The Quina Mousterian in the Charente: Mousterian Variability

quina quina quina aggsbachThese artefacts are from a single site in the Charente, showing characteristic traits of the Quina-Mousterian of the region.

In 1953 François Bordes published an Essay of the classification of “industries moustériennes”, in which he proposed a typology for the different tool assemblages frequently associated with Neanderthals of Western Europe. These tool assemblages were highly variable both between and within archaeological sites. Bordes’ typology was at its time a revolution in the description and classification of Mousterian tools, offering a seemingly objective and systematic framework for analysis.  Bordes continued to refine his typology over the next decade, eventually offering an interpretation of the variability as the reflection of the activities of four distinct cultural groups or traditions, or in his word “civilizations”. By the early 1960s Bordes’ typology was widely accepted as was his identification of Mousterian cultural groups as the final cause of interassemblage variability.

Then, in 1966, Lewis Binford published an article with his then wife Sally, in which he proposed a complete interpretive revision of Bordes’ typology. In A preliminary analysis of functional variability in the Levallois-Mousterian, the Binfords rejected Bordes’ interpretation of distinct Mousterian cultures as the basis for the variability, arguing instead that the variability was a reflection not of cultural differences but rather one of functional differences. In  her 2009 thesis M Wargo showed convincingly, that the debate may be “best understood as an emblem of a mid-century intellectual narrative constructed around stereotypical notions of a young, progressive, empirical, new (i.e., uniquely American) approach to understanding the deep past and a limited, outdated and, perhaps more importantly, descriptive approach to prehistory typical of Old World (particularly French) archaeologists”.

Nowadays 50 years after the debatte for many researchers F. Bordes is finally outdated and they are convinced, that they that his cultural historic approach failed.  For the interpretation of middle paleolithic variability at one site, one can chose between numerous possible answers. Dynamic reduction sequences, ad-hoc innovations, adaptations to the environment, access to certain raw material resources, duration of stay, function of a site and group mobility all contribute to the final appearance of an ensemble. But are , from an Epistemologal approach such “middle range” interpretations really sufficient for our understanding? Why is the Quina Mousterian in France during OIS4 mainly restricted to the Charente and the Aquitaine? In the Charente, there is merely no other “Mousterian”. Furthermore it seems that the Quina strategy occurred widely indepently of raw material supply, duration of stay, the function of the sites in the Charente and the mobility patters of Middle Paleolithic groups in this region.

 I would like to propose to reintroduce “traditions” as a possible cause for Middle Paleolithic variability into the discussion again. The stability of the Quina-system over several thousand years in a restricted region is hardly understandable without any cultural transmission of techniques from one generation to another. There are several other middle paleolithic and MSA technocomplexes that in my view can also only explained by taking the influence of “traditions” into consideration. The Aterian of Northern Africa shows that a system, producing very specific artifacts, which never have been described outside this region, lasted for at least 40 k.a. without great modifications. Similar long standing trends are also known from central Europe during the so called middle European Micoquian.

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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 Quina Mousterian in the Charente: Mousterian Variability

  1. Very interesting post. I dont share some points but it is a great synthesis anyway. What I dont share is that:

    -The idea that Bordes made the “facies stuff” out of nothing that transpires your text. I think it that he built over the typological conceptions and classifications of 50 or maybe 70 years of continental research.

    – The omision of the fact that, besides his well-studied “error” (thinking stricly in historical-cultural traditions and messing typological and technological approaches), Bordes provided most of the lexicon and some of the basic grammar that are still the basis of the lithic techology and lithic tool-making/tool-using/tool-management research.

    – For me (i’ve read many of Lewis Binford’s writtings, specifically the ones about Mousterian), is really surprising how he is cited in relation to Bordes systematics. I dont think is realistic. Binford made a limited and almost unsuccesful -in his own words- approach to Mousterian industries classification. That approach can not really be compared to the (holistic and broadly accepted for 30 yeard at least) Bordes’ typology (yet it is, as you said, outdated).

    Then, specifically about the Quina Mousterian, I have some direct experience with those assemblages (at least, with those sites that we call Quina in Spain, wich are a bit different from the France ones).

    I’ll (following Gonzalez Urquijo, Rios Garaizar, and my own work) propose that they are the archaeological remainings of complex and organized systems of tool-making, tool-using and tool-managing. Those systems are influenced by:

    1 – Economical needs (subsistence -food, shelter, fuel-, also related to mobility).
    2 – Lithic resources in territory (also related to mobility): because lithic raw matherials deeply influence shape and functionality, and its distribution in landscape is also very important.
    3 – Technological (for sure) and (perhaps) strictly aestetic traditions.

    1+2+3 – Long and medium term strategies designed by the hunter-gatherer groups to cover their economical needs using the lithic resources with their technological traditions and using their mobility as a key piece to manage it all.

    I’d like finnish my comment noting that the Quina mousterian is not deprived of changes in the temporal dimension.

    At least, in the sites we’ve studied: when you take on the detailed technologial study, you can see that production/use/management strategies are changing from one level to another, yet always inside some broad constrains or basic traits.

    That fact is, by the way, something that in a purely typological approach it wont be noticed, which goes with your claim that Bordes facies are outdated for good.

  2. Katzman says:

    Thanks for the comment. I would be happy for more comments by professionals like you…

  3. Imix says:

    To deny that humans build strong cultures with traditions that determine and shape tools, which can be very local or far-flung even for sparse populations, would (in my opinion) be to neglect the very nature of humans. While our evidence of the strength of regional cultural traditions is for extant homo sapiens, it would be quite surprising if it basically had not been true for highly evolved earlier humans. This is not to downplay the importance of non-cultural determinants, such as task, material and previaling environment. Of course one would like to prove this for Neanderthals, which we cannot at present, but there is no reason to rule it out, in my view.

  4. Pingback: Scraper from the Quina Type Site | Aggsbach's Paleolithic Blog

  5. Cye Williams-Gossett says:

    As a scientific archaeologist and one who worked with Lew Binford for years… and Bordes…in France and elsewhere… I am going to do this as Lew would suggest: I am not going to argue with cultural historians. None of you know what you are talking about.. Construct some Reference dimensions…. do some math.

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