Mont-les-Etrelles: Surface Mousterian ensembles in the Upper Saone region


These are several Mousterian artifacts from a larger surface collection from the  Mont-les-Etrelles, department of Haute Saône near Besancon. Haute-Saône is a French department of the Bourgogne-Franche-Comté region named after the Saône River.

In the center part of the Haute-Saone, is the Palaeocene formation known as the “Mont-les-Etrelles” basin. This basin has a crescent-shaped morphology stretching 35 km between the villages of Velesme and Vaivre. Around the city of Mont-les-Etrelles, different lacustrine formations from the Oligocene contain various types of flint.

In this Oligocene basin, several flint facies have also been identified macroscopically and microscopically depending on their position and depth in the lake.

Local Flint differs in the texture (smooth, rough), colors of its cortex (white, yellow-white, grey) and in the characteristics of its matrix (homogenous, laminar or with parallel bands, ring bands decreasing from the center of the nodule towards a marbled and sometimes translucent flint). There are also differing flint morphologies such as slabs with a maximum length of 40 cm, rounded nodules with a maximum radius of 50 cm, and very large slabs with heterogeneous silicified beds.

A great proportion of handaxes and other bifacial tools (see below) are shaped on these flints. During the Palaeolithic, Mesolithic and Neolithic, hominins came to the region for the high quality flint and exported them to Switzerland, 40 km to the Southeast.

The Haute-Saône lies on the crossroads between the Rhone, the Seine and Meuse.The Acheulian of the Haute-Saône is known from  numerous Handaxe finds whithout any contextual information. Clusters of Lithic artifacts were left by Neanderthals who surveyed this region.Their presence is contested both on the plateaus and valleys, but stratified sites have not been detected yet. Artifacts were made from local flint, quarztite and quarz. The cave sites ( Baume de Gigny and others) will not discussed in this post.

1There are several Mousterian surface clusters known since the 1920ies from Mont-les-Etrelles, near Besancon. Not a single controlled excavation has been performed during the last century and the only report available was published more than 40 years ago.The collection from Mont-les-Etrelles, shown here encompasses mainly scrapers and convergent tools (convergent scrapers and Mousterian points) made from a fine local flint and in some cases from an extraordinary fine grained quartzite. The Levallois, discoidal and Kombewa technique was well developed, producing rather flat debitage, often covered with invasive retouches. In one case a scraper was almost covered with  bifacial retouches, similar to bifacial scrapers of the KMG-Groups in central Europe.

etrellesSome of the surface collections from the Haute Saône are mainly composed of cordiform handaxes and some flake tools (scrapers and convergent tools) and are putatively assigned to the MTA complex (at Etrelles, Fedry, Chevigney, Mantoche, Beaujeu).  If this could be substantiated, such ensembles would mark the eastern border for this lithic tradition. A major sampling bias towards the collection of bifacial pieces may be present for such ensembles.

Other surface ensembles are rich in Levallois and Mousterien points, a spectum that was functionally interpreted. One of the richest of the published Mousterian sites in the Haute Saône is Sauvigney-les-Gray .  The Levallois technique was present, but from the description is seems thet non-Levallois techniques (maybe mainly discoidal) were also important. The ensemble is rich in scrapers, simple, transverse, dejete and convergent-sometimes covered by flat retouches on the upper surfaces, and  similar to the ensemble introduced in this post.

The greatest surprise during the last years was the artifactual spectrum of the open-air site of Pont-de-Planches site 12 km North-East from the Mont-les-Etrelles. The oldest occupation is around an interstadial 50 k.a. (early MIS 3; TL-dates) and is characterized by a bifacial tools industry with a mix of classic MTA (cordiform Bifaces) and classic KGM bifacial tools (Faustkeilblätter, Blattspitzen, Keilmesser). The great diversity of the late Middle Paleolithic  in Europe is stunning again and again.

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Handaxe from Oudry and the Rhône/Saône axis during the Paleolithicà_létude_des_pointes_Levallois_et_moustérienne_au_Paléolithique_Moyen_en_Haute-Saône

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