The European World during MIS 11-9.

yonne

This is a 18 cm large elongated Biface, a Limande, from the Yonne (surface finding, probably from MIS9).  In the Yonne River valley (North Burgundy), handaxes were reported from the sand and gravels of the Soucy Formation, dated to MIS 10 by ESR and ESR/U-series. However, the most important data come from the study of the Soucy Acheulean site excavated in the upper part of calcareous fluvial silty sands of the same locality, dated from MIS 9 by the same methods. The Soucy localities tell a story of successive hominin occupations in a fluvial landscape. Many of the occupations show distinctive patterns of behavior by the presence or absence of typical Acheulian bifaces.

The timeframe of the Soucy occupations falls into the  Holsteinian complex sensu lato, which has been correlated by different authors  from MIS 11 to 9 . Differentiating the two interglacials MIS 11 and 9 is not always possible, as they were short and sometimes shared common climatic and environmental features. MIS 10 is also considered to be short and is not always preserved in the sedimentological record.

Archaeological data and human activity all over Eurasia show an increase in the number of sites after MIS12 (the Anglian or Elsterian glaciation), which is considered as the major climatical crisis before MIS 4 and 2- but H. sapiens was better prepared to cope with the cold, that his Heidelbergensis ancestors. MIS 11-9 on the other hand  is characterized by warm interglacial condition, high biodiversity, large-scale faunal dispersion associated with the regionalization of mammal communities and hominin morphology variability. While Handaxe rich industries are common in W-Europe,  the situation of Central Europe during the Lower Palaeolithic is very special.  During MIS11 / 9 the lithic industries are mainly characterized by a small tool production. This typical production was recently analyzed in two lithic assemblages (Vértesszőlős in Hungary and Bilzingsleben in Germany). If those assemblages are original compared to the Western Acheulean, some elements can be liked to some other industries in Southern Europe (for example with Arago and the small tool component of Terra Amata) , as predicted by D. Mania many years ago.

The time period between MIS 11-9 is considered to record evidence of new subsistence behaviors with demonstrations of an increase in hunting, suggesting the development of skills and social interactions starting as early as early as 500 k.a (i.e. Gran Dolina  TD 10-1, La Cotte-Saint-Brelade, Boxgrove, Schöningen). Management of local game resources led to another type of land use with seasonal settlements and evidence of specialized hunting in territorial networks.

At Schöningen, the horse bones come from Equus mosbachensis and are indicative of at least 20 individuals. They show numerous cut marks made by stone tools, but only a few bite marks made by animals. The site is interpreted by the excavator Harald Thieme as testimony of a hunting event as well as the following cutting up and preparation of the kill.

Systematic behaviors are observed on ungulate and small game carcasses. Bone retouchers are rare but existed from MIS 11. They have been found at  Terra Amata (south-east France, MIS 11), Orgnac 3 (south-east France, MIS 9), Cagny l’Epinette (Northern France, MIS 9), Gran Dolina TD10 in Spain, and La Micoque (Sout-West France MIS 9) .

Specialized sites, such as those considered as butchery places, indicate the role of activities on lithic strategies for examples at Terra Amata, La Polledrara or Castel di Guido (North-West-Italy, MIS9). The exploitation of elephant (Palaeoloxodon) carcasses is documented in a number of Middle Pleistocene sites in Spain (Aridos 2, MIS 11 , Ambrona MIS 12) Italy (Notarchirico, early Middle Pleistocene, Castel di Guido, MIS9) and France (Terra Amata). Some of the lithic series discovered among elephant and large herbivore remains contain bifacial tools, others do not. Some production on small and locally available nodules is frequent. Bifaces, bifacial tools and scrapers on large fragments of bone are episodically present, and are indicative of the lack of large locally available raw materials. Similar shaping on bones and some large stone pebbles is observed.

Evidence of early fire control is subject to debate. Some sites attest that fire was controlled as early as 400 ka (Beeches Pit; Suffolk; UK), contributing to new hominin abilities to expand territories and modify their behavior.

From MIS 12 onwards, some sites (Cagny-la-Garenne I-II, North of France, or Saint-Pierre-les-Elbeuf, West France) yielded some “pseudo-Levallois cores” or “prepared cores”.  Guado San Nicola (Monteroduni, Molise; Italy) was recently dated to the MIS 11-10 boundary  by the 40Ar/39Ar method and provided an ensemble of clear Levallois products within an Acheulean context. In contrast, at the same time, La Grande Vallee (France), dated to 400-450 k.a, yielded a series with bifacial technology and a core technology based on unifacial and bifacial cores. Certainly the wider use of the Levallois technique was not established in Europe before MIS9 (Orgnac 3; south-east France).

In southern Europe, at Aridos I, Aldene A-H, Arago, Baume Bonne unit I, Fontana Ranuccio, Galeria II base, Gran Dolina TD10, La Grande Vallee, Terra Amata or Vaufrey XII; core technology and flake-tool kits are diversified during MIS11-9, and show similarities to earlier techniques – clearly not Levallois.

In the UK, there is now emerging a persistent picture of non-handaxe assemblages at Swanscombe, Clacton and Barnham Area I preceding the handaxe assemblages at Swanscombe Middle Gravels, Beeches Pit Bed 4 and other sites.

Bifaces, when they were present, exhibit different shaping modes according to sites, dependent on the environment, resources, blank selection but with astonishing similar configurations to the final morpho-types. They are rare or numerous, on bones or stones, sometimes more similar to core-bifaces. There are also cleavers, bifaces or partial bifaces in other cases. In Western Europe during MIS 15-9 the biface diversified into several technical entities (such as the “biface used as a blank for tools”, the “biface as a tool”) or was completely abandoned.

In sum, diversity, adaptions, inventions and innovations  during MIS11-9 were clearly the overture for what was following during the early (post-MIS9)  Middle Paleolithic in Europe.


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