Early Upper Paleolithic of the East European Plain



The East European Plain  is a vast interior plain extending east of the North/Central European Plain, and comprising several plateaus stretching roughly from 25 degrees longitude eastward. It includes the westernmost Volhynian-Podolian Upland, than the Central Russian Upland, and on the eastern border, encompassing the Volga Upland. The plain includes also a series of major river basins such as the Dnepr Basin, the Oka-Don Lowland, and the Volga Basin. Along the southernmost point of the East European Plain are the Caucasus and Crimean mountain ranges.Together with the North European Plain covering much of north-eastern Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, it constitutes the European Plain, the mountain-free part of the European landscape

This is a carinated burin, an end scraper, both with lateral retouches, suggestive for hafting, and a biconvex Leafpoint from the Early  Upper Paleolithic of the East European Plain. The leaf point is 8 cm long.

In Western Europe, the early Upper Paleolithic (EUP) is characterized by the (Proto) Aurignacian and several  local entities like the Chatelperronian in S/W-France, the Uluzzian in Italy and Greek, the Lincombian-Ranisian-Jerzmanowician in N/W- Europe and the Bohunician in the Brno Basin with several isolated scatters  further East like Kulichivka (western Ukraine).  The Szeletian seems to have been developed from the Middle European Micoquian and remains the only “transitional” industry.

While the structure of the EUP in Western and Middle Europe became considerable clear during the last 20 years, the integration of the east European EUP into the wider European context remains challenging. The most important reason is related to the scarcity of natural shelters on the East European Plain resulting in a low visibility of burried sites.

On the East European plain it seems that bifacial elements (Streletskian, “Eastern Szeletian”) define one important component of the EUP. Recently some key sequences were recently re-dated and other remain to be reevaluated in depth. The primary data of most of these industries remain debatable, especially their taphonomy and exact dating.

At Kostenki 1/V the lower chronological limit of the Streletskian is about 42 k.a. old (44-47 k.a. cal. BP). The Streletskian or eastern Szeletian at Buran Kaya III/C on the Crimean Peninsula has a similar age. If we accept, that the  new direct AMS C-14 dates on Sungir human burials are representative for the Streletskian at this site (33,3- 36,3 k.a. cal BP), this would indicate a considerable time depth of this techno complex . In addition, the Streletskian has a very wide spatial distribution from the Middle Urals (Garchi 1) to the Pontic steppe (Biriychaia balka 2, Vys), without relations to any environmental conditions.

In contrast to the upper Paleolithic bifacial tradition, the Aurignacian of the East European plain is rather rare: presently the Kostenki group of sites provides evidence both for the northeast and most ancient manifestation of the Aurignacian /~35,0 k.a .(cal: 39,3-40,9) k.a. BP.

Excavations of the last decade of the lowermost cultural layer (IVb) at Kostenki 14, under the CI tephra (~39.6 k.a.), also provided evidence for an assemblage without typical Aurignacian and Streletskian elements.

This Initial Upper Paleolithic (IUP)  appears to be comparable to the Proto-Aurignacian of the western Mediterranean, the Fumanian of North Italy, and the Middle East early Ahmarian.

Such IUP ensembles may  represent a “pioneering” Upper Paleolithic wave that was realized both as migrations and/or as cultural transmission.

Up to now, Siuren 1 is the only known Aurignacian site in Crimea. It has nine different Aurignacian occupational layers in primary positions, which are attributed to the early/Protoaurignacian (units H and G; Dufour bladelets subtype Dufour; Krems-Points, St. Yves  Points, ) and the late Aurignacian (unit F; Bladelets of subtype Roc-de-Combe ) due to techno-typological reasons. Within all Aurignacian horizons, the assemblages are characterized by bladelets and microblades, which constitute the majority of tool supports as well.

In general Siuren 1 looks like a replication of the West and Middle European evolution: a Protoaurignacian is followed by an evolved Aurignacian, but according to the C-14 data the site is only 30 k.a. old.

As it is improbable that the East Europe lagged behind the general lithic trend for ten thousand years after the (Proto)-Aurignacian started in West and Middle Europe, it is reasonable to reject all C-14 data from this site.

Denominating Lamelles during the Proto / Aurignacian in S/W-France and Eurasia

A Ksar Akil Point from Kebara

Emireh points and the Levantine Initial Upper Paleolithic

The Initial Upper Paleolithic of the Negev

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Mousterian from the Château de la Roche-Courbon site

This is a classic, very flat, paper thin, non-Levallois  Mousterian Point from the Château de la Roche-Courbon site (Charente-Maritime; 7×4,5x cm). It has an uncommon square outline, very rare during the Middle Paleolithic of the old world.

Not far from Saintes, at St. Porchaire, the river Bruant, a small tributary of the Charente, flows through the gardens of the Château de la Roche Courbon, feeding its water features.

