Sophisticated Neanderthals

st meme aggsbach

This is a symmetric and well executed elongated cordiform biface (133 x 73 mm), produced by the use of hard and soft hammer technique, from the Saint-Même-les-Carrières site (

Expert performance via long-term working memory is the centerpiece of problem solving in Neanderthals. Long-term working memory is a long-term storage that does not fade rapidly and generally takes more trials to establish than for verbal or declarative memories. It consists of skills (whichis labeled savoir faire) or the ability to replay motor behaviors, techniques, or procedures such as stone tool knapping. It also includes the declarative knowledge of those skills (which is sometimes labeled connaissance). Long-term working memory is one prerequisite for enhanced social interaction and social transmission of different technologies in knapping stone, leading to the flexible discrete pattering of certain operational sequences in the archaeological record.

Innovative and experimental thinking was not confined to H.sapiens but is also contested in Neanderthals. Regarding Neanderthal behavior in the Aquitaine, Turq reports a change from unidirectional and bidirectional recurrent Levallois in pre-MIS5 assemblages to centripetal recurrent Levallois in Last Glacial sites. He also states that from MIS5, centripetal methods dominated alongside Kombewa and Quina flaking. According to Delagnes and Meignen, preferential Levallois is consistently older and commoner in the north than in southern France, and centripetal recurrent Levallois became dominant after MIS5. In Central Europe, on the other hand, bifacial tools, which are part of ensembles which display Levallois or more often non-Levallois characteristics, are omnipresent during the last glaciation.

Usually façonnage and debitage are considered as opposites, but in reality, both methods side by side can be observed in the archaeological record during the European Lower and Middle Paleolithic. Gilliane F. Monnier and Kele Missal recently stated (for Western Europe) that:  “Our results show that bifaces are not characteristic only of the “Acheulean” and the “Mousterian of Acheulean Tradition.” They occur continuously and in low frequencies across the European landscape from MIS 14 onwards”. In this view it is no surprise, that at Ferrassie, Handaxes are present during MIS5 and below the classic Ferrassie Mousterian, which is earlier than the MTA in the Aquitaine. The continuous presence of Handaxes in Northern France during the middle Paleolithic has also been demonstrated during the last 20 years.

Advanced working memory of Neanderthals enabled them to adapt their techniques to actual circumstances and needs as exemplified by the flexible use of different façonnage and debitage techniques that were always present in their social memory.

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Neanderthals in the Upper Loire River Valley




champ grand katzman quina

This is a convergent scraper (7×2,5×0,7 cm) made of local flint with a facetted platform indicating to a Levallois production system reworked by Quina retouches. Such a combination of technological traits is often found in the Mousterian sites in the Rhone valley.

La Champ Grand is located in the eastern Massif Central, 5 km upstream from Roanne in the Loire river valley. It is one of several open-air Palaeolithic sites at in the Villerest district. Other important sites nearby are Le Roche de la Caille, la Goutte-Roffat (a Magdalenian with 182 engraved schist plaquettes) the Vigne Brun site (early Gravettian) and the nearby Carriere Chaumette ( known as Notre Dame de Boisset) with a Mousterian ensemble. Initiated in 1979, the systematic excavation of large portions of the site was organized as a salvage operation aimed at collecting as much material and contextual information as possible before the site was submerged due to the construction of the Villerest dam in 1983.

The Champ Grand lithic production is characterized by discoidal and Levallois flake reduction strategies and the Quina Mousterian of this site is therefore somewhat different from the Quina production in S/W-France. In addition a well defined, albeit marginal prismatic core blade and bladelet productions is known to exist at Champ Grand. The blade and bladelet component is particularly interesting as prismatic blade production has long been considered a defining criterion of Upper Paleolithic lithic industries. According to Slimak, the comparison of the general dimensions of the blades and bladelets suggests that those two components were manufactured following two distinct sequences.

Production of bladelets has been securely identified in French Mousterian assemblages, e.g. at Combe Grenal (layers 30–29 and layers 16 and 14), Champ Grand and Grotte Mandrin, in Spain at sites such as El Castillo and Cueva Morin and at the MIS3 dated Salzgitter Lebenstaedt site in Northern Germany. All these assemblages belong to the final Mousterian, with the exception of Combe Grenal and Grotte Mandrin; at the latter site, a layer with blades, bladelets and microlithic points is overlain by five layers with flake-based Mousterian assemblages. At Combe Grenal layers 29–30 have an estimated age of late MIS 4, i.e. around 60 ka. Bladelets and bladelet cores are not abundant (5% of the assemblage at Combe Grenal layers 29–30), yet they show that Neanderthals, like late MSA humans and the makers of the Protoaurignacian, mastered the technology of bladelet production.

The Champ Grand features ten raw materials (1% of the assemblage, but numbering 568 artifacts) that were found to originate from sources >80km distant in several different directions (Slimak and Giraud 2007). The estimated distances include 180-200 km northwards from the site, and c. 240 km southwards, the latter actually a minimum value due to straight-line crossing of mountains and high plateaus. Anyhow, during the Middle Paleolithic  transfers >200 km are rare, and more frequent in Central Europe, which may be linked to a more extreme topography and increased continentality in terms of environmental conditions.

Suggested Reading:

Slimak L. D. 2008 – Artisanats et territoires des chasseurs moustériens de Champ Grand. Aix-en-Provence

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

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The Acheulian of Tihodaine (Tassili n’Ajjer)


tihodaine1-aggsbach katzmanThis is a large (22 cm long) handaxe from the Tihodaine site (Tassili n’Ajjer). This is very large compared with average sized handaxes from this site (7,7 cm long), but such “gigantism” has already described elsewhere.

