Double Patination and Recycling during the Paleolithic


This is a Mousterian point with a double patina from a multilayered Levantine Mousterian site. While the initial knapper produced a broad Levallois point with a fine faceted base, which was later discarded, several hundred or thousand years later, another knapper used the blank for heavily edge retouch, nowadays recognized by a clearly more “fresh” appearance of its patination. The product is a perfect Mousterian point, suggesting that both individuals may have shared a common social tradition of making and resharpening stone tools.  

The recycling of discarded artefacts is a common stone provisioning strategy in the ethnographic record and may have been more common in the past than usually acknowledged. In archaeological studies its importance is probably heavily underestimated, as it is only clearly visible when enough time has elapsed between initial discard and subsequent recycling for the formation of a double patina. Unfortunately it is usually not possible to calculate the time span between the creations of the first, second or even third generations of patina.

Flakes produced during knapping by one individual may have been selected for use or transport by individuals other than the initial knappers. This could include other members of the same social group, members of other social groups, or individuals separated from the original knapping events by vast spans of time. Such “lithic scavenging’” is very common in multi-layered rock shelter sites in Europe. Whether this “scavenging” was the result of laziness, optimized time economy, or a behavior of incoming groups unfamiliar with the raw material resources of new territories, remains broadly unknown. Double patination could even be sometimes the indication for intergroup gifting and exchange. One of the first Prehistorians, who systematically reported artifacts with double patination, was the physician and excavator of La Quina, Henri Martin.

In Africa double patination has been occasional reported from Acheulian material (for example from the Libyan desert).

In the Near East double patination has been contested in the Yabroudian at Yabrud and Hummal, and during the Hummalian, as well as during the following local Levallois-Mousterian (for example from Meyrouba and Mechmiche in the Lebanon).

Double patination on stone tools in Europe are present as early as during OIS 11 (High Lodge) and during OIS 7 (Maastricht- Belvedère Site K assemblage) and in several large middle Paleolithic multilayered sites in S/W-France during the last glacial, such as at La Quina (Charente), Roc de Marsal, Combe Grenal, Le Moustier (Dordogne) and at the Middle Palaeolithic rock shelter of Abric Romaní (Spain).

It has recently reported, that at the  Kebara and Hayonim cave sites in Israel,  the makers of the Aurignacian made use of flint blanks from the Levallois-Mousterian layers, which were at least 10 k.a. older. Upper Palaeolithic morphotypes were modified either on Mousterian tools or Mousterian blanks produced by the Levallois technique.In the Aurignacian assemblage of Layer III  at Raqefet Cave, heavily patinated Levallois and non- Levallois middle Paleolithic y flakes were used as tool blanks, too.

Observations of recycling were made in the Aurignacian strata of the Sefunim and at Skar Akil, but only in strata VII- XI, which are typologically near to the Aurignacian tradition. Interestingly recycling during the Ahmarian was nearly absent.

The Aurignacian in the Levant is suggested to be an intrusive technocomplex and therefore the following suggestion is not without charm: “Thus, trying to explain the recycling of older pieces in the Levantine Aurignacian assemblages, one wonders whether this had to do with the fact that these were incoming foreigners who upon arrival, and before getting acquainted with local hard rock resources, used older pieces for tool making” (Belfer-Cohen & O. Bar-Yosef 2014).


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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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One Response to Double Patination and Recycling during the Paleolithic

  1. Raghubir Singh Thakur says:

    In my opinion Stone Age tools with heavily retouched edges and the similar ones with less or least retouches will fall more or less in the same time frame. Those similar but not having edges retouched can not be discarded rather be considered older than those having edges retouched, to their counterparts in a given area of their utility. The result of heavily or least retouched edges is the result of early humans common trait of resorting to resharpening of stone tools. Hence, resharpening was highly necessitated activity. I have discovered several Stone Age tools in Delhi (India), but smaller percentage has retouched surfaces. I disagree to those who are of the mind no retouching means not a stone tool. I have discovered over 45 localities with nearly 100 sites (groups) of petroglyphs with dominance of cup-markings, Menhirs, Cairn circle one only, and Stone Age tools from most of the sites. Also, as I understand at two of the sites fossils embedded in the rocks are of stromatolites, most probably.

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