The Grotte Château de La Roche Courbon (caves of the Chateau La Roche Courbon) are numerous small caverns located south of the castle at the foot of a limestone cliff. The caves were used during the Paleolithic and numerous remains were found in the caves since the 1880ies. The diggings were unsystematically and non-scientific-therefore we have only a vague idea what was present at these sites and what got lost.

Lithics found at Grotte Château de La Roche Courbon from the Mousterian, Châtelperronian, Aurignacian and Gravettian can bee seen in the Museum at the Château. No contextual informations have survived. Much lithic material was discarded during for reasons of space

Other prehistoric sites at the Bruant are known:

  • La Vauzelle ( MTA, Mousterian Quina, Châtelperronian, Aurignacian, Magdalenian)
  • Grottes de La Flétrie (Mousterian and Aurignacian)
  • Grottes du Triangle (engraved Plaquette probably Magdalenian)

Further reading: André Debénath Néandertaliens et Cro-Magons : Les temps glaciaires dans le bassin de la Charente 2006 (ebook for a very cheap price!




Grottes du parc du Château de la Roche-Courbon (Wikipedia):

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Solutrean Leaf Point from black Senonian Flint


The major part of the deposits of the current floodplain of the Vézère is most probably Holocene in age, with the majority of the Pleistocene deposits having been eroded away or have been buried below thick layers from more recent times. Anyhow, at several locations Pleistocene sediments are still present below Holocene overbank deposits.

A limited sondage at the foot of Laugerie-Haute showed that Pleistocene deposits can still be found below the Holocene strata. Most of the stone artefacts recorded during these sondage were made out of dark gray to black flint, generally locally collected as judged from the rolled cortex of the raw material. Small numbers of artefacts were made out of Bergerac flint, jasper, chalcedoine and hyaline quartz.

As far as the Senonian flints are concerned, the grey and black group clearly displayed better flaking properties than the beige one, independent of morphology and dimensions of the nodules. This may explain the large quantity of exactly this raw material, that has been processed during the Upper Paleolithic at many key sites in the Vézère, for example at the La Madeleine rock shelter (Magdalenian), at La Rochette (especially during the Aurignacian) or at Pataud during the Aurignacian and Gravettian although, the excellent Flint from the Bergerac region becomes more important at Pataud during the Gravettian.

a nice overview of the raw materials, used during the Solutrean at Laugerie can be found here:


Solutrean points from the Placard cave

A laurel leaf point from the Dordogne

A Leaf Point from Solutré

Fragment of a large Leafpoint (Solutreen)

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A classic Keilmesser / Prądnik from Neuburg /Donau

This is a classic “initial” Ciemna/Pradnik backed bifacial knife, (Keilmesser). It was found as a stray find, decennia ago, at Neuburg at the Donau (Bavaria) in the heartland of the Central European Micoquian technocomplex. It was made from Kreidequarzit, known as raw material from other Middle Paleolithic site nearby (Speckberg, Oberneder Grotto, Biburg, Landkreis Kelheim).

Keilmesser are typical tools of the Micoquian. Ciemna/Pradnik backed bifacial knifes, named after a site in Southern Poland, which was recently dated to MIS3 (excavations in the well-stratified Main Chamber (sector CK). They are characterized by one straight cutting edge opposite a thicker blunted edge, a rectangular or convex tip, -with or -without the signs of re-sharpening by removal of lateral tranchets. This reshaping technique is known as Prądnik technique. At Ciemna this technique was used for renuvation not only of Keilmesser but also for the resharping of other tools (for example scraper). The Prądnik technique of resharpening is known also from elsewhere in Central and West Europe, for example at Okiennik and Abri de Wylotne in Poland, Stratum IIIB at Buhlen (Hessen), at the Grottos de la Verpillière I and II (Bourgogne),  Mont de Beuvry (Pas-de-Calais)….

Keilmesser (Prądniks in the Polish literature) have been further divided into several morphological sub-types, mainly based on the shape of the tip and extent of the prehensile back (Klausennische, Bockstein, Pradnik/Ciemna, Königsaue, Lichtenberg, Buhlen, Tata, Wolgograd, Ak-Kaya…)

Studies show that Keilmesser played a specific role throughout the Middle Paleolithic in Central /East Europe. They formed an important part of the Neanderthal toolkit, representing tools that were used for a variety of activities (cutting, sawing), repeatedly resharpened and recycled, used and curated for a long time), and had causal relationship with regionalization of cultural and social variability among Neanderthals.

Metrical analyses suggest that the variability of their forms fact reflects a combination of several main determinants, such as the nature and morphology of the raw material, the stage of the tool reduction during its use and modification and the presence and absence of hafting devices.

The KMG-groups, recorded over a vast area from France to the lower Volga basin, are much more widespread than the MTA technocomplex, as the latter is confined to Western Europe. In Western Europe, we notice an overlap between KMG / MTA as best evidenced in Belgium or France. This observation points to a strong influence of an elaborated socio-cultural behaviour among late Neanderthals before the advent of AMH in Europe.

