Quartzite Handaxe from La Gravette, Grenade, Haute-Garonne



This unifacial Quartzite Handaxe comes from the Haute-Garonne, North of Toulouse.

It was Jean-Baptiste Noulet (1802 – 1890), a French scientist and naturalist, who first described the Paleolithic implements of the Garonne and its tributaries. In 1851, at Clermont-le-Fort, he discovered the remains of Pleistocene fauna, along with the presence of artifacts, very similar to the one shown in this post (Noulet, 1881).

The Garonne Valley is the axial element of the structure of the Aquitaine Basin. Extending across more than 600 km it drains most of the hydrographic system of southwestern France. The powerful Garonne River originates in the Pyrenees, traverses the Petites-Pyrenees in deep valleys and then reaches the Tertiary molasses, at which point the valley widens to a maximum of 25 km near Toulouse.

Along its length, the Garonne is joined by numerous tributaries until it empties into the Atlantic. The density of Paleolithic sites is proof of the favorable subsistence opportunities present in the Aquitaine Basin during the Pleistocene, in which the Garonne Valley occupied a pivotal position. The Garonne Valley was formed almost completely during the Quaternary period. Climatic fluctuations were associated with alternating phases of valley incision and sedimentation. This process has left its mark on the landscape in the formation of five main levels of alluvial terraces, within which several more minor fluctuations are still visible.

The high Terasses belong to the early Pleistocene and are covered by silt deposits. If the early Paleolithic industries, which are found here, belong to the early Pleistocene or were embedded later, remains unclear due to a lack of absolute dates. These findings could  indeed be very old (600-800 k.a. BP).  Fig. 3 shows some artifacts from this position:


In the context of the middle terasses  the techno-cultural originality of the Acheulean of the Pyrenees-Garonne region, characterised by chaînes opératoires of large blank production (over 15 cm) and by the presence of cleavers sensu stricto, has been highlighted. Thise technocomplex seems to be connected with the Acheulian of the Iberian peninsula and maybe of N-Africa.

We have no absolute dates for the  middle terasses, but from nearby Middle Pleistocene sites:  Optically Stimulated Luminescence (OSL), Thermically Transferred OSL (TT-OSL) and thermoluminescence (TL) dating showed that the Pyrenees-Garonne Acheulean industry of Duclos must attributed to the boundary between MIS 7/6, while the human occupations of Romentères date from MIS 6 for the most recent series (Early Middle Palaeolithic) and from MIS 9 and 8 for the older.

Collections of the low terasses show a Middle Paleolithic industy, mixed with handaxes, also made of Quartzite. The discovery of an “Upper Acheulean” site at Raspide 2 (Blagnac, Haute-Garonne) recently excavated yields new insights into the Lower / Middle Paleolithic transition. It associates some old characteristics – bifacial shaping and heavy cleavers – with elements clearly associated with the Middle Palaeolithic: the production of flakes is the most important, with systematization of methods known earlier (discoid, unipolar and on anvil), and the emergence of the Levallois method. Retouched tools are relatively abundant, with a Mousterian tendency.

In the Garonne valley, there is a near total absence of Late Middle Paleolithic occupations and Upper Paleolithic during the last glaciation, apart from some limited traces, suggestive of an abandonment of the region during these periods. It seems that very harsh climatic factors during glacial periods rendered these large corridor particularly inhospitable, thus pushing prehistoric populations into the more protected areas.

During harsh times the Garonne was more a “frontier” than a corridor for favoring contact among populations. In this scenario people would have been “pushed” into the narrow valleys of the greater Aquitaine.

One of the implements  J.-B. Noulet found in 1851  (Wikipedia; GNU Free Documentation License):

Biface Noulet Infernet MHNT PRE 2013 0 525

Keep on reading!

Quartzite in Prehistory

Northern Hessen: The Acheulian

The early Paleolithic of the Garonne valley

Pebble Tools from the Terrasses of the Roussillon





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