Kervouster: a large Mousterian Site in the Bretagne

 

ker vouster aggsbach

These are three typical bifaces from the Mousterian site at Kervouster (maximal length: 4,5 cm). There are two main stations in Brittany, assigned to an “MTA” made of fine grained Quartzite. 

Since their discovery during the 19th century they have yielded thousands of artifacts, which have regrettably dispersed over numerous collections, some of them lost forever during the WWII. Both sites extend over several hectares and are relatively imprecisely dated between MIS5-3.

The first site is the station of Bois-du-Rocher (Clos-Rouge; Département Côtes d’Armor), already introduced during an earlier post (http://www.aggsbach.de/2010/10/bifacial-tools-from-the-bois-du-rocher-site/). The second is situated in Finistère, near Quimper, a place called Ker Vouster (or: Kervouster; commune de Guengat).

The typological spectrum of these sites, meet the definition of the “Moustérien à pièces bifaciales dominantes” (Mousterian with bifacial tools [MBT]), characterized by the generalized application of a bifacial retouch on the majority of blanks. The  ensemble resembles the artifactual spectrum of the “Le Bois-l’Abbé at Saint-Julien de la Liègue” site (http://www.aggsbach.de/2014/05/handaxe-from-le-bois-labbe-at-saint-julien-de-la-liegue-is-there-a-reality-for-the-mousterien-a-petits-bifaces-dominants/).

At Kervouster, there are numerous very tiny (< 4 cm) bifacial tools, usually bifaces and partial bifaces of ovate, discoid, cordiform and subtriangular shape. Compared with the Bois-du-Rocher material, the artifacts are much more refined, which may be solely the result of a finer grained raw material. 

Interestingly the artifactual spectrum of this multilayered site does not change over a considerable time span of certainly several thousand years. A very similar Mousterian is known from Traisseny, but here the bifaces were mainly made of chert, indicating the marginal role of raw materials on the knapping conception.

Without knowing the context, an Africanist would call such “handaxes”- “MSA-points” and people working on the Paleolithic of Central Europe would call them perhaps “Faustkeilblatt”, “Blattform” or “Fäustel” and assign them to an Middle European Micoquian. These inconsistencies say a lot about the “precision” of Archeological terminology and the shortcomings of a typological approach.

A nice web page with more artifacts from the site: 

http://willy.anne.pagesperso-orange.fr/prehistoire/kervouster.htm

Posted in Plaeolithics and Neolithics | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Chopping Tool” from Israel

chopping tool aggsbachThe Oldowan Industrial Complex is characterized by simple core forms, usually made on cobbles or chunks, the resultant debitage (flakes, broken flakes, and other fragments) struck from these cores, and the battered percussors (spheroids) used to produce the flaking blows.The materials of the tools were for the most part quartz, quartzite, basalt, or obsidian, and later flint and chert. Experiments have shown that the entire range of Oldowan forms can be produced by hard-hammer percussion, flaking against a stationary anvil, bipolar technique, and, occasionally, throwing one rock against another. Sharp flakes were obtained by various methods, some of which indicate that as early as 2.5 million years hominins had developed knapping skills and manual dexterities that allowed them to organize and predetermine the knapping and produce longer sequences of flaking. The typological categories commonly applied to Oldowan cores ( “heavy-duty tools,” ) can be viewed as a continuum of lithic reduction with the intent of producing sharp-edge cutting and chopping tools . In this view, many of the cores and so-called “core tools’ found in Oldowan assemblages may not have been deliberately shaped into a certain form in order to be used for some purpose; rather their shapes may have emerged as a byproduct of producing sharp cutting flake . Although usually rare, another element at many Oldowan sites is the category of retouched pieces, normally flakes or flake fragments that have been subsequently chipped along one or more edges. It has been argued that much of Oldowan technology can be viewed as a least-effort system for the production of sharp cutting and chopping edges by the hominin tool-makers, and that much of the observed variability between sites is a function of the quality, flaking properties, size, and shape of the raw materials that were available in a given site.

Although technically well developed, conceptually these industries more often represent simple two stage operational schemes consisting of raw material acquisition followed by detachment of the flakes. If modern excavation methods are used in the evaluation of Olduvan sites with undisturbed material, longer, more complex sequences have been recorded.