Asymmetric Bifaces

A triangular Handaxe from Neuburg an der Donau


The Middle European Micoquian of the Franconian Jura

The Prądnik (KMG) complex in Central Germany revisited

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Solutrean Willow leaf points / Feuille de Saule from Fourneau du Diable

This is a Willow Leaf point from the final Solutrean, found during the late 19th century at Fourneau du Diable. Willow leaf points / Feuille de Saule are slim blade parallel sided implements made by sophisticated pressure flaking with rounded ends, often  retouched on one side only. The example here shows a rare subtype with retouches on both sides. In contrast to the contemporaneous  upper Solutrean shouldered points /pointes à cran, they were certainly not used as projectiles. Rare microtraceological evidence may indicate their use as knifes.

Fourneau du Diable is a Rock Shelter open to the south at the junction of the Moneries and Dronne valley (right bank) between Brantome and Bourdeilles. The site consists of two terraces in a line of cliffs, named upper and lower terrace. The site was first recognized as early as 1863 and later excavated by D. Peyrony, who established the gross stratigraphy for the upper and lower terasse and published his results in 1932.
On the lower terrace a Gravettian with (Micro)-Gravettes, Elements tronquees and Noailles Burins was found below a Solutrean with leaf points and some Solutrean shouldered points.
The Solutrean of the upper terrace (3 layers) was more abundant with several hundred samples of extremely fine made shouldered points and rare Feuilles de Saule, concentrated in the upper levels . While in the lower two layers, leaf points (some of them were as long as 22 cm) were also present, they were absent in the upper layer. The fauna was characterised by the predominance of reindeer, followed by horses and aurochs. The patterns of Reindeer and Horse procurement at Fourneau du Diable show that the carcasses  were probably brought as complete to the site. The succession is closed by a Upper Magdalenian, sometimes in direct contact with the third Solutrean layer and with a thickness of only 5 cm.

By the way: The Solutrean was not only original in terms of lithic industries, wide use of bone needles with eyes and the use of ornament: bracelets, bead necklaces, pendants, bone pins, and colored pigments for personal adornment but also left few unmistakable traces in terms of parietal creation. The most remarkable are sculptures in bas-relief, the most prominent are those at Fourneau du Diable and at the late Solutrean at Le Roc de Sers, Charente.


This is the famous Aurochs bas-relief from Fourneau-du-Diable

This file is made available under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication

Gravettian with Noailles Burins

Point a face plane from Laugerie-Haute

Solutean Shouldered Point from Fourneau du Diable

Badegoule- an important Archaeological site for the Solutréen and Badegulien in S/W-France


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the Early Mousterian from Ehringsdorf


This is a small (2 cm long) bifacial artifact from the Ehringsdorf quarries, a so called “Keilchen” (a miniature handaxe), characteristic for the archaeological findings from the Lower Travertine at this site. It is not a broken tool, but a delicate tiny instrument with sophisticated covering retouches on one side and partial retouches focused to the tip on the other. Microlithic artifacts are not rare at the site.

The travertine quarries at Ehringsdorf roughly 2.4 km from Weimar, Germany have been producing large amounts of faunal remains and human artifacts for almost two centuries.  The standard stratigraphy includes Travertine horizons, loess, periglacial horizons and fluviatile gravels and was first formulated by Soergel 1926. The first description of a standard profile was valid for more than 50 years and revisited during the past decades.

The Lower Travertine is separated from the Upper Travertines by the more porous, loess-rich “Pariser” horizon (up to 2 m thick), the upper part of which consists of a palaeosol. The Upper Travertines (up to 10 m thick) are less coherent than the Lower Travertine and are subdivided into four layers (A–D) by three “Pseudopariser” horizons (I–III). The vegetation of the Travertines are predominantly that of mixed oak woodland, with the occurrence of Vitis (common grape vine) indicating temperatures warmer than those of the Ilm Valley today.

The site was formed in the vicinity of a spring rich in minerals. The minerals precipitated, thus forming subsequent travertine layers. The layers creation must have been  very quick, because the rocks are not only rich in imprints of bones, but also plant  macro remains such as leaves, or fossilized tree trunks preserved to the height of over  a meter. For this reason, the site is an extremely valuable source of information for paleoclimatic-ecological reconstructions, as well as for very detailed archaeological and micro-stratigraphic analyses. However, due to the rocks considerable hardness, it is difficult to develop a suitable mining method which would allow for capturing and separating all the concentration layers. So far, the excavations were mainly carried out with a controlled use of dynamite.

