A Quina Scraper with thinned back from Soyons

This is a nice, 9 cm long Quina-scraper with thinned back from Soyons (Ardèche, France; exact find spot unknown). This artifact is characteristic for the Rhodanian / Quina oriental, dating to MIS4. This facies is found in the Rhone valley, Gard, Gardon and the Ardèche. Made on thick flakes, scrapers often show a retouche Quina or Demi-Quina. Bifacial, convergent and foliated  scrapers  are not rare and the technique of secondary thinning is common. Technologically we find a mélange of discoidal, Levallois and blade techniques. Anyhow some researchers question the Quina Rhodanian as a separate entity. They do not deny that original features are present, but argue that they are rare and variable. We wait for a detailled comparisions with classic Quina ensembles from the French S/W to answer the question of orginality for the Rhodanien: The last synthesis about this topic war writen by the great prehistorian J.-M. Le Tensorer in 1978.

During the last glacial, Southern Europe is considered as being continuously populated while northern territories were abandoned during colder periods (MIS4, LGM). Retreat of northern populations into Mediterranean region is sometimes suggested and the Rhône Valley might be a corridor for human movements. The Soyons region is embedded in a larger framwork of the Middle Rhone valley, where beginning with late MIS6 a continuous settlement of humans is well contested.

The village of Soyons is located in the middle Rhone Valley, on the right bank of the river, 6 km south-west of Valence. This town is backed by limestone massif (Massif de Guercy) overlooking the Rhone valley from  nearly 120 meters above the river.

This village has a remarkable natural and archaeological heritage. The different archaeological sites of Soyons cover about 30 hectares. The human occupation can be traced from Middle Paleolithic times (MIS 5-3) until the middle Ages. Although first diggings began as early as 1870, the archaeological potential of this area remains considerable since only surveys or non-exhaustive excavations have been carried out.

An exceptional set of cavities was discovered in the massif of Guercy, since 1870: la Grotte de Néron, la Grotte des enfants, la Grotte de la Madeleine, le Trou du Renard, le Trou du mouton, le trou Roland and  l’abri Moula. These caves were used as habitats / hunting halts by Neanderthals with a Mousterian industry.  The caves during these periods were occupied by humans alternating with large predators. To date two caves are important for the understanding Neanderthal societies in the French S/W: the Grotte Néron and the Moula-Guercy cave:

The Grotte Néron was discovered by the Vicomte Lepic and Mr. Jules de Lubac in 1870. In 1955, Jean Combier had defined Levallois points with inverse retouches, found in the Mousterian deposits at Néron, as “pointe de Soyons” (Fig. 2&3). Quina ensembles are stratigraphically situated below the “Neronien”, already described by Combier.

The Moula-Guercy cave, below the cave of Néron, contains an important stratigraphic sequence attributed to the Mousterian, of Middle and Upper Pleistocene age. It was discovered in 1972 by Michel Moula during a hunting party. This deposit, untouched by any previous excavations, was the object of planned excavations carried out since 1972 to 2002.

The more recent excavations yielded a total of 2595 lithic artefacts from 11 layers. The vast majority of the lithics, 92.3%, were found in four layers (IV [late MIS4/3 boundary], VIII [MIS4), XIV and XV). The lithics of layers IV and VIII are technologically and typologically distinct from those of XIV and XV [MIS5e].  The débitage belongs to the Levallois/discoidal technology. Over 30% of the lithic materials have been identified to comefrom ca 40 km south of the Rhône River between the municipalities of Meysse and Rochemaure, which contains high quality flint.

Layer XV, representing a temperate optimum (MIS 5e), yielded over a hundred Neanderthal remains with evidence of cannibalism on six specimens. According to  faunal analysis Layer XV appears to correspond to a summer or autumn hunting halt.

The Trou du Renard cave was discovered by Vicomté Lepic and Monsieur Jules de Lubac in 1870. They found Quina artifacts. The other caves in the Massif de Guercy are mainly known for their faunal material.

The late Middle Paleolithic of the Rhone valley between the 50th and 35th millennia BP shows specific traits, different from the “classic” succession in the Aquitaine.

It was Jean Combier (1967), who pointed to a Leptolithic industry, later called Neronien by Ludovic Slimak.  The reference site for this industry is the Grotte Mandrin, 100 km North-West from Soyons and left to the Rhone valley.

At Mandrin the Neronian is located at the base of the sequence underneath five Mousterian post-Neronian layers followed by a Protoaurignacian, the earliest Upper Paleolithic in this Region. The Neronian is not the latest Middle Palaeolithic in the Rhone region, the post-Neronian industry do not show any evolution into a Leptolithic industry. Therefore the first appearance of the Upper Palaeolithic in Southern France must be regarded as an implanted process maybe connected with the arrival of AMHs.

The Neronian is characterized by the production of fakes together with blades and bladelets. The blade component is inversely retouched into retouched blades, points and micro points. The flakes were transformed into scrapers with some “Rhodanian” characteristics.

At the Abri Maras, Combier found within a Middle Paleolithic sequence, a gradual increase in the number of Levallois points with a semi-abrupt inverse retouch in the upper layers. These “Soyons Points” (Fig. 2&3), are an exclusive “fossile directeur” of the Neronian, not found in any other Paleolithic entity in Europe. Similar findings are known from the Abri Moula , the Grotte de Néron and the Grotte du Figuier.

The Neronian level (ca 50 k.a.) of Grotte Mandrin is characterized by an enormous sample of almost microlithic Levallois points.  Fig. 4 shows similar microlithic levallois points from Israel. At Mandrin in 80% of these small Levallois points, the thickness varies by less than 3 mm, with a thickness of between 2 and 5 mm, and with a width of between 16 and 25 mm for 60% of them. An impactological study of the Mandrin E points reveals that at least 15.5% of them were used as weapons, maybe indicative of an early bow and arrow technology Fig. 3).

In general the Neronian used high quality raw materials and exploited larger territories than the post-Neronian Middle Palaeolithic groups or the Protoaurignacian that followed. This indicates a different a social organization and different lifestyles of these entities. The lower stratum of the post-Neronian is characterized by the production of small flakes, produced by local raw materials and Kombewa technique. The following 4 strata represent the final Mousterian at the Middle Rhone. The operational sequences are orientated to the production of large flakes, massive implements, especially large scrapers- similar to the one shown in this post.

Suggested Readings: 

MSA from Shambyu / Rundu

The Neronian in the Rhone Valley

Neanderthals in the Upper Loire River Valley

Quina scrapers from the Carrière Chaumette



Soyons and the Massif de Guercy (Postcard from the early 20th century)


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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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