Acheulian sites of Northern France

This is a handaxe from the typesite of St. Acheul, found in 1889. Some handaxes of this series are shown in the Musée d’Archéologie nationale et Domaine national de Saint-Germain-en-Laye. It took more than 100 yrs to establish the absolute dating of handaxe ensembles in the valleys of Northern France by correcting older age-estimations influenced by Commont, Breuil and Bordes, who relied on a relative chronology and were primed by typological suggestions, based on biased collections.

In the Seine valley, in situ Acheulean industries associated with terrace deposits are very rare. Handaxes have been described as coming from the gravels of the Elbeuf Formation, in Normandy, and thus should be attributed to MIS 14 according to present interpretations, but this still needs to be confirmed.

The only recently studied in situ Acheulean site has been excavated at Saint- Pierre-le` s-Elbeuf in the lower Seine valley. The archaeological level is located at the boundary between an Interglacial tufa allocated to MIS 11 and the loess cover, and is thus allocated to MIS 11-10 transition or Early MIS 10..

On the other hand, new and important results have been produced by investigations 200 km south-eastward on the interglacial tufa sequence at La Celle, near Fontainebleau. The few flint artefacts, recovered in an organic tufa layer, allowed the identification of a bifacial industry and demonstrated the occurrence of a human settlement in association with an interglacial fauna dated from MIS 11. La Celle appears to be one of the oldest in situ sites with bifacial industry in Northern France.

In the Yonne River valley, handaxes were reported from the sand and gravels of the Soucy Formation, dated to MIS 10 by ESR and ESR/U-series .  However, the most important data come from the study of the Acheulean site excavated in the upper part of calcareous fluvial silty sands of the same locality, dated from MIS 9 by the same methods. These fluvial layers contain many handaxes associated with remains of interglacial large mammal fauna preserved in situ (Lhomme et al., 2004). According to malacological and geochronological data, this occupation would be contemporary with the late MIS 9 interglacial.

The Somme River in northern France rises in the hills at Fonsommes, near Saint-Quentin in the Aisne Département, and flows generally westward for 245 km to the English Channel, crossing the Somme Département and the ancient province of Picardy. From Amiens, near which its headstreams , including the Ancre and Avre converge, the Somme follows the floor of a trench across the chalk country.

The first major human occupations In the Somme basin, according to the results of the modern excavations date to about 450–500 k.a. BP (Early MIS 12).  These occupations they are readily represented by advanced Acheulean industries. As they have not been excavated since the late 1930s, the problem of the exact stratigraphic location of the historic Acheulean levels of Abbeville ‘‘Quarry Carpentier and Quarry Leon’’ is still open. Indeed, the formerly discovered handaxes (‘‘Abbevillian’’) could have been found within fluvial formations that are now dated to 600 k.a. using ESR, but also from the overlying younger loessic deposits. In addition, according to recent observations, the fluvial deposits of the Grace-AutoRoute Formation dated approximately at 1 Mya are absolutely sterile in Palaeolithic artifacts.

The Acheulian industries of Saint- Acheul (Rue de Cagny) and Cagny la Garenne are dated by ESR to OIS 12, between 450 and 400 ka . At Cagny la Garenne the excavations by Tuffreau  (the excavation area about 100 m south of the classic stratigraphic section, protected as a national monument, is called Cagny la Garenne II) have revealed a series of archaeological levels contained in gravels and fine lenses of fluvial silts of the beginning of a glacial period. The artifacts in the lower levels (unit K) correspond to activities linked to the selection of raw materials (flint nodules derived from the erosion of the nearby chalk talus). These activities are documented by a majority of unmodified blocks, blocks tested only by a few removals, discarded biface roughouts, and only 15% of flakes. In the upper series of levels (units J, I), activities linked to raw material procurement (testing of blocks, presence of unmodified nodules) are much less frequently represented in comparison to the quantities of debitage, products of shaping of bifaces, finished bifaces, small tools (often made on small flint slabs and dominated by notches.

The Levallois debitage is equally rare or non-existent in the series of Cagny l’Epinette, dated to OIS 9 based on terrace stratigraphy. While the microfauna suggested a younger age (OIS 7), one ESR date on the sediments of unit I (296 k.a.) supports the OIS 9 age estimate. The site, situated on a terrace of the Avre, a tributary of the Somme, was excavated by A. Tuffreau for many years from 1980. Levallois cores and flakes comprise no more than 0.4% of the total assemblage and are too occasional to be significant; the bifaces comprise 6.4% of the formal tools in unit H, which overlies unit I. Proportions can be higher in levels of unit I, but the assemblages are relatively small. It should be noted that a good proportions of artifacts at both Cagny la Garenne and Cagny l’Epinette have clear edge damage due to the high energy of the fluvial environment; hence the integrity of the series is clearly doubtful. Counts provided here for both sites are based only on series of artifacts with fresh edges. Assemblages rich in bifaces and with a repertoire of non-Levallois flake types in many respects indistinguishable from Mousterian industries of Upper Pleistocene age are found during OIS 8 (e.g., Atelier Commont, Gouzeaucourt,Bapaume).

At about the same time the Levallois method is documented in assemblages with rare bifaces such as Mesvin IV in Belgium, OIS 8, and Le Pucheuil série C in northern France, end of OIS 8 or beginning of OIS 7 and slightly later in assemblages without bifaces at Maastricht-Belvedère in the Netherlands at about 250 ka, OIS 7. Levallois debitage is well documented at several sites from OIS 7 onward (Bapaume-les-Osiers, La Cotte St. Brelade, Biache, Baumetz les Loges [S. lustre])

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