Paleolithic Foliates in Africa


Fig. 1 shows two bifacially retouched MSA foliates from the central Sahara made from Quartzite, the larger one is 12,5 cm long. Foliates are part of  four important African technocomplexes: the early Nubian complex, the Aterian, the Lupemban and the Stillbay complex in South Africa. The question, if the African bifacial foliate point production emerged independently in these technocomplexes or if different regions and traditions were interconnected  is not resolved and remain gateway for cultural historical assumptions. Anyhow a transfer of people and/or ideas with very special toolkits does not contradict the MIS 5 Biome Model of North Africa.

Stillbay assemblages are rare and, with the exception of Sibudu Cave ( KwaZulu-Natal), and Apollo 11 (Namibia), all concentrated in the Cape Province of South Africa. Foliate shaped bifacially worked stone points (Fig. 2: Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository (Vincent Mourre / Inrap) are the hallmarks of the Stillbay techno-tradition. Bifacial roughouts are more common than the finished product and correspond to various stages of the reduction process during which flakes are produced by thinning and by shaping the bifacials as shown at Blombos. Bifacial points were most probably used as spear points, as indicated by use wear analysis, but also served as multifunctional tools and were used as knives.

At Blombos Cave, the majority of the bifacial points recovered were made on silcrete that was heat-treated before flaking. After applying hard- and soft-hammer techniques to shape the blank, the points were finely finished using an  sophisticated pressure-flaking technique, which is also known from the Lupemban complex (see below).

At present the known Still Bay assemblages show temporal and spatial discontinuity and much variability. At this point it seems not to be possible to reconstruct technological trends or directional change, but this may be a consequence of a sampling bias, with only a handful sites with undisturbed stratigraphy. Data already available suggest  for the Stillbay techno-complexes in several South African sites an age  from end of MIS 5 to the beginning of MIS 4. Thermoluminescence dating undertaken at Diepkloof Rock Shelter, Sibudu and Apollo 11 indicate a duration for the Still Bay period of around 7,700 years, from 75,5 to 67,8 k.a. ago. Anyhow, newly detected bifacial points from the “pre-Stillbay” strata at Sibudu and Thermoluminescence data  from Diepkloof with a mean age of 109 k.a. could indicate that the Stillbay phase started considerably earlier.

Another regional trend in the development of the Middle Paleolithic can be traced in North Africa. Here, two  complexes, the Aterian and the Nubian Complex, were recognized. Reviewing the foliates that are shown in this post, they resemble a finely made foliate from the Aterian of the Kharga Oasis, published by Gertrude Caton-Thompson in her seminal work about the Aterian. After M. Kleindienst, the Aterian Unit here is dated between 100-50 k.a. BP.

The Aterian industry is characterized by the use of the Levallois primary reduction technology. The industry was intended for manufacturing points, flakes, and blades. Its diagnostic elements are stemmed pieces, primarily points with a retouched tip and stem. Stems are observed on side-scrapers, end-scrapers, borers, and burins, which indicate that the people widely utilized multifunctional composite tools and reliable hafting-techniques.
Lithic assemblages associated with the Aterian sites are dominated by side-scrapers of various modifications, and also include notched pieces. It is said, that at a later stage in the development of this industry bifacial foliate points became more common, but there is a lack of detailed information about this topic (Fig. 1&3).

OSL analysis yielded a date of 110 k.a. BP for the site of Dar-es-Soltan located near Rabat. The time when sites with similar industry existed in the Temara region is close to this value. The sample derived from the lower Aterian layers at the cave of Mugharet el’ Alyia is dated to the range between 81 ± 9 k.a. BP and 62 ± 5 k.a. BP. At Ifri n’Ammar (Mediterranean side of Morocco) the lowest stratum with tanged objects  was dated to 145 ± 9 k.a. (late OIS6).

It is likely that the Aterian industry evolved during late OIS6/OIS 5e and existed for a long time (latest dates around 32 k.a. BP). Sites containing Aterian assemblages located in northwestern Africa  seem not to be be older than similar MSA techno-complexes in Egypt. Here the Aterian it is at least as old if not older than in the Maghreb, even accounting for the OSL-estimate of 145 ± 9 for the proto-Aterian at Ifri n’Ammar . A few tanged elements occur in a number of Nubian Complex assemblages from the Nile Valley, such as E-78-11 and Arkin 5. There are some tangs present as well in MIS 5 assemblages at Bir Sahara and Bir Tarfawi area. One of the first researchers of the Aterian, G. Caton-Thompson (1946), considered this industry a flexible technological system tracing its roots to Sub-Saharan Africa. Some scholars link the origin of the Aterian to the Lupemban industry (see below). Given that Aterian assemblages include Nazlet Khater points, and also Nubian Levallois cores, Ph. Van Peer concluded that the Aterian culture belonged to lithic industries from the Nile Valley, and should be integrated it into the Nubian complex.

Many Early Nubian Complex surface scatters in upper Egypt/Sudan were detected by the Combined Prehistoric Expedition in the Sahara Desert led by F. Wendorf from 1962-1999 (Fig.4). As early as 1964/ 1965  the Guichards reported about non stratified assemblages with Nubian cores, Nubian Points, thick scrapers and bifacial foliates in the area that would later be flooded by the Aswan dam. The early Nubian Complex since then was suggested to be characterized exactly by this artifact spectrum.  50 years after, there are some stratified sites, that substantiate this view, but the evidence is still scare.

A Sangoan presence in Northeast Af­rica, at Site 8-B-11 on Sai Island in the northern Middle Nile Valley has recently demonstrated. Here, late Acheulian and Sangoan occupation levels are inter-stratified suggesting the contemporaneous presence of two technocomplexes during MIS 7. The Sangoan levels at 8-B-11 contain evidence of  novel behaviors including the exploitation and processing of iron-oxide pigments and vegetable materials and, in the lithic domain, specialized re-tooling of composite tools with depleted core-axes.

In the 8-B-11 sequence, lanceolate foliates are stratified in an MIS 6 level overlying the Sangoan/Acheulian. This assemblage evidences Lupemban-like features, such as the use of a complex blade reduction system very similar to the one documented in the  Lupem­ban at Kalambo Falls . In addition, the Nubian Lev­allois technique for the production of points is present, although in small numbers and may provide a link between the Lupemban with the early Nubian Complex. A contemporaneous small lithic assemblage recovered from the exploitation pit at Taramsa-8 (Upper Egypt)  also evidence the presence of bifacial foliates during tthis time.

The Paleolithic sequence from Sodmein Cave in the Egyptian Eastern Desert, near Quseir, contains seven stratified archaeological levels from the Middle and Upper Palaeolithic. A huge multilayered hearth occurs in the lowest archaeological level (MP5), and was associated with only a few artifacts. Among the lithics associated with this feature is a Nubian1 subtype Levallois core. Also present was a fragment of a  thin, bifacially flaked tool. MP5 was TL dated to 118+/-8 k.a. (MIS 5e). The Nubian Complex sensu stricto is mainly a MIS 5a phenomenon. Bifacial foliates disappear from the typological inventory, but Nubian points still occur.

