Handaxe from the “Mousterien Chaud” at Montières and the diversification of the Paleolithic in N-France during MIS 8

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This is a heavily patinated pointed and elongated, 19 cm long handaxe from Montières in the Amiens region (Somme Valley, N-France).

The Somme Valley is famous for its archaeological sequence, where numerous rich Palaeolithic sites, such as Saint- Acheul, the type site of the Acheulian, have been discovered. The archaeological levels are often directly associated with fossil alluvial sediments of the River Somme or with slope deposits, including loess and palaeosols. In the middle course of the valley, near Amiens, the system of fossil-stepped fluvial terraces is particularly well developed and preserved, and occurs on 10 alluvial formations. These terraces, from +5 to +55 m above the present-day valley bedrock, allow the study of the environmental changes and the human settlement of this area through the Pleistocene.

The Somme valley has a long history of Palaeolithic research (de Mortillet in the 1870ies; Commont about 1900-1914; Breuil and Koslowski between 1931 and 1932; and their many  successors).  It is the location of two Palaeolithic type localities: Abbeville and St Acheul. The latter has given its name to the Acheulian, which accommodates all the Lower Palaeolithic handaxe industries.  The early archaeological discoveries from the Abbeville area are now considered less reliable than the well-dated younger in situ Acheulian assemblages from MIS 12-9, discovered during the last two decades.  The chronostratigraphic interpretation of the 50mme  terrace staircase is based on the recognition of a  cyclic glacial-interglacial pattern within the fluvial sequences  and the overlying loess-palaeosol deposits and has been confirmed by amino-acid geochronology and is  based on mollusc shells from the fluvial sediments, site-specific supplementary data from biostratigraphy and more recently by ESR and  Uranium-series dating.

A short description of the middle and upper terasses of the Somme and their archeological content has allready given during an earlier post (http://www.aggsbach.de/2012/09/st-acheul-again/). This handaxe comes from the lower terasse at Montières and is about 200 k.a. old (OIS8).

The low terraces of Northern France, especially those of the Somme Valley, are rich in Palaeolithic ensembles.  Recent researches have provided new facts about their dating through the results of stratigraphical study of the loamy cover and the results of palynological and malacological content of the fine fluviatile deposits. Most of the low terrace complex appears to be older than the Last Interglacial (MIS 5). The lithic industries of the fluvial deposits show an astonishing diversification compared to the ensembles od the middle and lower terasses and belong, for the most part, to the Middle Palaeolithic. The assemblages can be different from a typological point of view, but they are always rich in Levallois flakes.

At Montières, Commont in 1912 described a Middle Paleolithic assemblage, produced from Levallois flakes, which included numerous elongated blades and pointed handaxes. This ensemble was found in sandy and calcareous layers of the Low Terrace, now attributed to MIS 7. This assemblage appears to be one of the oldest Middle Palaeolithic industries of continental north-west Europe where a volumetric laminar débitage is present.

This Middle Paleolithic was been described as “Mousterien Chaud” (and falsely dated to OIS5 e until the late 1980ies) because the fauna (Elephas antiquus, Hippopotame, Rhinoceros mercki, Equus stenonis aff., Equus caballus, Felis leo sp., Cervus elaphus, Cervus sp., Bos priscus, Ursus arctos) found in the same units is typical of temperate conditions.

Other broadly contemporaneous findings are known from Biache, Argoeuves and Étaples.  The Middle Paleolithic from Biache-Saint-Vaast (Scarpe Valley) has been characterized as a rich Ferrassie type Mousterian without any handaxes. The Industry of Argoeuves (Somme Valley) is a Middle Paleolithic industry with some handaxes and a laminar tendency and was classified as an  “Épi- Acheuléen de faciès levalloisien” by French scholars. This ensemble is very near to the Montières industry and indirect proof, that the old findings do not represent a secondary mixed ensemble. Similar industries are known from the Aisne and Aa valleys.

Overall the late Middle Pleistocene in N/W-Europe is characterized by the slow disappearance of Handaxes from the Archeological record at the majority of sites. Sites from North-Eastern France and the Benelux countries during MIS 8/7/6 show varied proportions of Levalloisian, discoidal and simple flake core technologies, but they never have a strong handaxe component, for instance Mesvin IV in the Haine valley  and at the Rissori site. Further west, there is a stronger handaxe presence at the sites of Gentelles  (MIS 8 and 6) and especially at the exceptional handaxe-rich site of Gouzeaucourt (MIS 7?).

In S/W-France the site of Bouheben  (layer 2)  is dated to MIS 6. The artifacts consist of Acheulian handaxes with a very fine and elaborated “Mousterian” industry.

Harnham (MIS8) is the youngest well-dated example of an Acheulian industry without any emphasis on prepared cores and flake tools in the UK, and one of the youngest in northwest Europe, broadly contemporary with a distinct Levalloisian industrial tradition being practiced in the Lower Thames basin.

It has to be emphasized, that in W-Europe  handaxes never disappeared from the Archeological record until MIS 3. The hiatus between the Acheulian and the MTA is a chimera (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1040618214004273).

Sugested Reading:


the Early Mousterian from Ehringsdorf

Handaxe found in St Acheul found in 1897

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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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