“Nubian Point” from the Lower Nil Valley

This is a Nubian (Levallois) Point, very different from the European or Levantine Levallois Points (10x6x0,5 cm). Such broad pointed Flakes are the end product of an operational chain, usually starting with the production of Nubian 2-mode cores.

Nubian points are part of the Middle Paleolithic / MSA Nubian complex in the lower Nil valley. A number of tool types are present in this assemblages, such as bifacial foliates and thick Nubian scrapers (only during the early Nubian complex), Nubian Points, as shown in this post and Nazlet Khater points (Nubian points with inverse retouching of the tip) and truncated­-facetted pieces. Several diachronic phases can be distinguished in the Nubian Complex. Among the oldest are those that are characterised by the presence of thin bifacial tools, in addition to the Nubian technique. These assemblages belong to the Early Middle Palaeolithic, and are of Middle Pleistocene age. The Late Nubian Complex is present from about 100 k.a.BP, in the Early Late Pleistocene.

The Nubian cores were first described by Guichard and Guichard, which separated two types. The Type 1 its a  Levallois pointed core prepared by two unidirectional divergent removals undertaken from the distal part of the core. Type 2 cores are marked by an elaborated centripetal preparation arranged perpendicularly to the central axis of the triangular silhouette of the Levallois surface from which a Levallois point, unlike the ‘‘classical’’ Levallois point,  is struck. Guichard and Guichard  did not consider the objective of this second scheme as a Levallois point sensu stricto, given that the preferential removal does not follow a central guiding ridge. However, all Researchers conclude that the product of this reduction is a triangular Levallois flake.

At some sites, for example at Dhofar (Oman) an overlap between the preparation methods, which culminate in the shaping of Nubian Type 1 and Type 2 cores, may be identified as ‘‘Nubian Type 1/2’’. This plasticity in core dorsal surface preparation is also present at the Hadramawt region in Yemen. Concerning the plasticity within the Nubian technology and the interchangeability between the Nubian Type 1 and Type 2 cores, Chiotti et al. argue in favor of condensing these preparation methods into a general Nubian technology.

The Nubian Complex

The Early Nubian Complex

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An Ovate Handaxe from the UK

During the 1960ies Dereck Roe was engaged to quantify  artifact variation across the Acheulian world.  Of all of the ratios and measurements calculated by  Roe, the essence was the tripartite division of handaxes into Pointed, Ovate and Cleaver forms. The genesis of this paradigm is seen when Roe demonstrated that a typical ficron, ovate and cleaver can have the same figure for the width/length ratio despite their obvious differences in shape. He identified that the major difference between these three shapes is in the position of the maximum width (L₁). ‘From this simple fact emerges the very promising index L₁/L as an indicator of shape’. This classification, which is measured on the basis of the relative position of maximum width of the tool, stems from an arbitrary division of the L₁/L. Ovates were defined by their ratio  between 0.351 – 0.550. The wonderful executed 12 cm Long ovate from S-England shown here has a ratio of 0,47. Ovates were common in Britain especially during OIS 11 (Hoxnian).

The significance of morphological variation in Acheulean bifaces has been a central issue in Paleolithic research for over a century. For much of that period interpretation has been dominated by culture-historical models and it is only in the past 20 years that other explanatory factors have received adequate attention.  These factors include raw materials, site function, and reduction intensity. These questions  have especially been discussed in the UK.

In 1964 Dereck Roe, categorized 38 British sites either belonging to a predominantly ovate or pointed “tradition”. Roe was an “intentionalist”, who proposed that “Traditions” were created by the intention of their makers. This pattern has been repeatedly confirmed by other researchers. Anyhow, it is important to note that each assemblage contains a mixture of both forms. Pointed handaxes comprise, in most cases, no less than 30% of an assemblage, even in ovate dominated sites. In assemblages devoid of cleavers, a group to which all of the UK sites belong, the dominance of either pointed or ovate shapes suggests that the picture is probably much more complex than a clear-cut ‘‘pointed’’ vs. ‘‘broad’’ handaxe shape dichotomy.

We should also remember that Roe used  museum collections, which particularly in Britain and France, have been heavily biased by the past practices of both collectors and sometimes excavators where often only the finer bifaces, or those made of more easily identifiable raw materials such as flint, have been retained. Despite Britain having a rich Lower Paleolithic record, the number of recent large-scale excavations is low compared to other parts of Europe. The debate over this UK dichotomy and its sources is ongoing, principally between the proponents of the ‘‘raw-material’’ model and those advocating the ‘‘reduction’’ model.