The Sahara is rich in Palaeolithic resources and an enormous amount of material was collected during the nineteenth-century colonial explorations by the French military. Subsequent scientific expeditions have also shown the overwhelming presence of the Acheulean in much of the Sahara. The major sites include Tihodaine (Tassili n’Ajjer) in the Central Sahara, in Algeria, Wadi Saoura and Tabelbala-Tachenghit in the north-western Sahara, in Algeria and the Drâa Valley sites in southern Morocco.

Chavaillon and Alimen undertook a comprehensive study of the Pleistocene deposits of the Wadi Saoura region and showed a local sequence of the Acheulian and MSA. The lithic assemblages, made from local metamorphic rocks, occur in gravel terraces and in fine- and coarse-grained sediments. The Saoura sequence consists of seven stages grouped into three major periods. The earliest period (Stages I and II) is correlated to the sedimentary Taouritian cycle, and is characterized by crude choppers and chopping tools (cores) and flakes, rare bifaces, and Trihedrals. The second period (Stages III, IV and V), is rich in advanced Acheulean assemblages and dated to the Ougartian depositional episode.  Pebble tools were much rarer and the use of soft hammer techniques is attested. Cleavers are numerous, and Levallois flakes and different core techniques (Kombewa, Victoria West, and Levallois) appeared. The third period (Stages VI and VII) is correlated with the Final Acheulian and MSA of this area. The prepard core techniques are very advanced during this late stages og the Lower Paleolithic. Absolute dates are not available for the Saoura region. In addition it remains unclear if the sequence may serve as a more than regional “model” for the Acheulian of the Sahara.

The Tassili n’Ajjer (Arabic: طاسيلي ناجر‎) is a mountain range in the Algerian section of the Sahara Desert. It is a vast plateau in south-east Algeria at the borders of Libya and Niger, covering an area of 72,000 km2. Much of the range, including the cypresses and archaeological sites, is protected in a National park, Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage Site, named the Tassili n’Ajjer National Park. The range is composed largely of sandstone. Erosion in the area has resulted in nearly 300 natural rock arches being formed, along with many other spectacular landforms.

The range is also noted for its prehistoric rock art and other ancient archaeological sites, dating from the Neolithic era when the local climate was less dry, savannah rather than desert. The art is no older than 9–10 millennia, according to OSL dating of associated sediments. The art depicts herds of cattle, large wild animals including crocodiles, and human activities such as hunting and dancing. According to UNESCO, “The exceptional density of paintings and engravings…have made Tassili world famous as from 1933, the date of its discovery. 15000 engravings have been identified to date”.

Tihodaine is situated northeast of the Ahaggar area bordering the Tassili n’Ajjer plateau in Algeria. It consists of four localities (Tihodaine I, II, III and IV) spanning from the Lower Palaeolithic to the Neolithic. The Acheulean site (Tihodaine I) was discovered in 1861-Subsequently forgotten for a long time and rediscovered in 1933 by Duprez. Tihodaine has been investigated by several scientific teams since the 1940ies  until the 1970ies and therefore before the advent of modern dating techniques for Middle Pleistocene deposits.

The Acheulean deposits consist of residual buttes partially covered by younger Pleistocene dune sands of the current erg. The Acheulean artefacts and associated interglacial fauna were contained in lacustrine sediments with diatomite and a high proportion of kaolinite deposited during the first lacustrine episode of the formation of a paleo- lake.
The Acheulean industry consists of carefully made handaxes and cleavers, in association with a water dependent fauna, and some indications of more open environments (Elephas recki, Rhinoceros simus, Equus zebra, Hippopotamus amphibious, Bubalus antiquus, Bos primigenius, Gazella dorca, and several antelopes). The fauna and archeology at Tihodaïne has been argued to show correlations to those of Olduvai Bed IV (> 600 k.a. ), as well as to those of Gesher Benot Ya’aqov in the Dead Sea Rift dated to 780 k.a. Typologically there are close similarities to the nearby later Middle Pleistocene site of  Erg d’Admer and to the middle /late periods at the Wadi Saoura. There is no precise account of the bifaces and cleavers collected from surface and from the excavations. In general, Quartzite, Quartz and Rhyolite were used as raw materials. Handaxes are primarily ovate / limandes and cordiform (64% of all handaxes). Cleavers were made exclusively from large flakes, and almost always show bifacial retouches. They have an average size of 16 cm and a very “elegant “overall silhouette reflecting the systematic use of a soft hammer. They belong to the type 2, 3 and 5 of the classification by J. Tixier.

A heavily patinated MSA/Aterian industry is also known from the Tihodaine site and is curated in the  Bardo Museum in Algiers. This series, consisting of about 600 pieces includes ca 200 pedunculated pieces among 600 artifacts produced mainly by an preferential Levallois technique.

It remains a pity, that while at least some Lower Paleolithic sites from Rift valley are well dated by tuffs and lavas of geological sequences, we have almost no absolute dates from the Maghreb and the Sahara. Indirect dating approaches by typological analogies will not resolve any of the open questions.

A quatz cleaver from the Tihodaine site:

large ckleaver

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A short Journey through Pressure Flaking


solutrean11-fourneauFaçonnage is a knapping operation finalized to obtain only one stone tool by shaping a raw material block or the product (flake, blade, bladelet) of an earlier operational sequence according the wanted shape. Pressure flaking on artifacts was invented several times during the last 75000 years by the convergence of technical solutions.