Secondary flake knapping was recorded at the Early Pleistocene site of Bizat Ruhama, Israel, dated to 1.6-1.2 Ma on the basis of bio chronological and paleo magnetic considerations, indicating that Oldowan hominins employed more complex operational schemes than previously suggested.  Interestingly the sequences of knapping were very similar to those at  the much later Middle Pleistocene site of Isernia La Pineta in Italy, where small flakes and were produced during bipolar  napping of tabular flint nodules and flakes. Some Cores and flakes from Erq-el-Ahmar, Israel may be typologically “Oldowan” but are essentially undated. The artifact shown in this post is a surface find from a larger Acheulian scatter and may be essentially also of Acheulian origin. Chopping tools in Israel have been detected until the Yabroudian and even in some Mousterian sites.

The term Oldowan has also been used for early sites, such as at Ubeidiya, dated to 1, 4 million years ago in Israel at the northern edge of the rift valley. The multilayered site consists of concentrations of stone artifacts such as handaxes, Trihedrals and  picks, Choppers and Chopping tools (cores), and flake-tools. Actually Ubeidiya is classified as Acheulian.

The oldest traces of human settlements in a nearby area to Israel are present in the bottom layers of Hummal in Syria showing an Oldowan assemblage of flakes and pebble-tools / cores in association with numerous animal remains, traces of very old human migrations through the Syrian desert steppe. Although absolute dates are missing for the moment, this ensemble is certainly of an age > 1mya.

Further to the North, at Dmanisi in the Republic of Georgia Oldowan tools were associated with human remains at about 1, 8 million years ago at the crossroads from the “Levantine corridor” to Asia and Europe. These remains are as old as the oldest Homo erectus (“Homo rudofensis”) fossils in Africa at Koobi Fora or West Turkana. To date, five hominid fossils, thousands of extinct animal bones and bone fragments and over 1,000 stone tools have been found, buried in about 4, 5 meters of alluvium. The stratigraphy of the site indicates that the hominid and vertebrate remains, and the stone tools, were in a secondary association. As always in paleoanthropology the debates between “lumpers” and “splitters” are ongoing.

The proponents of the discussion suggest that these human remains belong either to Homo habilis or to the Homo erectus clade. Others discuss the differences between the Dmanisi sculls as a high intra-species variation of Homo erectus. Some researchers claim that the variation of the sculls implicates that the earliest Homo species – Homo habilis, Homo rudofensis and so forth – actually belonged to the same species. Others still insist that these specimens should be assigned to a separate species: “Homo Georgicus”. Lacking genetic data from such early hominids, I suggest that the discussion will not be settled during the next decade.

Posted in Plaeolithics and Neolithics | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

In the Farthest Corner of Nowhere: End of Subscription of Aggsbach’s Blog, Paleolithique

pech de l aze aggsbchSubscribing Aggsbach’s Blog is not possible any more-because thousands of “Avatars” and spamming persons subscribed the blog and their number was exponentially increasing over time. I have no idea if such people would use my limited place on the server for spam attacks. As a consequence, I have deleted all mails addresses from subscribers. Those who want to send a message will already know how to get in touch with me…

Sadly enough, the number of destructive persons seems to be always significantly higher than the number of authentic followers of this remote blog.

Just for your pleasure: A “classic” Acheulian handaxe found in the 19th century at Combe Grenal in the Dordogne- a nice contradiction against the construct  of an “Acheuleen Meridional” . By the way this is not the only ” classical” biface from this site- another can be found in the 2000 edition of the “Encycopedia of Human Evolution” in the Acheulean article……

(http://www.aggsbach.de/2010/08/bifaces-from-the-acheuleen-meridional-of-sw-france/)

Posted in Plaeolithics and Neolithics | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Large Cutting Tools at Isimila

isimila aggsbachThis is a large, perfect, “six-hit”- cleaver from Isimila / Tansania made of  Mylonite, a cataclastic microcrystalline rock with a finely divided quartz groundmass of various types and colors (Howell et al. 1962, 64). The Isimila mylonite has good knapping qualities. The best outcrops of this acidic-volcanic-metamorphic rock are found 4–5 miles west of Isimila, but the formation itself can be traced closer to the site.

