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2021-10-22 16:57:26   •   ID: 2274

Acheulian Handaxe from Wadi Rum / Jordan

Figure 1
What is today the Kingdom of Jordan is characterized by mostly desert plateaus in East and highland areas in the West. The Great Rift Valley, which played an eminent role during movements of Homo sp. and their pray during the Pleistocene separates the East and West Banks of the Jordan River.

This is a heavily patinated Handaxe, originally made from black flint, from Wadi Rum at the vicinity of Wadi Harad in Jordania, near the East Bank of Jordan, found during Geological Investigations in 1949 just after the Israeli independence war.

Typologically it may belong to a "Middle Acheulian" according to the Definition of Gary O. Rollefson-see here: 2203 , here: 1171 , here: 2076 , here: 1460 , and here: 2068

Typo-Technologically, some surface scatters, resemble the oldest industries from Israel with „Archaic Bifaces“ like Trihedrals and Chopping Tools and they may belong to the early Pleistocene. Unfortunately absolute dates are not available.

The same hold true for presumably final Acheulian findings, characterized by a soft hammer technique, Micoquian-like types and very symmetric handaxes-similar to those from El Kowm (Syria) and Bifaces of the classic Province in Northern France.

Figure 2
Three surface sites in the Wadi Rum area have been assigned to the Middle Acheulian based on geochronological circumstances and techno-typology, including one at the base of Jebel al-Hattiya and two others on terraces along the Wadi Harad” (Rollefson 2018).

Today, the Wadi Rum Area is a deserted landscape that holds iconic landforms such as natural arches, mushroom rocks, narrow gorges and the world's most spectacular networks of honeycomb weathering features. This features were created by tectonic activity, and further shaped by erosion.

Regarding the Paleolithic, Wadi Rum is a rich cultural landscape, connected with the Prehistoric record on the right side of the Jordan River in Israel.

Sites from the Early and Middle Paleolithic, Middle to Upper Paleolithic transitional industries and upper to Epipaleolithic sites have been evaluated during the last 50 years at Wadi Rum and the adjacent areas.

2021-10-20 10:40:56   •   ID: 2273

A Middle Pleistocene Chopper from Sainte-Geneviève-des-Bois (Essonne)

Figure 1
This is an isolated "Pebble Tool" (9x7x3,5 cm) found at a field near Sainte-Geneviève-des-Bois, a commune in the southern suburbs of Paris, France.

The find spot is located aproximately 23.5 km from the center of Paris, in the arrondissement of Palaiseau, in the Essonne department, in the Île-de-France region. The Marne with some minor tributaries is about 7 km in the East and was probably an important axis of paleodemographic connections, especially during the Middle Pleistocene.

The ventral side of the heavily patinated flint artifact shows predominantly the original cortex, while the dorsal side, as seen in Figure 1, is covered by at least three generations of progressively finer retouches.

In addition, the dorsal side shows continuous knapping refinement, especially in the distal region, and an intentional notch at the distal-lateral circumference of the tool.

From the regions of Northern France in particularly, we have accustomed to a " classic " Acheulian, as we know it since MIS 15 from the Somme region and in abundance also from MIS (13), 11 / 9 from the basins of the Seine, Aisne, Oise and Yonne- see 1306 , often regarded as the only entity before the Middle Paleolithic.

We tend to forget that during the 20th century in Brittany, Middle Pleistocene inventories ("Colombanian" according to Monnier), characterized mainly by a "core and flake" industry, - by the absence or only rare presence of non-Classic Handaxes and Cleavers and a variety of simple flake-tools (non-facetted denticulates and notches and very few scrapers) and Choppers were described. Some of them were preserved in situ and secondary mixing can be excluded.

Figure 2
These findings may not be a purely regional phenomenon, but seem to be part of a Pan-European mosaic of different technical traditions during the Lower Palaeolithic, which can not be fully explained by site-function, raw material, duration of stay and site function.

Such Sites and stratigraphic successions are known from France (e.g. Menez–Dregan I, Terra Amata, Caune de l’Arago); Italy (e.g. La Polledrara, Castel di Guido, Notarchirico); Spain (e.g. Atapuerca); the UK (e.g. Barnham, Clacton-on-Sea, Swanscombe). See for example: 1104

In addition, it must be remembered that Middle Pleistocene "microlithic" inventories are known east of the Rhine that cannot be classified as Acheulian: I think of sites like Bilzingsleben, Schöningen and Vértesszőlős.

In my view, it would be appropriate to re-introduce the importance of local traditions over a "long durée" as recently suggested exemplary by Ravon for the site of Menez–Dregan I- a succession of levels with bifacial technology and of some others without (Anne-Lyse Ravon 2019).

Menez-Dregan I is a Lower Palaeolithic site situated at Plouhinec, Finistère, in Brittany. It is an ancient marine cave whose roof has gradually collapsed. The Archaeological succession shows exactly the phenomenon, described above, over a long period of time between ca. 450 and 150 k.a.

By the way: Beside the overwhelming Paleolithic Material from 17 layers at Menez-Dreganan, several Megalithic sites have been discovered nearby.

Here I have a suggestion for a little trip: Along an approximately 1,5 km long coastal walking trail you can visit various monuments from Palaeolithic to Neolithic periods and in the information center "Centre d'interprétation de Menez Dregan" you may get a pretty good impression how people adapted and lived more than 450 k.a. near the Atlantic cost in always changing landscapes from the Middle Pleistocene the Holocene.

Regarding the Neolithic, excavations and restorations allowed to reconstruct the ground plan of one of the cairns with an almost square chamber (3,8 × 3,6 m) and a straight passage encountering it from the side. It is a "passage grave"

Another enclosure is of the same type, but larger (6,2 × 4,8 m) and with a passage of 3,75 m.

The excavations have brought to light some finds and a burial site that was overlooked in the 19th century, when first excavations started.