The Lupemban is an early MSA industry in Central Africa and on the fringes of the Congo basin first described by Breuil more than 60 years ago. This technocomplex is characterized by the presence of bifacial lanceolate points, core-axes and backed blades. Unfortunately sites with contextual information are still rare.  JD Clark suggested the heavy duty tool component points to wood-working, based on the association of the Kalambo Falls site in Zambia with deciduous woodland, and preserved wood at site. However, a number of other sites, such as those excavated in Kenya (Lake Victoria Basin) were clearly occupied open grassland or savanna areas.

At Kalambo Falls the MSA Lupemban assemblages are stratified between a late Acheulean, followed by a Sangoan and later strata with LSA material. The Acheulean to Middle Stone Age transition at this key site occurred within a broad time interval of 500–300 k.a. according to recent published OSL dates. In addition the radiometric dates for the Lupemban at Twin Rivers (Zambia) indicate OIS 7 or 6 ages. At site 8-B-11 at Sai Island, Sudan, the Lupemban also follows an Acheulean and Sangoan and is dated to the OIS6. Similar stratified but undated findings from Nubia are known from Arkin 5 and Khor Abu Anga . These sites are at the extreme fringes of the Lupemban interaction sphere, the data base for the Lupemban “heartland” in contrast, is extremely small: adequate paleoenvironmental proxy evidence exists for only 5% of Lupemban sites, only 17% have chronometric dates, and only 3% are dated using radiometric techniques capable of reaching beyond C-14.   Stone Age sequences in Central Africa,suffer disproportionately from profound post-depositional disturbance , confounding attempts to isolate reliably and define precisely the industry, and to correlate and compare the cultural content of excavated assemblages.

It has been suggested, that the Lupemban coincides with the first sustained settlement of the Central Africa lowlands. In this scenario, the wooded parts of central Africa probably acted as human refugia at times, though the locations of optimal areas would have changed as humid rainforests and dry grasslands waxed and waned with glacial cycles. In this case the Lupemban’s seemingly long duration and continuity with the subsequent Tshitolian could indicate at high overall population stability in central Africa from MIS 6-2.  High population stability also makes it plausible that the region contributed source populations to human dispersal both within and beyond Africa.

But even the contrary could be supposed: A more conservative interpretation of the record of lowland Central Africa might consider that composite tool using mobile human foragers only dispersed into rainforests 40 k.a, or possibly very much later: an interpretation that implicitly casts the Lupemban as a late variant of the MSA of peripheral relevance to the evolution of Homo sapiens.

Suggested Reading:

Sacha C. Jones, Brian A. Stewart (Ed.): Africa from MIS 6-2: Population Dynamics and Paleoenvironments (Vertebrate Paleobiology and Paleoanthropology). The most interesting book about the African Record published during the last year!

Foliates from: AJ Arkell. The Old Stone Age in the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan / by A.J. Arkell. ( Sudan Antiquities Service occasional papers ; no. 1) 1949.

Sangoan / Lupemban : Core axe from Katanga

What’s the Nubian Levallois-core technology got to do with “out of Africa ” dispersal and Boker Tachtit?


MSA point from Lake Tumba: More questions than answers..

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Soucy near Lalinde / Dordogne

This is a heavy burin on truncation coming from a collection assembled before 1930 by Mr. Sanay in Paris, found at the rock shelter of Soucy near the Roche de Lalinde and Gare de Couze site in the Dordogne / S/W-France.

These sites are famous for their engravings, especially those of female figurines engraved on limestone slabs, once called by G. Bosinski: Femmes sans tête. These figurines were made both as portable statues, rock engravings, stone plaquettes and schist slabs.  They display no head and are represent highly stylized femal bodies, with over-sized buttocks, long trunks and small or missing breasts. They are known from France (Combarelles, Fontalès, Lalinde, Gare de Couze), Germany (Gönnersdorf, Andernach, Petersfels, Nebra, Oelknitz) but are also  from Moravia (Pekárna), Mégarnie, in Belgium, Wilczyce in Poland and Italia (Grotta Romanelli). The stylized statuettes from Mezin and Mežirič in the Ukraine are earlier than those in the rest of Europe, but maybe an independent invention.

Such portable limestone plaquettes show numbers of schematized female figures in dance formation. In his microscopic analysis of female imagery from Gönnersdorf, Lalinde, and Mezin, among other sites, Marshack demonstrates that vulvas, vaginas, and buttocks were repeatedly overmarked, presum- pprobably  on different Ritual (?) occasions. On the Lalinde plaquette, women are linked by lines running between the deeply gouged powerpoints of their vulvas.

Soucy is situated near the  final Magdalenian sites of Lalinde and Gare de Couze (Upper Magdalenian in the Dordogne starts around 18,2 k.a. cal BP, final Magdalenian around 17 k.a. cal BP). Soucy was a large rock shelter on the right side of the Dordogne valley, partially destroyed by weathering. It was detected as an archaeological site by M. de Bracquemont in 1881 and later excavated indepently by Delugin and R. Daniel around 1912. D. Peyrony visited the site in 1918 and  detected  in the deblais engravings on limestones slabs, similar to those, that have been found at Lalinde and Gare the Couze.

By the presence of Harpoons and burins de Bec-de-perroquets, it became soon clear that the lithic material, discovered here, came from a final Magdalenian. The excavators reported that the findings came from 3 or 4 strata, which according to them showed no differences in the overall composition of the lithic inventories.

The inventory consists of many burins, mainly dièdre, followed by burins on truncation. These burins rather robust and may have played a role in the production of engraving on limestone slabs. The site is rich on becs de perroquet, dispersed over several collections (collection Delugin, Musée de Périgueux,  Musée de Toulouse and others). Many backed blade lets may have left unrecognized, during the early excavations. 3 pointes de Laugerie-Basse, characteristic for the late Magdalenian S/W-France are also present.

Suggested Readings:

The last photo shows the engraved limestone block from Lalinde, displaying several figurines “sans tete” Source: Picture taken in 1974 at the Musée National de Préhistoire, Les Eyzies)


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l’idée Levallois fait son chemin

(This sentence comes from Marcel Otte)

MIS 7 was a long and complex interglacial phase (spanning more than 50,000 years). In Northern and Central continental Europe we observe the rise of the Levallois technology, although this technique was observed in Europe for the first time around the OIS9/8 boundary.  Not all sites in Northern France are characterized by Levallois, but sites with discoidal production and blade procurement are also known.  The most famous site from this period is Biache-Saint-Vaast (Pas-de- Calais), where two Neanderthal skulls were unearthed. We should not forget very similar material from the excavations of V. Commont at Montiers at the Somme at the beginning of the last century.

The lithic technology from this period is characterized by the prevalence of high quality Levallois debit- age, often with products of large dimensions- which seems to be a hallmark of the regional Paleolithic. . The molluscs and mammalian fauna  at Biache suggest a change from fully temperate conditions from below the archaeological horizons, getting progressively cooler and more open during the human occupation. A date towards the end of MIS 7 or early MIS 6 is suggested. Levallois is an important component of the lower assemblages (IIa and base of II) together with a range of side scrapers.  Many of these scrapers are double convex scrapers and convergent scrapers foreshadowing the Ferrassie ensembles of the last glaciation. The composition of the assemblages and associated fauna suggests a range of activities in each of the different levels including primary knapping and butchery.

