The Comeback of a relative chronology: How old is the Chatelperronian? .

This is a Chatelperronian Point found near Brive / France

Several Questions about the Chatelperronian:

  • Who made the Chatelperronian? ( Persumably the Neantherthals, but AMHs could aso be the makers )
  • Is there an antecedent technocompex? (The MTA-B?, the denticulated Mousterian?, the Protoaurignian?)
  • Is there an overlap with the succesive Aurignacian? (Probaby not!- there are no prooven interstratifications)
  • Is the Chatelperronian a “transitional” industry? (Probably not-at open air sites the industry is pure leptolithic without any mixture with a “Mousterian” component)
  • How old is the Chatelperronian? C-14 dates in a time range of 30-45 k.a. BP are not very reliable to establish an absolute chronology of the Middle to Upper Paleolithic transition. It therefore seems to be prudent to use other chronological markers and a relative chronological approach. Approximately 40. k.a. cal BP, a massive volcanic eruption took place in the Phlegraean Fields, in central Italy, spewing a plume of ash across large areas of south-central and Eastern Europe. The eruption deposits of this event are known as Campanian Ignimbrite (CI) Y-5 tephra. The (CI) Y-5 tephra can serve as major chrono-stratigraphic marker for the Middle to Upper Paleolithic transition and is dated with high precision by A-40/A-39, independent of the C-14 dating, which gives unreliable data at sites > 30 k.a PB. The eruption event precedes the Heinrich (H) 4 event in the Greenland ice record, which is characterized by a very dry and cold climate.
  • Wherever the (CI) Y-5 tephra marker is present, the classic Aurignacian consistently overlies the Campanian Ignimbrite, while the Mediterranean Protoaurignacian (at Castelcivita) and Uluzzian (at Castelcivita and Cavallo) and the “Transitional” Paleolithic industries of the Kostenki area (loci 14 and 17) are found below. The Chatelperronian occupations underlie the Protoaurignacian at Labeko Koba, Le Piage and Castelcivita. In turn; and Protoaurignacian levels are found below levels with Aurignacian I at Morin, Grotte des Fées at Chatelperron, L’Arbreda, Isturitz, Le Piage, Mocchi and Fumane.
  • Unfortunately we have not a single site where in situ Chatelperronian is found together with the deposits of the (CI) Y-5 tephra. Stratigraphically the Chatelperronian always underlies the Aurignacian (at multiple sites in the Perigord: for example at La Ferrassie, Laussel;  further North- at La Quina, Les Cottes, at Chatelperron and Acry sur Cure-). A Chatelperronian below a Protoaurignacian is known at Cueva Morin, Le Piage and Labeko Koba. Therefore the Paleolithic Sequence for Southern /West Europe is firmly established as: Chatelperronian / Uluzzian  – Protoaurignacian-Y-5 tephra (40 k.a. cal BC) followed by the Aurignacien ancien (Aurignacian I).
  • Please note that this post is based on the recent syntheses of MELLARS and ZILHÃO. Concerning the French and Italian sites there seems to be an overall agreement in the scientific community regarding the succession of technocomplexes: Chatelperronian / Uluzzian  – Protoaurignacian-Y-5 tephra (40 k.a. cal BC) followed by the Aurignacian ancien (Aurignacian I).
  • Anyhow in Northern Iberia, the local prehistorians are deeply influenced by the paradigm that the local UP evolves from the local Mousterian. These ensembles, which sometimes are above a Chatelperronian, are called Archaic Aurignacian. At Castillo 18 and Morin8/9  the “Archaic Aurignacian” is intercalated between a typical Aurignacian and a Mousterian. It is characterized by both a discoidal production of flakes, that are transformed to middle Paleolithic tools and a blade and bladelet production from prismatic cores transformed to upper Paleolithic tools. There is a technological continuum between blade and bladelet production by prismatic cores. If these ensembles come from an intact stratigraphy, they could well be called transitional. At Arbreda Cave the basal (“Archaic”) Aurignacian resembles the Protoaurignacian in France/Italy with Dufour and Font Yves bladlets but there are  some carinated pieces in this ensemble, which suggest a different chaine operatoire of   blade and bladelet production.

About Katzman

During my whole life I was fascinated by stone age artefacts. Not only the aesthetic qualities of these findings, but also the stories around them and the considerations arising from their discovery, are a part of my blog. Comments and contributions are allways welcome! About me: J.L. Katzman (Pseudonym). Born in Vienna. Left Austria in 1974 and did not regret. Studied Medicine and Prehistory at a German University. Member of a Medical Department at a German University. Copyright 2010-2017 by JLK. All Rights Reserved. You are welcome to use material in these posts so long as you cite the work.
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5 Responses to The Comeback of a relative chronology: How old is the Chatelperronian? .

  1. Millan Mozota says:

    Just trying to add some detail wich (i hope) you may find of interest. It shocks me the citation of Protoaurignacien as something that occurs at Morin and L’Arbreda. Never heard before , so i suspect maybe is a bias introduced by a non-local researcher doing a (¿too?) broad syntesis of the MP-UP “transition”. Both Arbreda and Morin are published as Aurignacien Ancien o “Auriñaciense Antiguo” (in spanish), wich is not really the same as Protoaurignacien. As a comparative example, in the (usually not cited) Gatzarria stratigraphy you can find (Saenz de Buruaga 1987):

    Level cjn3 – Chatelperronien (sp. Caspelterroniense o Chatelperroniense)
    Level cjn2 – Protoaurignacien (sp. Protoauriñaciense)
    Level cjn1 – Protoaurignacien (sp. Protoauriñaciense)
    Level cbc1-cbf – Aurignacien ancien (sp. Auriñaciense antiguo)

    Protoaurignacien and Aurignacien ancien are (most usually) considered different industries .They show differences in the relative importance and the specific morphology of backed tools (specially backed blades and bladelettes), scrappers, personal ornament, and bone points.

    Anyway congratulations for the high quality of your posts and images.

  2. Katzman says:

    I have relied on an extensive rewiev from João Zilhão:

    ZILHÃO, J. (2011) — Aliens from Outer Time? Why the “Human Revolution” Is Wrong, and Where Do We Go from Here?, in CONDEMI, S.; WENIGER, G.-C. (eds.) — «Continuity and Discontinuity in the Peopling of Europe. One Hundred Fifty Years of Neanderthal Study», New York, Springer (Vertebrate Paleobiology and Paleoanthropology Series), p. 331-366. Download at:

    Do you have images / figures from Gatzarria and of the questionable cases? (Morin and L’Arbreda)
    Thats the kind of discussion I wanted to provoke!

  3. Millan Mozota says:

    I think I have or can find figures, yes. Quite sure for Morin and Gatzarria, not so sure for L’Arbreda. But I need to find time, to search and scan it. Then I will e-mail youv the scans .

  4. Katzman says:

    Thanks for the papers. I have learned a lot, especially that ZILHÃO lumps different entities in Iberia by giving them the name of Protoaurignacian together . Please note, that I have modified my text according to your suggestions

  5. Pingback: Reconsidering the middle to upper Paleolithic transition in S/W-France: The case of the Châtelperronian | Aggsbach's Paleolithic Blog

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