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2021-11-28 16:27:19   •   ID: 2282

A Handaxe from the Lower Omo Valley

Figure 1
Figure 2
This rather simple and 13 cm long lanceolated hand axe,made from ferruginous local volcanic rock, was found by the German prehistorian Günter Smolla (1919-2006) during an excursion in the lower Omo valley probably in the early 1970s.

It is asymmetrical and bifacially shaped by only a few flakes that had been detached. Despite pronounced post-depositional degradation, the Handaxe shows clear signs of human agency.

Smolla, although a specialist in the Neolithic and Bronze Age, already knew what he had found there....

The Omo-Tukana Basin represents one of the best studied geological regions in East Africa, resulting in accurate dating of both Paleofauna and archaeological remains.

Stratigraphic markers of the Omo region include volcanic ash layers, which form the primary basis for regional correlation within the Omo-Tukana Basin and with sequences of similar age in the surrounding basins.

A correlation of the Omo Group sequence with deep-sea deposits in the Arabian Sea and Gulf of Aden has also now been established.

Feldspars from volcanic eruptions included in pumices, which were incorporated into tuff layers, but also into intercalated basalt flows, provide an accurate radiometric age control for multiple levels in the Omo Group succession.

Magnetostratigraphic studies and of well-preserved ancient faunal communities provide independent time estimation and allow reliable cross datings (overview in Gathogo 2017).

From an archaeological and paleoanthropological point of view, especially two formations in the lower Omo Valley in Southern Etiopia are of particular significance.

- For the occurrence of some of the oldest artifact-bearing accumulations in the world associated with the Shungura Formation, which is currently dated from 3,6 mya and ca. 1 mya associated with Oldowan sites at about 2,3 mya. These localities are technologically comparable with the Oldowan at Gona and Hadar (both in the Afar region) as well as findings at Lokalalei and Kanjera in Kenia, which are however several 100 thousand years older - see 1678 .

Importantly Paranthropus bosei and Homo Habilis Skeletal remains were incorporated in the same strata.

- For the rich MSA evidence of the Kibish Formation that occurs along with findings of early Homo sapiens specimens (Omo Kibish 1 and 2, dated radiometrically to 196 +/- 2 k.a. BP; Fleagle 2008)- see 1668 and Figure 3.

From an aesthetic perspective these artifacts are of great beauty for a modern observer and bifacial tools such as Points and Scaper are made from precious materials, such as cryptocrystalline silicates, high quality chert and jasper (Figure 3).

Compared with the late Pliocene / Early Pleistocene, the MSA at Lake Turkana is sparse-see: 2060 . Shea and Hildebrand (2010) reported details of a well stratified MSA-LSA site at from West Turkana at Nakechichok 1. This site is remarkable because its inventory bears no close resemblance to the Kibish findings. It is a small in-situ inventory that has a clear laminar Levallois aspect.

Evaluation of MSA sites on the left side of the lower Omo has just began and may offer a great potential. These findings were found as part of the so called Mursiland Heritage Project.

Levallois Flakes and Tools with some similarities with the sparse MSA evidence at Turkana West were reported scattered over the landscape and the Dirikoro Waterfall Site at the headwaters of a the River Elma, a tributary of the Omo River (Drapeau 2018).

Figure 3
As earlier reported in this Blog, the earliest known scattered evidence of the Acheulian dates back to c. 1,75 mya and is limited to a few African sites sites: Kokiselei (Kenya), Konso (Ethiopia), Olduvai Gorge (Tansania)-FLK West, and Sterkfontein (South Africa).

From the regional view of this post the only early Acheulian in the Lower Omo / Turkana region is actually present at the Kokiselei 4 (KS4) site in West Turkana. So far, intact Acheulian sites have not been discovered in the Lower Omo Valley, possibly because the corresponding strata from this period are not as accessible as elsewhere.

Today, over 13000 people live in the Lower Omo Valley home, divided into a network of around 12 pastoralist groups including for example the Mursi, Suri, and Bodi. Each community in the Lower Omo Valley has maintained its own, very distinctive traditions.

For many reasons, these people are in danger of loosing the basis of their specific livelihood and future.

A state-sponsored "eco-tourism" makes people and villages staffage for an "authentic Africa experience" for the tourists. Only a few, the least the inhabitants of the region themselves, profit from this development.

To make things even worse, the entire ecosystem of the lower Omo and Lake Turkana is irreversibly at risk by the construction of a huge dam, named Gibe III, at the the Omo. The Gibe III dam is the third largest hydro-electric plant in Africa.

The dam slows the flow of the Omo River and ends the semi-annual floods that supplied riverside farmland and pastures for livestock with alluvial sediment enriched with valuable nutrients.

