The “Pebble Culture” near Casablanca

chopper old stone age aggsbach marocThis is a “chopper” from the Carrière Schneider at Maarif Airport near Casablanca, which is situated near the Carrière Deprez, where the term of an older “Pebble Culture” in Morocco was once stablished. This chopper is made from a quartzite cobble and was found within early Pleistocene deposits by P. Biberson and his coworkers during the 1950ies. He gave the piece to an Austrian globetrotter, who travelled through the Maghreb and the Sahara from the 1950ies until the 1990ies.

Such unifacial “tools” may be of non-human origin, as new investigations at the Carrière Deprez site indicate, where the artifacts of the “Pebble Culture” assemblages appear to be pseudo-artifacts generated by high-energy deposits. Anyhow, “Choppers and Chopping tools” are also known from an Acheulian context in the Maghreb. Such early Acheulian sites, ca 1 Mio years old, always show numerous pebble-tools and only a few handaxes. In a broad African perspective, the Lower Acheulian in Morocco seems considerably later than in Ethiopia and in Olduvai.

In Morocco, a series of sites located on the Atlantic coast in the vicinity of the town of Casablanca have been investigated by Biberson during the 1950ies and 60ies. These sites are: Arbaoua, Oued Mda, Douar Doum, Terguiet el-Rahla, Carrière Deprez, Carrière Schneider (lower and upper), Chellah, Souk Arba-Rhab, and Sidi Abderrahmane (niveau G). A number of these do not constitute well-defined archaeological sites but are localities from which mainly pebble tools were picked up from the surface.

According to Biberson, Stage I includes the oldest artifacts obtained using simple unidirectional technological gestures. The site of Targuiet-el-Rahla illustrates this stage. His stage II incorporates “pebble tools” characterized by bidirectional flaking. The site of Carrière Deprez in Casablanca represents this stage. In stage III the multidirectional technique appeared where the artifacts are considered to be more evolved. This stage is represented by the site of Souk-el-Arba du Rhab. The last stage (IV) is represented by level G of the Sidi Abderrahmane sequence, and is characterized by the emergence of the first Acheulean artifacts.

Chronologically, Biberson correlated stages I and II with the marine climatic cycle Mesaoudien dated to Late Pliocene, and stages III and IV with the cycle Maarifien dated to Early Pleistocene. Revised dating programs now assign both cycles within the early Pleistocene.  Biberson later renamed his cultural historical nomenclature by replacing the term “Pebble Culture” with Pre-Acheulean and condensing the four stages into two major phases. Based on the new classification, the “Pebble Culture” stages I and II constitute the “Early Pre-Acheulean” while the stages III and IV form the “Evolved Pre-Acheulean”. Such a designation implies an evolution from the “Pebble Culture” to the Acheulian, now rather unlikely according to the East African Archaeological record, where the Acheulian appears “suddenly” (in geological terms) as early as 1, 75 Mio years ago.

However, later systematic investigations of the Plio-Pleistocene and Pleistocene littoral deposits in the Casablanca area have modified Biberson’s interpretations. The revised investigations emphasize the total absence of evidence of a very early human presence in Atlantic Morocco, demonstrating that assemblages of Pebble Culture Stage I are either surface finds or reworked materials. Artifacts assigned to Pebble Culture stage II were extracted from high-energy deposits. Materials of Pebble Culture Stage III are from polycyclic colluviums. Stage IV of the Pebble Culture is reconsidered as Acheulean. In addition, new investigations at the Carrière Deprez site indicate that “Pebble Culture” assemblages appear to be pseudo-artifacts generated by high-energy deposits.

Therefore, the new evidence suggests that the earliest human presence in Atlantic Morocco is later than Biberson assumed. The oldest occupation dates to late Lower Pleistocene, and appears to be Acheulean as illustrated by the level L of Thomas-1 quarry cave site. This site yielded an early Acheulean assemblage made of quartzite and flint, comprising bifacial choppers,  polyhedrons, cleavers, bifaces, Trihedrals, and flakes. The associated fauna, probably slightly older than that of Tighenif (Ternifine) in Algeria, includes hippozebra, gazelles, suid, and micromammals species. Based on fauna and Palaeomagnetic data, an age of 1 Million years is suggested for the level L.

Olduvan-like artefacts have also been found in at least four localities in the vast Algerian Saharan landmass. These include  Aoulef, Reggan, Saoura region and Bordj Tan Kena. While the specimens from Aoulef and Reggan are surface collections, those from the Saoura region and Bordj Tan Kena were excavated in situ. Some of these in situ sites also contain crude handaxes and should therefore better assigned to an Acheulian.  In additions there are doubts about the integrity of some of the sites. 

The best contextualized location for a Olduvan in the Maghreb remains the site of Aïn Hanech, near Sétif in northern Algeria, and the nearby  site of El-Kherba. Both sites exhibit an Oldowan ensemble, dated to at least 1,2 Ma.

The discussion about a “Pebble Culture” in N/W-Africa has direct implication for the essentially non-dated river terasse findings not only in S-Europe (Garonne, Tarn),  but especially in Central Europe (in Bohemia, near Vienna, at the Rhine and high terasses of the Fulda:, where dates for a “Pebble Culture” of 1-2 Mio years have been assumed by some scholars. One should remember that if the Middle Pleistocene ensemble from Terra Amata (400-200 k.a) would be a surface find, it probably would be interpreted as Oldowan, if the few Handaxes would have been lost by taphonomic processes in a disturbed Archaeological record.

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