Microlithic Mousterian / Microlithic Middle Paleolithic


These are tiny and flat Levallois points (Fig 1; max 3 cm long, 11-15 mm thickness) from Israel. They show a “Chapeau de Gendarme” base and are essentially non retouched. One example displayed the “Concorde” characteristics, common in “Tabun B” ensembles.

Microlithism during the old world Middle Paleolithic seems to be a successful adaption of Homo sp., occurring during OIS6-3  in different habitats, climatic zones and Environments. It was not associated with the preferential use of only one raw material, but made on flint, obsidian, quartz and quartzite and Basalt. For sure this Microlithism does not represent a „Tradition” but a versatile and flexible gesture of their makers.

Tools already diversified during the end of the lower Paleolithic in the Levant and some components of the ensembles were clearly microlithic.  During the Yabroudian, at Qesem Cave tiny recycled flakes, removed from the ventral face of the parent-flake (‘core-on-flake’), with little or no preparation were used as hand-held cutting tools as part of a diversified meat-processing Palaeolithic tool-kit.

carmel microlithic pIn the Levant, Rust described an undated  Micro-Mousterian  (which is technologically a microlithic Levantine Levallois-Mousterian)  from the Yabroud Rockshelter I /Syria. Level 5.

This level had a 20 cm thickness and contained the industry over 10 sq m was intercalated between several strata with a normal sized Levalloisian (Fig. 3 – 5). The Levallois points are very small (n=185) and show  intentional retouches in  most of the cases. They are 2-6 cm long and vary between slender and elongated and broad based triangular specimens.

Interestingly Rust also described many examples of smaller blades and bladelets often with retouches and some with serrated edges (maybe created by post depositional disturbances), which he called “saws”. It remains unknown if these blades were made by a Levallois- or a specialized blade-core  technology. For Rust an industry of tiny irregular microlithic tools was the most characteristic element of the ensemble (N=125; 1,5-2 cm long).

A microlithic Levallois-Mousterian has been described by H. Fleisch in the Lebanon. A similar industry is known from  from the costal  plain near Mt Carmel (Fig. 2) , embedded in the Kurkar-Hamra Succession** , where the specimens, that are shown in Fig. 1  were found. The use of specialized cores in such ensembles has been documented, retouched tools are rare.

Microlithism during the Levantine Middle Paleolithic is not restricted to the costal zone as shown by the Microlithic Mousterian from the  open-air site of Quneitra (early MIS3). The retouched items display a great variety of types (over 60), with a dominancy of Levallois flakes, single convex  side scrapers, notches, denticulates and retouched flakes. This assemblage differs from other Levantine Mousterian sites in flake dimensions (shorter and thicker),  very few points and naturally backed knives, and the exploitation of basalt as raw material.

Microlithic Middle Paleolithic ensembles are not rare and are known from Armenia, Greek, the Balkans, Italy, Central Europe and France. While some of these ensembles clearly refer to constraints of material supply (for example, the “Pontinian” sites, which will discussed during a later post), other do not.

Situated at  the crossroads between Asia Minor, the Near East and Europe, the lithic industry at Angeghakot at an altitude of 1800 m in the valley of the Vorotan (south-eastern Armenia) , mainly made from obsidian, has been identified as belonging to the Mousterian facies typical of the “Zagros-Taurus”, consisting of numerous Mousterian points, “Yerevan points”, microlithic tools, and the presence of the “truncating-facetting” technique.

In central Europe ensembles with small sized artifacts come from the last interglacial. These ensembles are usually called “Taubachian“. They were usually produced by the recurrent centripetal Levallois method (Untertürkheim, Lehringen, Rabutz, Taubach),or by a discoid concept (Kulna, layer 11). Bifacial tools are virtually absent. Scrapers are common, points are sometimes present, and notched/denticulated pieces are sometimes abundant. It is hotly debated if the small artefact size was voluntary or imposed by site function and by environmental conditions.

One of the best characterized microlithic Middle Paleolithic ensembles comes from the lower strata of the Sesselfelsgrotte (Altmühltal; Bavaria) About 7 m of sedimentary deposit were excavated. An early Weichselian date is suggested for these assemblages which are typologically and technologically similar to contemporaneous western European Mousterian industries (Mousterian with micro-size tools, Ferrassie type Mousterian and Quina type Mousterian) (assemblage Ses-U-A04).  These occupations took place under interstadial conditions (oxygen-isotope stade 5c and 5a) with forest and open landscape.

This brings us back to the possible function of microlithic Levallois points. Those with very small cross sectional areas/perimeters could have been served as projectile armatures. A surprising find from the Rhone region / France may underpin such assumptions. The Neronian level (ca 50 k.a.) of Grotte Mandrin is characterized by an enormous sample of almost microlithic Levallois points. At Mandrin in 80% of these small Levallois points, the thickness varies by less than 3 mm, with a thickness of between 2 and 5 mm, and with a width of between 16 and 25 mm for 60% of them. An impactological study of the Mandrin E points reveals that at least 15.5% of them were used as weapons, maybe indicative of an early bow and arrow technology.

**Kurkar is the term used in Palestinian Arabic and modern Hebrew for the rock type of which lithified sea sand dunes consist. The equivalent term used in Lebanon is ramleh. Kurkar is the regional name for an aeolian quartz sandstone with carbonate cement, in other words an eolianite or a calcarenite (calcareous sandstone or grainstone), found on the Levantine coast of the Mediterranean Sea in Turkey,  Syria, Lebanon, Israel, the Gaza Stripand northern Sinai Peninsula (From: Wikipedia).

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Fig 3-5: Some Pages from Alfred Rust: die Höhlenfunde vonJabrud (Vor- und frühgeschichtliche Untersuchungen. NF 8 / Offa-Bücher) Neumünster: Wachholtz, 1950. The first picture shows  Rusts Micro-Mousterian in the 5th row.


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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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3 Responses to Microlithic Mousterian / Microlithic Middle Paleolithic

  1. M says:

    I greatly enjoyed your superb blog on the fascinating topic of a Micro-Mousterian.

    I was wondering whether the lithic technologies in strata above and below had a larger minimum-size tools (i.e. all being large(r)), or that they also had the small ones, and next to these including the larger size classes as well.

    In other words, does micro-mousterian mean making smaller tools than before, or does it just mean to stop to making the large ones and continuing to make small ones as before…?

    with my best and highest regards,


  2. Katzman says:

    There may be many biases in the Rust-data from Yabroud. Rust insisted that the tools in the “Micro-Mousterien” were systematically smaller than those in the strata above and below (5th row of the snapshot from Rusts publication) and that this size class was absent in the adjacent strata- but this may be a secondary construct of the author…..

  3. M says:

    Thank you so very much, a striking picture! And a truly fascinating topic!
    I always get a bit restless when authors claim “size standardization” or see strong discontinuities in data.
    In the Fontmaure assemblage many of the Mousterian tools are between 1 and 3 cm, but sizes go up continuously to very large ones.
    Also in the mesolithic we see next to miniaturization / microlith production still the use of large picks, borers and axes (but perhaps these were not made and used in the same spatial locations as the microliths).
    There seem however to be more places, also in Greece I think, where isolated small tool paleo strata occur. Amazing.
    Cheers, and very best wishes, M

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