It ain’t nothin’ like it used to be: Endscrapers during the European Upper Paleolithic

scraper _aggsbach

Fig. 1 shows a Magdalenian scraper from N-France. The relationship between form and function is a ambiguous issue that needs to be demonstrated rather than assumed. A Middle Paleolithic “point” may have been a projectile point but more often was used as a scraper for wood and hide-working,  large “Gravette points” were used as knifes,  burins are formidable bladelet cores  and a “microlithic saws” may have been used as a projectiles.

thumbnailA Levallois point embedded in the vertebra of a wild ass, as found at Umm el Tlel (El Kowm basin of Central Syria; strata older than 50 k.a) certainly shows that this artifact was part of a hunting device, but does not mean that every Levallois point, or even that the majority of these artifacts may have been used in this way.

Simple end scrapers from the European Upper Paleolithic were typically made from blades or flakes without modification except to produce a convex scraping edge.  A number of (sub-) parallel flakes were removed from the end or
side of the distal part of the blank to produce a thick wide-angled “scraping edge”.  The retouches on this edge varies from irregular to a perfect regularity.  The scraping edge typically has an angle that ranges from 70 to 90 degrees. Edge wear is very characteristic of end scrapers and they must have been repeatedly  resharpened in order to serve effectively. Consequently, scrapers became shorter and shorter in length with continued usage.

Function:  As the name suggests, the scraper has traditionally been an artifact assigned to one specific function: namely the scraping and working of hides or animal skins. This assumption is substantiated, at least for many European specimens by microtraceology. At Pavlov I 15/18 end scrapers were used for hide working and 2 /18 for Antler / Ivory work. The picture at other sites is similar: hide working is most prominent, but scrapers had been used multifunctional, for example as adzes for woodworking (during the Magdalenian at  La Garenne; Indre; France). The end scraper as a tool may hold more functions than had been previously thought. Instead of having a one- dimensional use for the scraping of hides, it may have demonstrated several different forms of use throughout its life, on several different substances. In addition, the function of the scraper may have changed during the course of its life as wear and retouching altered the edge angles.

several types of scrapers exist. These include the side scraper (working edge on the long edge), the classic artifact of the MSA and MP but not absent during the Upper Paleolithic and the end scraper (convex working edge on the distal end of a flake or blade). End scrapers can be combined with a second scraper edge (double scrapers) or with a burin edge (for hafting?).

Some end scrapers are denominated according to their size (thumbnail scraper, approximately the size and shape of a thumbnail) Fig. 2shows laugerie2such a scraper  from the PPNB at Nahal Oren, Carmel; Israel).  Other characteristics of scrapers may be eponymous (for example for the  carinated scrapers / cores; Fig. 3). “Spoon scrapers” first appeared at Ehringsdorf (OIS7) and were common during the Aurignacian (Fig. 4:  Aurignacian near the Mont Circeo in West-Italy south of Rome) . Cortical scapers are made on a cortical blade or flake and are known from the Solutrean in S/W-France and as tabular scrapers from the Levantine Bronze age ( The cortical scrape on Fig.5 is also from Laugerie haute.

laugerieOther scrapers  are named according to the site, they were first found. For example the Ksar Akil scraper (; found at Ksar Akil, in Stratum 4/5 (C-14 data: 29-30 k.a. BP). Other specimens are known from Tha’lab al-Buhayra (Wadi al-Hasa in west-central Jordan; 24-26 k.a.) and Boker D (Negev; Israel25-27 k.a.).

Laugerie scrapers (Fig.5) are flat (double) scrapers with lateral retouches, first found during  the 19th century diggings at the Grimaldi caves (“Grimaldi scrapers”) and at Laugerie haute west where they are characteristic for an swabiaevolved Solutrean with bilateral Leafpoints.

End scrapers in Europe are common since the Early Upper Paleolithic (including “transitional industries” such as the Châtelperronian and
), although they can occasionally observed during Lower and Middle Paleolithic ensembles. Nice examples were present at the “Atelier Commont” (OIS9) at St. Acheul.

During the earlier stages of the Aurignacian in France and Central Europe end scrapers with lateral retouches were common.  These lateral retoches may have allowed a better hafting (Fig. 6: double end scraper obviously after strangledmultiple resharpening cycles from the Swabian Aurignacian).  An interesting combination found both in the French and central European Aurignacian are endscrapers on strangled blades (Fig.7).

During the earlier Gravettian complex simple end scrapers are found in abundance (for example during the early Perigordian in S/W-France, in the Rhone valley, but also in central Europe at Pavlov I, while the domestic tools during the later phases are more characterized by burins. It is unknown, why endscrapers lost their role at this time. The Magdalenian has a large variety of end scrapers ranging  from tiny specimens to very large and robust ones. Small thumbnail scrapers during the final European Paleolithic are characteristic for the late Epigravettian and the Azilian.

The scraper may be hafted onto wood or antler, as indicated by microtraceological studies on some examples. The only scraper embedded into a haft I know comes from the Magdalenian of the Pekarna cave in the Moravian Karst.

A great potential for a better characterization of the scraper function will be the search and evaluation of organic residues by sophisticated techniques of organic chemistry. This methodology promises to achieve a lot of new insights, as recently demonstrated for  Fat Residue and Use-Wear Found on Acheulian Biface and Scraper Associated with Butchered Elephant Remains at the Site of Revadim, Israel ( via PLOS ONE).

Suggested Reading:

Abri Castanet and the Aurignacian I in S/W-France

Thumbnail Scrapers

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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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One Response to It ain’t nothin’ like it used to be: Endscrapers during the European Upper Paleolithic

  1. Andrea Kaschee says:

    Thanks for your post. While carinated scrapers have gained considerable attention during the last years, “simple” endscrapers remain the grubby kids in the discussion…


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