Behm-Blancke dated the whole travertine profile as Eemian (Behm-Blancke, 1960). In  later works the upper travertine layer was dated to Amersfoort and Brörup Interstadials (Behm-Blancke, 1967). This view has been subsequently questioned. Patterns of faunal turnover within the sequence, the presence of indicator species such as A. maastrichtiensis and the degree of morphological evolution in other taxa, such as Arvicola and Mammuthus, combine to suggest that only a single, pre-Eemian interglacial is represented at the site. Furthermore, no lithological or paleontological evidence exists for the intervening period of severe cold that would represent the OIS 6 glaciation. More recent U-series dating by Mallik et al. (2000) places the Lower Travertine at 236±13 k.a. BP and the Upper Travertine at 198±10 k.a. BP., seemingly supporting the above view.

In particular, the large amounts of floral and faunal remains point to fully interglacial conditions for the Lower Travertines. More specifically, studies of the floral remains have placed the human occupation layers in the climatic optimum of this interglacial, the mixed-oak forest phase.

Human fossils were first discovered in 1908 in the Lower Travertine.  In 1914, the mandibles of an adult human and, in 1916, the remains of a child were recovered some meters apart. One Calvarium was found in September 1925. More systematic fieldwork was conducted in the 1950s by Behm-Blancke who concentrated on the investigation of the different occupation floors connected with the human remains. He confirmed earlier claims for the presence of structures such as fireplaces. On the basis of the long term investigations it seems that the find horizon must have covered more than 1500 m2. The human fossils (Ehringsdorf A to I) derive from a minimum of six individuals.

In the case of the eleven-year-old child Weimar-Ehringsdorf G, we have indications that a more or less complete body was embedded in the travertine. While in this case the presence of a grave cannot be excluded, there is no conclusive evidence for an intentional burial.

Dating the Ehringsdorf material to an interglacial before the Eemian also correlates well with the paleoanthropological results. The Ehringsdorf skulls show only weak development of neanderthaloid features, which suggests a relationship to the “Ante Neanderthals”. If we accept that the Ehringsdorf hominins lived during OIS 7, and that the Steinheim hominin lived during OIS 9, it is possible to interpret the finds as reflecting successive stages in the neandertalization of an indigenous European hominin population.

Excavations by Behm-Blancke were the most extensive archaeological studies so far at the site. The richest in artifacts was the so-called “central area” of the Kämpf quarry. Behm-Blancke basically kept the overall stratigraphy described by Soergel. Within the lower travertine layer Behm-Blancke distinguished several (up to 10) levels of “hearths”, the so-called “Brand-Schichten” where flint artifacts were found. Archaeological artifacts were also collected during subsequent geological research;  some were found incidentally. In the years 1993- 2003, during the mining operations a new archaeological level was discovered within the upper travertine layer.

The inventory from the lover Travertine includes several thousand of stone artifacts collected continuously for over 200 years. Artefacts are mostly made of flint and many of them are heavily frost cracked. The complete ensemble is characterized mainly by flakes (Schäfer 2007). Discoid cores are rare (about 12%), Levallois technique is virtually absent and many flakes were produced from opportunistic cores.

The retouched tools are dominated by various types of side scrapers, unifacial convergent tools, limaces (“Doppel-Dickspitzen”), and bifacially worked artifacts. Certain bifacial tools, due to their regular shape, were defined in the literature as leaf points and “Keilchen” (miniature handaxes) as the example shown here. Overall the retouched ensemble can well be compared with several Pre-Eemian collections from France with a similar concept, while the sophistication of the flake production, although mostly not from formal cores,  is similar to that of other Eemian sites near Weimar  (Rabutz; Taubach; Weimar, Belvederer Allee) and to the lower strata of the Sesselfelsgrotte (M and O strata). Anyhow these characteristics should in my view not be used to re-date the site to the Eemian, as proposed by some researchers.

Recently Małgorzata Kot nicely demonstrated how the transformation of unifacial tools into bifacial artifacts was performed at Ehringsdorf, critically questioning the Débitagefaçonnage dichtomy :

“Ehringsdorf tools show traces of multiple, subsequent resharpening. The knapper started from unifacial retouch on one or both edges of a flake’s dorsal side. In the course of further resharpening, the ventral side of the flake required certain adjustments. After several rejuvenation phases tools show all the features of bifacially shaped tools in a type of leafpoints or knives. From a technological point of view, the question arises if such a reduction sequence can be called bifacial, unifacial, or should be defined in a different way”.

Kot M. (2017) Bifacial and unifacial technology: A real difference or a problem of typo–technological approach? The example of the Ehringsdorf assemblage, Quaternary International 428, 66-78

The original publication by Behm-Blancke can be found here: 


“Keilchen” from this publication:

Explore artifacts from the Lower Travertine in color:





Dating the Travertine:



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Should we call it Taubachian?

These are some unifacial microlithic artifacts ( length about 3 cm) from the last Interglacial Travertine at Burgtonna, about 20 km north west from Weimar; Germany. The artifact on the left has been made from a Levallois flake, the other tool was probably made from an opportunistic core. Both are made of flint.

