Dilemma: A problem that seems to defy a satisfactory solution

large and small levallois

negev aggsbach


Dilemma of Photographs: One can never fully comprehend a stone tool, if you know it only from pictures. Only the tactile experience of the three-dimensional artifacts will give you a feeling for the potential use of the tool. You can feel the polished parts, you can see the makoscopic traces of hafting. If you do not have the opportunity to hold it in your hands, a photograph or a three-dimensional reconstruction of a short gif-animation will help. Anyhow, most computer-programs are still unable to produce images that include the tiny detail that human eyes can detect. For example, delicate gloss and traces of hafting may not be visible photographic depictions. A drawing of the tool from different views and-what is very important: in original size- to get an impression of the artifacts real dimensions is therefore still important because a drawing can render more detail and provide more exact measurements than any photograph.

The dilemma of a topological analyst: The larger Levallois Point from the Levant in the first picture  is 6 cm long, the smaller has only a length of only 1,7 cm. Both belong to a “Tabun B-ensemble”. The third one is considerably older (about 200 k.a.), and more elongated (13 cm) and belongs to a “Tabun-D ensemble”. I personally even know specimens from the Levant being as small as 0,8 cm. There is much variation in the size and reworking of this tools.

A Levallois point is a defined as the desired end product of the Levallois reduction sequence (preferential or recurrent). Using such a categorization, large and small Levallois Points are put into the same class of artifacts. Taking different specimens in your hands will immediately give you the impression, that they must have been used for different tasks. Indeed, microtraceological studies and excavations have shown, that they Levallois points were used putatively as projectiles (At El Kowm, although the tip of the point is broken and lost), knives and if they were retouched, also as wood-working and scraping instruments (http://www.aggsbach.de/2014/05/the-story-of-levallois-points/). Some of them were certaily used as hafted artifacts.

Another dilemma about labeling stone tool industries like the “Levallois-Mousterian” was recently noted by S. Shea. He argues that: “Labeling an assemblage “Mousterian”, tells one little about its antiquity. Mousterian occurrences are spread out over all of Europe, western Asia, the Arabian Peninsula, the Indian Subcontinent and North Africa between 30-200 k.a. It tells one nothing about the palaeoenvironmental context in which the assemblage was deposited. Mousterian assemblages occur in deserts, grasslands, temperate woodlands, boreal forests, and alpine steppe. Classifying an assemblage as Mousterian does not help one pin down the biological identity of its authors. We currently lack any method deduced from contrasts in hominin fossil morphology for differentiating Mousterian tools made by Neandertals from ones made by H. sapiens or other hominins”.

Shea calls for new constructive and more scientifically grounded approaches to the lithic evidence for human evolution but to tell the truth we are still very far from an inovative new accepted theory and practice that could replace the traditional structuring of the archaeological record. Therefore I would argue not to give up old labels-instead I argue to use them very critical and always aware of their many shortcomings. Talking about the Mousterian must always implicitly  include the critique of this construct.

Further Readings: 

John J. Shea (2014) Sink the Mousterian: Named stone tool industries (NASTIES) as obstacles to investigating hominin evolutionary relationships in the Later Middle Paleolithic Levant.  In Huw Groucutt and Eleanor Scerri (Eds.) Lithics of the Late Middle Palaeolithic: post MIS-5 technological variability and its implications.  Special Issue of Quaternary International 350: 169-179.

Dilemma: A problem that seems to defy a satisfactory solution

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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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