The settlement of Piégu (Côtes-du-Nord) is a rock shelter at the bottom of a cliff which was frequented on a marine regressive period. The industry is mainly of flint and has been collected on the beach. lts outstanding features are a Levalloisian technique, characterized by numerous Levalloisian points and well-made side-scrappers.

Therdonne: The excavation of Therdonne site (Oise, France) in 1999 delivered a lithic assemblage dominated by tall Levallois points (niveau N3; OIS7).

Three long bones from the same left upper limb, attributable to the Neanderthal lineage, were discovered at the open-air site of Tourville-la -Rivière (La Fosse-Marmitaine; Normandy, France).  U-series and combined US-ESR dating on animal teeth produced an age range for the site of 183 to 236 k.a. In combination with paleoecological indicators, they indicate an age toward the end of MIS 7. Again the production of large Levallois debitage is prevalent.

The newly detected multilayered open-air site of Etricourt-Manancourt contains at least five prehistoric levels, extending over the period of 330,000 to 80,000 years ago.. The archaeological layers LRS and LGS testify to two human occupations preserved in situ and dates respectively to ca. 220 k.a. and 190 k.a. The Levallois method aimed to obtain elongated flakes with a ready-to-use unretouched but regular cutting-edges.

Maastricht-Belvedere (Netherlands) consists of a complex of sites from fine-grained fluvial sediments containing fully temperate faunas, and probably attributable to MIS 7. TL dates suggest an age between 250–290 k.a. Some of the sites (Site C) display Levallois technology, while at others (Site K) most of the knapping is from disc cores. None of the assemblages have handaxes. Differences in the composition of the assemblages also suggest different site functions, from primary knapping locations to possible animal procurement and processing sites, as well as the sporadic drop-out of tools and rejuvenation waste as such material was transported around the landscape.

Whereas the assemblages from these flint-impoverished occurrences rarely contain Levallois elements, more substantial assemblages were recovered from decalcified loess deposits overlying the younger main terrace of the Meuse (Rheindalen B1, B3 and B5). The earliest human presence (B5) is attested by a Levallois core and retouched Levallois blade, together with other flakes, from the top of a soil sealed by loess. The most substantial assemblage comes from level B3, an interglacial soil higher up the sequence, and is dominated by Levallois flaking of Meuse gravel flint. Heavily retouched flake tools are common, especially convergent and pointed forms on large Levallois blanks. A handaxe was recovered from the loess which seals this horizon, whilst a further substantial assemblage (B1) was recovered from the uppermost part of the interglacial soil, comprising small blades, many of which are retouched. Originally, the upper interglacial soil was correlated with the MIS5e, but recent attempts to refine the regional stratigraphy suggest that these levels form part of the unique “Erft Solcomplex”, which luminescence dating places within MIS 7 (200 k.a.) No direct indications of environment have been recovered from any of these levels.

Taken into account the chronology of the Levallois technology, in Central Europe, two periods can be distinguished. The first period is characterized by the incidental appearance of traces of the small-scale use of predetermined methods in isolated places. The second period, which begins either in MIS8 or even in MIS7 and 6, is characterized by the rapid spread of the technology in various forms. Traces  are known only from the second period (MIS8-MIS6). The later arrival of the Levallois technology to CEntral Europe is probably due to the fact that this area was not as visited as often as other territories because of its proximity to glacial icesheets.

A site with large convergent Levallois products is found incorporated in the lower travertine at Weimar-Ehringsdorf  , most probably from OIS7: http://zs.thulb.uni

As in other areas, the distribution of Levallois technology in Central Europe was dependent on the presence of adequate raw materials. The Levallois strategy occurs mainly in the northern zone where the high quality flints occurred (the North German Lowland, the Silesian Lowland and the Kraków Częstochowa Upland). As in other territories, the Levallois concept almost from the beginning shows technical maturity, internal differentiation and flexibility.

Among these rare sites is the famous Markkleeberg site near Leipzig, Germany.  After more than 100 yrs. of discussion it remains unclear if the archaeological horizon dates to early MIS 8, or may be as young as MIS 6. The Markkleeberg assemblage combines bifacial tools (handaxes and bifacial scrapers) with highly developed Levallois products of various kinds.

Further east, from MIS8 and MIS7 come several sites with asymmetric bifacial tools or one-sided tools, accompanied by the Levallois technology. These sites may represent a non- Acheulean milieu. Kozlowski presented a debatable hypothesis that these sites might have represented the oldest KMG-groups of Central Europe. Unfortunately, this theory is based on very few sites with poor chronological data.

The scrapers (> 10 cm) of this post were found in NW-France and resemble the findings described in this blog.


Suggested Reading:


Victor Commont and the French Prehistory in the early 20th century

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For an End of Linearity in Archaeological Thought

Europe is quite rich in finds of progressive Neanderthals from Middle Paleolithic contexts and early modern humans associated with evolved Upper Paleolithic (late Aurignacian and Gravettian). The Middle –Upper Paleolithic transition took place around 40 k.a. BP and was a one way ticket from the Mousterian to fully fledged leptolithic industries (some of them are still called “transitional”). But see: But Europe is the exception and not the rule, because incoming AMH had their own culture and the culture of the Neanderthals became extinct.

Most archaeological concepts have their origins way back in the nineteenth century with the early developments of archaeology, such as the Three Age System, the Antiquity of Man or the principles of stratigraphic succession. Within such arguments, series of natural and cultural groupings had been organised along a linear sequence from lower to higher, from simple to complex, from primitive to advanced. The fate of individual units contained within such sequences was fairly clear; their movement was passive and one-dimensional, on an axis between regress and progress.

During the last 40 years, many areas of research that are of interest to archaeologists witnessed an increasing use of yet another approach. According to this perspective, changes do not always occur at the same rate. Periods of gradual change may alternate with very rapid changes, or with time-spans in which there is very little change. We have to consider accelerations and decelerations in the rate of change, continuities and discontinuities, more  chaos than logos. The processes concerned are  ‘non-linear’

The investigation of non-linearity is rewarding, when we look on the Middle/Upper Paleolithic boundary of the old world.

Levant: Two technocomplexes, the Ahmarian and the Levantine Aurignacian, represent the early Upper Paleolithic in the Levant. The Ahmarian is estimated to start at Kebara IV between 42-43 k.a. (C-14 years) and is dated around 38 k.a. at Boker A in the Negev. The Aurignacian starts somewhat later for example 36 k.a. at Kebara unit I and II.

In Umm el Tlel (Syria), levels III2a’ and II base, the “Paléolithique intermédiaire”, sandwiched between the Mousterian and Aurignacian, have been dated rather late, at 36.5±2.5 k.a. by TL on burnt flint, and at 34.5±0.89 k.a. BP with AMS dating. Interestingly, while the lowest Stratum can be compared with a fully leptolithic blade production, comparable with the Ahmarian, the upper  strata show a modified Levallois concept and look like the Initial Upper Paleolithic, comparable with the much earlier industry at Boker Tachtit!

