These three small Handaxes (Fig.1) were found in a secondary context at the gravels of the Orne valley at Thury-Harcourt (Basse-Normandie region, northern France), were the river formed a huge meander, called the “La boucle de l’Orne” (Fig. 2 at the end of the post). The sediments along the meander serve as a natural trap for artifacts and fossils, transported by the river from their primary context upstreams.
The Orne River river is 152 km long and flows through Orne and Calvados Départements to empty into the English Channel 13 km north-northeast of Caen. It rises in the Perche Hills, east of the city of Sées, after which it flows northwestward through Argentan and then westward through Putanges-Pont-Écrepin, below which it is dammed. Its course then runs through the Saint-Aubert gorges to Pont-d’Ouilly and Thury-Harcourt, traversing some of the most beautiful parts of a region sometimes called the Norman Switzerland.
Paleolithic sites are especially rich along the Orne. The valley exhibits not only a high number of Mousterian ensembles from the last glaciation, but also well preserved sites from the beginnings of the Middle Paleolithic in the Normandy. Ranville, a carstic site some km from the English Channel , is dated to MIS 7 (230- 200 k.a. BP) and showed two artifact ensembles. The older ensemble includes simple pebble tools extracted from the nearby river, the more recent stratum associated with fauna is characterized by flint, sandstone and quartz artifacts. The technique is flake oriented, using non prepared blocks and a recurrent unipolar flake production. Alongside with this ensemble there are few bifaces and a large quantity of sandstone and quartz pebble tools. Microlithic tools at the site resemble lithics from the famous Lower Paleolithic Bilzingsleben Site (OIS11) or the Schöningen site with its famous wooden spears of same age. Faunal analysis showed, that Ranville was a butchery site (Elephant, Rhinoceros, Wild Ox, Red Deer). Acheulian sites are rare at the Orne. At Olendon a non-dated well developed handaxe industry along with the Levallois technique is contested.
Most of the Mousterian sites are dated to the last glaciation (MIS5-3). The artifacts from this post are characteristic for a Mousterian with a strong bifacial component, better known from other sites in the Orne region like Saint-Brice-sous-Rânes. The site of Saint-Brice-sous-Rânes, la “Bruyère” belongs to a cluster of middle Paleolithic production sites for bifacial tools covering about the area of 200 hectares. These sites were found on the plateau, the slopes and on top of a flat-bottomed valley. Surveys and limited excavations were performed in 1998 and 1999 and showed some material in situ, undisturbed by periglacial phenomena. Excavations were carried out between 1999 and 2010. Tl-data provided for the first time secure dates for an older series, characterized by the Levallois technique (MIS 6) and an abundant younger series dated around 40 k.a. BP .
Fig. 2: “La boucle de l’Orne”