Deconstruction of the MTA-B

backed netherlands

This is a backed Mousterian “knife” from the North European plain, certainly not connected with a hypothetical MTA-B. This finding was associated with non-Levalloisian Middle Paleolithic tools as shown in Figure 2.

netherlands mousterian

Two variants have been distinguished within the MTA. MTA Type A has been characterized by the production and use of mainly bifaces, while MTA type B has been defined by the production and use of mainly backed knives and elongated flakes (Bordes and Bourgon 1951). Their relative chronology was based on their relative stratigraphic position at three key sites: Pech-de-l’Azé I and IV, Le Moustier and La Rochette. Most assemblages assigned to the MTA-B either derive from old excavations and suffer from clear recovery biases (Abri Audi,  La Rochette, layer H at Le Moustier) or are too small to properly evaluate their composition (Abri Blanchard, Quincay).

Well-studied and published assemblages assigned to the MTA-B  show considerable techno-typological variability. Several of these collections could probably be re-assigned to other techno-complexes given the absence of a dedicated production of elongated flakes, for example the “MTA-B” (layer H) layer at Le Moustier. Non biased material from this layer have been recently re-attributed the material  to the Discoid- Denticulate Mousterian.  The Discoid production system is dominant at Le Moustier and Combe Grenal  and the Levallois technique is prominent only at the  Folie site.

Another question is the specificity of backed artifacts for the diagnosis of the MTA-B. Basically, Backing is blunting an edge of an artifact by  steep abrupt retouches, opposite to a natural sharp cutting edge, like the example shown here.

Backed tools during the Mousterian are not specific for the MTA. In the Archaeological record of Europe, backed knives appeared first during the Acheulean (for example:  the “Atelier Commont” at St. Acheul). During the last glaciation, backed artifacts
from flakes and blades play a certain role in the Quina system in S/W-France, but also in the “Mousterien typique”. They have been described from the Mousterian of post MIS5-age from Laussel and Pech de Bourre (Perigord), Fontmaure (Vienne),  Ruisseau de Gravier (Gironde), Pennon (Landes) and Cros de Peyrolles (Midi) to name just a few.  In central and east Europe, simple backed knifes are not  unknown (for example in the upper strata of at Buhlen /Hessen, Germany ( probably MIS3), from large surface collections of Middle Paleolithic artifacts near Schwalmstadt and from KMG-sites like Pouch/„Terrassenpfeiler” (MIS3).

Many backed tools from the Mousterian that are shown in publications, especially those on elongated blanks show rather semi-abrupt retouches (similar to Bordes “atypical knifes”), which would in an other context called: marginal retouches and which are not really comparable to the backing of Howiesons-Poort, Lupemban, Klissoura / Uluzzian ensembles, Chatelperonnian or Gravettien points. Calling such artifacts backed knifes is in my view questionable.

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