The Megalithic sites in 3-D are visualized here: Menez

Suggested Reading:

Mc Nabb: The British Lower Palaeolithic: Stones in Contention; 2007

De Lumley (Ed): Caune de l'Arago - Tautavel-en-Roussillon, Pyrénées-Orientales, France Tome 6, Individualisation des unités archéostratigraphiques; 2015

2021-10-01 09:42:38   •   ID: 2272

Handaxe from La Micoque with a Tranchet Blow

Figure 1
This is a Biface from La Micoque, found early in the 20th Century. Like most of the handaxes from the upper layers of the site, it is relatively small in size (10x5.5x3cm), heavily patinated and fragile

Unlike the "typical" Bifaces from La Micoque, it is not made according to a trifacial concept- see 1292 . It resembles an biconvex French Handaxe from the Middle Pleistocene.

The La Micoque site is located not far from the village of Les Eyzies on the Vézère River in the Dordogne, France. It was named after an old abandoned farm which included the site. La Micoque is located on the southeastern slope, about 30m above the valley floor of the small Manaurie river, a tributary of the Vézère The deposits are located between about 85 and 70m a.s.l..

More about its complicated History can be found here: 1292 and 1689 .

Interestingly this handaxe is characterized by a "Coup de Tranchet"(Figure 1), well known from the West European Acheulian-see for example: 1736 and 1534 .

Figure 2
The designation of the Geological and Archaeological strata of La Micoque is still based on the nomenclature of Peyrony, after 100 years still used, even during the last excavations, which began during the 1980ies.

A 10 m high witness block is still preserved at the site. The Geological strata are named from bottom to top by the letters A-N. Several layers contain Archeological Material and others are Archeological sterile. In toto 6 Archeological ensembles have been individualized.

-A. The first Geological layer is about 140 cm thick with some undiagnostic artifacts (Archaeological Ensemble 1)

-B. This Geological layer consists of large and small limestone rubble, maybe from the collapse of a rock-shelter and is archaeological sterile

-C. Bedded gravels with calcareous elements on the top. This ensemble consists of three subunits. The middle one exhibits an archaeological level (Archaeological Ensemble 2). It is 60 cm thick, and is fully covered by Layer D.

-D. This layer is archaeological sterile and consists of large and small limestone rubble and conglomerates. It is 200 cm thick and consists of 27 subunits.

-E. Embedded in this Geological Unit is Archaeological Ensemble 3, varying between 50-60 cm, extending over the whole area, and qualified as an early (Quina) Mousterian rich in denticulates.

-Geological Layers F.and G. are sterile over a thickness of 120 cm.

-H. The Archaeological Ensemble 4 in this Geological Unit was qualified as Mousterian with some Bifaces of the "Meridional Type"

- I. Conglomerate of rounded stones, 15 cm thick.

- J. Ebouliscemented with yellow red sand. 5th layer of archaeological material, qualified as"Acheulian of "Meridional Type". 25 cm thick.

- K. is a Conglomerate, 25 cm thick

- L. and M. are Archaeologically sterile

-N. The archaeological level six with the famous "Micoquian" Industry, incorporated in Geological Unit N has been completely destroyed.

It consisted of many elongated and lanceolate Bifaces, Cordiformes, but also of typical Micoquian Handaxes, as described elsewhere- see: 1532 .

The ensemble is rich in a non-Levallois flake industry (simple scrapers, convergent scrapers, dejete scrapers and double scrapers), Bohrer -like artifacts and Mousterian Points.

U-Series and ESR Dating of Horse Teeth - Horses were the preferred pray in all Archaeological layers- from Layers K, J, H and E gave a consistent minimum age between 300 to 350 k.a.

Geological these deposits belong to a cold and semi-arid environment, attributed to the MIS 10 (Falgueres et al. 2004). La Micoque is, together with the lower strata of the Grotte Vaufrey, still the oldest stratified Archaeological site in the Dordogne.

If the "Micoquian" of Layer N also belongs to the same period or is substantially later (MIS6/Early MIS5) remains unclear. Techno-typologically, in my view, nothing would speak against a Middle Pleistocene age. Maybe some day last remnants of Unit N will be detected.....

A useful Article about La Micoque can be found in: Denis Vialou (Ed): La Prehistoire-Histoire et Dictionaire; 2004.

This is an authoritative Work written by specialists in their fields. More than 1600 pages of high-ranked information. A new edition, preferably in digital form, would be of great value.

2021-09-28 09:11:22   •   ID: 2271

The Sophistication of the Simplicity

Figure 1
Figure 2
Figure 3
This is a thin elongated flake with facetted base (13x5x0,7 cm) from a surface scatter, consisting of a mix of MSA and Neolithic tools at Erg Rebiana (Rabiana, Rabyanah موزي ) in Lybia.

This vast area was intermittently visited during the Acheulian, MSA, and Epipaleolithic and through the Neolithic periods by our predecessors- see: 2010

The tool has a continuous semi abrupt simple inverse retouche on the ventral side with a flat bulb of percussion (Figure 1) and is made from high quality quartzite. The facetted base is shown in Figure 3.

Most probably the artifact comes from the Middle Holocene wet-phase and was produced by a soft hammer technique.

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” – The sentence is attributed to Leonardo Da Vinci, but that is uncertain. Nevertheless, it brings an important observation to the point.

Indeed, this seemingly simple tool allows scraping, grain harvesting or smooth cutting movements without any difficulties and can be manufactured without much effort after the preparation of an adequate core. Moreover it does not need a handle and can be used without any hafting.

Simplicity is not simple but an achievement. The world around us was always highly complex. Thus, it was and still is characteristic for the ability of Homo sp. how to process complex things and made them simple.

Therefore, behind every simplicity there is a great complexity and sophistication- a deeper understanding of mental and technological, processes.

The simplification of things makes it easier to transfer knowledge of techniques and ideas from one generation to another, an ability that was essential for surviving in a changing world some 5 k.a. years ago, when the first signs of cooling and aridification of the Libyan Sahara became apparent to the people

Resources and images in full resolution:

2021-09-20 15:53:58   •   ID: 2270

From Africa to Europe: A Single Origin for the Handaxe?

Figure 1
For this post I have chosen several Handaxes and Cleavers mainly from the Early Paleolithic, with an appealing design.

Overall, there is a broad consensus among Prehistorians that the appearance of Large Cutting Tools (LCTs) at about 1,5 mya, indicated a new level of cognitive competence that was achieved by our ancestors- a new treatment of three-dimensional organized volumetric surfaces, which, although foreshadowed in late Oldowan stages, had not yet been generally achieved before.

