Razor sharp

The appearance of Levallois technology (named after a suburb of Paris where it was first described) in Africa and Europe c. 300–250 ka years ago (OIS8) is commonly used to define the Lower-to-Middle Palaleolithic and ESA/MSA boundary (as first proposed by Bosinski in Ronen 1982) and arguably represents a major innovation in lithic practices during the Middle Pleistocene. Data from S-Africa indicate even an earlier date for the first appearance of the Levallois technique at about 450 k.a. BP.

I was always fascinated by the razor sharp Levallois flakes from Kebara, made by Neanderthals ca 50 ka BP. They are thin, but not so thin that they are ineffective and exibit a balanced centre of gravity.

Intuitively they look like desired endproducts of a subtle and planned core reduction strategy. They are sharper than many blades from the European Aurignacien in my collection. But-I always was aware that this impression could be incorrect and could be biased by my suggestions of a certain unity of early humans (Neanderthals, Archaic H. Sapiens and H. Sapiens sensu strictu). In the archaeological literature, there are many suspicions regarding the “preferred” and “planned” nature of Levallois technology, coming especially from the “hypersceptical camp”.

Several examinations of archaeological material on the issue of Levallois predetermination and planning and they have produced mixed results. Dibble focused on the issue of predetermination in Levallois flakes by evaluation of flakes from 27 different assemblages in southern France. Regarding his esults from incomplete reconstructions of the chaine opératoire he argued that their manufacture could not be linked to “the presence of linguistic rules, structures, or categories”. A study by Schlanger, however, used flakes from a refitted Levallois core from the early Middle Palaleolithic site of Maastricht-Belvédère (Netherlands) and reached a different conclusion. Here, he found that length; widths and thicknesses of the nine Levallois flakes were, as a group, more standardized than the 32 non-Levallois (debitage) flakes.

Lycett and Eren recently adopted an experimental approach to this issue. They focused on the production of “preferential” Levallois cores and their products and found that their results strongly support the view that Levallois reduction strategies were  indeed a organized process and a deliberate, engineered strategy orientated toward specific goals. Levallois knapping from these experiments may seen as an indication of an advanced cognitive competence of their makers and therefore for long-term working memory.

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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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