Handaxe from Le Bois-l’Abbé at Saint-Julien de la Liègue: Is the “Moustérien à petits bifaces dominants” an Archaeological Reality?

aggsbach st julien This is a small Handaxe (Fig.1; 6,5 x  5,2 x 1,5 cm) from Le Bois-l’Abbé at Saint-Julien de la Liègue a commune in the Eure department in Haute-Normandie in northern France. Four find spots of Paleolithic artifacts are known from the Saint-Julien de la Liègue vicinity since the 19th century, first announced in 1893 by L. Coutil. A first study of the material, today mainly stored in the departmental museum at Evreux and in large private collections, was published by R. Daniel in 1936.  Further techno-typological evaluation was performed by D. Clinquet in 1988 (both reports are to be found via persee) and more recently by K. Ruebens (via academia.edu).  Four sites with almost identical inventories were reported by Coutil and Daniel:

  •  Les Bruyères-Capri, commune de St-Aubin-sur-Gaillon
  •  Les Gros-Grès, commune d’Ecardenville
  •  Le Bois-l’Abbé, commune de la Croix-St-Leufroy
  •  Les Buissons – Brûlés, commune de St – Julien – de – la -Liègue

The artifactual spectrum of these sites comprises thousands of Handaxes (average size ca. 6 cm) These bifaces have often a plano-convex or, more rarely a biconvex cross section and are made from flakes. There are amygdaloidal, ovatale and discoidal handaxes as well as cordiforms and some foliated pieces (ca 75% of the assemblages). Tools on flake blanks (mainly non-Levallois) comprise about 25% of the collections. Among these, simple side scrapers are the most common form, followed by notches and denticulates. Bifacial scrapers are present in small quantities. Upper Paleolithic tools are present, but not very frequent, especially backed pieces are extremely rare. There are some raclettes with some affinities to the Middle European Micoquian. The sites are  dated by geochronological arguments between MIS5 to MIS3. muret eure aggsbachClinquet (2001) originally called the industry at Saint-Julien de la Liègue and some other sites in the Normandy and Northern France (Bois-du-Rocher, Fontmaure, Saint-Julien de la Liègue, Muret: Figure 2, and Clos-Rouge): the “Moustérien à petits bifaces dominants” (http://www.aggsbach.de/2010/08/the-mousterien-a-pieces-bifaciales-dominantes/). This designation was based on large surface collections and characterized by small handaxes (5-7 cm long) and the generalized application of a bifacial retouch on the majority of blanks. He separated this entity from other Middle Paleolithic “facies”:

  • Mousterien a bifaces triangulaires plats
  • Mousterien a bifaces non-triangulaires
  • Micoquian (which means a late Acheulian with Micoquian handaxes of considerable size)
  • Moustérien à pièces bifaciales dominantes

From Clinquet`s publication in 2002 about bifacial inustries in Northern Franc, it became immediately clear, that  these “entities” were rather the scientific artifacts of biased old surface collections. Similar classification systems without based on a secure database, assured by modern excavations, were and are equally used in Germany (for the Micoquian). It was time for a deconstruction of such traditional views, when Ruebens in her thesis (via academia.edu) asked for the reality of the “Moustérien à petit pièces bifaciales dominantes”. She showed, that ensembles dominated by small bifacial tools, are not confined to the Normandy, but occur across all Western Europe.

cornac aggsbach bifaceSmall average lengths of handaxes are therefore not a region- specific feature. Similar small bifaces are for example known from S/W-France in abundance belonging to the MIS3 MTA (Corgnac: Fig.3). In addition, as far as known, the causes of small dimensions of handaxes during the late Middle bifacial Paleolithic are neither securely related to raw material characteristics, the amount of reduction or resharpening or site function. This brings me back to the important work of Héloïse Koehler. She showed, for well excavated Middle Paleolithic industries  across Northern France during the Early Weichselian, that knowledge and interpretations of Archaeological patterns depend on choice of analytic tools. She showed that the use of different analytic frames revealed different interpretative results (2002). While the lithic assemblages are quite similar at a general scale of analysis, they look very different at a fine scale, at which five groups could be distinguished. Koehler proposes that these groups may reflect distinct technological traditions, included within similar cultural areas.

Ruebens, with a similar epistological approach,  showed that the most reliable scenario for the Late Bifacial  Middle Paleolithic in (North) Western Europe is a dichotomy of the MTA and the Middle European Micoquian (KMG) during MIS3. These entities are the smallest common denominators, when looking for differences of bifacial Middle Paleolithic industries accross Europe. These industry are defined by their own concept of tool production, core territories and a characteristic artifactual spectrum. Interestingly tool types and concepts from both entities have been intermixed at the “contact zones” of the MTA and KMG.

Fig 3: Two handaxes (triangular from the Charente; cordiform from the Dordogne; each ca 6 cm long, the lower one is made from Bergerac flint)

small perigord and charente

 Suggested Reading:

http://www.aggsbach.de/2010/10/bifacial-tools-from-the-bois-du-rocher-site/

http://quaternaire.revues.org/5256

http://www.aggsbach.de/2010/08/the-mousterien-a-pieces-bifaciales-dominantes/

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