Lithic ensembles, whether they include one, several or many Handaxes and Cleavers are designated in this post as Acheulian. If we assume that the occurrence of these lithics requires a certain cognitive level, then a single specimen is sufficient to prove that it has been achieved.

It is worth noting that there are no prototypes for these tools in Nature, and that recent and fossil large apes were never capable of producing such complex objects. The transition between the Oldowan and the Acheulian in Africa and Europe was rather abrupt.

Furthermore, it is remarkable that the design of a handaxe, whether it was produced by the LTC technology or by the Façonnage Method, remained constant over a period of about 1.5 mya.

Figure 1 shows the ventral and dorsal side of a spatula-like 22 cm long Cleaver, made from Mylonite, found near Iringa in the southern highlands of Tanzania at Isimila- see here: 1216 and here 1217 . The site consists of abundant multiple ESA sites, but also features MSA and LSA components.

It is one of the most prominent Acheulian Mega Site in East Africa and unfortunately undated with up-to-date methods, but it may be as old as 700-900 k.a. Final results of a multidisciplinary project, that run until 2017 are not available yet.

Figure 2
Figure 2 shows a Lanceolate Handaxe (23,5x9,6x5 cm) from Adrar Bous (Niger) with biconvex invasive retouches made from typical green vitic tuff.

I already reported some details about the groundbreaking work of Desmond Clark at Adrar Bous and the Lithic succession in the area from the lower Paleolithic to the Pastoral „Neolithic“-see here: 2109 , here 1019 , and here: 1368

Figure 3 displays a rare bifacial Cleaver from Tihodaine (16x9,5x2,7 cm), made from translucent yellow Quartz-The site was already introduced in this Blog-see: 1447

The fauna and archeology at Tihodaïne has been argued to show correlations to those of Olduvai Bed IV (> 600 k.a. ), as well as to those of Gesher Benot Ya’aqov in the Dead Sea Rift dated to 780 k.a.

Here, quartz was truly masterfully worked into large handaxes and quartz is by no means rare as a raw material at the site. During the ESA of Africa it occurred early in the Acheulian (e.g. at the Olduvai Bed II)- see here: Olduvai Bed II . For me it will remain an eternal mystery why quartz, which is so difficult to work, was processed in large quantities throughout the African ESA and MSA. Anyhow it was a conscious choice.

Figure 4 shows a cordiform Handaxe made from quartzite from Murzuq ( 15x9,5x3,5 cm). Murzuq is an oasis in South-Western Libya on the northern edge of the Murzuq Sand Sea (Idhan Murzuq) already discussed in this Blog for its ESA and MSA Material- see here 1030 , here 2030 , and here 2032

Figure 5 shows a thick sub-Cordiform Handaxe (16x9,5x4 cm) from a quarry near Tours (Central France), made from yellow patinated Maastrichian Flint by a Hard hammer method.

Figure 3
Paul Fitte was the one of the first researchers who systematically screened for in-situ Lower Paleolithic stratigraphies around the Middle Loire area, unfortunately without any success.

A site with an intact stratigraphy was eventually found during the 1990ies at the the multilayered La Noira site - 130 km East of Tours. Other sites followed, thanks to a systematic preventive Archaeology.

Comparing our example from Tours with the inventory of the upper strata from La Noira, the Handaxe, shown here, may be about 450 k.a. old.

Figure 6 is an Biface from Villeneuve S. Verberie (10x7x2,5 cm) from the Oise; France) with an asymmetric appearance and affinities to the Middle European KMG-Groups. In the Central European Research Tradition such a tool is called a Faustkeilblatt (Bosinski 1968)

KMG-Eliments are not really rare in the Oise Region, and I know several undated findings from the region, that resemble asymmetric Faustkeilblätter and Keilmesser.

An almost identical piece is displayed in the work of Berrin Cep from the Bockstein Schmiede site in Swabia (Germany) in one of the attached files of this post (Figure 1; Nr.4 for example).

While the example from Villeneuve S. Verberie may be possibly dated late to MIS 5-3; the other Artifacts are from the Middle Pleistocene, with the oldest example tentatively from East Africa..

There is a lively debate whether the idea of hand axe making spread from one region in Africa over further parts of the Continent into the old world, or whether we should rather suggest a repeated re-invention of this tool by Homo sp.

Figure 4
A closer examination has above all the chronological data, which may be used for further modeling about this issue, derived from different disciplines.

Geomorphology and Ecology of the African Acheulian: Acheulian sites are found over Africa in a variety of geomorphological settings. They are present, for example, at artesian springs (e.g., Sidi Zin, Amanzi Springs), on the shores of paleo-lakes (e.g. Lake Natron, Koobi Fora), in more dry parts of sedimentary basins (e.g. Olduvai), along rivers (e.g. Melka Kunture, Gorgol River), but also in open grasslands habitats at low altitudes, and even on the flanks of the east African rift valley up to high altitudes (e.g. Gadeb, Isenya).

Huge accumulations of handaxes and cleavers were found all over the Sahara, along green corridors, that connected the Sahara with the interior of the Continent at different times during the Pleistocene, over a dense network of rivers and lakes and their swampy environments.

Finally, the makers of the Acheulian reached the coastal regions of the Atlantic or the Mediterranean (for example the different sites at Casablanca).

It remains unclear whether Homo sp. had already permanently invaded tropical rainforest zones before the MSA - most probably not.

During the Middle Pleistocene, almost all habitats and a great variety of ecological niches were colonized and used over a period of 1.5 mya, which points to an extremely flexible hominin behavioral pattern.

Acheulian Hominins made the step from Scavenging to active hunting, contrary to the hypercritical opinion of Archeologists, that were en vogue some decennia ago. Plant food also played a variable role in the diet. This knowledge is the consequence of new intact sites and high resolution excavations of already known localities as well as improved micro morphological and taphonomic procedures.

There are certainly several geographical differences reflecting regional adaptations to foraging for variable food resources-an indication of an increasing flexibility of Homo exploit a great diversity of different ecological settings, which ultimately resulted in the route out of Africa into the Eurasian sphere.

