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2023-11-29 14:31:58   •   ID: 2367

Better too much once than too little once: Redundancy in the Paleolithic

Mauretanian Sahara (Adrar-Wikimedia Commons)
Figure 1
Figure 2
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Several Localities especially in East Africa and the Sahara are characterized by large quantities of techno-typologically almost identical artifacts.

Examples of this development are shown in Figures 1-5 (Aterian Points (Figure 1-3 from the Mauretanien Sahara) or LCTs (Figure 4-5 from Olorgesailie / Kenya).

However, we are usually unable to distinguish whether such accumulations are the result of a short-term occupation with intensive lithic production or palimpsests that have been produced over a longer period of time. However, reports on well-studied sites suggests both scenaria may be possible.

If we assume that larger quantities of artifacts were produced in a limited time frame, it could be a case of provisioning specific place in anticipation of future needs (sensu Kuhn). Such behavior implies future planning, which, to the best of our knowledge, can already be assumed even for archaic Homo sp.

While palimpsest formation played a major role in Olorgesaillie, the Aterian artifacts, which by the way have a very specific "style", were found together on a surface location as if ordered and not collected.

"Better too much once than too little once" are common sayings that describe quite well what is hidden behind the term redundancy. Namely, identical or comparable things are available at least twice in parallel.

In the context of living in the Paleolithic, this ensured that the necessary lithics and the knowledge about their production remained available even in the event of loss.

Figure 4
Copies of a tool do not necessarily have to be identical. Deviations in the design can enable a flexible and rapid response to specific problems, when needed. Parallel pathways and variability in lithic production may therfore better described as safety mechanisms that may be used in some circumstances and not others.

However, "redundancy" is sometimes used in everyday language as unnecessary process or tasks that can be removed without affect the output.

Drawing analogies with biological systems is sometimes dangerous, but in this case quite appropriate. In Biology, Redundancy is fundamental for all organisms to cope with environmental stress and harmful mutations. It plays a vital role in all key processes from genetics to development, immunity, nervous systems, musculoskeletal systems and visual processing.

On a deeper level, Genetic redundancy means that two or more genes are performing the same function and that inactivation of one of these genes has little or no effect on the biological phenotype. Such a genetic backup seems to be of major importance, otherwise it would have disappeared during evolution.

In many ways, the survival of organisms is ensured by the presence of large reserve capacities. The back-up / redundancy in lithic production may have been little different in the effects on survival of early hunter-gatherers....

2023-11-21 11:17:54   •   ID: 2366

Lincombian-Ranisian-Jerzmanowician (LRJ) in 2023: It was Homo sapiens stupid!

In my limited family collection, I hold only one 6 cm long artifact from the Lincombian-Ranisian-Jerzmanowician (LRJ) industry (Figure 1 and 2), already introduced in the blog- see here: 1603

Figure 1
It has to be stressed, that the definition of the LRJ is unfortunately solely based on one “fossile directeur” -the so called blade point-, manufactured on substantial, triangular cross sectioned blades.

On average, these Blade Points have a length around 9–10 cm, width of 3 cm, and thickness of 1 cm, often struck from opposed platforms cores. However, significantly smaller specimen, similar to the artifact shown here, are also known from several localities (for example at the Jerzmanowice type site and in Moravia).

The secondary retouch on blade points is regularly present on both dorsal (flat / semi-steep retouch) and ventral (flat retouch) surfaces. It was most possibly aimed at straightening and thinning the pieces, presumably for hafting as projectile points. No use-wear study has ever been made on Jerzmanowice points.

All evidence suggests that the Lincombran-Ranisian-Jerzmanovician points were primarily used as hunting weapons. At least there are many indications in a micro-morphological examination such as: "spin-off" detachments and pronounced bending fractures.

Although often referred to as "transitional" in the literature, technologically the LRJ is a purely Upper Paleolithic industry characterized by volumetric cores, cresting, uni- or bipolar technique and the use of soft hammer and and the presence of facetted butts.