Since hundred of years, in the times before the dam was built, sophisticated mechanisms of risk minimisation and recovery strengthened the region's resilience to drought.

Now, pastoralists have to migrate to other regions to find suitable areas for pasture, leading to conflicts with other groups.

You will find more informations about this issue in the book you can download here: The River: Peoples and Histories of the Omo-Turkana Area .

Two travel reports are important to critically complement the picture: Visiting Omo and Visiting Omo2

Nothing about these events is unusual or unique. Similar interventions into the ecosystem are happening every day and all over the world - the genus Homo sapiens is almost certainly on the very edge of extinction, although it is the most common Mammal on Earth- and it once started so hopefully....

Suggested Reading:

Homo faber - 2 millions d'années d'histoire de la pierre taillée - De l'Afrique aux portes de l'Europe - Catalogue d'exposition MAN; 2021

2021-11-22 06:58:38   •   ID: 2281

A Faustkeilblatt from S/W Germany - a Marginal Topic?

Figure 1
The concept of a Central and East European "Micoquian" has been repeatedly described in this Blog. The alternative term "Keilmesser-groups" is problematic because several Micoquian inventories do not include these tools at all- see here: 2016 , here 1726 , and here 1609 .

The Micoquian entity of Central and East Europe is characterized by a combination of bifacially retouched tools with mostly plano-convex working edges, including Keilmesser (wedge knifes) with single and angled working edges, "Halbkeile": elongated unifaces with a D-shaped cross-section , Fäustel: small (< 6cm long) Handaxes, "Leaf-shaped Scrapers" and last but not least by flat Handaxes: Faustkeilblätter (FKBs), which are the issue of this post, because it has appeared that reviews that focus on this tool do not exist actually.

By the way: Handaxes, including the well-known "Micoquian Handaxes" with an asymmetric and trifacial concept but also classic, mostly elongated and cordiform Bifaces, are rather rare and not a decisive characteristic of the Micoquian.

Figure 1 and 2 show the dorsal side of a Faustkeilblatt from the Franconian Jura- see: 1609 and Figure 3 displays the ventral side of the 6,6 cm long artifact.

FKBs of the Central and Eastern European Micoquian are small tools (between 6 to 7 cm long), characterized by their relatively thin and plan, occasionally minimally convex cross-section over the entire length of the tool. Most important remains their uniform flat profile (Tafelmaier 2011 ).

The dorsal, side is covered by retouches while the retouching on the ventral side are often variable, covered with more incomplete and less invasive retouches..

Figure 2
Distally, on the dorsal side, they often have a carefully worked tip, which may occasionally more or less rounded as seen in our example. A tipped variant can be seen here: 1735 . The distal region on the ventral side is not or only coarsely retouched.

The proximal end is usually blunt and unprocessed, sometimes produced by an intentional break, which also can be recognized in our example. Intentional breaking is a principle that has been widely used since the Mousterian and MSA- see here: 1734 .

The shapes vary between large and elongated, broad and short, like the artifact of this post, as well as narrow handaxe like artifacts. Triangular shaped examples with oblique base ("Type X") shapes also occur. While elongated specimens are often symmetric, broad and wide forms more often show a certain asymmetry.

At some sites in Central Europe, for example at the Bocksteinschmiede, (Baden Würtenberg, Germany) this artifact is very common, and supposed to be the desired end product, so that a separate name in typological systematics was early required.

In fact, Late Pleistocene FKBs are taxonomically similar to Pointes a Quinson for certain Middle Pleistocene Old World lithic inventories-see: 1554

The name "Faustkeilblatt" was coined first by Obermaier 1912. Otto Meghin occasionally called this type of implement a "plate Handaxe" (Meghin 1914). In the French and Anglo - American literature, these artifacts are were recognised not before the 1990ies, when the Middle Paleolithic of Central and East Europe became better known in the Western Hemisphere. Currently the detailed Definition of G.Bosinski (1967) ist usually used.

At first, it was assumed that the overall design of these artifacts was dictated by tabular source material. In the Franconian and Swabian Alb, formerly also known as the Swabian Jura, during the Middle Paleolithic, namely, the Plattenhornstein (tabular Flint), played a major role in the production of tools until the Bronze Age (Zotz 1951).

Figure 3
Here Plattenhornstein is found In limestone deposits, which were formed during the Jurassic and occur as siliceous horizons of only a few centimeters thickness.

Anyhow, this possibility was subsequently falsified, since FKBs and other "Micoquian" tools (e.g Blattspitzen) were frequently produced from other raw materials.

Moreover, and not uncommon in typological classifications, there is a wide transitional field between broad and wide FKBs and convergent Scrapers and Keilmessern.

The same holds true between elongated examples and Leafpoints and Limaces.