The last interglacial, the Eemian (ca. 125 k.a. ago), with a duration of between 11-12 k.a. is characterized by a typical succession of plant communities, making it possible to correlate archaeological sites with good pollen records to specific parts of the Eemian. Therefore, Eemian Interglacial deposits hold the potential to function as high resolution archives for the study of Neanderthal behavior.

In central Europe, pollen profiles indicates the broad-leaved forest dominated by oak and elm, with participation of lime, maple and ash in the first half of the Interglacial and hornbeam at the optimum phase. During the second half of warm period, the gradual cooling and increasing humidity of climate brought about a development of dark-coniferous communities. Newer research shows, that Neanderthals were well adapted to such environments.

Recently, a GIS Maximum Likelihood Classification from 22 paleoclimate zones in Europe was created in order to assess where Neanderthal sites were located in relation to climate variables. The modeled climate zones examined in relation to last interglacial site locations demonstrates Neanderthals had a preference for Warm Temperate and Mesic climates and did not commonly select site locations near climate margins to exploit an array of food resources. Warm Temperate and Mesic climate zones may have been more seasonally stable for plant and animal populations, and in turn experienced less fluctuation in resource availability.

MIS5 sites from Central Europe in general have yielded microlithic assemblages and Neanderthal remains. Some of these assemblages have been named Taubachian (Valoch 1984). These assemblages are often related to hot water springs, or lake shores. Eemian life in central Europe may have been concentrated around such small lakes and springs  where people waited for incoming animals. Ambush hunting was probably common. Scavenging might have been easy, especially for rhino. The archaeological finds at most of these sites are embedded in a fine-grained sedimentary matrix or travertine.

The preservation of the finds tends to be excellent; plant remains are often preserved and bone surfaces do not generally show signs of significant post depositional alteration and still reveal the finest cut- and scrape-marks.  The animal remains are especially those of one or two great herbivores (bovines, horses). Among the fauna, there are also remains of large mammals as elephants and rhinoceros. In some assemblages, these remains are numerous (for example Gánovce in Slovakia or Taubach in Germany).

Possible pray that could be targeted, were Aurochs and red deer, well adapted to woodlands. Moreover, forest elephant and forest rhino kept large areas free of dense forests and facilitated grazing by other species such as horse and giant deer. It is of highly interesting that humans often exploited elephant and rhino at several sites. It is not always clear whether these animals were hunted, trapped or just scavenged. At Taubach, the age profile of forest rhino and bear together with abundant cut-marks argue for hunting of these dangerous animals. The minimum count of individuals at Taubach was 76 rhinos and 52 bears.

At the Lehringen site in Lower Saxony (Germany), an elephant skeleton was buried at a lake-side together with a 2,4 m long wooden spear and 27 stone unretouched Levallois flakes. Whether humans actually hunted the animal or just killed it when already trapped in the swamp, remains open to discussion. It was certainly butchered, as is equally attested for an elephant skeleton found at Gröbern, again at a lake-side, and again along with 27 Levallois artefacts.

The nearby Neumark-Nord site, dated to the first half of the Eemian interglacial, yielded several in-situ butchery zones.  Here hominins exploited a wide range of herbivores in a 26 ha lake landscape.

The combination of large animals and small flakes is characteristic for most of the central European MIS5e sites. The reason for a microlithic Mousterian has hotly debated: a microlithic tradition ( as K. Valoch and others argued) ?, Raw-material constraints? , deliberate choice of Neanderthals to produce flexible butchering implements? The flakes could have been hand hold or used as hafted tools.

Levallois-Point from Lenderscheid

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The Early Gravettien at Pataud rock shelter

The first pictures of this post show a Flechette (4 cm long) and a classic middle sized (7,5 cm long) Gravette point from the Pataud rock shelter.

The Gravettian is a great cultural tradition of the Early Upper Palaeolithic, present throughout Europe starting from 33 000 cal BP. Its duration and its vast geographic distribution make it a complex entity to define, both in terms of the material culture and the dynamics that contributed to its preservation for almost 10 000 years. During this period, several successive climatic changes had an impact on the human and animal communities which are still difficult to apprehend. Despite unifying features (Gravette points, feminine statuettes), a strong regionalization is perceptible.

The most important multilayered site in S/W-France remains the L’Abri Pataud, or the Pataud Shelter in English, a prehistoric site found in the middle of the village Les Eyzies-de-Tayac-Sireuil in the Dordogne, Aquitaine, southwestern France (Picture from the wonderful Don`s Map).