Thermoluminescence dates were obtained on five heated flint artifacts from the Mousterian layer C1 (Moustérien tardif), at Jerf al-Ajla (Syria) giving a weighted mean of 35.6 ± 3.4 k.a. Therefore this Mousterian was present thousand of years later than the Beginning of the Upper Paleolithic Ahmarian.

These observations show that in the Near East there is no linear development in lithic technologies. We have to assume a long time span characterized by the simultaneity of Upper Paleolithic industries and other technocomplexes that are “in transition” or purely Mousterian in their character.
Upper Nil Valley: Lower Nubia and Upper Egypt have a relatively well understood geochronology of the Late and Terminal Pleistocene and the human occupation in the period in question:

The early Nubian Complex roughly corresponds to early OIS 5 or even OIS 6, while numerical ages for the late Nubian Complex in northeast Africa fall in the latter half of OIS 5. Other Middle Paleolithic entities without the characteristics of the Nubian Complex, mainly based on a common Levallois technology during OIS 5 and later are known in Egypt and have been called: Local Nilotic Complex with (a) Denticulate Mousterian (K-Group), (b) Khormusan ( dated most probably to OIS5a), (c) Halfan and (d) Idffuan.

A late Middle Paleolithic ensemble, dated by OSL to 50-70 k.a. was found at a chert extraction site in the Nil-valley at Taramsa 1 superimposing one early Nubian ensemble with handaxes, foliates and Nubian points and a younger one without bifacial pieces but the persistence of Nubian technology . The Taramsian is characterized by a Levallois reduction system that is transitional to the systematic production of blades.  “there was a clear tendency towards blade production from large cores, where, instead of obtaining a few Levallois flakes from each individual core, a virtually continuous process of blade production made it possible to create a large number of blades from each core”  .This ensemble  with a changing Levallois production is not unlike the transitional assemblages known in the Negev at Boker Tachtit.

The Upper Paleolithic occupation of the Nile valley seems to have been very restricted. The assemblage from the nearby Al Tiwayrat is undated and might represent an early blade technology similar to the Taramsian but dated to OIS5. Other assemblages from the Upper Palaeolithic were described as Khaterian (42-30 k.a. BP; from Nazlet Khater 4 an extraction/mining site with a AMH burial sites at NK 4 and NK2) and the Shuwikhatian (about 25 k.a. BP; a blade industry with characteristic finely denticulated blades known from several small campsites). Anyhow, in the Upper Nile valley we note a clear trend from Middle Paleolithic entities to pure Upper Paleolithic industries.

But around the LGM and later, we observe again a Levallois based industries, for example the Halfan. This industry is dated between 22 to 14 k.a. BP and mainly restricted to Nubia, while further north in the Nil valley typical epipaleolithic industries were present. During the Halfan,  flake and blade production were performed on single and double platform cores, by an evolved classical Levallois method for the production of thin Levallois fakes. In living sites, burins, notches, and denticulates are found.

During survey in 1998–2003, on the left bank of the Nile around Affad in Sudan, many Paleolithic sites were identified. Testing in 2003 revealed undisturbed surface assemblages of lithic artifacts alongside animal bone remains. Since 2012, a research project run by the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology of the Polish Academy of Sciences has further investigated these sites.

Affad 23
 is dated by OSL around 15-16 k.a. Extensive refitting of lithics in the excavated assemblage show, that most of the lithic material is in situ. At Affad 23, preferential Levallois technique was prevalent and recurrent Levallois concepts of minor importance. In addition, discoidal – flake oriented methods were common. The ensemble has not revealed any presence of the “transitional” elements toward blade-based methods.

Moving to East Africa, the end of the MSA in this region was apparently a gradual and complex process rather than a a single event, with the emergence of the subsequent LSA developing from local MSA roots. At Enkapune ya Muto, Kenya, the sequence from ∼40 to 55 k.a. shows a basal MSA horizon with Levallois and discoidal methods of flake production and rare backed pieces. It is overlain by an industry attributed to the LSA dominated by the production of large (∼7 cm) backed blades and microliths, which is in turn overlain by an industry with abundant microliths (∼2– 5 cm), MSA-like core reduction strategies, and ostrich eggshell beads.

In contrast, at Mumba Rockshelter, Tanzania, the stratigraphic sequence suggests a gradual change in the frequency of typological and technologically important artifacts. Backed elements persist in low numbers across multiple strata, coincident with a reduction in the frequency of Levallois cores and points and an increased use of bipolar percussion for flake production from ∼30 to 68 k.a.. The nature of the change is such that the MSA or LSA attribution of a number of industries at Mumba is uncertain. Similar combinations of typically MSA (e.g., points) and LSA (e.g., backed pieces) artifacts are found at the Mochena Borago  in Ethiopia .

Goda Buticha is a newly discovered cave site in southeastern Ethiopia, containing MSA and LSA cultural material, faunal remains, beads, and human skeletal remains. On a macroscopic level there is a complete absence of indications for post-depositional mixture. A 2.3 m-deep sedimentary sequence records two occupational phases separated by a sharp chronological hiatus, in the Upper Pleistocene (ca. 43–31.5 k.a. cal BP) and in the mid- Holocene (7.8–4.7 k.a. cal BP). The lithic assemblage at the base of the sequence is clearly MSA, with Levallois production, unifacial and bifacial points, associated with a microlithic component, very similar to the MSA of the nearby Porc Epic cave, which may be somewhat older (about 50 k.a.?).

The overlaying Holocene assemblage contains diagnostic artifacts (backed microliths and bladelet production), with ubiquitous use of obsidian and MSA elements that appear in the Holocene.The apparent cultural continuity of MSA elements from the Upper Pleistocene into the Middle Holocene at Goda Buticha may represent another variation of the MSA/LSA transition in East Africa.

Lets look to West Africa, where new surveys and excavations are ongoing in the Senegal valley:  Recently, Scerri et al. reported  typical Middle Stone Age (MSA) technology at Ndiayène Pendao, Lower Senegal Valley , dated around the Pleistocene/Holocene transition, at ~11.6 ka. The ensemble consists of core axes, basally thinned flakes, Levallois points and denticulates mostly made from chert. Similar technological features characterize several, larger surface sites in the vicinity.

In Summary these data indicate, that cultural diversity in Africa was complex, that processes took place in a non-linear manner and that we should always look for the unforeseen-it makes the human story much more exciting…..

Fig. 1: Mousterian Point from Morocco, Fig. 2: Bladelets from the Protoaurignacian / Ahriman, Fig. 3&4&6 : Mousterian Points from Morocco,Fig.5: MSA-Sub-Saharan Points

Suggested Reading:

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Bone Tools- The take-off of a new technology during the MSA and Middle Paleolithic

This are preforms of bone tools, made from Reindeer metacarpal compact bone, found at a famous Gravettian site in the Vézère Valley. The operational sequence begins with flaking technique, aimed to produce a straight or sightly curved fragment of compact bone, usually with two pointed edges. After this first step, different bone tools (awls, points….) were produced by knapping, scraping, polishing and grinding, maybe performed by a single “multi-purpose” stone tool.