Isimila  is situated 21 km from the town of Iringa in the southern highlands of Tanzania  and is situated about 1631 m Elevation above Sea Level. D. A. Maclennan (South Africa) discovered the site in 1951 during a car journey from Nairobi to Johannesburg. F. C. Howell, M. R. Kleindienst and G. C. Cole excavated the site for a total of 7 months during 1957–58. An additional season of excavation, directed by Hansen and Keller, took place in 1969, and a small-scale excavation was undertaken by Kleindienst in 1970 (http://www.aggsbach.de/2013/06/a-handaxe-from-isimila/).

The Isimila stream runs through a small valley that  was created by tectonic movement. During the Pleistocene the outlet of the basin was  partially blocked, creating an elongated body of water. This body comprised a combination of marshes and small ponds, sometimes with an overflow. The basin was filled by alternating bands of fine, level-bedded gray-green clay and coarser sandy sediments, which Pickering named ‘Isimila beds’ The depth of the sediments is more than 18 m, and the excavators estimated them to have accumulated over a ‘few  thousand years at most’ (Howell 1961; Howell et al. 1962).

Five distinct beds of coarser sands were identified in the Isimila beds,  separated by layers of finer silty clay sediments.  The main “living floors” and the largest quantities of artifacts originate in the upper layers.  As most artifacts are in mint condition and no evidence of water or other means of transport has been observed, it has been suggested that differences in artifact distribution within the sediments of the various sites should be attributed to human activity. It is still worth while to read the passages of Binfords “Bones: Ancient Men and Modern Myths” about the problems reconstructing ancient landscapes at the Isimila site.

ciidfjddThe short duration of the Isimila bed’s sedimentation process, estimated to be a few thousand years, should be emphasized (Howell et al. 1962), although Hansen and Keller  (1971) have questioned this interpretation. More study is required before a definitive answer can be reached. Typological comparisons with the Late Acheulian assemblages of Olorgesaillie and Kalambo Falls have led Kleindienst to define Isimila as being younger than both (Howell and Clark 1963). Uranium series dating of bones from Sand 4 have yielded a date of 260 k.a. (+40–70 k.a.) but these dates are only a rough estimate. Many scholars feel that Isimila could well be 400 k.a. old. On the other hand late in-situ Acheulian sites with typical LCTs were recently excavated in the Mieso valley in East-Central Ethiopia and radiometrically dated to 212 k.a. The sites are much later than the start of  the MSA in the Etiopian rift valley, beginning more than 60 k.a. earlier! (Gademotta (ETH-72-8B before 276±4 k.a BP; ETH-72-6 after 183±10 k.a BP); (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0047248414001559).

The earliest Acheulian in East Africa is dated to ca 1.75 million years ago  and is well  documented at Kokiselei in Kenya, and at Konso in Ethiopia.Even the earliest assemblages from the  Konso sites consist of ‘large cutting tools’  (LCTs) including unifacially and bifacially shaped handaxes  and picks, as well as Mode I (Oldowan) cores, and débitage. Although technologically similar, at  Konso a majority of the bifaces were made on flake blanks, whereas at Gona they were made  equally on cobbles as well as large flakes (>10 cm).

The Acheulian the East African Rift valley, which persisted for over one and a half million years, is attested in diverse environments and over wide geographical expanses. The hallmark of many Acheulian sites in this region is its LCTs, made from “giant cores” primarily handaxes and cleavers.  This mode of production was first recognized by Isaac during the 1960ies.

LCTs very likely emerged in East Africa but have been reported from a wide range of areas, spanning South Africa, Israel (GBY), the Caucasus Region, Eastern Georgia to India (and even beyond the Movius line) to the Iberian Peninsula and Southern France. It is only in Europe north of the Pyrenees and the Garonne valley that a substantial Acheulian presence not accompanied by LFB industries is present. Sharon recently compared  assemblages from geographically diverse sites characterized by the production of  LCTs based on large flakes (defined arbitrary as flakes over 10 cm in maximal diameter) in an attempt to assess their technological,  morphological, and typological suitability for grouping together as a common stage within  the Acheulian techno-complex.

Different techniques of flake (blank) removal from larger clasts are described from the LCD Acheulian. These include bifacial and sliced slab method from giant cores, éclat entame (cobble opening flake), Tabelbala-Tachenghit techniques, Kombewa methods and the Victoria West technique. It is a striking and humbling fact that we still do not know precisely when certain technological milestones and cognitive horizons were first reached.