Replication experiments show that pressure flaking after heat treatment best explains the morphology of lithic artifacts recovered from the ca. 75 k.a. MSA levels assigned to the Stillbay technocomplex at Blombos Cave, South Africa. Application of this technique allowed for a high degree of control during the detachment of individual flakes, resulting in thinner, narrower, and sharper tips on bifacial points. This technique disappeared during the later MSA of S/E-Africa. The use of pressure flaking facilitated the early production of sharper and more finely detailed tools. Pressure flaking also gave toolmakers the ability to create notches where the objective piece could be bound more securely to the shaft of the weapon or tool and increasing the object’s utility.

During the LMG (ca. 20 k.a. cal. BP) in S/W-Europe, the percussion flaking technique was widely used during the Solutrean, which is characterized by several forms of thin, leaf shaped points, shaped by distinctive flat, highly invasive unifacial and bifacial retouch. Heat treatment and pressure flaking were omnipresent in shaping these wonderful artifacts. One example is displayed in Fig. 1:  a Solutrean shouldered point from Fourneau-du-Diable / Dordogne.

denticulated point dovetailThe Paleolithic Clovis points of America was characterized by thin, fluted projectile points created using bifacial percussion flaking. To finish shaping and sharpening the points they are sometimes pressure flaked along the outer edges. Clovis-associated dates ranging from 11,3 to 10,7 k.a B,P which correspond to a short period from about 13,2 to 12,8 k.a. cal BP. Figure 2 showes a serrated Dove Tail Point from the Early Archaic exhibiting the continous use of pressure flaking and lateral pressure notching  dating to the early Holocene.

In the old world, pressure flaking, and a new core technique, bipolar/naviform, developed into highly sophisticated and specialized techniques in the eastern Mediterranean. The naviform/ bipolar technique became the diagnostic marker (“fossil directeur”) of the PPNB period in the Levant /(8,2-6,2 cal. B.C).

katzman pressure EPPNBIt spread as part of the cultural/techno-PPNB complex to other parts of the eastern Mediterranean Basin, as a result of colonization (Paraklessia Shillourokambos, Kissonerga Mylouthkia, Kalavasos Tenta, Cyprus) or “acculturation” (Çayönü, southeastern Anatolia). This technique was probably in the hands of groups with specialized knowledge, and it was always applied on good-quality flint.  Figure 3 and 4 show fine parallel retouch elaborately applied on the ventral face of a brocken tool.

Pressure flaking played a great role during the late Scandinavian Neolithic.  The famous Type Ic daggers, for example are characterized by elegant, well controlled parallel pressure-flaking on ppnb aggsbachtheir broad faces, and can sometimes exceed 45 cm in length. Another example of a very advanced pressure technique are the high valued ripple flaked knives of the late Predynastic of Egypt.

During the Fayum A-Neolithic bifacial projectile points, shaped by pressure flaking were common. In the beginning of the operational sequence rough outs must be planned symmetrical. This creates a special challenge for this shape, as the delicate fayum a katzmantangs must remain in the same plane and have the same length and width, as the deep central hollow is created. The body of the arrowhead is covered with minute retouches where the flint has been carefully taken off by pressure flaking. The creation of such an implement represents a time-consuming choice, rather than a necessity. The shape certainly reflects a culturally important message. Thus, it may be possible to argue that functional benefits (impact fracture) were entwined with prestige factors (time and material quality) and perhaps aesthetic qualities ( M. Mangum 2008;

dagger1Of all the varieties of stone tools found in northern Europe, few have held the attention of Prehistorians like the bifacial flint daggers of southern Scandinavia. Large finely made daggers of flint appeared suddenly in northern Europe by 2350 BC, similar in scale and outline to contemporaneous metal daggers imported from Central and Eastern Europe. The most appealing of these daggers is the type Ic flint dagger exhibiting edge-to-edge parallel pressure flaking. The precision pressure-flaked patterns displayed by type Ic flint daggers have no obvious technological purpose in terms of actually using a dagger for a cutting activity. It is far more likely that the value of the remarkable workmanship displayed by these daggers was ascribed to their role as symbols of value, wealth, or both.


Percussion is not only a façonnage- but also a débitage technique that consists in the application of a choc to break the raw material in order to obtain standardized blanks (blades, bladelets). The pressure is realized by an active part of a wood, animal bone or metal tool.

In Northern Asia, the earliest appearance of the pressure technique, used not for retouching tools but for producing blanks of tools, has been associated with the origin and spread of microblade technology. Microblade production is intimately bound with the pressure technique, although microblades can be produced and were produced by very different chaine opératoires, not necessarily including pressure.
Microblade technology was focused on the mass production of standardized tiny blades from characteristic wedge-shaped cores. Such blades were no more than 4 mm wide with unusually sharp edges. They were fixed into grooves along one or both edges of a sharpened bone or antler point. Microblade technology is an extremely efficient use of high-quality stone. It generates the maximum amount of usable edge while minimizing the quantity of stone that must be gathered and carried around.

It is not exactly known, where the idea of producing regular microblades by pressure-flaking came from. Was there only one or multiple origins? Were there only one invention or multiple inventions?  Some researchers trace the beginnings of the microblade technique to southern Siberia, northern China, Mongolia or the Far East at 35 k.a. B.P. But these assemblages are usually not manufactured by  pressure flaking. Maybe we should call this Phenomenon:  microblade technique sensu lato. Others insist that the emergence of the microblade technique sensu strictu occurred later, around 20k.a. B.P. in the Far East and was always connected with pressure debitage and the Yubetsu core type (and later derivate of this core type). The Yubetsu method involves preparing mainly bifacial or boat-shaped core blanks with symmetrical cross sections and forming platforms by removing spalls from the lateral edge of a blank.