The most instructive illustrations, of the enormous variance of the pieces designated as FKBs, can be seen in the monograph by G. Bosinski and R. Wetzel on the Bocksteinschmiede site in particular on the pages following plate 60.

As often in prehistoric research, the terminology changes from country to country: At the Polish site Pietraszyn there are FKBs, but the Polish researchers call them "scraper" without further differentiation.

The same perception had already been expressed 60 years ago by F. Bordes (1961) - However such artifacts are rare in S/W-France-the classic region for Mousterian terminology.

However, this does not apply to Normandy and neighboring regions. FKBs at the surface site Saint-Brice-sous-Rânes (Orne department; France) represent up to 10% of all bifacial tools, but are designated differently by French researchers as result of different terminologies.

My observation of a small, biased example of ca 200 tools fits to the systematic evaluation of Karen Ruebens, that: a third entity, the Mousterian with bifacial tools (MBT), is located in between the MTA and KMG core areas and contains a wide variety of bifacial tools, including MTA and KMG types.

Figure 4
In Figure 4 we find two tools fromSaint-Brice-sous-Rânes, that meet all the preconditions for the Central European designation as FKBs.

A systematic evaluation over the entire life cycle of FKBs in the context of a Chaîne opératoire approach is still missing.

In eastern Central Europe FKB are often part of "Micoquian Ensembles" underpinning that they are an important part of this entity. They also occure in the Eastern European Plain and in some inventories of the Crimean Peninsula (.g. Kabazi and Staroselje; again under a different name). (Marks and V.P. Chabaï 1998, Marks and Monigal 1999).

However, the piece shown here, could theoretically show the negatives of Levallois preperation on the dorsal side, with an intentional breakage of the base and a rather careless retouching of the ventral side.

The first example in Figure 4, on the other hand, was prepared from a large Pseudolevallois point that was originally struck from a Discoid core. The same technique is also conceivable for the second, more symmetrical specimen.

Interestingly, FKB in the Central European sense have been described from the Acheulian-Jabrudian strata of Tabun Cave (Mt Carmel, Israel); (Matskevich et al. 2001).

In my opinion this is certainly a convergence phenomenon, while the authors seem to prefer a cultural explanation. at least for the Levant.

The Carmel finds are about 200 k.a. older than the artifacts from Central Europe. At Tabun, layer E is dated between 350±33 k.a. (unit XII) and 270±22 k.a. (unit X), (MIS 10 to MIS8) (Mercier et al. 1995).

It should be mentioned that similar pieces were also present at the late Acheulian site of of Evron Zinat in the Western Galilee (Gilead and Ronen 1977), the Arzaq region in Jordan at the Late Acheulian of Lion Spring (Copeland 1989) and occasionally in the Algerian Sahara (own observations).

It remains unclear for most pieces whether they were shafted and what function they served. At the Polish MIS3 site Pietraszyn 49a, use–wear traces from bifacial tools resulted mainly from bone and rarely from processing organic material (Wiśniewski et al 2019). At the Lichtenberg site microtraceology revealed cutting meat or hide, probably during butchering activities (Claud et al. 2009)

Suggested Reading:

J. Bárta: Slovensko v staršej a strednej dobe kamennej; 1996

G. Bosinski: mittelpaläolithischen Funde im westlichen Mitteleuropa, 1967

G. Bosinski und R Wetzel: Die Bocksteinschmiede im Lonetal; 1969

G.Freund: Die Blattspitzen des Paläolithikums in Europa ; 1952

G. Freund. Das Paläolithikum der Oberneder-Höhle - Ldkr. Kelheim-Donau; 1987

K. Günther: Die altsteinzeitlichen Funde der Balver Höhle; 1964

K. Günther: Alt- und mittelsteinzeitliche Fundplätze in Westfalen, Teil 1 + Teil 2; 1986, 1988

J. and S. Kozlowski, Le Paléolithique en Pologne, 1996S. Krukowski: Prehistoria ziem Polskich I. Kraków; 1939.

Richter J: Sesselfelsgrotte III. Der G-Schichten-Komplex der Sesselfelsgrotte; 1997

S. Veil: Ein mittelpaläolithischer Fundplatz aus der Weichselkaltzeit bei Lichtenberg, Lkr. Lüchow-Danneberg.;1994

2021-11-07 09:17:33   •   ID: 2278

Olduvai / Oldupai Gorge: A Handaxe from lower Bed II

Figure 1 Panorama
Figure 2 Monolith
Figure 1: Photographic panorama of Olduvai Gorge / Tanzania (Source: Photo: Noel Feans; Permission: Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license); Figure 2: the famous "Monolith" with superimposed several beds of the Fossil and Artifact bearing layers. (Source and text: D. Gordon E. Robertson; Permission: Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license).