Sharon noted that there appears to have been a shift from non-LFB industries to LFB industries at ca 800 k.a. and then back to non-LFB or cleaver-less at 500 k.a. Given the insufficient chronological control of many African sites this seems to be somewhat hasty conclusion, regarding the early age of Konso and the late age for Isimila or Calambo Falls. There are several non-LCD ensembles from early middle Pleistocene contextes in East Africa (for example at Melka Kunture). In addition, other regions, such as India, have cleavers that were produced along with broad-tipped handaxes at 500 k.a. and later. The Nile Valley and the Oases in the western Sahara seem to have their own trajectories towards the Acheulian.

The Acheulian culture was originally defined and categorized in accordance with finds from W-Europe, which comprise many  types of handaxes, produced almost exclusively from flint nodules and river cobbles. In the next stage of research, an alternative view of the earliest phases of human culture was established in South Africa (Goodwin and van Riet Lowe 1929), but it too was strongly influenced by European views (Breuil 1930). It comes without surprise that the special features of the African Acheulian came in focus only after the WW II when Africanists began to work with this culture from a post colonialist and anti-Eurocentric view (http://www.southerncape.co.za/history/people/sacsa.php).

Posted in Plaeolithics and Neolithics | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Subtriangular Handaxe from the Loiret

loiret aggsbach

This is a very flat typical MTA handaxe from the Loiret (9,0×4,5×0,4 mm) found near Orleans in the Loiret (central France). It is a good example of the MTA method of shaping bifaces, described by Soressi. Such handaxes were produced by the shaping with a soft hammer of a bi-convex transversal section, which may become plan-convex during repeated renovation. This principle is known both from the N- France and S/W France ensembles. The removals that create the artifacts are generally struck from the lateral sides of the rough out. In most of the cases, the retouch is not absolutely symmetric and often one edge is longer than the other (http://www.aggsbach.de/2010/10/mta-biface-from-beyssac-near-les-eyzies/).

The preceding Acheulian in the Loire valley around Orleans is well developed and has many affinities to the Acheulian of the Indre and Loire region (http://www.aggsbach.de/2011/12/loiret/). Acheulian handaxes were found in abundance on the plateau of Briare and Gien and in the sandpits of Châteauneuf-sur-Loire and Saint-Denis-de-Hotel. The two most beautiful bifaces I personally know were already found during the 19th century at Châteauneuf-sur-Loire and Chécy and measure 25 cm and 19 cm respectively. Surface finds are known from the municipalities of Nevoy, Ouzouer-sur-Loire, Bray-en-Val, Saint-Aignan-des-Fords, Saint-Martin-d’Abbat and Germigny-des-Prés Mardie. For sure, well stratified Archaeological sequences, known from other very old sites elswhere in the Loire valley, are still awaiting excavation (http://www.aggsbach.de/2013/07/cleaver-from-mazieres-creuse/).

A rich Mousterian deposit was discovered in 1922 by A. Chevillon at the Garenne site near Triguères. Unfortunately we lack of any new publication about the material, which has never adequately described. Its attribution to an MTA is more than dubious. Anyhow, surface finds with cordiform, subtriangular and triangular bifaces can be typologically securely assigned to the MTA of N-France and may date to a timeframe between OIS5 and OIS3.

 

Posted in Plaeolithics and Neolithics | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Double Patination and Recycling during the Paleolithic

levallois

This is a Mousterian point with a double patina from a multilayered Levantine Mousterian site. While the initial knapper produced a broad Levallois point with a fine faceted base, which was later discarded, several hundred or thousand years later, another knapper used the blank for heavily edge retouch, nowadays recognized by a clearly more “fresh” appearance of its patination. The product is a perfect Mousterian point, suggesting that both individuals may have shared a common social tradition of making and resharpening stone tools.  

The recycling of discarded artefacts is a common stone provisioning strategy in the ethnographic record and may have been more common in the past than usually acknowledged. In archaeological studies its importance is probably heavily underestimated, as it is only clearly visible when enough time has elapsed between initial discard and subsequent recycling for the formation of a double patina. Unfortunately it is usually not possible to calculate the time span between the creations of the first, second or even third generations of patina.

