution“. From their inland camps the Iberomaurusians hunted herbivores like horse, gazelle and Barbary sheep. Sites that are closer to coastal areas are often characterized by the remains of marine hunting and shell middens in addition to the mammalian fauna.

 Regarding lithic technology, there are a variety of cores, mainly single and double-platform types. The retouches are abrupt (backed) or very fine, continuous and marginal (Ouchtata). The microburin technique is widely used. Typologically the Iberomaurusian characterized by a great variety of backed bladelets, a few burins, simple endscrapers, a few geometric segments, and the famous „Mouillah point”, which in small quantities, has also be reported from the Levantine Epipaleolithic. Modern investigations about diachronic and regional differentiation of the lithic ensembles are not available. Some elements (the microburin technique) seem to be a long-lasting constant feature. Overall the Iberomaurusian seems to represent a relative stable cultural phenomenon with only minor typological and technological changes. Microscopic use wear analyses of the Iberomaurusian site of Tamar Hat showed that the backed bladelets were used as projectile points in hunting procedures.

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13 Responses to The Iberomaurusian of N-Africa

  1. jthogue says:

    This is a great post. The picture is really nice. If you know, I would greatly appreciate it if you could tell me which museum the collection is from.

  2. Katzman says:

    The answer is very simple: all artifacts are from the personal collection of my family. I want to share the artifacts with other people by this way and I want to use the blog to get in contact with other enthusiasts, that share my passion….
    Best Regards

  3. jthogue says:

    It’s great to hear from an enthusiast. I’m very much interested in the Iberomaurusian and I’m doing my PhD on collections from a number of sites in Morocco. I’m also looking around at other sites in North Africa as comparisons.

  4. Katzman says:

    Great to hear. I have two questions:

    1. how can I differentiate backed tools from the Iberomaurusian and the Capsian. Are there typological and metrical atributes for a differentiation?
    2. For me the most important question remains unanswerd till now: how does the Iberomaurusian relate to contemporaneous ensembles of Cyrenaika and the Levant ?

  5. jthogue says:

    1. A number of the forms are in many ways very similar between the Iberomaurusian and the Capsian. This has led some (Lubell et al 1984, etc) to speculate that there is continuity between the two industries. In general there are more geometric backed pieces in the Capsian (lunettes, triangles, etc). If you can get hold of a copy of Tixier’s (1963) typology this is a good place to start for categorising the different forms. I’m not sure of any comparisons using metric data. It would be great to see this work done, but currently there are few published epipalaeolithic sites from the Maghreb with decent metric data. Close’s (1980) work at Tamar Hat has good metric data for the Iberomaurusian. Rahmani (2004) should contain similar information on the Capsian or at least the relevant references, it is also explains clearly the differences between the Typical and Upper Capsian.

    2. This is an extremely complex issue. Genetic evidence suggests that there may have been population exchange between the Maghreb, Cyrenaica, and the Levant during or before the LGM (Ennafee et al 2009). This has led to the idea that the Iberomaurusian culture spread from the Near East. However, the Iberomaurusian at Tamar Hat (Algeria) and Taforalt (eastern Morocco) predates it’s appearance at Haua Fteah (Libya). Bar-Yosef (1987) suggested that perhaps the Mushabians developed from the Iberomaurusian as it has in common the occurrence of La Mouillah points and arch-backed bladelets. Even if this is the case, the question still remains where, when and from which population did the Iberomaurusian develop.

    Unfortunately I can’t provide a definitive answer to either question, as the period is extremely understudied.

    In terms of the first question we need metric data from Capsian and Iberomaurusian sites from modern excavations with good dating. It would then be essential to revisit the museum and private collections to conduct metric and typological analyses.

    In order to answer your second question more research is needed into the period immediately before the appearance of the Iberomaurusian across North Africa (20,000-40,000 ka). Unfortunately, with the exception of Morocco, this is unlikely to happen anytime soon.

    I’ll put the references in separate comment.

  6. jthogue says:

    Lubell, D. and Sheppard, P. (1984) ‘Continuity in the Epipaleolithic of Northern Africa with Emphasis on the Maghreb’, Advances in World Archaeology 3: 143–191.

    Tixier, J. (1963) Typologie De l’Epipaléolithique Du Maghreb. Mémoire Du Centre De Recherches Anthropologiques, Préhistoriques Et Ethnographiques, Alger, 2. Paris: Arts Et Métiers Graphiques.

    Close, A. (1980) ‘The Iberomaurusian Sequence at Tamar Hat’, Libyca 28-29: 69–104.

    Rahmani, N. (2004) ‘Technological and Cultural Change Among the Last Hunter-Gatherers of the Maghreb: the Capsian (10,000–6000 B.P.)’, Journal of World Prehistory 18: 57–105.

    Ennafaa, H., Cabrera, V., Abu-Amero, K., Gonzalez, A., Amor, M., Bouhaha, R., Dzimiri, N., Elgaaied, A. and Larruga, J. (2009) ‘Mitochondrial DNA Haplogroup H Structure in North Africa’, BMC Genetics 10: 8.

    Bar-Yosef, O. (1987) ‘Pleistocene Connexions Between Africa and Southwest Asia: an Archaeological Perspective’, African Archaeological Review 5: 29–38.

  7. jthogue says:

    At the moment I’m trying to put together a database of all the Iberomaurusian and Capsian sites, which have ever been excavated. I was wondering if you have site locations and possibly co-ordinates for your collections, which you’d be willing to share? Obviously I will acknowledge any contributions you make in my thesis.

  8. Katzman says:

    Thanks for your explanations. I will provide you with informations about my small collection of artifacts (ca. 50 pieces) which were found as a surface scatter some miles from Gafsa 40 years ago if you want. Of course I have a copy of Tixier’s work, which is extremely useful to recognize “epipaleolithic” findings, but is no help in the differentiation between Iberomaurusian and later artifacts. Do you have pdf copies of Closes and Bar Yosefs papers?

  9. jthogue says:

    Sorry for the slow reply. I’m sorry you haven’t found Tixier’s work very helpful. In truth it is the overall assemblage composition that is important to discern between the Iberomaurusian and the Capsian, and not just the form of the backed pieces. I have pdf copies of both articles you asked for and you can download them by following the link Hope you find them interesting. BTW I will remove them after a couple of days.

  10. Katzman says:

    Thanks, That helped a lot!

  11. Amran says:

    Dear Jthogue,

    My name is Amran Khalifa, a Libyan archaeologist (PhD) who interest in the Epipalaeolithic movements on North Africa, particularly on western Libya territory.
    Since I found that you are a PhD student, who interests in the Iberomaurusian culture in North Africa, and you are looking for other sites in the area. I would be willing to share information, particularly at site locations on western Libya. Also, I have some PDF copies of articles on those sites, so let me know if you are interest for theme, as for shearing information.

    Best regard

    Amran Khalifa

  12. Katzman says:

    Dear Amran,

    Please note, that I am not an athropologist / archaeologist, but only a person with special interest in prehistoric reaserch. I am allways interested in informations about paleolithic topics,and of course pdfs are welcome ( If you are interested in literature too, I will do my very best!

  13. Amran says:

    Dear Katzman,
    Thanks’ for your response, and sorry for my delay.
    As you can see at my first email that I am working on Epilaeolithic of North Africa, not on Palaeolithic, but sharing information is always well come to me. Also, my first email was sent to Mr. Jthogue, who is an archaeologist, which working at the same topic like me. However, it is nice to know you and to share knowledge with you. Finally, you can reach me at (
    Best regard

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