Currently and by (40)Ar/(39)Ar dating of tuffs and lavas of Pleistocene volcanic and sedimentary sequence of Olduvai Bed I is dated to 2,1- 1,8 mya, Bed II to 1,8 to 1,15 mya, Bed III to 1,15 mya-800 k.a., Bed IV is about 800-600 k.a.old and the the Masek Beds were dated from 600 to 400 k.a. The Ndutu Beds are about 400-32 k.a.old and the Naisiusiu Beds are younger than 15,k.a.

Figure 3, 4 and 5: An Almond shaped, thick and biconvex hand axe (13x8x5 cm) from the Bed II / Olduvai from my own Collection: Made from Volcanic Rock this relatively small and massive core tool is completely bifacially flaked, with deep flake scars and slightly sinuous edges (Figure 5). Breuil and Bordes would have called such a Handaxe "Biface Abbevillien".

Although relatively short, the Bifaces dimensions are still in the lower size range of the Upper Bed II bifaces. Almost identical pieces from this bed were recently described from the TK site in Bed II, dated to ca. 1,5 ± 0,035 Mya, (Santonja et al. 2016). This piece, together with an early Handaxe from South Africa- see 2227 is still one of the oldest Bifaces from my collection.

The Olduvai Basin in northern Tanzania is part of the East African Rift System- see 1474 , and offers an unique, more than 2 mya long record of sediments, flora, fauna and artifacts over the stratigraphic succession. Moreover, many sites are in-situ and offer preferable opportunities for Archeological prospection.

Figure 3 Olduvai
Although the fluvial and lacustrine deposits are exposed in the basin over ca 250 km2, most of the archeological sites are found within in a relatively small area (about 7 km2) centered on the junction of the Main Gorge and Side Gorge.

60 years ago Louis and Mary Leakey drew the attention to Olduvai Gorge, by discovering there hominin fossils of both Australopithecus boisei and Homo habilis in Bed I (Leakey 1959). The position of Homo habilis within human evolution initially remained highly controversial and it took more than a decade for the taxon to be generally accepted after more complete new skeletal finds. Although OH 7 is not the first fossil find of Homo habilis, it was selected as a typical representative of its species.

Earlier, in 1959, Heslon Mukiri, an associate of the Leakeys, came across a molar and a premolar at another site in Bed I. But the two teeth were first put aside by Mary Leakey's skull find OH 5 (Zinjanthropus boisei) a few weeks later.

Later cranial remains of Homo Erectus (s.l) (or Homo Ergaster) were found in Bed II (OH 9 and 12). Since then the attention was always directed towards the Record of Bed I and II (roughly dated to 2.1–1.1 Mya) while Bed III and IV, and the overlying Matakaba and Masek Beds were rather neglected.

This can be explained by the fact, that Bed II ist the most complex formation from an Archeological standpoint, especially by the inter-stratification of "Olduvan" and "Acheulian" sites and the preservation of larger quantities of faunal remains.

Definition of the Acheulian: While M. Leakey (1971) defined an Acheulian by the presence of at least 40% Handaxes in an ensemble, later investigators have emphasized more on technological aspects.

Currently,an Acheulian is considered to exist by the evidence of LCT technology and mastery and use of three-dimensional (core) volumes.

The Acheulian was the first standardized tradition of toolmaking, characterized by a volumetric bifacial concept, indicating a higher level of cognitive competence of their makers compared with their predecessors or contemporary Hominins.

I have earlier reported about the dilemma of connecting stone tool techniques and typology with already known Hominins- see: 2232

In addition, for a broader definition of the Acheulian, improved façonnage for biface, pic and cleaver manufacture and preference for discoid technology among small débitage methods should be added.

Using an flexible and purely technological approach, in the final consequence, an Acheulian without a single Handaxe is thus possible (S.Y Policarpo et al. 2018). It remains to be proven whether this radical position is sustainable

Figure 4 Olduvai
Refinement of Handaxes over time? Originally, L.S.B. Leakey developed a 9-stage model of biface evolution that was intended to demonstrate an increasing sophistication of tool making between Bed II and the Masek Beds.

Shipton recently showed, that Leakey's illustrations of the Olduvai material were not biased, but indeed relatively representative for the Succession at Olduvai. Therefore Leakey was not simply driven by the evolutionary concepts of his time but provided a solid foundation for the analysis of the local archaeological development of handaxe Cultures at Olduvai (Shipton 2018).

However, we must keep in mind that the trend toward increasing refinement of the bifaces from lower to upper strata, refers to their totality. Of course, this does not apply to each individual case: There are relatively refined and symmetric Handaxes, similar to our example in Bed II, but of course they are in the minority.

Further Examples of early Handaxe Sophistication come from FLK West and from TK, the latter located in the upper part of Olduvai Bed II, dating close to 1,5 mya (Domínguez-Rodrigo et al. 2013).