The earliest example of microblade technology sensu lato at Tolbor-15 in the Khangai Mountains of northern Mongolia was identified in Horizon 5 (single date 28,5 k.a. BP) , a boat-shaped micro core fashioned on a trihedral blank. All microcores except this one were produced by percussion, and the percentage of microblades in the horizon overall is very low. Horizons 3 and 4 at Tolbor-15, which contains two types of microcores; those produced on thin flakes with retouched bases and a narrow blade-removal surface and a second type made on bifacial preforms, similar to the Yubetsu method with platforms prepared by the sequential removal of ski spalls. The number of microblades in both Horizons 3 and 4 is dramatically increased over earlier strata, while the associated radiocarbon dates clearly indicate the later chronology of these assemblages: 14,-15 k.a. BP. During this time microcores were already reduced by both pressure and percussion.

In the southern Trans Baikal area microblade production is proposed for the site Studenoye 2 and Ust’Menza 2 was dated to 17 k.a. BP.  In Siberia the production of regular microblades and the use of pressure technology were identified on Upper Palaeolithic sites dated after the Last Glacial maximum and already before start of Greenland Interstadial 1.

Both microblade technology and the pressure technique sensu stricto appear in Hokkaido / Japan suddenly around 20 k.a B.P. and without local precedent. It is interesting to note that the appearance of microblade technology and the pressure technique in Hokkaido roughly corresponds to the beginning of the severe cold and dry conditions in the LGM. Since the available mammal resources were sparsely scattered over a large area under such climatic conditions, people may have needed to increase the frequency and magnitude of residential moves. It seems that the changes of residential moves favored lightening of portable tool kits and effective use of raw materials designed to minimize stone transport costs, in the case of when the lithic raw material of the needed quality and morphology was spatially limited.

Alaska and the Yukon Territory represent the easternmost regions of “Beringia”. Beringia was a continuous landmass extending from the Kolyma River in Siberia in the west (western Beringia) to the MacKenzie River in the Yukon Territory of Canada in the east (eastern Beringia) including the areas of what is now the Bering and Chukchi seas (central Beringia), a dry land ‘bridge’ created by lowered sea levels during the late Pleistocene MIS 2 in 28-12 k.a.  cal BP.  This land bridge must have one important route from Asia to the new world.The peopling of the New World  was the result of  various migratory waves, one of which  is represented by microblade sites.

The location and dating of early sites in Alaska supports a migration from Siberia towards southeastern Alaska and British Columbia. The most ancient known human occupation on in Alaska, Swan Point CZ4 (Yukon Territory, ca. 14k.a. cal BP), is the only one in this region to have unearthed a whole microblade toolkit mainly made of Yubetsu cores. This site has clear technological ties with the Dyuktai Complex of northeastern Siberia, dating from >16 to c. 11,5 k.a.

magdalenian aggsbachPressure debitage seems to be rare and isolated in Pleolithic Central and South Europe before the Mesolithic.  An exception is the Magdalenian site of the “Rocher-de-la-Caille” which is located in the high valley of the river Loire, and part of the sites, that were flooded to make way for the Villerest dam.  Pressure debitage was clearly used in the production of certain bladelets preferabily on transluscent blond flint blade blanks imported from the Cher valley. The technique used the arrises of the upper side of laminar blanks diversely retouched in this intention of bladelet production, specially by an inverse truncation to be used as the pressure platform. The same debitage method, but using percussion, was recently identified in the middle Magdalenian from the Roc-au-Sorcier (Angles-surl’Anglin,  Vienne), and in the Magdalenian III of La Marche (Lussac-les-Châteaux, Vienne). The debitage method from the Rocher-de-la-Caille appears as a cultural marker within the middle Magdalenian of the centre of France. Anyhow, its specic technique at the type-side, that is pressure,  seems to have had only limited success at the time. Magdalenian arched cores, were usually made for the production of large blades-for example during the late Magdalenian of the Paris basin, but smaller arched cores are also known, obvoisly for the production of Microblades at several late Magdalenian sites in France and Central Europe (Figure 5)

More about the long-blade industries in Neolithic Europe, produced by pressure debitage, can be found here:

pressureThe Capsian is an Epipaleolithic technocomplex of the Maghreb (Tunisia and Algeria) and begins during the arid younger Dryas. The Capsian is traditionally divided into two horizons, the typical Capsian and the upper Capsian which are sometimes found in chronostratigraphic sequence. Some authors suggest that a time overlap of these entities may also be possible. The typical Capsian is characterized by a significant blade based component like burins (ca. 25%), endscrapers (ca. 20%), and large backed tools). Backed bladelets are present in quantities of about 10-20%. Geometric microliths comprise about 10% of the outillage. The Upper Capsian is characterized by abundant and varied geometric microliths and numerous forms of backed bladelets. Burins are fewer than during the typical Caspian, but there is much regional variability.  Amongst the main distinctions between the Typical and  the Upper  Capsian, the later variant, is the greater abundance  of geometric microliths and the existence of bladelets  produced by pressure flaking performed at mitric cores (Figure 6). Palaeoenvironmental changes centered on the 8,200calBP event have recently correlated with changes in subsistence and technology traditionally associated with the difference between Typical Capsian and Upper Capsian.

Obsidian is a naturally formed volcanic glass that was an important part of the material culture of Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica. Obsidian was a highly integrated part of daily and ritual life, and its widespread and varied use may be a significant contributor to Mesoamerica’s lack of metallurgy. Lithic and contextual analysis of obsidian, including source studies, are important components of archaeological studies of past Mesoamerican cultures and inform scholars on economy, technological organization, long-distance trade, ritual organization, and socio-cultural structure.

preklassikFollowing the removal of cortex (when applicable), bifacial, unifacial, and expedient flake stone tools could be produced through lithic reduction. Prismatic blade production (Figure 6), a technique employing a pressure flaking-like technique that removed blades from a polyhedral core, was ubiquitous throughout Mesoamerica. Modern attempts to redesign production techniques are heavily based on Spanish records and accounts of witnessed obsidian knapping.