Flakes produced during knapping by one individual may have been selected for use or transport by individuals other than the initial knappers. This could include other members of the same social group, members of other social groups, or individuals separated from the original knapping events by vast spans of time. Such “lithic scavenging’” is very common in multi-layered rock shelter sites in Europe. Whether this “scavenging” was the result of laziness, optimized time economy, or a behavior of incoming groups unfamiliar with the raw material resources of new territories, remains broadly unknown. Double patination could even be sometimes the indication for intergroup gifting and exchange. One of the first Prehistorians, who systematically reported artifacts with double patination, was the physician and excavator of La Quina, Henri Martin.

In Africa double patination has been occasional reported from Acheulian material (for example from the Libyan desert).

In the Near East double patination has been contested in the Yabroudian at Yabrud and Hummal, and during the Hummalian, as well as during the following local Levallois-Mousterian (for example from Meyrouba and Mechmiche in the Lebanon).

Double patination on stone tools in Europe are present as early as during OIS 11 (High Lodge) and during OIS 7 (Maastricht- Belvedère Site K assemblage) and in several large middle Paleolithic multilayered sites in S/W-France during the last glacial, such as at La Quina (Charente), Roc de Marsal, Combe Grenal, Le Moustier (Dordogne) and at the Middle Palaeolithic rock shelter of Abric Romaní (Spain).

It has recently reported, that at the  Kebara and Hayonim cave sites in Israel,  the makers of the Aurignacian made use of flint blanks from the Levallois-Mousterian layers, which were at least 10 k.a. older. Upper Palaeolithic morphotypes were modified either on Mousterian tools or Mousterian blanks produced by the Levallois technique.In the Aurignacian assemblage of Layer III  at Raqefet Cave, heavily patinated Levallois and non- Levallois middle Paleolithic y flakes were used as tool blanks, too.

Observations of recycling were made in the Aurignacian strata of the Sefunim and at Skar Akil, but only in strata VII- XI, which are typologically near to the Aurignacian tradition. Interestingly recycling during the Ahmarian was nearly absent.

The Aurignacian in the Levant is suggested to be an intrusive technocomplex and therefore the following suggestion is not without charm: “Thus, trying to explain the recycling of older pieces in the Levantine Aurignacian assemblages, one wonders whether this had to do with the fact that these were incoming foreigners who upon arrival, and before getting acquainted with local hard rock resources, used older pieces for tool making” (Belfer-Cohen & O. Bar-Yosef 2014).

 

Posted in Plaeolithics and Neolithics | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Yarmukian Sickles

 

yarmouk aggsbachThe Yarmukian culture (6,4-5,8 k.a. BC) was first distinguished in the late 1940s by M. Stekelis, at the site of Sha’ar Hagolan in the central Jordan Valley. Yarmukian Sickles together with distinct subtypes of  Byblos- and Amuq- and the appearance of  small Haparsa- and Herzliya-projectil points are characteristic for this complex.

In addition, the Yarmukian was one of the oldest culture in the Levant to make use of pottery. Yarmoukian houses were less  standardized than earlier ones, ranging from simple pit-houses to rectilinear houses with one or two spacious rooms and  sometimes smaller storage chambers. At Sha’ar Hagolan, sets  of rooms are arranged around courtyards and streets and alleys  separate the house compounds from one another. These  compounds are candidates for having housed larger social units, such as extended families. Besides the site at Sha’ar HaGolan, some 20 other Yarmukian sites have been identified in Israel, Jordan and Lebanon. These include:

  • Tel Megiddo (Israel)
  • Ain Ghazal (Jordan)
  • Munhata (Israel)
  • Tel Qishion (Israel)
  • Hamadiya (Israel)
  • Ain Rahub (Jordan)
  • Abu Tawwab (Jordan)
  • Atlit Yam (Israel)
  • Wadi Shu’eib (Jordan)
  • Nahal Qanah Cave
  • Nahal Zehora II
  • Rehov Habashan
  • Tell as-Saidiyeh

Although the Yarmukian culture occupied a limited region, Yarmukian pottery has been found outside this core area, including the Habashan Street excavations in Tel-Aviv and as far north as Byblos, Lebanon.

