What do we know about the Acheulian in the Bourgogne?


These are two handaxes and a large Levallois flake from the Pays d’Othe. The Pays d’Othe area is bordered on the west by the Yonne valley, on the north by the Vanne valley, and east by the city of Troyes in Northern Bourgogne. The region was a “hunting ground” of collectors during the 19th century and the surface findings were sold for cheap money, mainly in Papeteries in Paris, either tied onto a board using wire, or glued on carton using strong glue. Fig. 2 shows such a trade good with Quina scrapres and Neolithic blades, mainly from the Grand Pressigny area.


What is known from the  RhôneSaône Corridor, during the Early Paleolithic? One of the oldest Paleolithic in the Bourgogne comes from the Azé Cave (Sâone-et-Loire, France), dated through faunal remains to 400-300 k.a. This industry is made up of local rocks, mostly poor quality flint, and also chert and crystalline rocks. The process of knapping is opportunistic and the cores, seldom exhausted, usually bear two opposite reduction faces. The flakes often reveal patches of residual cortex. They are moderately thick and the striking platform angle varies within a wide range of values. Some of them seem to be the result of a tearing-off motion. All the flint pieces have been heavily retouched; half of them have been simply utilized, others are proper tools, mostly scrapers, usually with steep retouch. A good number of more or less trimmed cobbles are also part of this collection. However, handaxes are completely missing.

Stratified sites with Handaxes are rare and only known from the North of the Bourgogne, but can be used as a proxy for our surface findings.
Since 1900, the archaeological survey of the Pleistocene alluvial deposits of the north of the Yonne valley (North Burgundy), in the southeast of the Paris Basin, has allowed the discovery of twelve Palaeolithic settlements (Lower, Middle and  Upper Palaeolithic [Magdalenian, Azilian-Federmessser]), the plotting of the evolution of the Yonne terrace system and the proposal of a chrono- stratigraphical hypothesis. The settlements were found in the six alluvial terraces (Soucy 1 to 6, Etigny Le Brassot PLM, Le Fond des Blanchards and Le Chemin de l’Évangile 3 at Gron, Le Brassot at Étigny). Fig. 3 shows a handaxe from the Yonne valley, similar to the excavated pieces at Soucy.

Since the quarry at Soucy (ca 300
km south/ west of the Pays d’Othe) was opened in 1990, nine archaeological horizons have been identified across 6 sites, four of which have been excavated (Soucy 1, 3, 5 and 6) and two of which have been preserved in situ for  excavation at a future date. Stratigraphic, biological and radiometric dating places these sites between c.345 and 365 k.a. (MIS10/9).  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 operational sequences for the production of flakes were either “Clacton” (sensu Boeda), diskoid, or oportunistic. No Levallois cores or products were observed. Formal tools were mainly scrapers and notches.

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. The Soucy Acheulian seems to be older than the Acheulian shown here, because the Levallois method is absent.

The Rhodanian corridor yielded little evidence of Acheulean open-air settlements while in the Centre of France, they are numerous. Moncel at al. published in 2011 data about the assemblages of five Final Acheulean open-air sites near Roanne, ca 300 km south from the Pays d’Othe (La Garde, La Ronzière, Féchet, Goutte Mordon et L’Hospice). The sites were probably multi-activity places including large tools and flakes, according to the strategies used by humans.

Three main categories of large bifacial tools mainly made of flint can be described, with a triangular or oval shape and with a transversal cutting edge (biface-hacherau). At La Garde and à La Ronzière, large scrapers and micro-chopping-tools were present. The Levallois flaking is always present and associated to various other types of methods. Therfore the sites can not be older than OIS9/8 (first appearance of the Levallois technique at Orgnac III in this part of Europe).  The sites, located on plateaus on the two banks of a small valley, suggest human circulating between the Saône-Rhône corridor and the interior basins of the Massif Central Mountains.

The Handaxes were made from large flakes and worked rather crude by hard hammer. In this respect, they resemble the handaxes shown in this post. We have to discuss a similar age for our small ensemble, because the Levallois technique is well attested.


Suggested Readings:

Marie-Hélène Moncel · Marta Arzarello · Angeliki Theodoropoulou · Yves Boulio : Variabilité de l’Acheuléen de plein air entre Rhône et Loire (France). Oct 2014 · L Anthropologie.

Vincent Lhomme · Nelly Connet · Christine Chaussé · […] · Pierre Voinchet : Les sites et les industries lithiques du Paléolithique inférieur, moyen et supérieur de la basse vallée de l’Yonne dans leurs contextes chronostratigraphiques. Bilan de dix ans d’activité archéologique pluridisciplinaire dans le sud-est du Bassin parisien. Jan 2004 · Bulletin de la Société préhistorique française.

Explore the Bourgogne!


Handaxe from Cosne-sur-Loire

Colméry(Nievre): Middle Paleolithic flat Handaxe (Faustkeilblatt)


Acheulean in Northern France: Handaxe from the Yonne Valley

The European World during MIS 11-9.


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


Handaxe from Oudry and the Rhône/Saône axis during the Paleolithic


A Leaf Point from Solutré

Solutré: Stratigraphy and Technocomplexes


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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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