Dating the African Acheulian: First, we should note that the possibility of absolute dating varies greatly in different parts of Africa. This introduces a certain bias.

Figure 5
The basis of age determination still remain the classic concepts of Stratigraphy, the use of Paleomagnetism and the use of Index Fossils.

Isotopic K/Ar and Ar/Ar -U/Th methods of age determination of Early and Middle Pleistocene volcanic deposits have a decades-old history and are now very reliable. They are widely used in the presence of volcanic tuffs, in the Rift Valley.

The determination of the the Burial Age by Cosmogenic Al-26 and Be-10 has prevailed in South Africa in the absence of a volcanic environment. However there is certainly still a need for further developments until a high degree of reliability will be achieved.

In North Africa, there are only a few sites that have been dated by ESR, and by Geochemical analyses, including the methods of X-ray fluorescence, mass spectrometry and inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry for both whole-rock analysis and in situ micro-analysis.These methods have a great potential and will certainly become more important in the future.

The Acheulian first appears to emerge in the eastern Rift in areas such as Konso-Gardula in Ethiopia, and Kokiselei 4 in Kenia at ca 1,75 mya. At Olduvai Gorge Bed II / FLK-Nord in Tansania an very early LCT Acheulian occupation was documented at 1,7 mya. Other early Acheulian localities at Olduvai date around 1,66 mya.

Melka Kunture (Garba IVD) in Ethiopia, initially known as late Oldovan, has recently reassessed as Early Acheulean with dates around 1.5 Mya. Other Acheulian Sites at Melka Kunture are definitively younger (around 1mya-250 k.a.)-see: 2036 , 1192 , 1233 , and 2026 .

The earliest Acheulean sites beyond East Africa seem to be nearly as old as in some parts of the Great Rift Valley: At Sterkfontein in South Africa, the early Acheulean (Member 5 West), is dated to 1,7-1,4 Mya.

Anyhow a new dating program revealed a date of 1,84 Mya see: 2227 . Kuman and Gibbon recently described an early Acheulian located near the well known Rietputs Pit 1, with an age of ca 1,7 Ma-see: 2224 .

Most Saharan sites remain undated, although they can broadly assigned to the Middle Pleistocene, if faunal remains have been preserved.

According to all we know, the Atlantic coast was reached by Acheulian groups around ~ 1.3 Mya (Thomas Quarry I-Unit L at Casablanca in Morocco). The next older site in the Maghreb is Tighennif (Algeria), which is about 1 mya old.

Figure 6
The Levant is one important corridor to Eurasia. Therefore the findings at Ubeidiya are of overall importance: It is located in the Jordan Rift Valley, where "Oldowan" and "early Acheulean" levels in a lake margin context have been dated on biostratigraphic grounds and paleomagnetism, between 1.4 and 1.0 Million years ago.

According to current knowledge, the oldest Acheulian in Africa shows a clear age gradient: from East and South Africa around 1.7-1.5 mya to North Africa and the Levantine Corridor around 1.3-1 mya.

So what happened after the Acheulian-making hominins left Africa? In principle, there were three corridors that might have been used: The Levantine corridor, the Gibraltar route or the Bab al-Mandab.

If we could establish a chronologically and geographic coherent series, in which a route can be reconstructed that proves a spread of the Handaxe concept without temporal interruption, then a single origin might be possible.

If such a series is missing, then it is either due to our insufficient knowledge or the Handaxe was re-invented in different geographical regions again and again.

The European Core and Flake Industries: Since several years Mode I industries are known from South Europe (Italia and Spain), proving that an early immigration into the European Continent occurred. The Pirro Nord site, situated at the north-western margin of the Gargano promontory in Apulia was dated between 1,3 and 1,6 mya on a bichronological basis.

Evidence for Early Palaeolithic industries with an in situ context indicates that Hominins were allready present in the center of France around 1,1mya (Pont-de-Lavaud in the Creuse Valley, Lunery in the Cher Valley and probably Saint-Hilaire-la-Gravelle in the Loire Valley).

The importance of the Atapuerca complex in the context of the Early and Middle Pleistocene human occupation of Europe can hardly be overestimated.

The lower levels of at Sima del Elefante (Units TE-TE14) are an essential reference for understanding the early stages of the colonization of Europe. The TE9c level has provided stone tools (Mode 1), faunal remains, and human fossils dated to 1,22 mya.

The European Acheulian: As already noted for the Mode I industries, the oldest European traces of an Acheulian are also found in Southern Europe (Figure 7).

Figure 7
Anyhow, the sites in southern Europe are either chronologically problematic, they are few in number, and they are moreover poor in artefacts.

First we have one handaxe from Estrecho de Quípar (Murcia, Spain) and another from Solana de Zamborino (Granada, Spain) (Scott and Gibert, 2009).

The initial classification of this findings as Early Pleistocene has been criticized by several authors for good reasons. Besides: One swallow does not make a spring (Jimenez-Arenas et al., Mosquera et al. 2015).

However, the site of Barranc de la Boella (Tarragona, Catalonia, Spain) is somewhat different.

It has an intact stratigraphy, together with rich paleontological and archaeological finds in three different places: La Mina, El Forn and "Pit 1“.

Moreover, by several methods (Paleontology of macro and micro-mammals, Paleomagnetism and Cosmogenic Analyses) we have a fairly accurate dating around 1 mya.

Lage cutting tools (LCTs)- a Cleaver and a crude Handaxe / Pic together with Choppers, Chopping Tools / Cores, several Flakes-sometimes retouched (Denticulated tools and Notches) were present.

Morover, the find situation at Pit 1, where the remains of a young-adult Mammuthus meridionals were closly associated with the lithic inventory, speaks for a butchering site that remained intact (P. García-Medrano et al. 2014).

By the way, the inventory of Barranc de la Boella resembles the oldest archaic Acheulian at Casablanca. One gets the impression that the technique, which was already so advanced at the same time in East Africa, had to be reinvented or learned once again.

The time gap between the first core and flake ensembles and the first traces of the Acheulian in South Europe (ca 300 k.a.) is too large to assume an autochthonous development from Mode I to Mode II-industries.