White examined the British bifaces and noted the type of raw material from which they were made. He found a consistent pattern that led him to suggest that variability in raw material size, shape, and quality is behind the shape patterning in these assemblages. Pointed forms tend to be made on smaller, poorer quality raw materials obtained from secondary deposits on river terraces. In these instances, the shape of the nodules often placed constraints on the type of form that could be manufactured. Conversely, rounded forms were generally made on larger, high-quality raw materials obtained from primary sources. Because pointed or ovate forms could have been manufactured in these instances, White takes the analysis a step further, arguing that ovate forms were in fact the preferred form of Britain’s hominids and that pointed forms were simply an accommodation to inferior raw material.

Mc Pherron argues that the bifaces of an assemblage represent different stages of the reduction process. Some will be in the earlier stages of reduction when they enter the archaeological record and others will be nearly exhausted. The model links the intensity of bifacial reduction with variability in biface shape.

If a particular shape was important to these hominids, then one would expect the shape to remain relatively constant despite the diminishing size of the biface. On the other hand, if factors other than shape were more important for their makers, then one might expect shape to gradually change as the biface diminished in size. Mc Pherron argues for the latter assumption: In the reduction sequence large pointed handaxes were eventually resharpened into smaller ovate forms. It remains somewhat unclear, how the reduction process should be quantified without the presence of the complete reduction chain in the archaeological record.

All models of variability in the British Acheulian have their flaws and refer to the simple and abitrary dichotomy of pointed vs. ovate handaxes. While the reduction model fits to some assemblages, it has been falsified on others.  Raw material size, shape and quality as the primary factors influencing the form of handaxes seems to fit better to the observed pattering in the UK.

Anyhow, such results can not be easily extrapolated to other regions: Sharon showed that these models are irrelevant to the tools’ morphological variability, at least as far as the Large Flake Acheulian (LFA) in the Middle East and Africa is concerned. It has been demonstrated that raw material constraints had minimal impact on biface shape and size, and that the morphology of LFA handaxes and cleavers cannot be explained by the reduction sequence model, since their minimal retouch shaping strategy ruled out intensive resharpening.

Overall  it is hoped, that a multi-modal synthesis of analytical techniques that incorporate a variety of methods may resolve such questions in the future.

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A Truncated Blade of the Early Upper Paleolithic from Kebara / Israel

kebara newtoolkebaranewtool1

This is a broad blade (7×2,7×0,7 cm) with a straight, steeply retouched (around 90◦) edge aligned more or less perpendicularly to the long axis of the tool- a piece with streight truncation from the lower layers (Early Ahmarian) of Kebara cave. Such pieces, often with  a faceted platform, which is also present on the artifacts shown here, are present since the very early beginnings of the Levantine Upper Paleolithic.

A Review in Azouris publication of the lower strata at Ksar Akil  (IUP)(pdf:digital.library.stonybrook.edu/cdm/ref/collection/amar/id/158362) shows straight truncations, oblique truncations and concave truncations and many burins on strait or oblique truncations, in Strata 24-21 (IUP) together with end scrapers and chamfered pieces. They continue to be present until the early Ahmarian of Stratum 18.

Truncations could be instruments on their own right, anyhow truncation was also  a method for segmenting larger blades into smaller ones, especially during the later Levantine Epipaleolithic, or even  preforms for burins, as seen at Ksar Akil 24-21. Unfortunately, functional studies about their status are not available till now.

The “Initial Upper Paleolithic” (IUP) of the Levant refers to assemblages characterized by essentially Upper Paleolithic inventories of retouched tools (burins, endscrapers, truncations on blades and retouched blades) sometimes with still a significant number of Middle Paleolithic types (sidescrapers and broad points). They demonstrate a dominant hard hammer blade production from core reduction strategies following the Levallois and/or Laminar (volumetric) concepts.

Most of the blades (frequently with convergent edges) are wide, not very regular, with facetted platforms, indicating still the use of hard hammer technique in large proportion. In some cases, systematic bladelet production has been described (Umm el Tlel, layer III2a’ and II base). These Initial Upper Paleolithic assemblages are widespread in the Levant (for instance, Boker Tachtit levels 1–4, Ksar Akil XXIV–XXI, Tor Sadaf A–B, Uçagizli I–F, Intermediate Paleolithic in Umm-el-Tlel). Moreover, in a few sites with good organic preservation, bone tools and ornaments are already present (Uçagizli, Ksar Akil), demonstrating a developed tradition of ornament-making that continued in the following Ahmarian.