As the distribution of obsidian sources in Mesoamerica is generally limited, many areas and sites lacked a local obsidian source or direct access to one. As a result, tool curation through edge-rejuvenation and/or resharpening was commonly used on larger-mass tools, such as bifaces, to prolong the tool’s (and the raw materials) utility. While prismatic blades were generally not curated (in the traditional sense) due to their small size, utility of the tools may have been maintained by changing their function. In other words, as the edge of a blade lost its sharpness after long-term use, the blade may have been used in scraping activities, which does not require a very sharp edge, than as a cutting implement. Other curation techniques of prismatic blades involve reshaping them into other tool types, such as projectile points and awls, for example (Figure 7).

An impressive book about the theme: 

The Emergence of Pressure Blade Making (


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Laugerie Points in the late Magdalenian of S/W-France: The reappearance of the Flechette

laugerie aggsbach flechette 1


This is a Flechette (“Point de Laugerie”) from Laugerie basse, found during the early 20th century excavations at the site. These armatures are known from the “Magdalenien superieur” in the Aquitaine and Vienne (Laugerie basse, Grotte Richard / Eyzies, Rochereil, Limeul, Teyjat,La Madeleine, Longueroche, Abri Morin, Abri Faustin) and although they are not very common, even at large aggregation sites, points de Laugerie together with points de Teyjat and Magdalenian shouldered points are markers of regional group identity. It is interesting that Flechettes and even large Gravettian-points reappeared in the late Paleolithic record about 15 k.a. after their first appearance during the early Gravettian, indicating that the solutions for effective stone tipped weaponry are limited and are invented and reinvented again. Such artifacts are not known from other important Magdalenian provinces in Europe (Rhine valley, Moravia, Paris basin, Pyrenees’..).

Functional study of Magdalenian projectiles showed traces and residues identifying them as hafted armatures. While small backed bladelets were part of a composite weapon, points de Laugerie, Points de Teyjat and Magdalenian shouldered points are characterized as “stand alone” projectile heads to be used in darts or arrows.

Points de Laugerie are made from foliated straight blades with an average length of ca 5,5 cm at Morin. They are always characterized by inverse retouche on at least one margin of the piece.  Retouches are usually alternating (direct on one margin and inverse on the other) and maybe confined to the tip and the base. Bilateral invers retouches are often seen on the base of the piece ( as in the example that is displayed here). The retouche is generally flat or semi abrupt, despite the occasional presence of a few abrupt retouches.

Until now we have no techno-functional characterisation of the production and use of these interesting projectiles. I even miss a work about their spread during the late Magdalenian.

Suggested Readings:

The original Laugerie Basse, known as l’abri Classique, was completely excavated, and the abri is now occupied by buildings, including shops, a restaurant and private dwellings. From the admirable web-site: Don’s Maps


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New Data from Willendorf and the Beginning of the classic Aurignacian in central Europe



aurignacian aggsbach lamelleaurignacian lamelle scraper

This is a classic Aurignacian core for the detachment of bladelets. The question of the beginning of this technocomplex and its origin is intensively discussed.  It can be assumed with sufficient certainty that the Aurignacian and the Protoaurignacian in Europe is closely related to the dispersal of AMHs. New data suggest a rapid dispersal of both technocomplexes across Europe at c. 44-42 k.a. cal BP.

The origin of these new blade/bladelet technologies remains completely open. The Protoaurignacian assemblages with long retouched bladelets have some affinities to the Ahmarian in the Levant and the Koznarnikian of the Balkans (which seems not to be systematically older than the Protoaurignacian!) and part of a common early Upper Paleolithic tradition along the Mediterranean. The classic Aurignacian has no forerunners elsewhere and might be well the invention of a local European network, with oldest data in central Europe. We should not necessarily think on migrations to describe this phenomenon.

The long awaited C-14 dates for the oldest Aurignacian at Willendorf II (stratum 3) are now available and confirm older dates from the 1980ies, which were questioned suggesting a contamination of the samples by older material from Willendorf II; stratum 2 (maybe Szeletian?).  By using stratigraphic, palaeoenvironmental, and chronological data, AH 3 is securely ascribed to the onset of Greenland Interstadial 11, around 43,5 k.a. cal B.P., and thus is older than any other Aurignacian assemblage in the world.

The determination of calibrated C-14 data has become much more reliable during the last years. This begins with intelligent sampling of material from clearly defined archaeological and geochronical defined strata, at the best on humanly modified materials. In addition, new materials, not datable before, for example deliberately perforated marine shells, which are markers of early symbolic behavior can also be dated and the results of such measurements have entered just the field. New material-specific techniques were designed and developed, such as the ultra-filtration of bone collagen, the cleaning of charcoal with ABOx-SC, and the dating of compound-specific bio markers that promise contaminant-free dates. Finally improved statistical tools, such as Bayesian analysis, used in the modelling of the results and several calibration curves for correcting radiocarbon determinations older than 26 k.a cal BP allow more reliable results for Pleistocene-aged material. It has to be mentioned, that a Bayesian approach needs a strictly stratigraphic control of the items that are to be dated.

Distal tephras can provide archaeologists and geoscientists with valuable chronostratigraphic markers.  These markers become especially important when they are found in relation to Paleolithic material that lies close to or beyond the range of radiocarbon dating. In this respect the CI Y-5 tephra in South East Europe, dated to than 39,3 k.a. cal BP is of overall importance.