Settlement patterns are divided into two broad categories – core areas and marginal areas, an over-simplification which, however, is useful for summarizing the data. The best known site is Ain Ghazal in Jordan.  Other sites that may date to this time are Atlit Yam and Tel Ramad. Marginal areas are represented by Sinai, Negev and eastern Jordan where the environment was, for the most part, steppic or desert, apart from the central oasis of the Azraq Basin.  In these more marginal zones “Prehistoric human settlement is believed to have been temporary and seasonal, distinct from that in the lusher Levantine highlands or Jordan Valley, where large, permanently occupied early Neolithic sites are found” (Martin and Garrard 1999).

During excavations at Sha’ar HaGolan, large courtyard houses were uncovered, ranging between 250 and 700 m² in area, indicated a well structured and rich society. The courtyard house makes its first appearance at Sha’ar HaGolan, giving the site a special significance in architectural history. This is an architectural concept still found among traditional Mediterranean societies. Monumental construction on this scale is unknown elsewhere during this period. The houses consist of a central courtyard surrounded by several small rooms. The houses were separated by streets, which constitute evidence of advanced community planning. The dig uncovered a central street about 3 m wide, paved with pebbles set in mud, and a narrow winding alley 1 m wide. These are the earliest streets discovered in Israel and among the earliest streets built by man. A 4.15 m well dug to the local water table indicates knowledge of hydraulics. Exotic objects discovered during the excavations include sea shells from the Mediterranean, polished stone vessels made of alabaster, and blades made from obsidian from Anatolian sources. The presence of obsidian points to trade connections extending over 700 km.

Ba’ja, in the Petra mountains, was only inhabited in the Late PPNB.  By this time goat, sheep and pig had been domesticated elsewhere in the Levant.  Results in the semi-desert environment of the southern Levant are consistent with what would be expected in a marginal zone at this time:

  • Some wild goat and gazelle
  • Wild hare, hyraxes, donkey, leopard, fox and other carnivores
  • 90% domesticated small ruminants, with goat dominant
  • Some Bos bones, but uncertain whether domesticated or not

The best known PPNC site from the core area is Ain Ghazal in Jordan, where a distinctive level was found beneath a layer containing the Pottery Neolithic Yarmukian industry and above a PPNB layer.  It covered 13 hectares at around 6750 BC.  Large shaped clay tablets were used, hinting at an administration system which was simply unprecedented for this time period.  There are some signs that the settlement survived general local collapse by changing its subsistence strategy.  A number of sites in the area were abandoned at this time, and infant mortality at Ain Ghazal rose.  Volumes of domesticated goat and legumes increase.  The excavators see this phase as representing a response to increasing stresses in the environment caused by a combination of climatic change and human over-exploitation of the environment.  The growth of the site against this background is suggested to be due to successful changes in the subsistence strategy which involved increasing the pastoral component of the economy at the expense of cereal exploitation.

Ain Ghazal is renowned for a set of anthropomorphic statues found buried in pits in the vicinity of some special buildings that may have had ritual functions. These statues are half-size human figures modeled in white plaster around a core of bundled twigs. The figures have painted clothes, hair, and in some cases, ornamental tattoos or body paint. The eyes are created using cowrie shells with a bitumen pupil. In all, 32 of those plaster figures were found in two caches, 15 of them full figures, 15 busts, and 2 fragmentary heads. Three of the busts were two-headed, the significance of the two headed statues is not clearhttp://www.farhorizons.com/trips/MiddleEastandArabia/GrandeurofPetra/images/AinGhazalstatues.jpg).

Gopher and Gophna suggest that Atlit Yam and similar layers at Tel Ramad may also represent local adaptations to new conditions.  At Atlit Yam, for example, a heavy reliance on marine resources is clear, supplementing both cultivation and hunting.  At Atlit, a stone semicircle, containing seven 600-kilogram megaliths, has recently been found. The stones have cup marks carved into them and are arranged around a freshwater spring, which suggests that they may have been used for ritual (http://www.zed.fr/tv/distribution/videos/182/the-mystery-of-atlit-yam/).

Very few large sites survived into the Pottery Neolithic.  Bellwood  suggests that Beidha shows similar stress – it was occupied into the PPNC and then abandoned.  Abu Hureyra halved in size. There was less abandonment of settled areas in the northern Levant than elsewhere.

