How to kill a beast?- The thinning of Stone tools

This is a convergent scraper or a long “Mousterian Point” (12 cm long), an old surface found  from central France*, made on now heavily patinated blue flint, by an operational sequence that was clearly not Levallois. It shows basal thinning, removing the thickness of the base from 1,3 cm  to 0,3 cm (Fig.1,2). But not only the base is thinned,  the tip of this convergent artifact is also , in this case by bifacial invasive flat retouch (Fig.1-4).

Basal thinning
is a technique, characterized by the intentional removal of thickness by small flakes from the ventral and / or dorsal base of a chipped stone tool, usually to facilitate hafting (See the retouches on the dorsal base in Fig. 2).  Basal thinning in Africa appears first at Gadometta, Site ETH728 B, dating to >279 k.a. Ago. The technique becomes more common during the late MSA (<60 k.a.; MIS3) , for example at Nasera Rockshelter, in Tanzania, or at Shambyu/Rundu, as shown in an earlier post of my blog. In S/E-Africa many triangular convergent artifacts are now seen as stone-tipped projectiles. This assumption is supported by data from velocity-dependent microfracture features, diagnostic damage patterns, and artifact shape.

Thinning is described as a concept of the Acheulo-Yabroudian (400-200 k.a.) The scraper assemblage from Zuttiyeh has been described and analyzed in some detail. Here an interesting phenomenon is removal of the bulb of percussion, either by a single blow or through thinning. Similar observations were made by Le Tensorer   at the Yabroudian layers in Hummal (Syria).

The Initial Upper Paleolithic (IUP) of the Levant is characterized by a parallel blend of old (MP) and new (UP) traits. Refitted cores from Boker Tachtit demonstrated that morphologically Middle Paleolithic artifacts (Emiran points,  Levallois points) were produced by Upper Paleolithic  blade technology; a change in the knappers’ concept of the nodule’s volume. Emireh points are the hallmark of the IUP in Israel and the Lebanon and have described as a triangular point, Levallois or not, struck from a bipolar core after which all of the striking-platform and most of the bulb of percussion were removed by lamellar bifacial retouch (i.e. carried out on both faces of the proximal end) forming a bevel, V-shaped in profile and straight or slightly wavy in cross-section.

Similar thinning concepts are known from the IUP at Umm el Tlel (Syria). Technologically the sequence at Umm el Tlel provides a long span, containing industries from the Lower to the Upper Palaeolithic. Three layers (III2b\ III2a’, JIbase’) are regarded as “intermediate”, sandwiched between Mousterian and fully Upper Paleolithic levels, and separated by sterile layers. A blade concept of Upper Palaeolithic type, which can be regarded as Ahmarian, is characteristic for layer III2b’, whereas several volumetric reduction concepts were used in III2a’ and Ilbase’. During the lower “intermediate” levels, most frequently a Levallois technique aimed at the production of elongated triangular blanks (Levallois points), often with thinning of the proximal end and by the removal of several small elongated flakes, was employed (Umm el-Tlel point type). The regulation of the proximal end produces the same result as the (basal/bulbar) thinning of Emireh points as at Boker Tachtit. It is unknown if Umm el-Tlel points or Emireh points were projectile points or  hafted for other reasons.

Although thinning of artifacts in Europe is usually assigned to the Mousterian of the last Glacial, especially to the variants of the Quina technique, and to the KMG-groups of central Europe, systematic thinning appears earlier. In S/W-France the site of Bouheben (layer 2; Late Acheulian) is dated by geostratigraphic arguments to MIS 6. The artifacts consist of Acheulian handaxes with a large set of very fine and elaborated “Mousterian” convergent scrapers and points. Convergent tools, which resemble the one, shown in this post, are abundant at Bouheben. Especially elongated forms usually show basal thinning. The tips are sometimes thinned, too. Morphometric and impact scar analysis suggest that at least some of the points at Bouheben were part of hunting devices.

This brings me back to our artifact. As noted earlier and shown from both sides in Fig. 3 and 4, the tip was retouched by bifacial invasive flat retouche, removing the thickness of the tip from 0,8 cm  to 0,2 cm. Such thinning on the base and the tip is highly suggestive of a large point hafted on a spear.

The Schöningen Spears, eight wooden throwing spears from the Lower Palaeolithic and an associated cache of approximately 16,000 animal bones, excavated under the management of Dr. Hartmut Thieme between 1994 and 1998 in the open-cast lignite mine, Schöningen, county Helmstedt district, Germany are ca 300 k.a. old, and represent the oldest completely preserved hunting weapons worldwide. Their discovery led to a change in paradigms, namely that Homo before Homo sapiens was a poorly equipped scavenger, the hunted, but not the hunter.

Since this paradigmatic change the search for Paleolithic stone projectile tips delivered with thrusting and throwing spears become again a focus of Middle Paleolithic and MSA research.Stone tipped Projectile weapons (i.e. those delivered from a distance) enhanced prehistoric hunting efficiency by enabling higher impact delivery and hunting of a broader range of animals while reducing confrontations with dangerous prey species.

In this sense our artifact could be an early document for this technique.

*The department Cher is part of the current administrative region of Centre-Val de Loire. It is surrounded by the departments of Indre, Loir-et-Cher, Loiret, Nièvre, Allier, and Creuse.

Suggested Readings:


MSA from Shambyu / Rundu

230 Views since 2/2016 5 Views Today
This entry was posted in Plaeolithics and Neolithics and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *