Middle Paleolithic of the Oise Valley


mousterian oise aggsbach

This is a Mousterian convergent scraper, made on a non-Levallois flake (9 cm long), found in the OiseValley in the Picardy in N-France. The Picardy is a rather flat territory and the highest peak – Mont Watigny – lies at only 285m altitude. The region is characterized by three main rivers: the Somme, Aisne and Oise. Paleolithic material is incorporated into loessic deposits as well as the river terraces and is known since the 19th century. It was detected during quarry operations, water street constructions, and has been considerably augmented in the past 30 years because of the study of open-air deposits excavated during salvage operations.

Early research started  especially  in the SommeValley, having been explored in the mid-19th century by emblematic figures such as Jacques Boucher de Crevecoeur de Perthes, Gabriel de Mortillet and Victor Commont. It was Victor Commont who performed the first scientific excavations and soundings in the Oise and Aisne valleys until his early death in 1918.

During the 20th century detailed stratigraphic observations were made on both fluvial and loess sequences, which now allow for most of the Paleolithic sites in the Picardie geochronological dating and a placement to certain glacial/interglacial cycles. The lack of preservation of bone remains and the rarity of burnt flint are responsible for the scarcity of radiometric dates for these deposits. However, because Paleolithic deposits are found in a loess environment, they benefit from an excellent chronostratigraphic framework, one which, for the last glacial (OIS 5 to OIS 3), for example, allows them to be placed within a 10,000-year range.

In Northern France the timing of the transition between the late Acheulian and the earliest Middle Paleolithic is currently unknown, but seems to have taken place during the end of OIS9 and early  OIS8. The transition between these two periods appears to be related to the appearance of the Levallois technique and the emergence of flake tools, which replaced bifacial implements.

Industries attributed to this early phase of the Middle Paleolithic are just a few. To the north of the Somme in the Scarpe valley a series of primary context assemblages were excavated at the most eminent site Biache-Sainte-Vaast (Tuffreau and Sommé 1988). The mollusks and mammalian fauna suggest a change from fully temperate conditions from below the archaeological horizons, getting progressively cooler and more open during the human occupation. A date towards the end of MIS 7 is suggested. Levallois is an important component of the lower assemblages (IIa and base of II) together with a range of side scrapers. The later assemblages (D1 and D) contain fewer Levallois artifacts and show an increase in denticulates and notches. There are no handaxes in any of the levels. The composition of the assemblages and associated fauna suggests a range of activities in each of the different levels including primary knapping and butchery.

The Pre-Eemian series of the Picardie [Therdonne in the Oise valley (OIS7), Plachy-Buyon (OIS6), Etricourt-Manancourt (OIS7) and Salouel (OIS7) in the Somme valley] are already characterized by the full spectrum and mastery of different techniques by Neanderthals (Bifacial shaping, Levallois- and Discoidal systems as well as laminar techniques). Interestingly different techniques were often performed in a synchronous manner at the same site. The newly detected multilayered open-air site of Etricourt-Manancourt contains at least five prehistoric levels, extending over the period of 300,000 to 80,000 years ago. The in situ Early Middle Paleolithic Levels are dated to 190-240 k.a. old. We will certainly hear more from this intriguing site during the next years.

While numerous sites from OIS5d-a have been excavated in the Picardie during the last 20 years, during ISO4, human occupation seems to be very limited or even absent. It is only during OIS3 that Paleolithic sites are attested again. The late middle Paleolithic of Beauvais (55, 6 ± 4 k.a. per TL) exhibits a discoidal chaine opératoire and is free from any Levallois elements which are otherwise omnipresent during OIS8-5 in the region (Locht 2005; see below). At Beauvais the operational sequences are related to laminar and discoidal technology.  The stray find displayed here, resembles “ les objects de technotype 3” (Convergent instruments, symmetric, biconvex from robust triangular flakes) from H Koehlers dissertation focused on the excavations at Anteuil (OIS5). The artifact seems to have been part rather from a late, than from an early Middle Paleolithic context.

Suggested Reading: 

J.L. Locht. Le Paléolithique moyen. La recherche archéologique en Picardie : Bilans et Perspectives. Revue archéologique de Picardie. 2005; N°3-4: 27-35.


Héloïse Koehler:  Comportements et identités techniques au Paléolithique moyen dans le Bassin parisien (Presses Universitaires de Paris 10)


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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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