Bone industry is a relatively less explored topic in comparison with ceramics, flint and ground stone. Therefore the number of open questions is greater. One of the important problems in analyzing bone industry is the reconstruction of the chaîne opératoire and other questions related to the organization of production, workshops and working areas, since manufacturing debris often remains unrecognized during excavations, i.e. it is either not collected, or it is stored among faunal remains, awaiting identification and a proper analysis. Furthermore, contextual data are often incomplete, especially when it comes to older excavations, when faunal remains were not recognized as important from the viewpoint of research questions and thus attracted limited attention.

The picture heading this post illustrates a short story of bone tools before the LSA / Upper Paleolithic. This story is even more complex than the story of stone tools. As with stone tools, we are dealing with inventions and reinvention made by different Hominines (H. erectus, H. Heidelbergensis, H. sapiens, Neanderthals), and with an enormous variability, both in the operational sequences and tools. In contrast to LSA/ Upper Paleolithic times with their overwhelming richness of bone , ivory and antler tools, during the MSA / Middle Paleolithic, we notice a discontinuous pattern with innovations at discrete sites without much diffusion into other regions. Anyhow, this pattern, which may be related to social, demographic, and climatic factors, is not well understood.

ESA in S-Africa: The Osteodontokeratic (“bone-tooth-horn”, Greek and Latin derivation) culture (ODK) is a hypothesis that was developed by Prof. Raymond Dart (who identified the Taung child fossil in 1924, and published the find in Nature Magazine in 1925), which detailed the predatory habits of Australopithecus species in South Africa involving the manufacture and use of osseous implements. His assumption were later rejected, especially by Bob Brain, who summarized the findings of his research spanning nearly 20 years in the authoritative volume entitled, Hunters or the Hunted?: An Introduction to African Cave Taphonomy (1981), which convincingly argued that early Australopiths were not, in fact, responsible for associated fossil accumulations found throughout southern Africa and that the ODK could be easily explained by Taphonomic factors.

It is not without irony, that later numerous bone artifacts dating to around 1.8 MYA have been found in association with P. robustus fossils in South African sites such as Swartkrans, Sterkfontein and Drimolen. Microscopic analysis of original and replica pieces have eliminated specimens created from weathering and faunal gnawing to show that real bone tools conform to certain characteristics: thick bone shaft fragments from medium to large mammals that have rounded tips and marked striations running parallel along the piece.] The striations of these artifacts were compared with those on bone tools used by local Bantu-speaking tribal groups and modern bone tools used in experimentation. Analysis by 2D and 3D computer software found that the artifacts were most likely used for foraging for termites. Although, digging for tubers and processing thick-skinned fruits were also possible uses.

The presence of an intentionally knapped bone handaxe and other knapped bone artifacts in a upper Bed II site at Olduvai  (c. 1.3-1.5 mys) suggests that Homo erectus could be the best candidate for their production. Acheulian Handaxes made from bone are especially well documented from the European continent. Acheulian-type bifaces, made by flaking elephant long bones, are known from three Middle Pleistocene sites in Italy: Castel di Guido, Fontana Ranuccio, and Malagrotta ( MIS11-9).

During the last 20 years an increasing number of bone tools are reported from African Middle Stone Age (MSA) sites and much progress has been made in the reconstruction of the operational sequences and the function of the tools by microtraceological and experimental techniques.

The earliest specimens come from Kabwe (Broken Hill) / Zambia, and are attributed to the early MSA (about 300 k.a. ),  interpreted as two gouges and a point. Anyhow, this interpretation is not shared by all researchers.  Other evidence for bone working in the MSA is provided by barbed and unbarbed bone points from the Katanda sites in the Semliki Valley, Democratic Republic of the Congo, dated 90–60 k.a. Because these sophisticated points were at their time (1995) an isolated finding, they were long suggested to be intrusive from the LSA. Later it became clear that bone tools during the MSA were no abnormality, but  more common, than once suggested.

A point tip, a mesial fragment, an almost complete spear point, a tanged bone point, and 26 awls are reported from M1 and M2 layers (the Stillbay strata) at Blombos Cave,  with ages  84–72 k.a. A single massive point, different from those found in the MSA and LSA layers at Blombos Cave, was recovered in the dune sand layer, with an age of  70 k.a. An awl and a possible flaked shaft fragment come from the Blombos M3 phase, with an age of ca 100 k.a. The morphological variability in the bone points from Blombos Cave, and the size and weight of the one complete specimen, suggests that they were probably used as spear points.

A bone point from Peers  Cave was retrieved from either the Howiesons Poort (HP) or Still Bay layers at the site. A single bone point was discovered at Klasies River in layer 19 of Shelter 1a at the base of the HP. A date of approximately  70 k.a., was suggested for the HP at Klasies River. The only other pointed bone implements known from the MSA come from Sibudu Cave. Sibudu is a site from KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa featuring a stratigraphic sequence with pre-Still Bay, Still Bay (SB), HP, post-HP, late and final MSA cultural horizons. Twenty-three pieces from the  pre-SB, HP, post-HP and final MSA were described in detail using use-wear analysis, experimental data and ethnographic analogies. The excavators found “a number of specialized bone tool types (wedges, pièces esquillées, pressure flakers, smoothers, sequentially notched pieces), previously known only from the Upper Palaeolithic and more recent periods, (that) were manufactured and used at least 30,000 years earlier at Sibudu Cave. These tools appear to be part of a local tradition because they are absent at contemporaneous or more recent southern African sites” (d’Errico et al. 2012). A symmetric small bone points from the the end of HP at Sibudu even may signify bow and arrow-technology, together with the classic HP-lunates, that were probably  inserts of arrows.

Middle Paleolithic in Europe: The Abri Peyrony (Dordogne) produced a rich Mousterian of Acheulian Tradition (MTA) industry (calibrated AMS dates: 47,7 to 41,1 k.a. Cal BP). Here, recently three special bone tools, Lissoirs, for leather processing, were excavated and called the oldest “formalized” bone tools made by Neanderthals anywhere in Europe.  Almost identical specimens have been found in the nearby , Pech-de-l’Azé I (Pech I) site.  Lissoirs  are a formal, standardized bone-tool type, made by grinding and polishing, interpreted as being used to prepare hides.

The Micoquian /KMG site of Salzgitter-Lebenstedt, dated around early MIS3, yielded several mammoth ribs modified by percussion and then shaped by grinding. Some modified bone tools had already been described in 1952 and in more detail in 1982 as a part of an excellent monograph by Alfred Tode. Today, the bone tool assemblage consists of 23 intentionally modified bones (pointed elephant ribs and fibulae), a modified antler and a triangular bone point. A reevaluation by modern analytical methods would help to accept these artifacts as genuine, because similar objects have been shown to be the result of natural processes.