In addition the trend of increasing Handaxe refinement, that Shipton found in Olduvai, was not confirmed at other large East African sites (Shipton 2018) - more about the issue- see: 2030

Figure 6, shows an archaic looking hand axe from southern Italy, which is about only 300 k.a. old and looks just as archaic as the artifact presented in this post. The same holds true from a Middle Pleistocene LTC Handaxe from Isimila in Figure 7.

Many of the bifaces from M. Leakey's monograph on Bed III-IV appear as "archaic" as if they originated from the lower levels of Bed II.

On the other hand, we know other refined and symmetrical handaxe from Bed II in Olduvay . Some of them can be seen at the web-page of the British Museum in London- see here: BM-Handaxe .

Remarks on Bed II: This post focuses on the early Acheulian of Bed II, the source of the single Handaxe of this post and the area of recent Archeological Activities in the Post-Leakey area.

These new excavations may be characterized by the detection and evaluation of high resolution stratigraphies, the use of advanced sedimentary geology and the use of advanced isotope geochemistry resulting in high-resolution paleoenvironmental reconstruction.

It should be mentioned, that lateral discontinuities and the reworking and alteration of volcanic glass makes makes dating of Bed II less precise than that of Bed I.

Figure 5 Olduvai
Geochemical “fingerprints” from 5 marker tuffs and the so called "Bird Print Tuff" plus several local tephra of Bed II have been evaluated recently, and have major implications for the Oldowan–Acheulean transition by improving the correlation of different stratigraphic sections (McHenry et al. 2018).

When Bed II (2,17-1,2 mya) was formed, a large paleo lake (Paleolake Olduvai), that appeared during several Volcanic events of the late Pliocene, receded during the increasing aridity alongside the Lower-Middle Bed II in a now semiarid Environment, new raw materials became available at the lake shores.

Instead of quartzite, quartz, volcanic rocks including basalt - chert / flint , with its well known properties became for the first time accessible for the Hominins but was still used in low quantities.

Theoretically Chert is often suggested being a somewhat more optimal raw material by its homogeneity, ability to develop high quality conchoidal fracture, and the production of exceptionally sharp edges.

Anyhow, compared to other raw materials, the flake edges are often less less durable. This may have necessitated more frequent retouching to strengthen the edges of chert flakes - see 1504 , which may one factor, that even in Bed IV, quartzite Handaxes are common.

Maybe mentality change of later Hominins brought Flint Handaxes into the „Pool Position“ known from the Acheulian of continental West Europe and the UK.

At ca 1,7-1,5 mya Hominins settled not only at the margins of shrinking Paleo Lake Olduvai but also at river channels and on permanent groundwater-fed springs associated with archaeological sites (Ashley et al. 2010).- see 1477 for the central role of water supply in Human Prehistory.

Mercader et al. (2021) demonstrated that early Hominins created a "homogenous technology to utilize diverse, rapidly changing environments that ranged from fern meadows to woodland mosaics, naturally burned landscapes, to lakeside woodland/palm groves as well as hyperxeric steppes."

In search of Early Acheulian in-situ sites: To evaluate hominin behavior during this evolutionary key time with respect to procuring food, water, and materials for stone tools, as well as hominin adaptation to climate and paleoenvironmental change it is extremely important to detect taphonomic intact in-situ sites with their faunal remains.

Note that Core and Flake Industries-see here: 1663 , here 1678 , and here: 1176 -the (Olduvan) will not further discussed here -they have been detected from the base of Bed I until the Middle Bed II and are interstratified between the early Acheulian sites.

As can be seen from the extensive literature about the East African Olduvan, the division into Early and Late Olduvan (Types A and B), coined by Mary Leakey, has now been abandoned by most of the researchers- for example by Gallotti at Melka Kunture, with good arguments.

Currently, researchers prefer the model of a rather rapid transition from the Olduvan to the Early Acheulian, for example at At Gona, Ethiopia at 1,77 mya (Semaw at al. 2009).

Figure 6 Venosa
It seems that the start and dissemination of the Acheulian over the old world followed exactly Roger‘s „Diffusion of Inventions“ paradigm of 1962, which too often does not really fit to the Palaeolithic record.

Not only at Olduvai Gorge, but also at other early Acheulian sites in East Africa, there is usually a lack of association between lithics and faunal remains or they are even devoid of fauna.

The very early Acheulian, dated to ca 1,7 mya, of Konso Gardula (Ethiopia), Kokiselei (West Turkana, Kenya) and later early Acheulian sites at Koobi Fora, Olorgesailie and Peninj are unfortunately no exception from this general rule.