Posted in Plaeolithics and Neolithics | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Synchronisation of Handaxe shapes on a global scale?

allonne aggsbach

This is a “Biface de type micoquien” typologically in transition to a  “Biface lageniforme” according to Bordes` typology,  made by a typical trifacial concept of  façonnage, found during the early 20th century in the important Briqueterie d’Allonne (Oise) in Northern France (http://www.aggsbach.de/2013/06/before-combe-grenal-the-early-scientific-work-of-f-bordes-and-the-allonne-brickyards/).

Micoquian Handaxes can be symmetric or slightly asymmetric. They have a massive, often only coarsely or unworked base, slightly pronounced concave outlines and an elaborated tip. At La Micoque the handaxes often follow a trifacial concept.  (http://www.aggsbach.de/2013/07/micoquian-bifaces/).

In France, such handaxes are known from the upper strata at La Micoque (Dordogne; maybe 250-300 k.a. old) and from the upper Acheulian in the loess belt of Northern France (MIS 8/7). Although some Micoquian handaxe are known from the “Keilmesser” groups, they are not an integral part of the “Middle European Micoquian”  sensu strictu.

The  Acheulian has been dated to the first part of the Middle Pleistocene in western Europe (mainly MIS 16 to 9; 600-300 k.a.), with some ensembles dating as late as MIS 8/7 ( 300-200 k.a.); (http://www.aggsbach.de/2014/06/handaxe-from-montieres-and-the-diversification-of-the-paleolithic-in-n-france-during-mis-8/). In Western Europe more structured flaking (débitage) techniques such as the Levallois concept emerge only after MIS 9/8. The famous “Atelier Commont” in Amiens (early OIS8) can be described as a non-Levallois Middle Paleolithic industry with some handaxes, while at other sites the Levallois technique was more abundant. 

The term “Acheulian” was originally coined by G. de Mortillet (1872) to describe the industries from the Middle Terrace of the Somme Valley in northern France. Today the term denotes a large variety of tools, occurring over 1.7 million years on several continents. The link between the numerous occurrences of the Acheulian is solely the handaxe, an entity which is defined technologically and by a façonnage chaîne opératoire. There are certain doubts if the handaxes of Europe were introduced by the humans that entered Europe “Out of Africa” during the Late Early Pleistocene. The handaxe industries of Europe could be an independent innovation.

The same could be suggested for the “Micoquian” shape of handaxes, although such artifacts are certainly a “late” phenomenon during the Acheulian on a global scale. In the Levant, Micoquian bifaces appeared in the Archeological record during the late local Acheulian, which disappeared at about 400 k.a. BP and during the Yabroudian (400-200 k.a.). The Nubian Micoquian bifaces seem to be within this time span. Other African Micoquian handaxes seem to be dated to the middle part of the Middle Pleistocene.

Earlier research concluded that there was a continent wide interdependency of certain handaxe shapes between Europe, South East Asia and Africa. Regarding the important geographical and geochronological gaps and the diversified technological components of “Micoquian”  handaxes this seems to be highly questionable.

Black Basalt Handaxe

Large Acheulian Handaxe from S-Italy

Handaxe from the “Mousterien Chaud” at Montières and the diversification of the Paleolithic in N-France during MIS 8

Large Cutting Tools at Isimila

Posted in Plaeolithics and Neolithics | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Serrated tool from the Fontmaure site

 

 

aggsbach-fontmaure-neo-357x1024

Serrated blades and bladelets first appeared during the Pavlovian and to a lesser exted during the Gravettian of France. Lartet in the 1860ies already noted that the tiny “Magdalenian saws” may have been used for the production of ivory needles at La Madeleine and Bruniquel. Serration is a common feature and one of the the “fossile directeurs” of the late Magdalenian, especially in S/W-France.

Serrated blades and bladelets also became a  part of artifact ensembles during the Upper Paleolithic and the Epipaleolithic of North Africa and the Levant. Serration is a common feature on Neolithic / Early Bronze Age stone sickles over the old world. It has been shown experimentally with modern sickles that the sharpness of serrated sickles is more stable than non-serrated ones and that serration of sickles significantly reduces the work load of the harvester.