This is also evidenced by the stratigraphy at Barranc de la Boella; where a sharp discontinuity between the Lithics of the Acheulian butchering site and the underlying Mode I Industries was noted (Mosquera et al. 2015).

Instead, one will have to discuss at least two waves of emigration from Africa to Europe, if the origin of the Acheulian is assumed to be in Africa.

If we move to the North the famous the Atapuerca sites, although bearing one of the oldest Mode I Industries in Europe, start rather late with the first Handaxes in the Archaeological Record. The oldest Acheulian lithic assemblages come from the Galería site, specifically the GIIa subunit, dated to ca 503 ± 95 k.a. (Paula García-Medrano et al 2015).

Figure 8
Figure 8 displays a Handaxe (12x6,5x3 cm) from the Venosa Basin in Southern Italy of unknown age. At a nearby site, Notarchirico, new 40Ar/39Ar on tephras and ESR dates on bleached quartz place the Paleolithic occupations, some of them with Handaxes, between 695 and 670 k.a. (Moncel et al 2020). The stratigraphy of the site has been already described in this Blog elsewhere- see: 1104

Around the same time, securely dated Acheulian inventories are found at La Noira-see: 1587 where well executed Handaxes are altrady present in the lower level at about 700 k.a. , at Arago at ca 550 k.a. In Southern France, and on the Somme, at the historically significant site Moulin Quignon around 550 k.a. -see: 1306 . The finds at the Somme have already been described several times in the blog.

These simultaneities speak for a rapid spread of the Acheulian from south to north-west Europe.

After these Beginnings, during MIS16/15, the Acheulian is becoming finally the predominant technocomplex in these regions at least since MIS 13. Figure 9 from a gravel at Châtellerault displays a typical Middle Pleistocene example from Central France.

West of the Rhine and over Eastern Europe, Handaxes within the Acheulian Complex thin out and are not attested before 300 k.a.. The reasons for this observation remain unclear. Nevertheless Bifaces play a role during the Micoquian / KMG-Groups after MIS5.

After this tour de force on the Afro-European Acheulian, I return to the question asked at the beginning: was there one single origin of the Handaxe in East Africa and a continuous spread of this tool to Europe?

First, we must realize that the data on the corridors described above are still insufficient. For example, the corridor leading to Southern Europe via today's Turkey, Greece and the Balkans is insufficiently studied or inaccessible.

Figure 9
Moreover, we know next to nothing about the Great Adriatic plain, which would have allowed diffusion of people or ideas at low sea levels in the late Early Pleistocene to south Italy.

Currently we can neither establish a chronological nor a geographic coherent series, in which a route can be reconstructed that proves a slow and continuous spread of the Handaxe concept without temporal interruption and therefore the single origin hypothesis of Handaxe production can not be verified.

A temporal gap of at least 500 k.a. and large Geographic gaps remain at the moment.

Maybe these gaps will be filled in the Future.

Always remember: - "Absence of evidence is never the evidence of absence".

Suggested Readings and attached Files: Note: I have avoided citations in the text because the ductus of my narrative would have been significantly disrupted. The primary literature can be found in the attached files.

François Djindjian: La préhistoire de la France; 2018

J. Desmond Clark [et al.] Adrar Bous : archaeology of a central Saharan granitic ring complex in Niger; 2009

J.C. Marquet: La Préhistoire en Touraine (Perspectives historiques); 2011.

S.C Jones, B.A.Stewart (ed) Africa from MIS 6-2: Population Dynamics and Paleoenvironments (Vertebrate Paleobiology and Paleoanthropology); 2016

G. Aumassip Préhistoire du Sahara et de ses abords . Editions L'Harmattan-Tome 1 et 2; 2019

Resources and images in full resolution:

2021-09-04 22:51:58   •   ID: 2266

Flint Sickle, Keilmesser or a Neolithic Crescent-Knife?- An Artifact from the Seine/Marne Region

Figure 1
Figure 2
Figure 3
Figure 4
This is a flat, most probably late Neolithic Flint Tool (8x5x2,5 cm), found decennia ago in the Seine /Marne Region in France.

The upper part, in the orientation shown in Figure 1-3, resembles a highly convex bow, with a bifacial flat retouche and a repeatedly reworked, circumferential working edge.

The artifact ends with a short bifacially retouched pin-like short tang, which probably facilitated hafting.

the "Back" of the tool,-the lower part in the orientation shown in Figure 4, consists of a 1.2 cm thick intentional breaking edge- a principle that has been widely used since the Mousterian and MSA- see here: 1734 .

The most well known example of this technique in Prehistory is probably the intentionally breakage of large “Canaanean” blades during the Latest Neolithic / Early Bronze Age of the Middle East.

Principially the tool could be an extreme form of a "Keilmesser" from the Late Middle Paleolithic, but such a designation seems to be not very probable, although not impossible (see attached file from Weiss 2020). Anyhow I am not aware of any comparable piece from the Paleolithic of northern France and the Paris region.

The artifact does not resemble any Neolithic or early Bronze Age sickle. Since the early Neolithic, sickles are either made from rectangular, often backed and sometimes serrated blades or flakes. An example from the early Bronze Age in Israel can be viewed here: 1298

Or, on the other hand, sickles with a Bifacial, straight or concave design are well known from Neolithic Egypt, North Africa and North/East Europe -see here: 1737

Finally, many prehistoric sickles are characterized by a shiny patina, called sickle-gloss, a silica residue, clearly missing on the artifact, shown of this post. Therfore, I personally consider the tool to be rather a knife-like artifact.

During the Late Neolithic of Northern France comparable pieces are found sporadically, for example from La Croix-Saint-Ouen site (Oise)- although designated in the Publication as a Flake-Scraper.

Functionally, a convex design of a knife-like stone tool has a number of important advantages. When properly executed, a convex retouched knife-like tool will have a comparatively stronger cutting edge and still be able to cut smoothly, as it can be thinned several times over the entire circumference by reworking.

If the device is shafted along the blunted back, it is possible to achieve a much stronger cutting force than with an ordinary knife as we know it from today, which ends in a longitudinal handle.

Also conceivable would be a levering function that would have allowed to break pieces from different materials. Finally, the cutting edge is comparatively longer compared with straight examples.

I do not think much of ethnological comparisons, but in the case of this artifact, the idea of an Ulu (Manson 1890), a crescent knife made from thin slate plates, but occasionally also from Flint and Hornfels by Inuit women, comes to my mind. The Ulu had a high symbolic value for woman’s identity as described in a short essay here: Symbolism .

The hafting of an Ulu by wood, bone or horn followed various configurations and was already described in detail by Mason in 1890 - a good example of an early material-based ethnology - still worth reading today (see attached file).

This technological analogy was first proposed for Middle Paleolithic leaf points and Keilmesser, as far as I know by the eminent German Prehistorian Hansjürgen Müller-Beck (1927–2018).

Ethnological comparisons show that similar hafted tools, in addition to a cutting function, allow scraping movements from different directions, for example for cleaning skins or cutting up meat for food sharing.

2021-08-31 16:42:06   •   ID: 2265

Reflections about the Reality of the Ferrassie-Mousterian

Figure 1
This is a large (10x7 cm) flat Levallois double convex scraper, with rather carless simple retouches on the margins of the dorsal side (Figure 1 and 2). The Bulb of Percussion has been removed by some truncations on the proximal ventral side by hard hammer technique (Figure 3 and 4).

The scraper was found at La Ferrassie and is made from banded Bergeracois Flint - very appealing for a modern Homo sapiens. Whether this also applies to Neanderthals remains unexplained, although they certainly appreciated the quality of the raw material.

Interestingly you can find an almost exact counterpart coming from La Ferrassie, also made from Bergeracois Flint, displayed in the wonderful Don's Map (with permission) here: Ferrassie - look at the second picture in the first row.

Today, findings from La Ferrassie are rare in private collections. Parts of the important excavations from the 1920s by Denis Peyrony have been sold to wealthy Scientific Institutions and private collectors, mainly from the US and are probably lost forever for a summary assessment.

The artifact of this post originally comes from the collection of E. Rivière, who excavated at La Ferrassie by himself. Items from his important collection were sold by his two sons during an auction in 1922, at the Hotel Drouot in Paris-see: 1689

I have already written about important new results from the La Ferrassie Paleolithic site in 2018-see: 1444 . Anyhow, the present post asks about the Reality of F. Bordes' "Charentien type Ferrassie" and the chronology of the Mousterian Ensembles at the Type Site. We will see that the answers have main implications for the reconstruction of the Middle Paleolithic in S/W-France and beyond.

Figure 2
In short, the site was discovered by chance towards the end of the 19th century during the construction of the D 32. It very quickly attracted the attention of enthusiasts of prehistory.

It was Denis Peyrony, who undertook first serious excavations here together with Louis Capitan since 1896. Between 1909 and 1921, Peyrony came across several Neanderthal burials- I have already reported about these burials and new skeletal Neanderthal findings in the Blog before.

Peyrony described three Mousterian Layers: "a, b, c"- according to the Conventions of his time Peyrony designated stratum “a” as Acheulian. While in layer "a" small Handaxe-bearing Middle Paleolithic Ensembles were present , the Bulk of Mousterian Findings was excavated from Layer b and c. Later excavations revealed the presence of even four Mousterian strata.

The most common lithics, Peyrony described, were highly retouched and curated large Simple scrapers, Double scrapers, some Dejete scrapers, convergent tools (Scraper and/or Points) and Quina like transversal Scrapers together with some denticulated and notched pieces. Most tools were made from Levallois blanks.

I never had access to the orginal Publication-but the tools that are displayed in the Museum at Les Eyzies give you a nice impression about the findings, that were collected: Ferrassie B and C .

Peyrony and Capitan acquired the site in 1923 for the French state. To refine the stratigraphic sequence, Henri Delporte subjected La Ferrassie to a meticulous re-excavation and examination between 1968 and 1973.

Figure 3
Finally new investigations were carried out by the indefatigable late H. Dibble in recent years and brought new results and grosso modo confirmed the stratigraphic observations.

"The lowermost layers (1 to 5 of the new stratigraphy) contain Middle Palaeolithic stone tools (Dibble et al. 2018) associated with mostly large bovids (Bison/Bos) and red deer (Cervus elaphus). These levels are overlain by a well‐ constrained Châtelperronian in Layer 6 (Talamo et al. 2020)"

Dibble compared the Middle Paleolithic artifact ensemble, from the Peyrony excavations with those from his new dig.

The examination showed that Peyrony had retained only 2-3% of the original inventory and therefore that there is a considerable collection bias, as has already being observed from Le Moustier-see: 1487 and other classical sites in the Perigord, like La Combe Capelle, which became evident during re-excavations of the last years.

In Ferrasie, especially small, unretouched pieces, simple scraper, denticules and notches are underrepresented in Peyrony's collection - which is not surprising since they were not considered as "Belles Pieces". Important enough the Levallois Index from Peyrony's collection is around 39-45% while it is much lower (about 12-17%) regarding the newly recovered material (Dibble et al. 2018).

However, there are also sampling biases in the opposite direction: while Dibble et al. removed 8,7 m3 of sediment, Peyrony removed a total of approximately 150 m3 of Mousterian deposits, that may have captured more representative portions of the site.

Figure 4
By the way, these new insights are not intended to downgrade the highly valuable work of Peyrony, who, unlike many of his colleagues, did a job according to the scientific standards of his time, and established for the first time a reliable local stratigraphy of the Palaeolithic for the Perigord...

The Mousterian of layers 4,5a and 5b from Dibble's excavation where attributed by OSL, between 54 ± 3 and 40 ± 2 k.a, while the AMS C-14 dates for Layer 5b gave an age between 44 and 47 k.a. cal BP.

In General the systematic inconsistencies between OSL and C-14 Methods have already discussed elsewhere in the Blog. Anyhow the Mousterian of La Ferrassie appear to belong to MIS3 and to the the final Middle Paleolithic of the region (Talamo et al. 2020).

What conclusions can we draw from a reassessment of high ranked older excavations (Combe Grenal) and new excavations at Le Moustier and La Ferrassie?