All the more important is the early 1.7 Million-Year-Old Site of FLK West, where simple and developed handaxes are simultaneously associated with well preserved fauna in the context of unambiguous butchering activities. The “Nature”-paper in the external link-section of the post will give you a rather good impression about the advanced handaxe technology

FLK West as an Example of Acheulian / Olduvan Interstratification: FLK West consists of a sequence of sand, silt, conglomerates and tufa. The lowest Marker Tuff (Tuff FLKWa) is about 1,69 mya old.

Six find horizons are incorporated into this sequence. At the base there are two layers of an early Acheulian based on LCTs and on top of them there are four strata with core and flake ensembles ("Olduvan"). This sequence ends with an Upper Tuff (FLKWb), dated to ca 1,66 mya.

This results over a narrow time window, in terms of a geologic definition, with evidence of two contemporaneous archaeological entities at a high stratigraphic resolution is a true stroke of luck for Prehistory (Sánchez-Yustos Policarpo et al. 2018).

The excavators stated that "The differences noted in the absence/presence and frequency of LCTs may be explained in occupational terms, while the similarities in raw material selection, core reduction and flake retouching patterns indicate homogeneous cultural decisions and cognitive skills. We conclude that these assemblages were likely formed by the same hominin group or taxon and, therefore, the assemblage variability registered would correspond to different expressions of the same economic structure.". This is a convincing good-by to cultural-historical approaches at the dawn of humanity.

At the same geological level, but mainly more recent in Bed II, further early Acheulian sites are located between Tuff IIA and Tuff IID within a time frame between 1,66 and 1,44 mya.

The most important and recently extensively studied Early Acheulian sites in this area besides FLK, were already first evaluated by the Leakey Family more than 60 years ago. These are: MNK main; SHK; SC West and EFHR (de la Torre 2016).

Man the Butcher: Evidence for Early meat consumption: This issue requires evidence that changes on fossil bones are man-made and not caused by other taphonomic processes. Of course, the skeletal remains of most interest for Pleistocene hominins and Researchers are preferably the selective accumulation of meat and bone marrow rich parts.

The most important issues are the identification of cut marks, tooth marks, percussion marks, and natural marks (biochemical and abrasion marks). The methodology is described in M. Domınguez-Rodrigo et al. (2009)

Once the presence of cut-marks and percussion marks can be established, it must be proven by rigorous investigations that hominids were the first who had access to the carcass.

Although Olduvai Gorge provided strong evidence of effective scavenging and hunting (?), paleoanthropologist assume that the hominids who inhabited the area between 2,1 and 1,8 mya spent most of their time gathering wild plants such as berries, tubers, and roots.

Furthermore, taphonomic re-analyses of Olduvai Bed I sites, including the Archeofaunal remains and stone tools, and most of Olduvai Bed II localities evidenced that with the exception of FLK Zinj (Bed I), and the BK-site (Bed II) these areas were palimpsests with minimal hominin input, formed by multiple agencies - for example the SHK Main Site (Domınguez-Rodrigo et al. 2007).

The oldest but sparse evidence for active meat consumption comes from the Olduvan Site El Kherba in Algeria see- 2111 ; (Sanhouni et al. 2013) from the upper parts of a 1,8-2,4 mya old succession and from the site of FLK North at Olduvai Gorge (Domínguez-Rodrigo et al. 2010) dated to 1,8mya.

In the Afar Triangle in Ethiopia, both Acheulian and Oldowan artifacts, Homo erectus crania and signs of active defleshing and disarticulation on bones were associated ca. 1,6 to 1,5 Ma ago at Dana Aoule North (DAN5) archaeological site at Gona.

Thus, around 1.8 mya, megafaunal meat consumption does not seem to have have played a major role in the diet of hominins.

Another line of evidence comes from comparative studies of the closest relative of humans: the chimpanzee.

The diet of the great apes consists of only about 5% meat. Even today's hunter-gatherers maintain a diet that is not characterized by large amounts of meat.

The majority of the calories needed are of plant origin. Anyhow, one should be cautious with such analogies.

A clear trend to butchering activities is detectable at Olduvai since ca 1,5 mya (after middle Bed II). Both cut-and percussion marks on bones, which indicate a primary access by hominins to meat, and a tight association of stone tools and butchered bones became much more common. Important butchering sites: BK, TK, FLK-West and SHK, are dated between 1.3 and 1.7 Ma. respectively.

Butchering (and Hunt?) is most strikingly demonstrated by recent finds at Site BK; Upper Bed I: " the present study indicates that BK should be added to the small number of Plio-Pleistocene sites where hominins contributed to the faunal assemblage and where primary access to carcasses can be inferred through taphonomic analyses.

The high frequencies of cut marks and percussion marks from such a small excavation suggest that BK could potentially contain the largest number of hominin-modified bones of all known Lower Pleistocene sites in Africa. If one 10 m x 3 m trench has produced a sample of hominin-modified bone that is comparable to the 300 m2 excavation at FLK Zinj, what could a similarly large excavation at BK produce?