The abri is named after Marcel Pataud, a local peasant, who made the first findings at the end of the 19th century. Emile Rivière (1835–1922) described the site in 1899 as  „La Croze de Tayac“. 1901 and 1906 he made some soundings followed by Louis Capitan (1854–1929). In 1909  Denis Peyrony (1869–1954), whose report about his small scale excavations was published in 1949, called the site finally as „Abri Pataud“. The artifacts shown here, are from one of these early excavations and seem to  come from the oldest Gravettian levels. Complete examples of these early projectile points are rare from this site. Such middle large and even larger Gravettes are characteristic of the Gravettian in the larger Aquitaine, maily before the Noailles-phase. Famous examples are the three strata at La Gravette, the Abri Le Poisson, Le Facteur,  Trou de la Chèvre, Roc de Combe (Lot), Laussel, and Abri Pages at Ruth, Roc de Combe Capelle and the couche J at La Ferrassie.

The French government classified the site as an historical monument by decree on 25 June 1930, and additional shelters located nearby under the cliff further protected as of May 9, 1958. The site became the property of the museum of natural history in 1957 at the initiative of Hallam L. Movius, who had directed excavations since 1953. Movius continued to direct investigations between 1958 and 1964.

The results of the excavations were compiled by Harvey M. Bricker. Continuing work will help elucidate the evolution of stone tool use at the shelters themselves, and their relationship to other sites in the region. Since 2005, a scheduled archaeological operation is adding to our knowledge of the site and to the collection. It concerns one of the shelter’s last human occupations during the final phase of the Gravettian (22 k.a. BP). The operation, headed by R. Nespoulet and L. Chiotti (Prehistory department – MNHN) involves a team of fifteen researchers and students for yearly one-month digs, who supply the materials needed for the multi-disciplinary studies underway.

The site includes human remains, stone tools, and early cultural artifacts made during the Upper Paleolithic, between approximately 41 and 17 k.a.  ago. The excavators described several macro-units, but from the field notes we know, that the stratigraphy was much finer. According to the publications from the Movius team the stratigraphic sequence comprises distinct stratigraphic units, separated by sterile layers:  Eboulis de surface.  Niveau 1, Solutréen inférieur. Eboulis 1-2. Niveau 2, Proto-Magdalénien ( Perigordian VII or “Laugerian”; a Late Gravettian). Eboulis 2-3. Niveau 3, Périgordien VI (a Late Gravettian). Eboulis 3-4. Niveau 4: Noaillien (Figure 3 shows a classic Noailles Burin from the site). Niveau 5, Périgordien IV (Early Gravettian) . Eboulis 5-6. Niveau 6: Aurignacien évolué. Eboulis 6-7. Niveau 7, Aurignacien b évolué. Eboulis 7-8. Niveau 8: Aurignacien a évolué. Eboulis 8-9, niveau 9, éboulis 9-10, niveau 10. Eboulis 10-11. Niveau 11: Aurignacien b ancien. Eboulis 11-12. Niveau 12: Aurignacien a ancien. Eboulis 12-13. Niveau 13: Aurignacien b initial. Eboulis 13-14. Niveau 14: Aurignacien a initial.

The results suggest that occupation at the Abri Pataud began between 41-40 k.a. cal BP, this  just prior to the start of the occupation of Level 14. This initial occupation may have taken place during a colder climatic regime. The only interstadial event of significance is the GIS9 event at c. 40 k.a. cal BP . This concurs with the faunal evidence in Level 14, which is dominated by reindeer (98.7% of the faunal elements).

Overall, the early Aurignacian at the site dates between 41-35 k.a. cal, the evolved Aurignacian started at 38 k.a. cal BP followed by a hiatus of between 1800 and 3300 years before the  Gravettian started at ca. 33 k.a.cal BP and ended with the Protomagdalenian at 22 k.a.cal BP.

The Abri Pataud, distinguished for its meticulous excavation  and its exhaustive publication, attests to the variety of probable weapon tips used within the Gravettian technocomplex in the Périgord.

The Early Gravettian Level 5 , with 5,640 retouched tools, has virtually no backed bladelets or shouldered/tanged points, but it does have huge numbers of Gravette points (15.4 %) along with a substantial quantity of microgravettes (9.6 %). There are also a about 150  fléchettes, a type of probable projectile point that is marginally, abruptly retouched into a bi-pointed leaf shape, sometimes bordering on microlithic size (3–6 cm long, with an average of 4.6 cm).

The so-called Noaillan level (Level 4 ) has virtually no backed bladelets, fléchettes, microgravettes, shouldered or tanged points, and only a very few Gravette points . Presumably hunting either was not a major activity during these occupations, or it was done with entirely different weaponry.

In contrast, so-called Perigordian VI (Level 3) has a huge number of microgravettes (181 = 13.8 %), together with many Gravette points (85 = 6.5 %) and small quantities of various backed bladelet types (24 = 1.8 percent).

Finally, and again in contrast, the so-called “Proto-Magdalenian”  Level 2, dated to 22 k.a.  has huge numbers of backed bladelets (388 = 33.6 %), but no Gravette points or microgravettes. Pataud would seem to show that a variety of weapon tips were used at different times within the Gravettian range, sometimes macrolithic and sometimes microlithic. Why the various choices were made by Gravettian hunters is unknown.