This is a serrated blade from the Fontmaure site (13,5 x 2,6 cm). The margin opposite to the serrated working edge shows some crude backing, that may indicate a hand hold use of the artifact, while the back is too thick (up to 2, 5 cm) to be inserted into a hafting device. Similar pieces are known from the „neolithique de tradition campignienne” in France. Like many of the larger pieces from Fontmaure, this artifact is made from the homogenous yellow jasper variant, while multicolored jasper was only used for smaller tools, because of its unfavorable knapping properties.

The Campignian was named for the site at Campigny, Haute-Normandie, France during the late 19th century. Campignian ensembles are characterized by picks and tranchets and large scrapers and are sometimes associated with pottery.

It was suggested for a long time that the Campignian represented a widespread European crude stone toolmaking “culture”, beginning during the Mesolithic, but developing in the Neolithic,  spreading throughout most of northern and central Europe and the British Isles.

Nowadays it has been recognized that different ensembles with crude implements appeared and disappeared most probably independently during different times at different places over the old world  (The “heavy Neolithic” in the Orontes valley in Lebanon, the “Ertebölle” complex in Northern Europe , the “Asturian” in Span and Portugal, Middle and Late Neolithic ensembles in France). In this view, the Campignian refers rather to a technique than to a “cultural” unit.

I have to admit that the “Campignian-connection” of the tool is not very convincing. I did not find a really parallel in the Campignian ensembles. Therefore another possibility arises: the artifact could be a fake.  Neolithic pieces from Fontmaure are notorious rare. There is no parallel among the thousand artifact known from the site to the tool of this post. The ad-hoc probability to have a unique tool in my small collection is low. People who know the materials from the site better than me, told me that this  type of jasper, when newly retouched has almost the same  patination as the old surfaces.

The blade itself looks typical for the Mousterian of Fontmaure. Most of these blades are said to be considerable thick. Many of them have a triangular cross-section and are backed. People who studied such blanks insist that they never noticed any serration on such blades. They also insist that such a backed serrated piece would be easy to make by pressure flaking on the edge and secondary polishing by soft wood and grasses.

Posted in Plaeolithics and Neolithics | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Mousterian Points in the Levant

levallois israel aggsbach1Mousterian points are defined as triangular flakes, made by Levallois or non-Levallois chaine operatoire, with extensively retouched lateral edges that are either straight or mildly convex in plain view converging to a sharp distal edge. The dividing line between a Mousterian point and a retouched Levallois point is not clearly demarcated. In practice with retouch extending along their lateral edges past the midpoint of the artifacts long axis are usually classified as Mousterian points.

Very thin Levallois points are not appropriate for secondary modification, as exemplified by the razor-sharp Levallois points and flakes from the upper Strata of Kebara cave (http://www.aggsbach.de/2012/01/razor-sharp/). A certain thickness is therefore a conditio sine qua non for the production of secondary modified Levallois points. Other variables that influence the modification of these items are raw material properties, duration of stay at the site and functional requirements.

During the early southern and central Levantine Middle Paleolithic (150-250 k.a. BP), Mousterien points are often elongated (“Tabun D”; “Abu Sif Knifes”; “Hummalian Points”), but non-elongated examples similar to the point displayed in this post, were also present. At Tabun D, only 11.3% of the blanks were modified by abrupt or scaled retouche. No differences among the four most common “diagnostic” blank types—blades, Levallois flakes, short Levallois points, and elongated Levallois points—in terms of the number of retouched edges were found.

During the later phases of the Levantine Mousterian, unretouched Levallois points fairly outnumber the retouched ones. As shown at Tabun, the with/thickness ratio increases from Tabun D to Tabun C/B, and as a consequence the possibility of a secondary modification decreases, but again other than purely technological constraints may have played a role in this process.

At Tabun, the changing /thickness ratios were suggested to be part of a larger “Mugharan tradition” between Tabun D and B (250-40 k.a), but the sequence at this site may not be as representative as initially thought. That Mousterian points may dominate the artifactual spectrum even later than Tabun D ensembles, was recently shown at  Nesher Ramla. The site presents evidence for human occupation or use during MIS 6/5 (190-70 k.a. BP; http://www.aggsbach.de/2014/02/retouched-tools-from-the-middle-paleolithic-in-israel/). In this context it is interesting, that at the (non dated) last Levallois-Mousterian strata at Yabrud the same phenomenon was present.

Posted in Plaeolithics and Neolithics | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment