Bifacial Scraper from Montguillain / Goincourt (Oise)


This is a 9 cm long excellent bifacial scraper from Montguillain (Oise), found during the 19th century. A very similar artifact can be found in F Bordes` Typologie du Paléolithique ancien et moyen.

Gabriel De Mortillet’s 1873  described several locations, that he thought to be characteristic for the Mousterian, among them the multilayered site of Montguillain (Oise). Together with other sites, which were early recognized in the 19th century by their abundant material and eye-catching artifacts, such as:

  • Le Moustier (“Moustiers”; Dordogne), 
  • Chez Pourré-Chez Comte” (Corrèze)
  • Grotte de Néron (Soyons; Ardèche)     
  • Grotte abri de l’Ermitage, Lussac-les-Châteaux (Vienne)
  • Chez Pourré-Chez Comte” (Corrèze)
  • Grenelle and Levallois-Perret (Paris).

tools from Montguillain  found their way into  important Museums (such as the Musée d’Archéologie nationale at Saint-Germain-en-Laye and the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington). Artifacts from  Montguillain are displayed in important textbooks (Mortillet’s Musée préhistorique and  Bordes’ Typologie du Paléolithique ancien et moyen). Of course some of them cumulated in the collections of early collectors.

In his book: “Le préhistorique: Antiquité de l’homme” G. de Mortillet gave the first (and last) account about the material from Montguillain. He wrote:

“Dans la vallée de l’Oise, une localité célèbre qui a donné de très belles pièces, avec une magnifique patine toute particulière, est la ballastière de Montguillain à Goincourt (Oise). Les silex moustériens y abondent : racloirs, pointes, types Levallois, scies, lames, nucléus et percuteurs ; industrie complète. Mais il y a certainement divers niveaux dans cette ballastière. On y trouve d’assez nombreux instruments chelléens. La belle collection Baudon, à Mouy, en contient depuis 51 millimètres jusqu’à 318 millimètres de long. On y rencontre aussi des lames et grattoirs qui doivent être rapportés au magdalénien, et même quelques grattoirs et pointes de flèche du robenhausien. Malheureusement cet important gisement a été exploité par de simples ouvriers, sans qu’on l’ait jamais étudié sérieusement”.- this remains unfortunately true till now…..

Bifacial scrapers are components of the European Middle Paleolithic  and incorporated into different systems- especially into the Quina system in S/W-France (Fig.2) , the Quina Mousterian of the Rhone Valley, the bifacial Mousterian of N/W- France and the Keilmessergruppen (KMG) of Central and East Europe.

Most classic “Mousterian” assemblages, both in western and central Europe, are characterised by a almost completely lack of bifacial tools. In some assemblages bifacial scrapers or handaxes may be present, but never in large number (Gouzeaucourt layer G;  MIS8). Only from MIS5 onwards, in the MTA, are handaxes and other bifacial tools more common . The MTA handaxes are thin, symmetric and (sub)cordiform or (sub)triangular in shape . Several regional MTA variants can be recognised represented by cordiform handaxes in southwestern France, triangular handaxes in northern France  and bout-coupé handaxes in England. Furthermore a rich bifacial Mousterian with small handaxes is recognised in western Europe. In the  latter bifacial scrapers are rather common (Saint-Brice-sous-Rânes, la “Bruyère” (Orne), Saint-Julien de la Liègue (Eure)).(http://www.aggsbach.de/2010/08/the-mousterien-a-pieces-bifaciales-dominantes/).

In contrast to the Mousterian, which almost totally lacks bifacial elements, a high occurrence of bifacial tools is the defining character of the Keilmessergruppen (KMG). In general the KMG “type fossils” are Keilmesser (asymmetric bifacial backed scraper-knives) together with Faustkeilblätter (artefacts with a finely retouched point, blunt base and one face which is flat and covering retouched), Halbkeile (elongated unifaces with a D-shaped cross-section) and Fäustel (small bifaces (<6cm) ). These bifacial elements are most often asymmetric. Besides handaxes, bifacial scrapers and leaf-shaped bifacial scrapers (Figure 3: from the Lichtenberg site; MIS3)are also very common whilst leaf points only appear sporadically.

Most of the KMG sites of central Europe were excavated long ago and lack high resolution data (except data from the Sesselfelsgrotte,  the Kulna cave and from recent excavations from Poland). In contrast, sites on the Crimean Peninsula  and northern Caucasus, excavated more recently give a much more differentiated picture of this  technocomplex.

The Eastern KMG assemblages of the Northwestern Caucasus and the Crimean Peninsula, excavated and analyzed during the last 25 years were widespread in these regions in the time range from late MIS 5/MIS 4 through MIS 3, from ~90 to 40 ka BP. Many studies indicate that local Neanderthal groups were well adapted to various local environments, including cold and dry steppes, upper mountain wood zone, forest-steppes with mid-mountain woods, and broad-leaf woods . During this long period, the local Neanderthal population preserved a strict lineage of socially transmitted behaviour related to manufacturing of bifacial scraper-knives.

At Kabazi V, a site on the Crimean Peninsula with interstrartifications of Levallois-Mousterian and KMG strata, the dynamic transformation of the shape of bifacial tools, and therefore their typological definitions was reconstructed. Bifacial Leaf-shaped bifacial scrapers where the second common artifacts in some KMG-strata. Some of them look very similar to the one example shown in this post. After production, which could start with a reworked bifacial knife of small handaxe, the were used, mainly for butchering and reutilized after they were broken in the course of production and/or exploitation and this transformation resulted in important changes of the initial typological structure of tool-kits.

In other words, the categories of handaxes, KMGs, partial bifaces and bifacial scrapers are in fact inseparable parts of an underlying chaîne opératoire of biface manufacture and the typological results vary according to the precise social and economic circumstances of each technical act.

Bifacial scrapers are present in  Quina ensembles of S/W-France  but never in large number. Quina ensembles are usually dominated by single side-scrapers and transverse scrapers with typical Quina- type, stepped retouch. The function of large bifacial “scrapers” within the Quina system was recently studied at Chez-Pinaud Jonzac in the Charente- Maritime department of southwest France. What was particularly striking, however, about the scrapers was that many of them are made on bifacial blanks. Therefore these implements served as cores.

These data fit well with the results of Émilie Claude, who compared MTA bifaces with bifacial Quina scrapers:  MTA bifaces were often used as butchering instruments while bifacial Quina scrapers were mainly used as cores.

Handaxe from Le Bois-l’Abbé at Saint-Julien de la Liègue: Is the “Moustérien à petits bifaces dominants” an Archaeological Reality?

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