Late Acheulian Handaxe from Central France

cantral loire

This elongated handaxe (15 cm long) comes from an old collection of surface findings from the Middle Loire valley. It was found together with other bifaces and cores-some with a clear Levallois appearance. The handaxe has been produced from a LCT displaying the typical honey-colored flint of the Region.  Its final appearance was made by fine retouches probably by a soft hammer.

The introduction of biface technology in the Lower Palaeolithic arguably marked a fundamental change in how early hominins dealt with their world. It is suggested to reflect changes not just in tool form and innovative shaping, but also in planning depth, landscape use and social structures. While handaxes appeared in Africa as early as 1.8 Ma, this tradition appeared considerable later on the European continent and was apparently then only present in Western and Southern Europe.Several scenarios may be envisaged to account for this delay, for example either 1) rapid and ancient dispersal throughout South Europe before diffusion to the North;  2) multiple dispersals of new technical habits from the Levant or Asia through corridors of diffusion, or 3) a local origination in some areas due to an increase in skills of established populations.

In recent years, new lithic assemblages with Acheulian features have been excavated, especially in Spain and were dated to the end of the Lower Pleistocene (Brunhes- Matuyama shift at 800 k.a.). The Solana del Zamborino (Guadix-Baza, Granada) and Quípar (Murcia) are of special interest here, but their dating is heavily debated.

It was a surprise to find an intact Acheulian ensemble in Central France at La Noira, in the Cher valley, a tributary of the Middle Loire. The site is securely dated to the early Middle Pleistocene. La Noira is the oldest evidence of Acheulean presence in north-western Europe and attests to the possibility of pioneering phases of Acheulean settlement which would have taken place on a Mode 1-type substratum as early as 700 k.a. (MIS16/17)

At La Noira some pieces have isolated areas of bifacial working, several are bifacially worked opposite a natural back, and three are bifacial cleavers, while others are bifaces sensu strictu with shaping of the volume and symmetrical, convergent edges. These are cordiform, triangular or ovate in plan-form with rounded or pointed tips. Cross-sections are plano-convex or symmetrical dependent on the mode of shaping of the slab. Not only hard hammer, but also the soft hammer technique has been used. Core technology is focused on the production of medium to large flakes from which some larger flakes were used as further cores or the production of LCTs.

The introduction of the Levallois technique into central France occurred much later (MIS9) and therefore this handaxe belongs to a late Acheulian, not older than 300 k.a. Unfortunately no late Acheulian site with an in-situ ensemble from the middle Loire region has been excavated up to now.

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