This calls for future research at the site in order to expand the excavation area. In addition, this would allow the collection of more information on site functionality, given its re-occupation over such a vast amount of time.
(M. Domınguez-Rodrigo et al.2009).

These results suggest that the the animals were actively hunted, but a direct proof for this theory, as for example for Schöningen / Northern Germany for the time period around 300 k.a., unfortunately does not exist so far for Olduvai around 1.5 mya.

However, the BK-site cannot be interpreted simply as a "home camp," as proposed in the 1960s. In this case, there is a clear need to develop new hypotheses and models to interpret such central-place sites.

Meat Consumption and Brain Size-a valid Master Narrative? The evolutionary success of Homo compared to Paranthropus is currently in part explained by their differences in food intake.

Paranthropus was mainly a herbivore, while Homo sp. is suggested to be mainly a a carnivore.(Foley 2001). There is a broad consensus that the habitual consumption of large quantities of meat, especially by the killing of available Megafauna by hominins, was a significant evolutionary step (M. Domínguez-Rodrigoet a. 2013).

Figure 7 Isimila
It should be noted that numerous other hypotheses (e.g. the influence of environmental, demographic, social- especially cost-signaling mechanisms, and technological factors) have also tested (Will et al. 2021). I personally assume that, as always for complex biological processes, increasing Brain Volumes were the consequences of multifactorial process.

The influence of Meat Consumption on increasing Brains appears as a conceivable narrative but has not yet been quantitatively verified in depth. At least there is some evidence in Bed II at Olduvai that could support the hypothesis, mainly at the BK-site (see above).

The hypothesis assumes that nutrient rich meat made Homo grow taller and smarter. Meat consumption increased the rate of encephalization.

The enlargement of the brain is something that makes us human, and for this it is necessary to provide substances that enable the body to build and operate the oversized brain of Homo sp. compared to his forerunners.

During Brain maturation it was necessary to have the appropriate proteins and fatty acids that form the brain mass. And this must be have achieved rather quickly, because after birth our Neurons mature very fast and no significant number of brain cells is added during later lifetime.

Stone and Bone tools improved a more rapid carcass dismemberment, whether the animals are killed by our species or succumbed by prey predators. In other words these craft skills transformed Homo into a more successful scavenger or even hunter.

Figure 7 shows an impressive 20 cm long LCT-Handaxe from the Middle (?) Pleistocene site of Isimila, certainly very useful in the hard work of rapidly dissect large carcasses -further information about the Isimila site-see here: 1217 .

Artifacts could have increase hunting success, but the timing of active Hunting remains a controversial issue during the early Pleistocene and may be rather a marginal issue in the context of successfully getting large quantities of meat-the decisive factor regardless of the methods that were used..

These activities, in turn, required a better organization of the processing of meat, bones and skins, which in turn changed the social structure of our ancestors. The more specialized knowledge they acquired, the more effective tools they could invent, which in turn may have created resources that could feed larger communities.

While Homo habilis, was barely able to compete with larger herbivores, his success depended on rapid detection of carcasses, their successful defense against other predators and their rapid removal to saver areas.

On the other hand, Homo erectus could possibly successfully hunt a few hundred thousand years later Elephants, rhinoceroses, hippopotami, zebras, giraffes of his African homeland (see below).

Interestingly a manual proximal phalanx, > 1,84 mya old from an unknown Hominin (OH 86)- maybe from an early Homo Erectus- was recently described from Bed I at Olduvai, which led to the reconstruction of a quasi modern human-like hand, suggesting, that a third Hominin co-existed with Paranthropus boisei and Homo habilis at Olduvai during Bed I times.

Since in the case of success of fresh carcasses, immediately enormous quantities of meat were available, which in the warm climate rotted fast, humans had to develop techniques for the further processing and preservation.

The decisive step in this process may have been the mastery of fire. Fire made it possible to preserve large quantities of meat. At the same time, roasting or boiling facilitated the enzymatic digestion of food, which in turn provided the eaters with more nutrients for an expanding community. And around the campfires, the groups developed a skill that allowed them to further optimize their hunting success: language.

Anyhow, the habitual use of fire is dated not earlier than 1 mya-see: 1692 , and this issue is actually far from being resolved.

In this post I have just reported just a few results from the current excavations- think on what will be still detected during the next decenia- I am convinced that the new facts will be overwhelming for all lovers of the Palaeolithic…….