In addition Level 2 revealed more than 400 human remains representing a minimum of 6 adults and children. The new excavations (2005-2011), the analysis of archives and a new study of the Movius collections highlight original funeral behaviors with primary deposits presumably followed by secondary interventions. It is suggested that men used the abri

A series of artifacts, which were qualified as «extra-ordinary» is considered to be associated with human remains and therefore as funerary deposits. Hundreds of painted fragments from the flaking of the rock shelter wall, twenty-six body ornaments pieces, several fragments of herbivores scapulae with decor painted in red ocher and an ocher deer skull comparable to the group of three skulls found during Movius excavations. A large bovid scapula with red ocher punctuated decor, discovered in 1963, has been completed by six fragments from sorting of the Movius collection fauna.

Abri Pataud / Les Eyzies during the Gravettian: Three Rare Artifacts

Reindeer phalanges from the Gravettian at Abri Pataud / Dordogne

Gravettian Jet Pendant at Abri Pataud (Les Eyzies; Dordogne)

Suggested Readings:

BRICKER H. M. 1973 – The Perigordian IV and Related Cultures in France, Department of Anthropology, Harvard University, Ph. D. Dissertation, 1849 p.

BRICKER H. M., DAVID N. 1984 – Excavation of the abri Pataud, les Eyzies (Dordogne), The Perigordian VI (Level 3) assemblage, Bulletin of the American School of Prehistoric Research, Peabody Museum, Harvard University, n° 34, 109 p.

BRICKER H. M. (sous la direction de) 1995 – Le Paléolithique supérieur de l’abri Pataud, Dordogne, les fouilles de H..L. Movius Jr, Maison des Sciences de l’Homme, Documents d’Archéologie Française, Paris, n° 50, 328 p.

BROOKS A. S. 1979 – The significance of variability in Paleolithic assemblages: An Aurignacian example from southwestern France, thesis of Department of Anthropology, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachussetts, 1057 p.

HIGHAM,T., et al., Precision dating of the Palaeolithic: A new radiocarbon chronology for the Abri Pataud (France), a key Aurignacian sequence, Journal of Human Evolution (2011), doi:10.1016/j.jhevol.2011.06.005

MOVIUS H. L. Jr. 1977 – Excavation of the abri Pataud , Les Eyzies (Dordogne): Stratigraphy, American School of Prehistoric Research, Peabody Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, Bulletin n° 31, 167 p.

NESPOULET R. 1996 – Le Périgordien VI de l’abri Pataud, Les Eyzies-de-Tayac, Dordogne. Etude technologique et typologique de l’industrie lithique de la couche 3, thèse de doctorat, Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris, 260 p.

NESPOULET R. 1999 – Remontage d’une microgravette dans une séquence de débitage laminaire du Gravettien final de l’abri Pataud (Les Eyzies-de-Tayac, Dordogne). Niveau 3 : Périgordien VI, Préhistoire du Sud-Ouest, n° 6, pp. 57-77.

NESPOULET R. 2000 – Le Gravettien final de l’abri Pataud, Les Eyzies-de-Tayac, Dordogne. Nouvelles données technologiques et typologiques sur l’industrie lithique provenant du niveau 3, L’Anthropologie, vol. 104, n° 1, 2000, pp. 63-120.

POTTIER C. 2005 – Le Gravettien moyen de l’abri Pataud (Dordogne, France) : le niveau 4 et l’éboulis 3/4. Etude technologique et typologique de l’industrie lithique, Thèse de doctorat, Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle, Paris, 393 p.

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Everything is broken – Who made the African MSA ?

The artifacts shown in this post come from the North African MSA and are undated. They may be 300 – 30 k.a. old. There are only a few stratified early MSA sites in the Maghreb, that give some insights about the technological evolution during MIS 9-6 and the hominins who were responsible for it.

The late stage of the ESA in the Maghreb is characterized by the assemblage of Cap Chatelier near Casablanca showing the production of predetermined flakes and cordiform thin and small bifaces, flake tools  and a very few cleavers. It is older than isotopic stage 9 after new OSL dates obtained at top of Cap Chatelier section and date about 350 k.a. old.

The Early MSA in  North African MSA began at least by MIS 8 (250-300 k.a. BP) but more probable at the end of MIS 9. It lasted until the end of MIS 3 (30 k.a.) and in some areas until MIS 2 (30-15 k.a.).  The archaeological record is  known from a small number of coastal and hinterland cave sites, mostly located in Morocco.

Only a handful of these dated sites extend into the early MSA. Currently, the oldest chronometric dating estimates come from Jebel Irhoud in Morocco (315 k.a.) and the rock-shelter of Benzú which is located near the city of Ceuta in North Africa (250 k.a.).Both sites are of eminent importance for the understanding of North African Archaeology.