Because the majority of the LRJ-sites represent short-term hunting camps or isolated stray findings, we hardly know any other artifact classes. However, at least some Upper Paleolithic burins and end scrapers have been discovered in Beedings near Pulborough in West Sussex / UK, while Middle Paleolithic tools are completely missing. The same observation has been made at Nietoperzowa Cave and Ranis and recently at some larger Moravian sites (See below).

In addition to Jerzmanowice points, LRJ assemblages may also contain bifacial Leafpoints (at Nietoperzowa Cave and Ranis). Until now, it was assumed that such mixing represents the evolution from completely Middle Paleolithic retouched leaf points to partially retouched Upper Paleolithic points, thus underpinning a "transitional" character of the industry. But it was most certainly just the other way round: At some sites, initial incompletely retouched points were transformed into completely retouched ones within a full upper Paleolithic system.

Figure 2
The LRJ is an industry of Middle and Northern Europe (UK, Belgium, Netherlands, Middle and Northern Germany, Moravia and Kraków-Częstochowa Upland).

The LRJ begins just before HE-4 event and can be placed before the Campanian Ignimbrite (CI) super-eruption. New highly precise data come from from layer 6 in Nietoperzowa Cave: 44 –42 k.a. cal BP and the Ilsenhöhle near Ranis: 47,5-45,7 BP, while data from the Jerzmanowician occupation in Koziarnia Cave (39-36 k.a. cal. BP) may indicate a persistent chronological position also after the CI eruption.

The upper limit for the Jerzmanowician is still estimated to c.35 k.a. Cal BP according to earlier dating programs. In my opinion these dates need revision for methodological reasons.

The greatest surprise, however, was reported this year by Hublin et al. (oral presentation 2023). During new excavations in the Ilsenhöhle cave in Thuringia, DNA from Homo sapiens (haplogroup N) was identified in 11 in-situ bone samples from the LRJ layer, thus falsifying older ideas that Neanderthals were the makers of the technocomplex.

Interestingly, Demidenko and Skrdla in 2023 presented the excavation results of various Early Upper Palaeolithic Moravian sites (Líšeň/Podolí I, Želešice III/Želešice- Hoynerhügel, Líšeň I/Líšeň-Čtvrtě, and Tvarožná X/Tvarožná, “Za školou”), suggestive for a LRJ, in a detailed paper.

It seems for me that they have finally discovered several of the long-sought residential LRJ-campsites although I have some doubts about the LRJ- classification of the findings. But who really knows how an the actefactual spectrum of an intact LRJ site might look like…

Figure 3
Consistent with recent results from other regions, C-14 data of the Moravian sites scatter just before the CI eruption. Importantly, the authors argue for an evolution of the LRJ from the local IUP (Bohunician / Emiran; Figure 3 with examples from the Negev from my collection) rather than suggesting the now untenable evolution from a bifacial Micoquian (s.l), made by Neanderthals. The paper seems very innovative to me and opens up completely new avenues for further research. Anyhow we need more data to confirm or reject their Hypotheses.

Demidenko and Skrdla: "We further propose that LRJ assemblages were produced by Homo sapiens, and that its roots are in the Bohunician industry. The LRJ originated as a result of a gradual technological transition, centering on the development of Levallois points into Jerzmanowice-type blade-points. It is also suggested that the LRJ industry first appeared in Moravia, in central Europe, and spread along with its makers (Homo sapiens) across the northern latitudes of central and western Europe. Accordingly, the IUP “Bohunician package” did not disappear in Europe but gave rise to another IUP industry successfully adapted for the then steppe-tundra belts in northern Europe" (Demidenko and Skrdla 2023).

I think that this is a valid hypothesis for further research.

2023-01-29 17:18:35   •   ID: 2365

Some random reflections about Prehistoric Research of the last 25 years

Figure 1
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Figure 4
These are some random Lithics of my personal Collection-Figure 1 and 2 show a flat symetric Biface ("Faustkeil- Blatt") and a "Quina"-transversal Scraper from the Orne Region in Northern France.

Figure 3 displays a Mousterian Point transitional to a "Limace" from the central Sahara and an elongated Levallois Point from Burgundy / France.

Figure 4 displays a carinated scraper / core from the La Rochette Rockshelter in the Vezere Valley and Figure 5 a small Biface, most probably from the late Middle Paleolithic, from the Bergeracois Region in S/W-Fance.

Let's compare the knowledge around 1975 - the time when I started to seriously explore prehistoric archaeology - with the state of research in 2023:

It is evident that historical and political developments have a direct influence on our view on Prehistory.

During the last years, the bipolar system of the Cold War was replaced by a multipolar and probably even more dangerous world. In social sciences, there was a breakdown of the master narratives of the twentieth century and a questioning of previous theories.

Multidisciplinarity continued to develop and the combination of different disciplines yielded new insights. Examples are the combination of lithic studies with cognitive behavioral science or with evolutionary theoretical paradigms.

We observed the ongoing scientification and professionalization of the discipline, the development of postcolonial perspectives, and, more generally, a shift away from linear toward non-linear reasoning.

However, a counter-movement also developed, with the renewed attempt to establish unscientific narratives in research (here we are talking about the denomination of sponsored programs such as: "our way to Europe", or the re-ethnicization of views in some countries).

Cultural-historical interpretations were almost completely replaced by structural/functional, processual and post-processual, ecological and technological interpretations and a greater stringency in the interpretation of findings developed.

However, this was accompanied by a certain hyperskepticism that questioned almost all observations before the year 2000 (for example, the evidence of middle Paleolithic huts, the reference to Neanderthal burials by earlier serious scientists).

Absolute dating by physical science is still very successfully on the rise and often challenges older incomplete and patchy relative chronologies. Together with genetic data, finer chronologies are especially helpful in the formulation of improved theories, especially in the evaluation of "Transitions" in Prehistory.

Enormous advances in genetics and molecular archaeology had implications for our view of the planet's colonization history and can sometimes answer questions about migratory movements or autochthonous evolution. However, I think that the last question is overestimated - a late echo of outdated nationalist research agendas. I personally don't care what micro-genetic signature I might carry...

However, advances in genetics also created the danger of inappropriately linking genetic data with findings from other disciplines. A prominent example is the mixing of genetic data with assumptions about ethnogenesis and the mixing of such theorems with linguistic data (a particularly ugly example is the obsessive preoccupation with "Indo-European peoples"). Why on earth would one conflate genetic signatures with self-attributed identities and, moreover, with a hypothetical extinct language. Honni soit qui mal y pense....

The processing of large amounts of data (big data), which is becoming possible now, has brought new insights, but with the problem that, except for a few specialists, even professional observers can no longer verify the accuracy of the statements. Of course, this also applies to the interpretation of genetic data. However, it is still better to rely on scientific statements that can be verified or falsified than on counterfactual narratives from obscure sources.

2023-01-16 09:39:03   •   ID: 1622

Middle Paleolithic Points and the Principle of Elongation

Figure 1
These are elongated Mousterian Points on non-Levallois blades from the Calvados of unknown age. Non-Levallois and Levallois based Elongated Mousterian points, similar to those displayed her, were infrequent found during several Middle Paleolithic technocomplexes of France (mainly from OIS5-3  e.g. Goderville, Oissel, Bihoherel, Houppeville, Saint-Just-en-Chaussée; maybe older at Montguillain/Oise) and the Netherlands at the Maastricht Belvedere K-site some 250000 years old (OIS 7).

Note that the majority of the material from the sites mentioned above testify a Levallois chain operatoire.

In this context it is important, that the Levallois technique is more successful than the Clacton, Quina or discoid techniques in the production of elongated blanks as Soressi already demonstrated using the MTA layers from Le Moustier (Soressi 2007).

Angé is a Middle Paleolithic site, excavated with modern methods located in Central France and dated to the late MIS5.  

The retouched tools were rich in scrapers and elongated convergent points, very similar to the points shown here, which were in some cases used as projectile points and assigned to the Ferrassie Mousterian . The bifacial tools display similarities to those of the Keilmesser Group (KMG) of Central Europe.

Overall elongated points cannot be confined to a certain geographical place and period within a large time frame between OIS8-3 (the lower travertine at Weimar-Ehringsdorf is another good example, most probably from OIS7).

Figure 2
Gowlett recently published an interesting article about elongation as a principle of improving certain qualities of artifacts.

The principle of elongation was for several times and at several places established during prehistory by using elongated flakes/blades for the production of stone tools or by the production of leaf points.  

“In general, across Upper and Middle Palaeolithic industries, it stands out that the elongation in stone artefacts was desired for more than one purpose. In both projectile points and hand points, it appears to have a strong link with hafting, which obviously entails the cognitive abilities to combine materials, and probably knowledge of glue and/or twine, the latter clearly a prerequisite for bows. In the case of hand tools, elongation might relate to specific tasks, such as butchery or other cutting with need for a long edge. In the case of projectiles, the need for elongation is fundamental to their effective projection”

ELongated blanks with the most effective cutting edge in the Middle Paleolithic and MSA are definitely blades. Some early examples without completeness intended:

Africa / Asia: Five sites of the Kapthurin Formation in East Africa and the Kathu Pan 1 site in South Africa contained blade-like components that have been dated to about 500 k.a.

The Kapthurin group appears to be not related to the Levallois methods, since blades in series were manufactured using a unidirectional or centripetal method from a convex flaking surface. This surface was created by the intersection of two or more planes and appears to be similar to the Hummalian technique, as described by Boëda (1995). The first blade was detached from either the long natural edge or from an edge of a core that was only lightly prepared; the next few blades were then removed continuously.

On the Kathu Pan 1 site, blades were struck from a single platform, or more often two platforms; the cores appear to have been prepared and maintained by employing centripetal flaking. The assemblage seems to be related to Levallois, as defined by Boëda.

These descriptions indicate the diversity of early blade production in eastern and southern Africa. The various kinds seem to have been clearly distinct in a technological sense but related in their chronology.

Another African site showing blade elements, Haua Fteah in Libya, was characterized as “an archaic Leptolithic industry with virtual absence of Levalloisian traits’’ (McBurney 1967) and as belonging to the Pre-Aurignacian of the Near East.

Found under the Levallois-Mousterian levels and separated from the latter by a 0.5m sterile horizon, this set remains undated.

On the other hand, Grigoriev’s analysis of the published lithic materials displayed the possible use of the Levallois method and the Mousterian character of the tool-kit. Therefore the character of the industry remains uncertain.

The Early Middle Palaeolithic of S/W-Asia shows non-Levallois debitage and contains two industries: the Pre-Aurignacian and the Amudian.

The first was identified in levels 13 and 15 at Yabrud I in Syria and the second in a few sites: in Tabun, Abri Zumoffen/Adlun, Masloukh (Skinner 1970), Zuttiyeh (Gisis and Bar-Yosef 1974) and Qesem Cave. The Amudian from Tabun unit XI (Tabun E) has been dated to 264 +/-28 k.a and those from Qesem Cave may possibly have started more than 380 k.a and persisted to up to 200 k.a.

Both industries are often assembled together, although they differ in their core reduction strategies and tool-kits. While the tool-kit of the Pre-Aurignacian is characterized by burins and end scrapers, tha Amudian exhibits retouched backs opposite the long cutting of blades.

The more recent Early Middle Palaeolithic blade assemblages in the near East (“Tabun-D ensembles”) are positioned in the stratigraphy between the Acheulo-Yabrudian and the Middle Palaeolithic complex (e.g. Tabun IX, Hayonim lower E and F and Hummalian at El Kowm ) or above the Acheulo-Yabrudian (e.g. Abu Sif C-D), with other sites, such as Rosh ein Mor, Nahal Aqev and Ain Difla, Misliya cave, presenting full and short stratigraphical sequences.

