What’s the Nubian Levallois-core technology got to do with “out of Africa ” dispersal and Boker Tachtit?


These are two Nubian Levallois cores from the Nil valley. On the left: a typical Nubian I-core with the characteristic protruding distal ridge, on the right a typical Nubian II core. The geographic extent for the “Nubian Complex” was initially confined to Upper Egypt/Northern Sudan and the surrounding Eastern Sahara. It was later shown, that some ensembles in the oases of the western desert had affinities to the Nubian complex, too. In Africa discoveries of Nubian cores have been reported from Kenya, Ethiopia, and the Libyan Desert.

The discovery of Nubian cores in surface assemblages from the Arabian peninsula led to the revival of the discussion as to their cultural significance. Most of the Arabian sites are undated, except the open-air site of Aybut Al Auwal in Oman. Two optically stimulated luminescence age estimates place the site at  ca. 106 k.a.

Due to an amelioration of climatic conditions during MIS 5, the desert barriers in the area were removed as indicated by the “green Sahara” period and the formation of paleo lakes in central Arabia , facilitating movement of groups across previously isolated areas. Recently open air sites from the Negev highlands (H2 surface collection, Har Oded and North Mitzpe Ramon) were published and tentatively dated to the same humid phase during MIS5. Three common explanations are used to explain the existence of technological similarities in assemblage compositions across the landscape: convergence, dispersal and diffusion. The latter two explanations may sufficiently define the “Nubian interaction sphere”.

nubLevallois technology is widely seen as a “type fossil” for the dispersal of Homo sapiens out of Africa and into Arabia and beyond. This assumption gained some credibility, as it is only Homo sapiens that were present during MIS 5/6 in the “Nubian interaction sphere”.In the levant, both Neanderthals and AMHs used the Levallois technology.

Conceptually the would be a long way from the Nubian Levallois-Technology and the Emirian. The makers of the Emirian (the earliest IUP in the Levant and maybe the oldest IUP  worldwide) are unknown.

Nubian technology is characterized by the preferential removal of an elongated and pointed flake or blade. The end product is not always a Levallois point sensu stricto (Fig.2). Elongation is one principle of the Nubian MP and of the early IUP in the Levant. Bidirectional cores and dorsal cresting are other traits of the Emirian.

tachtit-aggsbachAt Boker-Tachtit (47-42 k.a. BP) a special form of the Levallois technique that shifts over time (Level 1-4) to an upper Paleolithic blade technology. The aim of the operational sequences in all levels was the production of blades that are shaped like elongated Levallois-points (Fig.3). Technologically, upper Paleolithic tools (End-scrapers and Burins) are common in all levels, while Levels 1 and 2 are also characterized by the occurrence of Emireh points (“Emirian”). Short and broad Levallois points, often with a heavy faceted base, are characteristic for “Tabun B-ensembles” during to the end of the Levallois-Mousterian in Israel between 70-45 k.a BP. A new project to re-date this site had been launched by the Max Planck Society-Weizmann Institute of Science Center for Integrative Archaeology and Anthropology in 2013.

The antecedent industries to Boker-Tachtit have not been localized, yet. Researchers focus on older sites in the Arabian peninsula and the Levant either  with ensembles with elongated Levallois points  (Tabun D Ensembles, some Nubian ensembles) and/or Levallois ensembles with a bipolar technology  and/or dorsal cresting (some undated Nubian ensembles, some Tabun D ensembles).

tabun-B-aggsbachSuch short and broad Levallois points, often with a heavy faceted base, are characteristic for “Tabun B-ensembles” during to the end of the Levallois-Mousterian in Israel between 70-45 k.a BP. Tabun B ensembles are charaterized by the recurrent Levallois cores with unipolar convergent preparation and Levallois points seem to be the desired end-product.It seems to be improbable, but not impossible, that the makers of the Tabun B ensembles in the Levant, would have suddenly changed their knapping strategies into Boker Tachtit Level 1 industries with bidirectional cores.

Tabun D ensembles on the other Hand are very much older in the Levant (250-120 K.a BP) and all attempts to find younger Tabun D-sites were unsuccessful.  Tabun D ensembles are characterized by recurrent Levallois cores with unidirectional and bidirectional parallel preparation. The blanks are usually elongated with minimal striking platform preparation. They are not confined to the small Mediterranean strip, but are also found in Galilee and Transjordan and to the Syrian desert and the Anti Lebanon.

One example, not mentioned till now in my blog is ‘Ain Difla. Excavations since 1984 at this  rock-shelter (Wadi Hasa Survey Site 634) in west-central Jordan produced a Tabun D lithic assemblage dominated by elongated Levallois points with very few retouched tools.The ‘Ain Difla sample is dominated by elongated Levallois points. Blanks were obtained from both uni- and bipolar convergent and predominantly Levallois cores that show evidence of bidirectional flaking. TL and ESR dates from ‘Ain Difla show a wide range of age estimates between 90- 180 k.a.

Typologically the Wadi Surdud Complex  in Yemen, where two assemblages dating between 63 and 42 k.a. were found inter-stratified within a six-meter fluvial accretion, fits under the broad Tabun D umbrella. Over 5,000 artifacts were excavated, and in both archaeological horizons, the most prominent reduction system was, by far, a simple unidirectional convergent strategy producing elongated pointed flakes and blades.  The excavators noted that the makers of these ensembles followed  primarily a non-Levallois strategy, since most striking platforms (>70%) are either non faceted or cortical, and less than 10% exhibit any kind of faceting. Elongated pointed blank production was flexible, grading from occasional instances of preferential, unidirectional convergent Levallois preparation to the more frequent use of recurrent “frontal” or “semi-tournant” core exploitation .

Some researchers argue, that an undated Arabian Nubian Complex ensemble (the “Mudayyan”) with bipolar technology from Dhofar and the new sites from the Negev, showing similar technological patterns  may provide the missing link to the Levantine Middle to Upper Paleolithic transition at Boker Tachtit.

Regarding a time-gap of at least 40 k.a. in the line of these arguments it will be prudent to  remain skeptical. From an archaeological view, the immediate antecedent industries to Boker-Tachtit remains unknown.

Things get even worse if we link the archaeological record with genetic of anthropological data. Such mixing will inevitably lead to premature conclusions.  Here are some possible scenarios  assuming the Boker Tachtit is the earliest IUP in the region:

First scenario: At ca. 50 k.a. BP AHMs entered the Levant via Arabia and/or the Nil valley. They already used a new technology (IUP) and introduced it into the Levant.

Second scenario:  At ca. 50 k.a. BP AHMs entered the Levant via Arabia and/or the Nil valley. They used a Levallois based industry and developed this industry in the Levant to the IUP further.

Third scenario:  At ca. 50 k.a. BP AHMs entered the Levant via Arabia and/or the Nil valley. They used a Levallois based industry. When they arrived in the Levant they were responsible for  the Middle-Upper Paleolithic shift together with late Neanderthals.

Suggested Reading:

Jeffrey Rose: Through a prism of paradigms: a century of research into the origins of the Upper Palaeolithic in the Levant (via academia.edu)

Steven L. Kuhn , Nicolas Zwyns: Rethinking the initial Upper Paleolithic (via researchgate)

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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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