In S-Europe a Protoaurignacian or a Uluzzian always lies below an Aurignacian, if both entities are present. Wherever the (CI) Y-5 tephra marker is present (South East Europe), the classic Aurignacian consistently overlies the Campanian Ignimbrite. In these parts of Europe the classic Aurignacian therefore seems to be relative young. The Mediterranean Protoaurignacian (at Castelcivita) and Uluzzian (at Castelcivita and Cavallo) and the “Transitional” Paleolithic industries of the Kostenki area (loci 14 and 17) are found below the tephra and must therefore be older than 39,3 k.a. cal BP. These data are affirmed by the fact that pretreated-AMS dated-C-14 samples at of the Protoaurignacian in Italy situate this techno complex at ca. 42-40 k.a. cal BP (for example Mochi G). One of the very few Italian Protoaurignacian contexts which has been directly and precisely dated using modern methodologies is layer A2 of Fumane Cave. Bone and charcoal samples from A2 date to ca 35,5 k.a. BP and the start of this earliest Aurignacian phase is calculated to fall between 41.8 and 40.8 k.a. cal BP.  According to the sparse data available, the Uluzzian dates to  43 to 41 k.a. cal BP.

In S/W- France the earliest Aurignacian of Abri Pataud dates slightly later to around 41-40 k.a cal BP.  Other sites in the Aquitaine seem to be younger. Towards the Paris basin, at Les Cottes the Protoaurignacian is dated to a short episode around 39 and early Aurignacian around 39-36 k.a.

Central Europe: The heavily debated lowermost Aurignacian levels at Geissenklösterle (AHIII) in the Swabian Jura dates to 42,9- 39,9 cal B.P k.a cal BP if we take for sure that AHIII is an archaeological reality and not a secondary reconstruction bias. The chronostratigraphic position of AH 3 (Willendorf II) is now the best evidence for a an early Aurignacian technology in Central Europe at least slightly before 43,3 k.a. cal B.P. Maybe the nearby Krems site was older and almost certainly contained both Protoaurignacian and Aurignacian-but this information is lost forever ( . Other Aurignacian sites in Austria and Germany are of later age (except possibly Keilberg-Kirche and Senftenberg). An early date in this context is the Aurignacian bone point of Pesko in Hungary, dated  to between 41,7 and 40,2 k.a. cal B.P. It remains exciting- stay tuned!

Loess profile at Willendorf II:

willendorf katzman


 Suggested Reading:


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The early Gravettian in Central France: La Vigne Brun

aggsbachs villerest2

This is a 3, 5 cm (Micro) Gravette point from the Vigne Brun site, found at the site in large quantities (although mostly broken), and called: “Microgravette of Vigne-Brun type” ( The old C-14 dates from La Vigne Brun fall around 23 k.a. BP and are not taken as valid. Technologically and typologically the site shows a pattern that is characteristic for the early Gravettian in France and Southern Central Europe. Calibrated C-14 dates will probably soon resolve the chronological confusion about this key locality.

La Vigne-Brun is located in the eastern Massif Central, 5 km upstream from Roanne in the Loire river valley. It is one of several open-air Palaeolithic sites at a locality called Saut-du-Perron (Villerest district). Other important sites nearby are Le Roche de la Caille, la Goutte-Roffat (a Magdalenian with 182 engraved schist plaquettes) and the Champ- Grand site (Quina Mousterian). These sites have been explored for more than a hundred years and lamentably were flooded in 1983 following the construction of the Villerest dam. From 1977 to 1983 an area of 470 m² at La Vigne-Brun was investigated by J. Combier and, despite being the object of a salvage excavation, the site was fully excavated under relatively good conditions.

aggsbachVigne Brun is known in the archaeological literature principally for the discovery of a series of habitation structures associated with a Gravettian industry. During the last years meticulous typological, technological and economic approaches were able to reconstruct the systems of lithic artefact manufacture at the site.  These artifacts comprise dihedral burins, endscrapers and a large lot of projectiles (Font Robert points, Gravettes and Microgravettes). The bladelet blanks used for the Microgravettes were obtained using three chaînes opératoires: one exclusively for bladelets, one incorporating small blades and bladelets and a third, uninterrupted sequence from large blades to small blades to bladelets. Raw materials are largely dominated by a regionally available “jasper” flint. The predominant exogenous flint is a yellowish-grey to brown variety of excellent quality which was obtained from lower Turonian outcrops in the Gien region. The procurement pattern of raw materials observed for unit KL19 at La Vigne-Brun does not particularly resemble the “classic” pattern observed at many Upper Palaeolithic sites, where there is a contrast between only slightly modified local materials and others transported as finished products from a distance. At La Vigne-Brun procurement strategies are equally variable for both local material and that brought from further away. Regional flint was imported to the site from a distance of 5 to 30 km either as blocks or as burins and Gravettes/ Microgravettes followed by splintered pieces and endscrapers.

