The Acheulian of Tihodaine (Tassili n’Ajjer)


tihodaine1-aggsbach katzmanThis is a large (22 cm long) handaxe from the Tihodaine site (Tassili n’Ajjer). This is very large compared with average sized handaxes from this site (7,7 cm long), but such “gigantism” has already described elsewhere.

The Sahara is rich in Palaeolithic resources and an enormous amount of material was collected during the nineteenth-century colonial explorations by the French military. Subsequent scientific expeditions have also shown the overwhelming presence of the Acheulean in much of the Sahara. The major sites include Tihodaine (Tassili n’Ajjer) in the Central Sahara, in Algeria, Wadi Saoura and Tabelbala-Tachenghit in the north-western Sahara, in Algeria and the Drâa Valley sites in southern Morocco.

Chavaillon and Alimen undertook a comprehensive study of the Pleistocene deposits of the Wadi Saoura region and showed a local sequence of the Acheulian and MSA. The lithic assemblages, made from local metamorphic rocks, occur in gravel terraces and in fine- and coarse-grained sediments. The Saoura sequence consists of seven stages grouped into three major periods. The earliest period (Stages I and II) is correlated to the sedimentary Taouritian cycle, and is characterized by crude choppers and chopping tools (cores) and flakes, rare bifaces, and Trihedrals. The second period (Stages III, IV and V), is rich in advanced Acheulean assemblages and dated to the Ougartian depositional episode.  Pebble tools were much rarer and the use of soft hammer techniques is attested. Cleavers are numerous, and Levallois flakes and different core techniques (Kombewa, Victoria West, and Levallois) appeared. The third period (Stages VI and VII) is correlated with the Final Acheulian and MSA of this area. The prepard core techniques are very advanced during this late stages og the Lower Paleolithic. Absolute dates are not available for the Saoura region. In addition it remains unclear if the sequence may serve as a more than regional “model” for the Acheulian of the Sahara.

The Tassili n’Ajjer (Arabic: طاسيلي ناجر‎) is a mountain range in the Algerian section of the Sahara Desert. It is a vast plateau in south-east Algeria at the borders of Libya and Niger, covering an area of 72,000 km2. Much of the range, including the cypresses and archaeological sites, is protected in a National park, Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage Site, named the Tassili n’Ajjer National Park. The range is composed largely of sandstone. Erosion in the area has resulted in nearly 300 natural rock arches being formed, along with many other spectacular landforms.

The range is also noted for its prehistoric rock art and other ancient archaeological sites, dating from the Neolithic era when the local climate was less dry, savannah rather than desert. The art is no older than 9–10 millennia, according to OSL dating of associated sediments. The art depicts herds of cattle, large wild animals including crocodiles, and human activities such as hunting and dancing. According to UNESCO, “The exceptional density of paintings and engravings…have made Tassili world famous as from 1933, the date of its discovery. 15000 engravings have been identified to date”.

Tihodaine is situated northeast of the Ahaggar area bordering the Tassili n’Ajjer plateau in Algeria. It consists of four localities (Tihodaine I, II, III and IV) spanning from the Lower Palaeolithic to the Neolithic. The Acheulean site (Tihodaine I) was discovered in 1861-Subsequently forgotten for a long time and rediscovered in 1933 by Duprez. Tihodaine has been investigated by several scientific teams since the 1940ies  until the 1970ies and therefore before the advent of modern dating techniques for Middle Pleistocene deposits.

The Acheulean deposits consist of residual buttes partially covered by younger Pleistocene dune sands of the current erg. The Acheulean artefacts and associated interglacial fauna were contained in lacustrine sediments with diatomite and a high proportion of kaolinite deposited during the first lacustrine episode of the formation of a paleo- lake.
The Acheulean industry consists of carefully made handaxes and cleavers, in association with a water dependent fauna, and some indications of more open environments (Elephas recki, Rhinoceros simus, Equus zebra, Hippopotamus amphibious, Bubalus antiquus, Bos primigenius, Gazella dorca, and several antelopes). The fauna and archeology at Tihodaïne has been argued to show correlations to those of Olduvai Bed IV (> 600 k.a. ), as well as to those of Gesher Benot Ya’aqov in the Dead Sea Rift dated to 780 k.a. Typologically there are close similarities to the nearby later Middle Pleistocene site of  Erg d’Admer and to the middle /late periods at the Wadi Saoura. There is no precise account of the bifaces and cleavers collected from surface and from the excavations. In general, Quartzite, Quartz and Rhyolite were used as raw materials. Handaxes are primarily ovate / limandes and cordiform (64% of all handaxes). Cleavers were made exclusively from large flakes, and almost always show bifacial retouches. They have an average size of 16 cm and a very “elegant “overall silhouette reflecting the systematic use of a soft hammer. They belong to the type 2, 3 and 5 of the classification by J. Tixier.

A heavily patinated MSA/Aterian industry is also known from the Tihodaine site and is curated in the  Bardo Museum in Algiers. This series, consisting of about 600 pieces includes ca 200 pedunculated pieces among 600 artifacts produced mainly by an preferential Levallois technique.

It remains a pity, that while at least some Lower Paleolithic sites from Rift valley are well dated by tuffs and lavas of geological sequences, we have almost no absolute dates from the Maghreb and the Sahara. Indirect dating approaches by typological analogies will not resolve any of the open questions.

A quatz cleaver from the Tihodaine site:

large ckleaver

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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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