Middle Paleolithic bone retouchers: The use of bone or antler bases to retouch stone artifacts is documented at many Mousterian sites from Europe including Combe Grenal, Artenac, and La Quina in France, Riparo di Fumane and Riparo Tagliente in Italy, and on the Crimean peninsula. Recently, a human skull fragment from the Mousterian site of La Quina has been shown to be the oldest evidence of a human bone used as a tool in the form of a retoucher.

Middle Paleolithic Points: In Europe, Bone and antler points are reported from at least 12 Middle Paleolithic sites. Some of the pieces were interpreted as points hafted on throwing or thrusting spears, while others were described as awls and borers. Some of them could be the result of natural processes.

Firm evidence of worked, and in some cases decorated, bone awls comes from the Ahmarian / Protoaurignacian around the Mediterranean and some Châtelperronian and Uluzzian sites in France and Italy – but here we enter into the Upper Paleolithic and therefore this short story now ends.

Suggested Readings:


Illustration about the  Osteodontokeratic bone culture- how a Hyena mandible was thought to have been used by the Australopithecus “Killer-Ape”:

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A Quina Scraper with thinned back from Soyons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Suggested Readings: 

The Neronian in the Rhone Valley

Neanderthals in the Upper Loire River Valley

Quina scrapers from the Carrière Chaumette…devoile-ses-mysteres…p?RH=Societes_traces

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


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Quina Mousterian in Central France and the Collections of François Reignoux

This are four Quina scrapers (two transversal,one bifacial and one convergent) from the Grand Pressigny area found around 1900, very similar to the Quina- Mousterian found by François Reignoux during the late 19th century / early 20th century (Collection Reignoux ).

Since its discovery in 1953 by Fernand Berthouin and Gérard Cordier, L’Abri Reignoux has been a reference site for the Mousterian de la Touraine. However, its publication has always been preliminary and even today we have very little information on the rich lithic industry and the fauna found there. Especially because much of the series, is still kept in the home of one of the excavators, it is still unavailable for study. The 1953 drill holes, dug at the foot of the hill at the Champs Penais in the Brignon valley, aimed to find the shelter, where François Reignoux at the end of the 19th century had excavated several thousand Mousterian tools. It remains rather uncertain if the 1953 excavations really led to the rediscovery of Reignoux`s original site.  The character of  the L’Abri Reignoux differs from the collection of Reignoux (more simple scrapers, transversal scrapers are much rarer)

This local collector at the Grand Pressigny died in 1938 without ever revealing the exact provenance of his impressive findings. According to a  letter of May 12, 1896, addressed to Gabriel de Mortillet , the whole collection came from a single deposit, a cave collapsed near Grand Pressigny. Almost certainly the find spot was a collapsed limestone shelter of the right bank of the Brignon.

The collection of Reignoux, now housed at the Musée Préhistoire Grand-Pressigny  (Indre et Loire; Touraine) is certainly biased versus nice and large retouched pieces. 98% of his collection (n=1010) consists of scrapers, similar to the four implements, shown above. Beside transversal scrapers, up to 15 cm long dominating the series (n = 413), followed by simple (n = 165) and double (n = 77) sidescrapers, are present. Convergent and déjeté scrapers are relatively common (n = 87).  Bifacial scrapers (n = 5) and scraper with a cortical back (n = 17) are rare. Scalariform retouche is common, especially on the tranversal scrapers.

Upper Turonian flint is the most prevalent raw material in the collection. Hard hammer production is prevalent. Several items are made from “first generation” cortical flakes.  Others show smoth, roughly facetet  or cortical platforms . They are characterized by a certain morphological variability, essentially linked to their dimensions (from 50 to 150 mm length l) and the selection of supports.

While it seems that in the Touraine and adjacent areas the Acheulean occupation was confined almost exclusively to the floodplains, we observe a diversification of sites, which were localized not only at the river banks but also at slopes, plateaus and sometimes caves and rock-shelters, during the Middle Paleolithic. In these regions a Mousterian with bifacial artifacts (MTA) is known almost exclusively from open air sites, while a poor Mousterien with or without Levallois affinities,  mainly characterized by the occurrence of  large scrapers is exclusively found in caves and rock shelters along the valleys of the Brignon, Anglin, the Gartempe and the Vienne (e.g Abri des Roches d’Abilly). The most ineteresting site is La Roche-Cotard site (I-IV)  located on the right side of the Loire valley, about 20 km down-river from Tours, where symbolic character productions of Neanderthals were claimed to have been found (

Suggested Reading

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How to kill a beast?- The thinning of Stone tools

This is a convergent scraper or a long “Mousterian Point” (12 cm long), an old surface found  from central France*, made on now heavily patinated blue flint, by an operational sequence that was clearly not Levallois. It shows basal thinning, removing the thickness of the base from 1,3 cm  to 0,3 cm (Fig.1,2). But not only the base is thinned,  the tip of this convergent artifact is also , in this case by bifacial invasive flat retouch (Fig.1-4).

Basal thinning
is a technique, characterized by the intentional removal of thickness by small flakes from the ventral and / or dorsal base of a chipped stone tool, usually to facilitate hafting (See the retouches on the dorsal base in Fig. 2).  Basal thinning in Africa appears first at Gadometta, Site ETH728 B, dating to >279 k.a. Ago. The technique becomes more common during the late MSA (<60 k.a.; MIS3) , for example at Nasera Rockshelter, in Tanzania, or at Shambyu/Rundu, as shown in an earlier post of my blog. In S/E-Africa many triangular convergent artifacts are now seen as stone-tipped projectiles. This assumption is supported by data from velocity-dependent microfracture features, diagnostic damage patterns, and artifact shape.

Thinning is described as a concept of the Acheulo-Yabroudian (400-200 k.a.) The scraper assemblage from Zuttiyeh has been described and analyzed in some detail. Here an interesting phenomenon is removal of the bulb of percussion, either by a single blow or through thinning. Similar observations were made by Le Tensorer   at the Yabroudian layers in Hummal (Syria).

The Initial Upper Paleolithic (IUP) of the Levant is characterized by a parallel blend of old (MP) and new (UP) traits. Refitted cores from Boker Tachtit demonstrated that morphologically Middle Paleolithic artifacts (Emiran points,  Levallois points) were produced by Upper Paleolithic  blade technology; a change in the knappers’ concept of the nodule’s volume. Emireh points are the hallmark of the IUP in Israel and the Lebanon and have described as a triangular point, Levallois or not, struck from a bipolar core after which all of the striking-platform and most of the bulb of percussion were removed by lamellar bifacial retouch (i.e. carried out on both faces of the proximal end) forming a bevel, V-shaped in profile and straight or slightly wavy in cross-section.