The early Gravettian of Vigne Brun shows both technological and typological correspondence to other sites in France and the Swabian Jura: The open air site of Le Sire (Mirefleurs, Dpt. Puy-de-Dôme), was attributed to the early Gravettian, based on one uncalibrated date of 27,300 +/- 330 BP. Beside an important proportion of Microgravettes (36% of the tools), some Font-Robert Points and Flechettes are also present. The lower Gravettian lithic ensemble of the open-air site Azé-Camping de Rizerolles(Saône-et-Loire, France)  is composed of over 48.000 pieces, among them Gravette points, Microgravettes, Nanogravettes and the fragment of two Font- Robert points. In the Swabian Ach valley (Geißenklösterle and Hohle Fels) we also find an early Gravettian (29-27 k.a. BP) focused on the production of Microgravettes with some Flechettes and isolated Font-Robert points.

gravette aggsbach

Suggested Readings:

Lac de villerest-near the site:villerest 2014



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Levallois- Mousterian in S-Italy


italia mousterian aggsbach

On the left this picture shows two Quina scrapers from the Gargano and from Venosa (Basilicata). While the Gargano has been introduced during earlier posts ( – the Basilicata also known as Lucania is a region in the south of Italy, bordering on Campania to the west, Apulia (Puglia) to the north and east, and Calabria to the south/west. The artifacts on the right are typical Levallois-based artifacts from a surface site in the Gargano. Two of them are pretty blade based and have affinity to the late Mousterian in N-Italy immediately before the arrival of AMH.

New excavations in N and S-Italy have shown, that the evolution of the Italian Middle Paleolithic follows in large lines the evolution of this complex in S-France. At the Grotta di Fumane, an important site in northern Italy, which has been extensively explored over the last two decades a succession of Mousterian- Uluzzian-Protoaurignacian and Aurignacian (and early Aurignacin parietal paintings  and an ochered shell in the late Mousterian !) was documented and extensively dated ( The 12 m thick sedimentary sequence are related to repeat and complex human occupations. The earliest assemblages record the almost exclusive use of the Levallois method (MIS 5-4) for the production of flakes with unidirectional and centripetal recurrent modalities. The first striking technological replacement occurs in BR6, up to BR3, where there is a complex of layers with the infrequent occurrence of bones, flakes and scrapers, made with a method closely resembling the Quina technique (MIS4). Further evidence of variability in lithic technology is provided by the re-appearance of the Levallois technology during MIS3, in layer A11 – although here focused more on blades than flakes – and by the Levallois/Discoid alternance throughout the transect from A10V to A5-A6 (MIS3).

Guado San Nicola (Monteroduni, Molise) was recently dated to the MIS 11-10 boundary (see comments) by the 40Ar/39Ar method and provided an ensemble of Levallois products within an Acheulean context. This is older than the recently reported “earliest Levalloisian from Eurasia” at Nor Geghi 1, Armenia (OIS10/9e boundary). Nor Geghi 1, Armenia, was recently reported being the earliest site with synchronic use of bifacial and Levallois technology outside Africa. Units 5 to 4 at this site are correlated with late OIS 10/early OIS 9e, whereas Units 3 to 2 with OIS 9e (335 to 325 k.a.)

In North Italy the oldest Levalloisian was reported from  San Bernardino Cave (MIS8/7 boundary).

Although the Levallois method was suggested to be absent in S-Italia during MIS5-3, stratified sites with Levallois based ensembles and absolute dates have been excavated during the last two decades, contradicting the view, that the Italian South did not share the technical and cultural innovations in the rest of Europe. The Levallois technique during the last interglacial/glacial cycle (MIS5 and later) is now well established, especially in Puglia.  For example, the layer B of the Grotta Bernardini which recently was dated to a period just after 108 k.a. shows basically a Levallois mode of lithic production, as the industry  of  the G layer  at Grotta Romanelli  (MIS 4/3) and corresponding strata of the  Grotta Titti.

Suggested Readings:

A closer view on one of the Gargano retouched Levallois blades – a stiking convergence to the ca. 220 k.a. old Hummalian artifacts in the Syrian Desert! (


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100-year Anniversary: Peyrony at the lower Rock shelter of Le Moustier

aggsbachs moustier

This is a classic Mousterian point, made on a thick Levallois point (8,5 cm long)  from the MTA-levels (Layer G) of the type site.

Le Moustier is an archeological site consisting of two rock shelters in Peyzac-le-Moustier, belonging to the community of Saint-Léon-sur-Vézère; Dordogne, France. Le Moustier lies about 10 kilometers northeast of Les Eyzies along the Vézère River.

The upper shelter was first excavated from 1863 by Henry Christy and Édouard Lartet, while the lower shelter was first opened for excavations by Otto Hauser during 1907. He discovered the famous Le Moustier Neanderthal adolescent in 1908. He sold it to the Völkerkundemuseum in Berlin, where most of the postcranial skeleton was destroyed during the bombing raids during the late WW II. The skull and mandible survived and the cranio- dental skeleton of Le Moustier 1 represents perhaps the most complete Late Pleistocene adolescent hominid skull. A second skeleton was later found at the site by Peyrony: Le Moustier 2, a Neanderthal neonate.

Peyrony excavated the lower abri at Le Moustier during 1913-1914 along the western edge of the earlier Hauser explorations. He established an important sequence of Paleolithic strata traditionally numbered from A to L. A: sterile layer, B: Typical Mousterian; C/D. quasi sterile; E: sterile layer;  G: MTA-A (around 50-55 k.a BP*); H: MTA-B (around 42-48 k.a BP*); I: denticulated Mousterian (around 40,9 k.a BP*); J:, Typical Mousterian (around 40,3 k.a BP*);  K: cryoturbated and mixed Castelperronian / Mousterian (around 42,6 k.a BP*); L: Aurignacian ; (*Dates by TL). The most recent larger excavations were conducted by Laville and Rigaud in 1969.Important non-biased material was collected from a small trench by Geneste and Chadelle during the 1980ies (see below).