  • Even "Type Stations" proved to be complex individual assemblages determined by a multitude of influencing factors

  • The rigid, typological definition of discrete Mousterian facies by F. Bordes, which is still used in a hidden form despite all criticism, should be replaced by a detailed description of all techno-typological components of the inventory under study, especially when sampled during modern excavations

  • This can be done, for example, by a unified description of the manufacturing technique and its dynamic diversity during the production process and a typological system characterised by “fluid transitions”

  • "Independent palaeo-environmental data, raw material provisioning strategies and elements of faunal exploitation will have to be integrated for a more realistic picture of changing patterns of Neandertal landscape use" (this point was slightly modified after Faivre et al. 2014)

Surf the Blog:

Some remarks about the Bergerac Region from the lower Paleolithic to the Neolithic-see here: 1420 , here 1164 , here: 1369 , here: 1017 , here: 2064 , and here: 1479

2021-08-28 07:05:00   •   ID: 2263

A Mousterian Point from Bergerac Flint from Lagarrigue (Lot-et-Garonne).

Figure 1
Lagarrigue is a commune in the Lot-et-Garonne department in the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region in north-central France, currently with a population of c 270 Inhabitants. It is situated about 80 km South of Bergerac (Dordogne).

The region is already known from the literature by several Mousterian artifacts (Brun-Ricalens, 1988 and 1993).

The finding of a single Paleolithic tool is rather typical for the Middle Paleolithic record in the Lot-et-Garonne department, which is rather poor and confined to single stone artifacts, small surface scatters of Mousterian Handaxes and scrapers and occasionally other Middle and Upper Paleolithic tools.

Compared to the Dordogne region, one wonders why paleolithic finds are so rare in the Lot-et-Garonne department.

Figure 2
Beside a bias by different intensity of research of the two adjacent regions, differences in glacial geomorphology, differences in microclimatic conditions and in post-depositional erosion may be of importance, but there are no studies on these issues at present.

Maybe one of my readers has some answers and could share them with my audience via:

One interesting Upper Paleolithic site, although without a reliable stratigraphy is the Aurignacian assemblage from the surface site of Toulousète, ca 50 km west from Lagarrigue.

A techno-typological analysis about the Aurignacian ensemble has already published by Brun-Ricalens in 1993.

Interestingly, some raw material came from the Bergeracois, indicating connections to the Perigord. Some Middle Paleolithic Bifaces from this site are also known.

Figure 3
Anyhow, the adjacent Lot Department is much more rich in important Paleolithic findings and intact sites.

The most important site in the Lot-region remains le Roc de Combe (Discoid-Denticulated Mousterian, Châtelperronian, Aurignacian I, Gravettian).

This multilayered site, together with Le Piage locality (sparse Mousterian, followed by Châtelperronian, four Aurignacian levels - a rare finding in S/W-France (!), Solutrean, early Magdalenian / Badegoulian), which is also situated in the Lot Departement, were once the crown witnesses for an inter-stratification of the Châtelperronian and Aurignacian- a theory that has been convincingly refuted in the meantime, by a new reading of the taphonomic history of the two key-localities, indicating severe postdepositional mixing (Zilhão & d’Errico 1999, Zilhão 2006, 2007, 2009).

Also situated in the Lot region, the Pech Merle cave, famous for its mainly Gravettian Paleolithic paintings is worth noting. The Panel of the famous Dotted Horses of Pech Merle Cave has been assigned to five subsequent phases (Lorblanchet, 2010).

Figure 4
One of the horses is found under a black hand stencil; a sample from this horse was dated to 24,6±0,4 k.a.BP (Lorblanchet et al., 1995). Anyhow, some of the paintings and engravings may date to the Magdalenian ca 16 k.a. BP.

But back to the artifact of this post: A nine cm long and flat Mousterian point from Lagarrigue. In short, Mousterian Points are retouched triangular artifacts made from different blanks and by different techniques. For me this example is one of the Middle Paleolithic Highlights from my personal collection.

Figure 1-6: Different projections of the dorsal side. Figure 7: view of the Ventral side of the tool. The artifact was made from the very typical Maastrichian banded Bergeracois Flint - see 1164 and Figure 3 of this post.

This excellent, homogeneous and easy to knap raw material has been confirmed at several localities in the region, although always in rather low numbers (< 10%). One example is the Middle Palaeolithic of Roc de Combe (M.L. Martinez et al. 2014).

Figure 5
Usually Neanderthals imported precious raw materials, either as cores or finished tools over max 120 km from the source region.

My example has therefore traveled a rather long distance to the Region where it was finally lost and found during the 1930ies, at the outermost limits of the raw-material transport, known from the S/W-European Neanderthals.

The Mousterian Point was made from a Triangular Blank with a plain platform, as shown in Figure 2,6 and 7. The axis of the piece clearly differs from the axis of flaking. The Flake scar and bulb of percussion are well developed.

The retouching is continuous and light and more or less marginal on all three sides, as shown in Figure 1-6 with the exception of the right side - best seen on Figure 2- where a flat scalar retouch can be noted.

There are no indications for secondary reworking, remodeling or reserving-similar to the Point displayed in the last post-see here: 2261

Figure 6
The original blank of our example may have been produced either by a Pseudolevallois or a classic Levallois approach.

Pseudolevallois Points are one hallmark of a dominant discoid débitage (Boëda 1993) although convergent tools are rarely seen. Furthermore this method produces more asymmetrical blanks, than Points, made by a Levallois approache and usually do not bear the characteristics of a “second generation” blank.

Such Blanks may also be produced by a genuine Levallois technology, if detached from the lateral circumference of an oval core.

The design of the Mousterian Point, shown here, fits more simple, parsimonious and by generally consensual description to a Centripetal Recurrent operational sequence of such a core-see 2257 .

