Don’t follow leaders. Watch the parkin’ meters: Levallois technique at Melka Kunture and Africa

garab III aggsbach

This is a delicate and very thin (3 mm at the base, <1 mm at the tip), partially retouched Levallois Flake (8 cm long)  from  Garba III (Melka Kunture near Addis Abeba);  (

Contrary to mainstream thinking, technological innovations during the Paleolithic occurred across the borders of different forms of the Genus Homo as exemplified by the evolution of the Levallois technique in Africa, evidenced in Africa since MIS 10-9, or the simultaneous use of this technique by H. sapiens and Neanderthals in the Near East. Progress in human culture was by no means strictly correlated with brain volumes or a suggested level of intelligence. The glorious “Human Revolution” and “Behavioral Modernity” are chimeras that heavily hinder a real understanding of the human cultural evolution.

Increased intelligence may be one factor of this cultural evolution, but is not a conditia sine qua non. Combination of earlier inventions and increased intra- and intergroup communication may have played a much larger role than increased intelligence or a sudden “Great Leap Forward” (another chimera).

The Levallois Technique in East Africa appears in a sequence of Acheulian and MSA sites from the Kapthurin Formation of Kenya dated to ∼200–500 k.a. Evidence from these sites suggest that MSA Levallois technology developed from local Acheulian antecedents, and support a mosaic pattern of lithic technological change across the Acheulian-MSA transition. However, Acheulian and early MSA sites show important differences among several technological variables: 1) Flake size decreased over time, 2) Acheulian Levallois flakes  were produced exclusively by the preferential method, while both preferential and recurrent methods are present in the MSA assemblages, 3) Acheulian Levallois flakes were made almost entirely of a single variety of phonolitic lava, whereas the early MSA material showed the use of wider range of lavas, some of them finer grained.

These observations are consistent with evidence from other African sites indicating that Levallois technology is a late or final Acheulian phenomenon dating to the later portions of the Middle Pleistocene. Within the Atlantic coastal Moroccan sequence, Levallois production of handaxe and cleaver blanks is dated to ∼300– 350 k. a by ESR age estimates at the Grotte des Rhinoceros and by OSL at Cap Chatelier. A similar age is estimated for rare examples of handaxes transformed into Levallois or Levallois-like cores from the mound-spring site of KO10 at Kharga Oasis, where U-series dates on tufa of ∼300–400 k.a are reported. New chronological data from stratified Fauresmith sites in S-Africa suggest that this industry, which combines small refined handaxes with technological components characteristic of the MSA (prepared cores, Levallois cores, blades, Levallois points, convex scrapers), maybe as old as 542–435 k.a. (Wonderwerk Cave MU4, Kathu Pan 1). Although these dates have been assembled by several lines of evidence (Kathu Pan: minimum OSL age of 464 ± 47 k.a. and a combined U-series–ESR age of 542−107+140 k.a) , some scholars suggest a mixing of the Fauresmith strata with older ones. A very polemic, nevertheless serious critique can be found in Bob Gargetts blog ( “they (the authors of the Kathu Pan paper) ignore very basic principles of stratigraphy and geomorphology, to say nothing of informal logic”.

In Egypt (Western Desert) and East Africa, the data indicate the beginning of the Levallois technique in a fully developed MSA context at roughly 250-300 k.a. BP.  The important sites at Gademotta near Lake Ziway, Ethiopia, where prior K/Ar age estimates of >180 ka have been revised to >235 k.a show the presence of recurrent and preferential Levallois cores at a similar time depth at site REF-4 at Kharga Oasis, Egypt, in assemblages underlying a tufa dated by U-Series to 220 k.a.

Compared to the Oldowan and the Acheulian, the MSA at Melka Konture MSA is poorly known. We have unfortunately no final reports about the MSA at Garba III and only some, partially contradictory short communications about the site and the MSA from the nearby Gondar locality, without any detailed description and illustration. Garba III is dated to late OIS6 or early OIS5. The basal MSA levels from Garba III show some small handaxes and cleavers together with uni- and bifacially retouched points.

The recurrent Levallois flaking method (centripetal and unipolar) on smaller blocks of obsidian was well established. The unipolar method, which is predominant, was recognized in more than half of the Levallois blanks according the reevaluation of the site and publication by Mussi et al. in 2013. During the sequence an abundance of relatively thick denticulates, with either accurate semi-step retouch or with a retouche écailleuse producing a denticulate delineation of one or more edges, has been observed. Scrapers, on rather thick blanks, are less numerous, with either minute or écailleuse retouch which often grades into denticulation. The production of points, often abundant at other early MSA sites in Ethiopia, was clearly not the intention of the knappers.

In Eurasia, Guado San Nicola (Monteroduni, Molise) was recently dated to the MIS 11-10 boundary by the 40Ar/39Ar method and provided an ensemble of Levallois products within an Acheulean context. This is older than the recently reported “earliest Levalloisian from Eurasia” at Nor Geghi 1, Armenia (OIS10/9e boundary). This site shows the synchronic use of bifacial and Levallois technology outside Africa. Units 5 to 4 at this site are correlated with late OIS 10/early OIS 9e, whereas Units 3 to 2 with OIS 9e (335 to 325 k.a.)

Suggested Reading:

Subterranean Homesick Blues

Johnny’s in the basement
Mixing up the medicine
I’m on the pavement
Thinking about the government
The man in the trench coat
Badge out, laid off
Says he’s got a bad cough
Wants to get it paid off
Look out kid
It’s somethin’ you did
God knows when
But you’re doin’ it again
You better duck down the alley way
Lookin’ for a new friend
The man in the coon-skin cap
By the big pen
Wants eleven dollar bills
You only got ten
Maggie comes fleet foot
Face full of black soot
Talkin’ that the heat put
Plants in the bed but
The phone’s tapped anyway
Maggie says that many say
They must bust in early May
Orders from the D.A.
Look out kid
Don’t matter what you did
Walk on your tiptoes
Don’t try “No-Doz”
Better stay away from those
That carry around a fire hose
Keep a clean nose
Watch the plain clothes
You don’t need a weatherman
To know which way the wind blows
Get sick, get well
Hang around a ink well
Ring bell, hard to tell
If anything is goin’ to sell
Try hard, get barred
Get back, write braille
Get jailed, jump bail
Join the army, if you fail
Look out kid
You’re gonna get hit
But users, cheaters
Six-time losers
Hang around the theaters
Girl by the whirlpool
Lookin’ for a new fool
Don’t follow leaders
Watch the parkin’ meters
Ah get born, keep warm
Short pants, romance, learn to dance
Get dressed, get blessed
Try to be a success
Please her, please him, buy gifts
Don’t steal, don’t lift
Twenty years of schoolin’
And they put you on the day shift
Look out kid
They keep it all hid
Better jump down a manhole
Light yourself a candle
Don’t wear sandals
Try to avoid the scandals
Don’t wanna be a bum
You better chew gum
The pump don’t work
’Cause the vandals took the handles


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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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