The chaine operatoire of the MTA assemblage from Le Moustier G is characterized by a recurrent centripetal unidirectional Levallois concept with production of a series of unidirectional blanks. The Le Moustier G-ensemble is mainly composed of Senonian flint which displays gray to black colors. This flint is also known to have been used by Neanderthals at several nearby sites (La Rochette, Le Ruth, surface collection at Plazac…) and widely during the upper Paleolithic of the Vezere valley.  Cordiform flat handaxes (4-14 cm long) were found in abundance together with large quantities of simple side scrapers. Quina scrapers and convergent tools were rare.  Indeed, Le Moustier G together with the nearby La Rochette are considered as biface workshops, where tools were manufactured in advance to be brought eventually to other sites.

Levallois blanks from the MTA at Le Moustier G often have a laminar aspect, but these blanks are broader that Upper Paleolithic blades as you can see in the picture below .  It seems that they often were used without any retouches and for the production of backed pieces, which often are quadrangular in shape or had a curved back (Abri Audi knifes).

A large number of retouched Levallois points are known from Le Moustier G. Many of them have a bilateral ventral retouche, often of a unilateral quite steep aspect. This led Peyrony to suggest, that many of these “Points” were in reality rather knifes than projectiles.

The second picture shows two handaxes and a typical “knife”, along with the elongated point of the first picture from the Le Moustier site-all made from the raw material mentioned above.

It is a pity, that 100 years after the excavation of Peyrony we have no comprehensive monograph of the site. Peyrony s report from 1930 is of poor quality (PEYRONY, D. (1930). Le Moustier. Ses gisements,  ses industries, ses couches géologiques, in  Revue Anthropologique, vol. 40, pp. 48-76).

Renewed work at Le Moustier started in 2014 and will certainly change our view of this classic locality. A first indication, that many data from this site are biased comes from the publication of Gravina and Discamps (2015, who analyzed an unbiased sample from the layers G and H, coming from a limited  excavation, performed  during the 1980ies,  when J.-M. Geneste and J.-P. Chadelle sunk a small 50 cm by 50 cm test column towards the back of the lower rock shelter, near the cliff-face, in order to collect burnt flints for TL dating.

Analyzing this material against the material from earlier excavations showed the total absence of pieces smaller than 3 cm in Peyrony’s collection. A comparison of lithic artefact densities with the Geneste and Chadelle material demonstrates that Peyrony kept less than 400 lithic objects per excavated m3 namely retouched pieces , larger pieces, and bifaces from a layer whose density was probably on the order of 12000 lithic objects per m3. Further analysis revealed that the small number of bifaces in Stratum H may have be recycled from the MTA-A in Stratum G. Techno-typological analysis of the non-biased Geneste and Chadelle material re-attributed the material of layer H at Le Moustier to the Discoid- Denticulate Mousterian. Therefore the succession of MTA-A-MTA-B Châtelperronian at this classic site is now considered unlikely- a further step to the deconstruction of a  MTA(B) -Châtelperronian affiliation.




Suggested Reading:

Look at the rich material you can get by the steadily growing and updated Paleolithic site in the net:

Don was a great help for me when I started this blog in 2010…

A biographical Sketch on Denis Peyrony:


Le Moustier during the early 20th century:

hauser le moustier


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The Gravettian at the Solutré Site


This is a highly patinated fragment of a “Spitzklinge“ (pointed blade) from the Gravettian at the famous Solutré  site- almost identical to examples from the Willendorf site in the Wachau region. Pointed blades have been identified as a major component of the  “Facies II” of the Pavlovian in Central Europe, which is characterized by the use of marginal retouches, pointed blades and by a reduced number of microliths (Předmostí; Dolní Věstonice II middle and upper strata, Willendorf II; 6/7/8 and Langenlois). The second picture shows two other fragments of retouched and pointed blades and a burin from the Gravettian of the site:

solutre gravettian

The Gravettian of the central-eastern region of France, geographically bridging central and South Europe, is concentrated in the valleys of the River Loire and of the River Saône, in the south of Burgundy. Lithic series were principally collected on the surface, and only three major have contextual informations about the Gravettian occupations of this region: the site of La Vigne-Brun, in the Loire valley and the sites of Azé and Solutré along the Saône valley.

Solutre, a well-known kill site, occupies a vast area at the foot of an escarpment. The slope deposits contained a series of archaeological layers representing most of the Paleolithic cultures from Mousterian to Magdalenian. The massive accumulation of horse bones under the escarpment, unique in the European archaeological record, intrigued both archaeologists and the general public. Inspired by reports of bison kills in North America, Adrien Arcelin proposed in a novel, an interpretation which attracted a great deal of attention. In this popular narrative, Paleolithic hunters chased horse herds up to the top of the escarpment and forced them to jump to their death (

A late romantic imagination: The Solutré horse hunt, from an illustration of “primitive man” by L. Figuier, 1876

Solutre ferry aggsbach horse

Currently accepted view proposes that hunters intercepted animal herds as they moved through the Solutré valley during their seasonal transhumance from the Alluvial Plain of the Saône to the Macônnais Uplands.  They forced their prey into natural rock traps along the southern flank of the Roche just under the falt line where they could be slaughtered. 

The lithic material at Solutré is highly patinated (96% of the parts). Especially during the Gravettian, postdepisitional disturbances of the Archeological material by trampling and cryoturbation, is present. The limitation of old biased collections makes it difficult to reconstruct the operational sequences. 

From a typological view, J. Combier attributed the Gravettian industry at Solutré to a final phase of the Gravettian. The low number of tools (old and new excavations) should lead to some caution. Moreover, the entire cluster including Microgravettes, a point of La Gravette, a La Font-Robert along with some endscrapers and burins could be more reasonable linked to an early Gravettian. The view of an early Gravettian is also consistent with the MSA data (Sector J10: 28,420 ± 160 BP; Sector L13: 28 280 ± 150 [Montet-White et al. 2002 p.186]).

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