Suggested Reading:

Figure 7
Andre Debenath, Harold L. Dibble, Handbook of Paleolithic Typology, Volume One, Lower and Middle Paleolithic of Europe, 1996

Francois Bordes, Typologie du Paléolithique. Ancien et moyen (= Publications de l’Institut de Préhistoire de l’Université de Bordeaux. Mémoire. 1, , 1991

Francois Bordes, Le Paléolitique en Europe, 1984

Francois Bordes, Le Paléolitique hors d’Europe. 1984

J.J- Shea, Stone Tools in the Paleolithic and Neolithic Near East: A Guide,2014

Surf the Blog:

about the Bergerac Region from the lower Paleolithic to the Neolithic-see here: 1420 , here 1164 , here: 1369 , here: 1017 , here: 2064 , and here 1479

2021-08-09 15:12:24   •   ID: 2261

Self Evident: Reading Neanderthal skills

Figure 1
Figure 1 and 2 displays the ventral and dorsal side of a retouched leaf-shaped to quadrangular Levallois "Point"

Today, the commune of Baron is located in the department Oise, in the region Picardie. Currently Baron has a population of about 800 inhabitants and an area of 2147 ha.

Interestingly Baron is located only a few km from the famous Versigny site, already introduced into the Blog- see here: 1456

This post shows a very symmetric Levallois Point made from local Flint and was found during the 1930ies as a stray find in Baron. It was semi - abruptly and regular continuously retouched on the convergent margins on its dorsal side.

There is no single indication, that the point was reworked-what you see seems to be the pure idea of its maker, -a Neanderthal. He or She carefully planned and subsequently skilfully executed the artefact at around 50 k.a. BP. This impression remains self-evident - at least in my opinion.

A very similar, but partly reworked example, made from a non-Levallois quadrangular flake from the Château de la Roche-Courbon site can be seen here: 1636 - a different technique but nearly the same result.

Figure 2
Functional requirements together with learned sophisticated skills of the Flint knapper were the most important prerequisites for the creation of this artifact.

Regarding the design of the tool, shown here, I will not use the term of a “mental template", agreeing with Philip G. Chase that it is neither useful nor necessary for the often so tiering discussion about differences in the cognitive competence between AHMs and their Cousins.

Fortunately the debate has moved from the influential “AHMs were the winners in all disciplines” view towards a more reasonable position- namely that different contemporaneous Hominins had comparable modes of neuronal organisation.

This was recently shown by equal lithic knapping skills - mainly characterised by „Tabun-C” Levallois blank production, site use, modes of subsidence organisation and social life of contemporaneous H.Sapiens, Neanderthals and The “Nesher Ramla Hominids” in Israel at the MIS6/5 boundary (Hershkovitz et al. 2021) - times have changed and are still changing……

Chase`s still convincing arguments from 2008 are found in one of the attached files.

2021-08-04 17:56:42   •   ID: 2260

Lupemban at Lake Tumba - The Heart of Darkness

Figure 1
Figure 2
Lake Tumba, is part of the Congo River basin in northwestern Congo (Kinshasa). It covers 500 square km and is only about 2–6 m deep. The lake empties into the Congo River by the Irebu channel, just opposite its confluence with the Ubangi River.

Interestingly, in Central Africa, the first recorded Paleolithic assemblages were exactly collected in the Tumba lake area (now in the Democratic Republic of Congo) and several prehistoric periods were described collectively as the "Tumbakultur" (Menghin 1925).

Later it became clear that the "Tumbakultur" was a mix of several technocomplexes-among them the Lupemban - see 1651

During the Middle Pleistocene, the lake largely resembled its present appearance both morphologically and as a tropic habitat. It was certainly an attractive ecotope for hominins and their prey.

Presently, the clustering of MSA scatters in the area of former beach shores at Lake Tumba is thought to indicate relatively continuous colonization by an early (Archaic) Homo sapiens - the last forerunners of our species and maybe the first Hominins to colonize the rainforest in small groups.

The first artifact, shown in this post (Figure 1 and 2) is 9 cm long, made of high quality flint and according the current nomenclature a typical Bifacial Lanceolate- see 2024 . Such tools have been found, mostly without a secure stratigraphical context, within the rainforest belt of Central Africa. They are seen as one hallmark of the Lupemban, a technocomplex adapted both to Rainforest and Savanna environments.

The second tool (Figure 3 and 4) was made from quartz and maybe it has a brocken tip. The raw material that was used made it difficult to produce a sufficiently thin bifacial point or on the contrary the manufacturer intended to produce a different tool - for example an core-axe.

Figure 3
Figure 4
Lupemban Bifacial Lanceolates are considered to be spear points, although we do not yet have any microtraceological studies of these tools. So far this view is only based on analogies, drawn from the meanwhile well studied Stillbay points of South Africa.

Isis Mesfin has recently summarized the few chronological data on the Lupemban. They range from the middle Pleistocene to the Holocene and are partly associated with large methodological uncertainties (Mesfin 2021).

"Only few Lupemban assemblages are dated and available ages suggest a large chronological hiatus questioning the definition and the homogeneity of this complex:

• In the Congo Basin, radiocarbon ages range from 40 k.a. (Maboue V, Gabon) (Assoko Ndong 2002) to 12 k.a. (Kinshasa Plain, Democratic Republic of Congo) (Van Moorsel 1968).

• In the southern margins of Central Africa, Uranium-Thorium dating has placed the earliest age for the Lupemban at 230 k.a. at Twin Rivers (Zambia) (Barham & Smart 1996).

• In the Nile Valley, OSL dating of the Lupemban layer from Sai Island (Sudan) produced an age of 182±20 k.a. (Van Peer et al. 2003).

• In the Lake Victoria area, the Sangoan-Lupemban assemblage of Muguruk (Kenya) has been estimated between 30 and 120 k.a. based on sedimentation rates (McBrearty 1988)"

Taylor's and Mesfin's summaries of the Lupemban in Central Africa show one aspect above all: Central Africa is one of the most insufficiently studied regions of the Continent to provide information about transcontinental connections by opening „Green Corridors“ by early hominins during the Middle and Late Pleistocene - a true heart of darkness.

This is mainly the consequence of the political situation in this area and the extraordinary unclear, undescribed or disturbed stratigraphic contexts.

Some associations to the Heart of Darkness theme have emerged for me through the eponymous story by Joseph Conrad, published in 1899, and the film Apocalypse Now by Francis Ford Coppola from 1979. And not to forget: the film's theme music by Jim Morrison and the Doors.....