Bout-coupé Handaxes and Neanderthals in N/W-France and Britain

bout coupet aggsbach 1

Britain during MIS3 was well-stocked but treeless grassland, with short, cool summers and long, cold winters marked by blasting winds, frozen ground and persistent snow. This is what Neanderthals apparently faced as they headed northwest from their more southerly glacial refugia during MIS4/3. Often referred to as a failed interglacial, MIS3 was actually a period of extreme climatic instability, with dramatic alternations between milder and colder conditions at millennial or sub-millennial timescales (Dansgaard – Oeschger oscillations).

Throughout MIS3 period, direct terrestrial access from continental N/W-Europe into Britain was practicable. Although global ice volume was reduced from its MIS4 maximum, land ice probably limited to local ice-caps, sea level was still some 80m lower than present. This was sufficient for Britain to remain a peninsula of NW Europe. Mainland Britain was at this time an „upland‟ zone on the western fringe of the North European Plain, part of the region sometimes referred to as Western Doggerland. This was bounded on the south and east by extensive, resource rich lowland basins (i.e. the present North Sea and Channel) into which several major British and European river systems would have drained, some joining the westward-flowing Channel River en route to the Atlantic, others flowing north into a greatly reduced North Sea.

The Late Middle Paleolithic during early MIS 3 in Britain was characterized by a particular form of handaxe. Bout coupé handaxes are defined as being roughly symmetrical, cordiform handaxes with a straight or slightly convex butt and two clear angles formed at the intersection of the butt and lateral margins (White and Jacobi 2002). The Bout coupé clearly falls outside of the Acheulean range of handaxes and exhibits a strong element of prepared non-Levallois core technique, with well-made flake tools. Most, if not all of these handaxes appear within distinct temporal and spatial limits (ca. 60- 40k.a.BP, early MIS3). The bout coupé handaxe is geographically restricted to Britain and some sites in Northern France, and forms a large part of Mousterian-age assemblages in Britain.

The majority of bout coupé handaxes of S/W-Britain are isolated and/ or surface finds, and give a good idea of the spread of the Mousterian over Britain after a period of clear depopulation, indicating a rather wide, but low- density, distribution, including both cave sites. Bout coupé handaxes have been recovered from over 145 find spots spread over Britain, from Devon to Derbyshire. The open- air site of Lynford was discovered in 2002 and provides the largest and best contextualized Late Middle Palaeolithic site in Britain. It has been assigned to the MTA because of the presence of a numerous cordiform handaxes, including bout coupé types.

Ruebens, using a techno-typological approach demonstrated that Bifaces from the late Middle Paleolithic of Britannia “are highly mobile, dynamic objects, even in situations of local raw material abundance. They show clear evidence of their conservation by Neanderthals, with extended use-lives, and very dislocated reduction sequences, especially for translucent flint bifaces transported to other regions. However, even in flint-rich regions, bifaces were maintained and repaired, transformed after breaks by re-modelling or recycled as cores, and treated as adaptable supports for other tool forms”.

The Handaxe shown here is a small and heavily reworked example of a Bout coupé (5 x 4 x 1,2 cm) from Le Bois-l’Abbé at Saint-Julien de la Liègue a commune in the Eure department in Haute-Normandie in northern France. This site is dated by geochronological arguments between MIS5 to MIS3. Clinquet (2001) originally called the industry at Saint-Julien de la Liègue and some other sites in the Normandy and Northern France (Bois-du-Rocher, Fontmaure, Saint-Julien de la Liègue, Muret, and Clos-Rouge): the “Moustérien à petits bifaces dominants”.  Most handaxes from these sites are cordiform, but the Bout coupé variety has been repeatedly observed in larger ensembles. This handaxe type may be a signature of a certain technological unity of late Neanderthals on both sides of the channel during MIS3.

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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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3 Responses to Bout-coupé Handaxes and Neanderthals in N/W-France and Britain

  1. Susanna Hodgins says:

    Thank you for going over an incredible write-up! That’s definitely extremely helpful I enjoy reading through by means of that we am usually attempting to find educational information much like this.

  2. Stephen says:

    I have found many surface Bout Coupe hand axes on ploughed fields over 40 years. I live in the Deal Kent area 24 miles from France. A lot of farm workers collectors and others don’t allways report finds, same as builders fencers and so on. The valleys in between Deal and Dover are full of Flint tools. Abbeville is only 100 miles away as the crow flies. I have genuine oldowan/Abbevillean tools what I found in a gravel/clay fall from Kingsdown cliffs. Their is a huge stratified gravel terrace 200m long by 4 m deep. It has Aquifer caves under. A geologist told me it’s an old lake or river bed. I pulled Abbevillean type hand axes cores and other tools out of freshly fallen debris. Myself and others don’t agree with a lot of the archaeological data banded around. We have field walked for over 45 years. Never seen Archeologists! I have found stone tools in the same pockets ware there appeard to be none. Most of the tools are genuine not geofacts, personally unless I picked up one of those museum mint condition ones myself, I would be sceptical. Divided between friends and 40 years plus many square miles good condition surface finds are very rare. The cliff top gravel terrace falls has produced the best specimens. Bout coupe are common in the valleys.

  3. Katzman says:

    Interesting- could you send some pictures from your Bout Coupe handaxes to me (

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