The geographic and temporal dispersal of IUP technology poses a fundamental question. What range of processes that can lead to the repetition of a constellation of technological features over time and space? Dispersal of a single group bearing a particular technological tradition is one such process, arguably the first one that many archaeologists think of. However, technologies can also disperse across existing social networks without people actually moving with them. A third, less frequently-considered possibility is that the broad dispersal of some characteristics of the IUP represents frequent convergent evolution.

The loose configuration of attributes that define the IUP may simply represent an “easy” pathway from late MP Levallois to UP prismatic blade technology.  The variability observed could represent a series of radiations or distinct dispersal events, at various geographical scales, occurring within a narrow time window. Although one should be very cautious in interpreting radiocarbon dates greater than 37 000 14C years, the existing corpus of dates  is inconsistent with the hypothesis that the global IUP represents a single dispersal event. There is a broad time trend in dates within the IUP range, running from southwest (the Levant) to the northeast (Mongolia and northwest China) but the trend is hardly clear or monotonic. For example, the dates from Kara Bom in the Siberian Altai are among the oldest in the entire sample, approaching the current age estimates for the base of Boker Tachtit.

In the broadest sense of the term, the industries defined as Initial Upper Paleolithic share only a few basic traits. They are united mainly by the use of hard hammer percussion, facetted platforms and relatively flat exploitation faces on some cores, all of which are tightly linked traits from a technological point of view. Locally, other features are highly variable.  In some assemblages, (Üçagızlı FeI, Ksar Akil, Boker Tachtit 4) blank production is almost exclusively unidirectional. In others (Boker Tachtit 1, 2, the Bohunician sites, Kara-Bom (OH5eOH6), Tolbor 4 (OH5eOH6), Shuidonggou 1, 2, blank production involves bidirectional removals.  Even bidirectional technological systems are not homogeneous. Sometimes bidirectional cores have platforms on opposite ends of the same broad face of the core (e.g Bohunician), but often the reduction took place on a broad flaking surface and at the intersection with a narrow face or lateral edge (e.g. Kara-Bom). These variants can sometimes coexist and may at times represent different stages of reduction.  Some IUP technological systems appear to have been oriented toward production of pointed pieces, others toward the production of blades or even elongated flakes.

Suggested Reading:

Fundamental Text about the IUP at Ksar Akil:


Kebara Upper Paleo: 




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The Top 5 of Aggsbach’s Paleolithic Blog

During the last year about 220000 readers visited my blog. These are the top five of their interest:

  1. Interpersonal Violence in Paleolithic and Mesolithic Societies
  2. Down with the “MP-UP Transitional Industries” of Europe ! 
  3. At the same time?
  4. The Prądnik (KMG) complex in Central Germany revisited
  5. Race?- what Race?

This is a North European, late Mesolithic transverse projectile point (1,3 cm long).

We are living in an new age of fear and are threatened by increasing ideological and religious motivated violence. More and more individuals abandon the discourse of democratic agreement. Instead, elected or self-empowered defamatory and vulgar “leaders” resume power at a terrifying rate worldwide. It is no surprise, that even in a blog about stone-artifacts, the issue of violence has become the number one during 2016.

Anyhow, I hope that the number five was read by people who agree that we must clearing up ideological myths about the condition humaine in a “postfactic world”.

Two topics are dedicated to the Middle/Upper Paleolithic transition of the old World, a key period of change in the prehistory of the Old World and one of the most studied issues in anthropology, as the nature of the transition(s) is still, after at least a century of archaeological research, largely unknown. Around the Mediterranean we have either Middle Paleolithic / MSA-Industries or fully developed Upper Paleolithic industries. Although tremendous progress has been made in building a reliable chronology, we still do not know where the Protoaurignacian / Ahmarian and the Aurignacian started and we still do not know who were the makers of these Early Upper Paleolithic entities.

The late Middle Paleolithic in Europe is associated with a general increase in the use of bifacial technologies across Western and Central Europe. These artifacts are often described as multifunctional, curated, mobile tools with extended use-lives, giving them a specific status in the Neanderthal tool kit. The Keilmesser-Group (KMG, Central European Micoquian) seems to be of special interest for my readers outside Germany, maybe because many fundamental texts about this topic were never published in English language.

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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 jena.de/servlets/MCRFileNodeServlet/jportal_derivate_00230982/TLA_1961_Bd04_01.pdf

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.


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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: http://www.aggsbach.de/2015/05/down-with-the-mp-up-transitional-industries-of-europe/. 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

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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.

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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.

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The Neronian in the Rhone Valley

Neanderthals in the Upper Loire River Valley

Quina scrapers from the Carrière Chaumette



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


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