Similar thinning concepts are known from the IUP at Umm el Tlel (Syria). Technologically the sequence at Umm el Tlel provides a long span, containing industries from the Lower to the Upper Palaeolithic. Three layers (III2b\ III2a’, JIbase’) are regarded as “intermediate”, sandwiched between Mousterian and fully Upper Paleolithic levels, and separated by sterile layers. A blade concept of Upper Palaeolithic type, which can be regarded as Ahmarian, is characteristic for layer III2b’, whereas several volumetric reduction concepts were used in III2a’ and Ilbase’. During the lower “intermediate” levels, most frequently a Levallois technique aimed at the production of elongated triangular blanks (Levallois points), often with thinning of the proximal end and by the removal of several small elongated flakes, was employed (Umm el-Tlel point type). The regulation of the proximal end produces the same result as the (basal/bulbar) thinning of Emireh points as at Boker Tachtit. It is unknown if Umm el-Tlel points or Emireh points were projectile points or  hafted for other reasons.

Although thinning of artifacts in Europe is usually assigned to the Mousterian of the last Glacial, especially to the variants of the Quina technique, and to the KMG-groups of central Europe, systematic thinning appears earlier. In S/W-France the site of Bouheben (layer 2; Late Acheulian) is dated by geostratigraphic arguments to MIS 6. The artifacts consist of Acheulian handaxes with a large set of very fine and elaborated “Mousterian” convergent scrapers and points. Convergent tools, which resemble the one, shown in this post, are abundant at Bouheben. Especially elongated forms usually show basal thinning. The tips are sometimes thinned, too. Morphometric and impact scar analysis suggest that at least some of the points at Bouheben were part of hunting devices.

This brings me back to our artifact. As noted earlier and shown from both sides in Fig. 3 and 4, the tip was retouched by bifacial invasive flat retouche, removing the thickness of the tip from 0,8 cm  to 0,2 cm. Such thinning on the base and the tip is highly suggestive of a large point hafted on a spear.

The Schöningen Spears, eight wooden throwing spears from the Lower Palaeolithic and an associated cache of approximately 16,000 animal bones, excavated under the management of Dr. Hartmut Thieme between 1994 and 1998 in the open-cast lignite mine, Schöningen, county Helmstedt district, Germany are ca 300 k.a. old, and represent the oldest completely preserved hunting weapons worldwide. Their discovery led to a change in paradigms, namely that Homo before Homo sapiens was a poorly equipped scavenger, the hunted, but not the hunter.

Since this paradigmatic change the search for Paleolithic stone projectile tips delivered with thrusting and throwing spears become again a focus of Middle Paleolithic and MSA research.Stone tipped Projectile weapons (i.e. those delivered from a distance) enhanced prehistoric hunting efficiency by enabling higher impact delivery and hunting of a broader range of animals while reducing confrontations with dangerous prey species.

In this sense our artifact could be an early document for this technique.

*The department Cher is part of the current administrative region of Centre-Val de Loire. It is surrounded by the departments of Indre, Loir-et-Cher, Loiret, Nièvre, Allier, and Creuse.

Suggested Readings:


MSA from Shambyu / Rundu

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The Bohunician and related Technocomplexes in Europe and Asia

This is a 9 cm long Levallois point from N-France displaying exactly the Bohunician-Type of this artifact. Certainly the traits of this artifact represents a convergence phenomena.

The term “Bohunician” is derived from the word Bohunice, the name of a suburb in the western part of the city of Brno (Moravia), where this specific lithic industry was first discovered and described by  Karel Valoch in 1976. The Bohunician occupation is concentrated in a 100 sq. km area within the Brno Basin, where two clusters of stratified sites (Bohunice and Stránská skála), several other stratified sites (Líšen, Podolí, Tvarožná) and a series of surface artifact clusters have been documented.

These clusters in Moravia, include the Bobrava area,  Prostějov area with the important Ondratice site and  the Mohelno area. Isolated sites with evolved Levallois industries have also been reported from adjoining regions including Hradsko in Bohemia, Nižný Hrabovec in Eastern Slovakia, and Dzierzyslaw I in Poland.

The Bohunician industry is technologically characterized by the utilization of a specific technology described as a fusion of the Levallois and Upper Paleolithic crested core techniques. The desired end product of the operational sequence was the creation of elongated Levallois points.

The Bohunician typological spectrum represents a mixture of Middle and Upper Paleolithic tools. Among the Middle Paleolithic tools, side scrapers of different forms are frequent followed by Mousterian points, Quinson-points and notched and denticulated artifacts. The Upper Paleolithic tool kit is represented mainly by end scrapers and rare burins. Blanks selected for the retouched tool production were both blades and flakes; however, the flake blanks prevail significantly, even in the case of characteristic Upper Paleolithic tool-types, e.g., end scrapers. Bifacially leaf-shaped points within stratified assemblages are selectively known from Bohunice and have been interpreted differently (Szeletian influence, palimpsest character of the findings including Bohunician and Szeletian tools?).

Elongated Levallois points were the desired end product of the Bohunician technology. The reduction strategy was reconstructed as follows:

  • the core was shaped as a typical upper Paleolithic prismatic core with a frontal crest
  • Two opposed platforms were created.
  • The striking platforms of these blades were faceted, allowing better control of the strike.
  • Consequently a series of blades was removed from both opposed platforms in order to form the frontal face of the core into a shape (triangular, elongated) which allows Levallois point production
  • Although the end product (elongated Levallois point) has affinities to the genuine Middle Paleolithic Levallois technologies, the volumetric concept is fully Upper Paleolithic.
  • The prevailing dorsal scar pattern of the Levallois points is bidirectional or opposed directional.
  • Concave faceted platforms of the Levallois points are an important hallmark of the Bohunician.

While the calibrated radiocarbon have a relatively broad range (between 48–40 k.a. BP), a TL weighted mean result of 11 artifacts from the Bohunice 2002 excavation
yielded a result of 48.2 ±1.9 k.a. BP, which corresponds to some the OSL dates (60–40 k.a BP). Generally, luminescence dates tend to be older than the radiocarbon

In Moravia, the Bohunician as well as the Szeletian suddenly seem to disappear around 40 k.a. BP. This moment corresponds with the Campanian Ignimbrite although Moravia was not immediately affected by volcanic ash.

A very similar technology has been found at isolated find spots over S/E-Europe and Asia. To name just a few:

Temnata Dupka Cave is located in a limestone cliff above the Iskar River, near Karlukovo village in northern Bulgaria. The assemblage with evolved Levallois technique has an age range of 50–45 ka. It was excavated from sector TD-II, Layer VI. Technologically, the cores show bidirectional reduction, some of them possessing a frontal crest. However, Levallois points and other blanks with facetted striking platforms are rare.

The site of Kulychivka in the Ukraine is located on a strategically elevated position (Kulychivka hill) above the Ikva River, on the outskirts of the town of Kremenets, Ternopol Province. The vicinity of the site is an important raw material outcrop. Nodules of a high quality Turronian fint were extracted from Cretaceous chalk deposits. Artifacts in layer 4 and overlying layer 3 show traces of evolved Levallois technique – concavely faceted striking platforms, elongated blanks (blades and points) with bidirectional dorsal scars, and related bidirectional cores. Crested blades indicate the preparation of a frontal crest. Layer 3 differs from underlying layer 4 by a lower number of Levallois points and a greater number of bladelets and endscrapers often made on long massive and steeply retouched blades. A single radiocarbon date of 31k.a. BP is younger than the generally accepted age for the Bohunician.