At Benzú the Levallois technique the use of centripetal-multipolar cores is well attested, together with archeological proof of hunting, collecting and exploitation of marine resources. Retouched pieces represent scrapers, notches, denticulates and convergent artifacts. Possible relationships and contacts between MSA / Mousterian societies on both sides of the Straits of Gibraltar were and are discussed, but remain completely hypothetical.

At Jebel Irhoud  the oldest lithics are already dominated by Levallois technology with a high proportion of delicate retouched tools, especially convergent forms. Human remains, recently described in detail document early stages of the H. sapiens clade with several key features of modern morphology. These findings indicate that the evolution  of H. sapiens was not restricted to East and South Africa, but  involved also other areas of the African continent. Morocco was not a an evolutionary cul-de-sac!

The MSA at Ifri n’Ammar , located 470 m above sea level in the Rif Oriental of Morocco, starts at OIS 6 (171  k.a.; lower  MSA occupation) and appears similar to older assemblages and comes to an end at 145 k.a, followed by by an MSA with tanged artifacts (“Aterian”)  dated between 130 and 83 k.a. BP.

One of the most inadequate practice in Paleoanthropological research is the hastily attribution of technocomplexes to specific hominins. This insight is not new, but has been substantiated during the last 15 years of research and new discoveries. While it seems probable that the early MSA in Morocco was made by archaic members of the H. sapiens clade, the early Mousterian in Europe was made by late H. heidelbergensis or early Neanderthals.

While the MSA at  Omo Kibish (Ethiopia) was made anatomically modern humans – that were dated at 190 k.a., we do not really know who was responsible for  earlier manifestations of the MSA in East and South Africa.

In this context, the discovery of  Homo naledi has broken old paradigms. Homo naledi from the Rising Star cave system  in South Africa shares many morphological traits with early hominin species including teeth, such as large molars, and femur structure similar to the Homo erectus, Homo habilis and Australopithecus. The fossil deposition of this hominin  is currently dated by ESR, OSL and uranium-thorium dating methods, between 335 and 236 k.a.Homo naledi provides strong evidence of the coexistence of hominin species in Africa. Who knows what else might be out there?

Everything is broken

Broken lines, broken strings,
Broken threads, broken springs,
Broken idols, broken heads,
People sleeping in broken beds
Ain’t no use jiving
Ain’t no use joking
Everything is broken
Broken bottles, broken plates,
Broken switches, broken gates,
Broken dishes, broken parts,
Streets are filled with broken hearts
Broken words never meant to be spoken,
Everything is broken
Seem like every time you stop and turn around
Something else just hit the ground
Broken cutters, broken saws,
Broken buckles, broken laws,
Broken bodies, broken bones,
Broken voices on broken phones
Take a deep breath, feel like you’re chokin’,
Everything is broken
Every time you leave and go off someplace
Things fall to pieces in my face
Broken hands on broken ploughs,
Broken treaties, broken vows,
Broken pipes, broken tools,
People bending broken rules
Hound dog howling, bull frog croaking,
Everything is broken
Songwriter: Bob Dylan
Songtext v© Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

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Allonne revisited

Allonne is situated in the Oise, Picardy region , in the north of France at 3 km from Beauvais, the department capital. Allonne is 64 km North from Paris. The brickyards of Allonne once played an important role in the reconstruction of the Early and Middle Paleolithic of Northern France.

The top of the Older Loess (older than MIS5) under warm interglacial conditions, formed the argile rouge, or where redeposited the limon rouge fendille, an important marker of the last interglacial in Loess stratigraphies of the Seine Valley and Northern France in general.

At the old brickyard of Allonne characteristic “Micoquian” bifaces (Figure 3) were found within the limon rouge fendille (MIS5 or late MIS6) with some cordiformes, subcordiformes, twisted bifaces, and unifacial convergent tools as the one shown in this post (Figure 1&2).

Such discoveries ceased in the 1950s, with the closing of the Allonne brickyards, which unfortunately could not be re-studied with up to date archaeological and stratigraphical methods.

The tools of Allonne have a characteristic patina: patine blanc-bleutée. Most artifacts were produced by a hard hammer technique, but some bifaces, especially the Micoquian ones,show traces of a skilled soft hammer production. The Levallois technique is virtually absent. The artifact bearing stratum had a thickness of 40 cm maximum. Bordes and Fitte assumed that the lithic industry was in situ and was homogeneous.

Fig 4 and 5 show a historical pictures of the old brickyards at Allonne:

The Rehabilitation of the Micoquian (sensu Bordes) in Northern France

Before Combe Grenal: The early scientific work of F. Bordes and the Allonne Brickyards


 Similar artifacts from the classic publication (Figure 4): Bordes François et Fitte Paul, « Contributions à l’étude des limons et de leurs industries primitives. La briqueterie d’Allonne (Oise) », Bulletin de la Société préhistorique française, tome 46, n°1-2, 1949, p. 52-62.

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