Suggested Reading:

R. Gallotti and M. Mussi (Ed): Emergence of the Acheulean in East Africa and Beyond. Contributions in Honor of Jean Chavaillon; 2008

L. S. B. Leakey: Olduvai Gorge: Volume 1; 1965

MD Leakey: Olduvai Gorge: Volume 3 ; 1973

MD Leakey: Olduvai Gorge: Volume 5 ; 1985




Resources and images in full resolution:

2021-10-31 10:45:19   •   ID: 2275

A Handaxe from Dury and the Early History of Prehistory at Amiens

Figure 1
Figure 1 shows a 15 cm long asymmetrical elongated Handaxe from Dury, a suburb of Amiens. It is a 19th century finding from the gravels of the small Noye river, a left tributary of the Somme at Amiens.

The Somme is a long tranquil, meandering majestic river. The river Somme is the backbone of the department Somme, crossing it from east to west. This could also apply to the city of Amiens. Since Middle Ages the river and its tributaries was the spine of the city, irrigating its different districts - especially the hortillonnages of Amiens, allotments planted in wetlands, which served to supply the inhabitants of Amiens with fruit and vegetables, probably since the time of the Romans, but in any case since the Middle Ages. Of the original area of 10,000 ha, 300 ha still exist today.

The Middle Somme valley near Amiens (Figure 2 for a geographic orientation), give us a glimpse into 600 k.a. of human history-see: 1306 . The most important stratigraphies, partially with in situ artifacts, are present at St Acheul and Montières, which still remain hot-spots in the evaluation of the Acheulian in Northern France.

While Acheulian finds at St Acheul, a suburb of Amiens are closely related to the stratigraphy of the Somme, an association with the deposits of a small tributary, the Avre, which flows into the Somme, is evident at the Cagny and Dury Paleolithic localities

We remember that the claims of Boucher de Perthes -more about him: see- 1499 and here: Boucher de Perthes , who was convinced, that he found Human implements in the Gravels of Abeville and St Acheul at the Somme together with the remains of an extinct Pleistocene Megafauna, in the 1850s and after 20 years of fieldwork, still were not accepted by the scientific authorities in Paris and London.

He was simply ignored by the members of the great academies of France and Britain whose opinions really counted.

Figure 2; Wikimedia Commons
But Boucher's opponents also appeared at the regional scene. A certain Dr. Rigollot, an experienced Antiquarian from Amiens, decided to beat de Perthes with his own weapons.

He initiated a series of excavations in the gravel pits of St. Acheul and Dury and made no secret of the fact that he was mainly interested in invalidating Boucher's theses.

But as he detected bifaces and other flint tools from in the Gravels, he gradually became convinced that de Perthes was right.

In 1854, he published his excavation reports, by which he unconditionally aligned himself with his former opponent.

His publications contributed to the fact that geologists from both sides of the English Channel made, for the first time, their own assessment of Boucher’s findings in the Gravels on the Somme.

The breakthrough came in 1859 when the scientific community definitively confirmed the thesis of Boucher de Perthes, that fossil man was the maker of the handaxes and lived contemporaneous with the great extinct Pleistocene mammals. More about this issue can be found here: Breaking-the-time-barrier

It remains an irony of scientific history that Dr Rigollot, who originally intended to rebut Boucher de Perthes findings at Abbeville and St Acheul became a partisan of Boucher’s ideas after his explorations at Dury and later at St Acheul. Well that's just how science works....




Resources and images in full resolution:

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 .

This trait is by no means exclusively a characteristic of the Central European Micoquian (or the so called KMG- Group) but also known from the Acheulo-Yabrudian of the Levant and Handaxes from the Oases in Western Egypt.

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 of Erg Rebiana was intermittently visited during the Acheulian, MSA, and Epipaleolithic and through the Neolithic periods by our predecessors- see: 2010

Technologically, the characteristics of the very thin stone tool, speak for the use of direct percussion with an organic hammer or more probably an indirect percussion technic, regarding that we recognize the combination of a long and diffuse percussion bulb and lip formation (Damlien 2015).

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 multicolored quartzite. The facetted base is shown in Figure 3.

Most probably the artifact comes from the Middle Holocene wet-phase connecting the Sahara with West and East-Africa by a dense network of rivers and lakes.

“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 has been made by a technologically advanced technique and functionally 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.

One path they followed was the migration to the south, to the Sahel zone. They succeeded in adapting to their new habitat.

Since the 19th century, the Sahel eco-system has been deteriorating at an unprecedented rate, to the extreme detriment of the Sahel people.

In desperation they try to cross the Sahara, now in the opposite direction, and try to cross the Mediterranean to reach the European Union as a presumed rescuing anchor.

However, they are not welcome anywhere and the "European Christian values" (what is that?) turn to be the empty talk of people who have already feathering their own nests.

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 to 1,75 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 LCT Handaxes and Cleavers and Pics and a sophisticated three dimensional treatment of cores 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 sp.to 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

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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.