Kara-Bom in the Altai is a multilayered site in the Altai Mountains at an altitude of over 1000 m asl. The site is situated near an active spring at the foot of a black rock wall. The source of a high quality raw material, subvolcanic rock, is situated in nearby gravels. Layers 5 and 6 dated by radiocarbon to 50–37 k.a. BP produced an evolved Levallois industry attributed to the Middle to Upper Paleolithic transitional period. The assemblages from these layers are characterized by the production of elongated blanks with concavely facetted striking platforms of bipolar cores. In contrast to the western Eurasian sites, the Kara-Bom assemblage has a more distinct bladelet/ microbladelet component. A bladelet burin-core on a massive Levallois flake was also refitted.

The Shuidonggou site cluster in China (localities 1– 12) is situated on the bank of Border River (tributary of the Yellow River) in the transition zone between the Maowusu Desert and the Loess Plateau in Northern China. Several occupational horizons from Paleolithic to Neolithic periods were recorded. J. Svoboda noted the similarity of a portion of this industry with the Levallois-“leptolithic” technology. Artifacts from localities 1 and 9 show characteristic features of the Bohunician, including Levallois artifacts and bipolar cores. The onset of Levalloisian blade technology at Shuidonggou Locality 1 has recently be dated to ca. 43 k.a. by C-14 and OSL.

Suggested Reading, especially about the “Emirian” in the near East

The Story of Levallois Points

The Initial Upper Paleolithic of the Negev


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What do we know about the Acheulian in the Bourgogne?


These are two handaxes and a large Levallois flake from the Pays d’Othe. The Pays d’Othe area is bordered on the west by the Yonne valley, on the north by the Vanne valley, and east by the city of Troyes in Northern Bourgogne. The region was a “hunting ground” of collectors during the 19th century and the surface findings were sold for cheap money, mainly in Papeteries in Paris, either tied onto a board using wire, or glued on carton using strong glue. Fig. 2 shows such a trade good with Quina scrapres and Neolithic blades, mainly from the Grand Pressigny area.


What is known from the  RhôneSaône Corridor, during the Early Paleolithic? One of the oldest Paleolithic in the Bourgogne comes from the Azé Cave (Sâone-et-Loire, France), dated through faunal remains to 400-300 k.a. This industry is made up of local rocks, mostly poor quality flint, and also chert and crystalline rocks. The process of knapping is opportunistic and the cores, seldom exhausted, usually bear two opposite reduction faces. The flakes often reveal patches of residual cortex. They are moderately thick and the striking platform angle varies within a wide range of values. Some of them seem to be the result of a tearing-off motion. All the flint pieces have been heavily retouched; half of them have been simply utilized, others are proper tools, mostly scrapers, usually with steep retouch. A good number of more or less trimmed cobbles are also part of this collection. However, handaxes are completely missing.

Stratified sites with Handaxes are rare and only known from the North of the Bourgogne, but can be used as a proxy for our surface findings.
Since 1900, the archaeological survey of the Pleistocene alluvial deposits of the north of the Yonne valley (North Burgundy), in the southeast of the Paris Basin, has allowed the discovery of twelve Palaeolithic settlements (Lower, Middle and  Upper Palaeolithic [Magdalenian, Azilian-Federmessser]), the plotting of the evolution of the Yonne terrace system and the proposal of a chrono- stratigraphical hypothesis. The settlements were found in the six alluvial terraces (Soucy 1 to 6, Etigny Le Brassot PLM, Le Fond des Blanchards and Le Chemin de l’Évangile 3 at Gron, Le Brassot at Étigny). Fig. 3 shows a handaxe from the Yonne valley, similar to the excavated pieces at Soucy.

Since the quarry at Soucy (ca 300
km south/ west of the Pays d’Othe) was opened in 1990, nine archaeological horizons have been identified across 6 sites, four of which have been excavated (Soucy 1, 3, 5 and 6) and two of which have been preserved in situ for  excavation at a future date. Stratigraphic, biological and radiometric dating places these sites between c.345 and 365 k.a. (MIS10/9).  The Soucy localities tell a story of successive hominin occupations in a fluvial landscape. Many of the occupations show distinctive patterns of behavior by the presence or absence of typical Acheulian bifaces. The operational sequences for the production of flakes were either “Clacton” (sensu Boeda), diskoid, or oportunistic. No Levallois cores or products were observed. Formal tools were mainly scrapers and notches.

The timeframe of the Soucy occupations falls into the Holsteinian complex sensu lato, which has been correlated by different authors from MIS 11 to 9. Differentiating the two interglacials MIS 11 and 9 is not always possible, as they were short and sometimes shared common climatic and environmental features. MIS 10 is also considered to be short and is not always preserved in the sedimentological record. The Soucy Acheulian seems to be older than the Acheulian shown here, because the Levallois method is absent.

The Rhodanian corridor yielded little evidence of Acheulean open-air settlements while in the Centre of France, they are numerous. Moncel at al. published in 2011 data about the assemblages of five Final Acheulean open-air sites near Roanne, ca 300 km south from the Pays d’Othe (La Garde, La Ronzière, Féchet, Goutte Mordon et L’Hospice). The sites were probably multi-activity places including large tools and flakes, according to the strategies used by humans.

Three main categories of large bifacial tools mainly made of flint can be described, with a triangular or oval shape and with a transversal cutting edge (biface-hacherau). At La Garde and à La Ronzière, large scrapers and micro-chopping-tools were present. The Levallois flaking is always present and associated to various other types of methods. Therfore the sites can not be older than OIS9/8 (first appearance of the Levallois technique at Orgnac III in this part of Europe).  The sites, located on plateaus on the two banks of a small valley, suggest human circulating between the Saône-Rhône corridor and the interior basins of the Massif Central Mountains.

The Handaxes were made from large flakes and worked rather crude by hard hammer. In this respect, they resemble the handaxes shown in this post. We have to discuss a similar age for our small ensemble, because the Levallois technique is well attested.


Suggested Readings:

Marie-Hélène Moncel · Marta Arzarello · Angeliki Theodoropoulou · Yves Boulio : Variabilité de l’Acheuléen de plein air entre Rhône et Loire (France). Oct 2014 · L Anthropologie.

Vincent Lhomme · Nelly Connet · Christine Chaussé · […] · Pierre Voinchet : Les sites et les industries lithiques du Paléolithique inférieur, moyen et supérieur de la basse vallée de l’Yonne dans leurs contextes chronostratigraphiques. Bilan de dix ans d’activité archéologique pluridisciplinaire dans le sud-est du Bassin parisien. Jan 2004 · Bulletin de la Société préhistorique française.

Explore the Bourgogne!


Handaxe from Cosne-sur-Loire

Colméry(Nievre): Middle Paleolithic flat Handaxe (Faustkeilblatt)


Acheulean in Northern France: Handaxe from the Yonne Valley

The European World during MIS 11-9.


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


Handaxe from Oudry and the Rhône/Saône axis during the Paleolithic


A Leaf Point from Solutré

Solutré: Stratigraphy and Technocomplexes


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