These assemblages display the use of the Laminar and Levallois reduction strategies simultaneously and contain a high percentage of blades. They differ not only in the use of both reduction strategies, but also in the production of various tools; site type and site use; and chronology (between 260 to 160 k.a).

The goal was to produce elongated blanks, although not exclusively so. Short specimens are always recorded and seem to have been manufactured through a distinct core reduction strategy, generally Levallois in nature.

In Asia, Early Middle Palaeolithic blade industries had already been identified in Tajikistan and Georgia on both slopes of the Central Caucasus in the 1980s. For example, Weasel Cave in North Ossetia and Kudaro I, Kudaro III, Tsona, Djruchula, and Hviraty in South Ossetia.

These sites have been conglomerated under the name of the Kudaro-Djruchula group and are associated with the Tabun D-type industries, as they contain a large quantity of blades. The dating obtained from two occupation spans in Djruchula Cave, with assemblages presenting clear technological affinities with the blade industries of the Near East, has put their estimated age at between 260 k.a and 140 k.a.

The Khonako III site in Tajikistan is estimated to date from 200-240 k.a. In the Near East, the laminar phenomenon appears at the end of the Lower Palaeolithic immediately following the Acheulo-Yabrudian (Pre-Aurignacian and Amudian) and is then seen systematically in the early Middle Palaeolithic (Hayonim layers F and E, Abu Sif, Tabun D, Tabun E, Rosh Ein Mor, Ain Difla, Hummal layers 6 and 7, Nadaouyieh, Umm el Tlel) and later in the heart of the Middle Palaeolithic (Nahal Aqev, Douara IV, Jerf Ajla Unit E, and Hummal.

In Europe first blade-rich industies (Markkleeberg, Saint-Valéry-sur-Somme Baker’s Hole, Rheindahlen B1/B2 Biache-Saint-Vaast – niveau IIA ) can be dated to the Early or Middle Saalian s.l. (MIS 8 or 7).

During OIS 5 in Northern Europe, there are abundant evidence of a fully developed blade industry in France and adjacent parts of Germany (Wallertheim D, Saint-Germain-des-Vaux, Tönchesberg 2B, Riencourt-lès-Bapaume, Seclin – D7). Here again either Levallois and / or prismatic core techniques are present.

Shortly before the advent of the upper Paleolithic, the Neronian of the Mediterranean France and the MTA are examples of middle Paleolithic blade-rich industries during OIS3 . Elongated Levallois points are often the hallmark of these industries.

Provenience: P. Vabre Collection

2023-01-13 08:42:05   •   ID: 2364

The Origins of Levallois-Core Technology

Figure 1
Figure 1 shows a large Levallois Core (Diameter: 10.5 cm) from „Scorbé-Clairvaux" near Chatelerault (France).

Figure 2 displays a unipolar preferential Levallois core with a already detached target flake from central France.

Figure 3 illustrates two centripetal Levallois cores from the rich Middle Paleolithic of the Gargano region.

It is well known that Levallois cores differ from Discoid cores mainly by their hierarchisation of the volume.

The Levallois flakes may have, among other things, the advantage of a more predictable and predeterminated shape, although whether or not this was really intended by the knappes is still open to discussion and probably will remain open.

Figure 2 and 3
In any case, I can't think of any experimental setup, or retrospective evaluation of operational chains, that would prove one or the other....

Another important key advantage offered by Levallois Technology in comparison with Discoid techniques in general is the production of large thin elongate flakes. About the principle of elongated tools- see: 1622

As earlier described- see here: 1613 the oldest indications for a fully fledged Levallois technology so far were found in South Africa (Wonderwerk Cave MU4 , Kathu Pan 1). However, there are several doubts regarding the stratigraphic integrity at both sites.

Much more reliable are data from Kapthurin in the Rift Valley of east Africa, published in 2022. Here, large flake blank handaxes and cleavers were produced through Levallois knapping by the use of symmetrical centripetal core-preparation. The Acheulean Levallois technique is distinguished from MSA Levallois by the lack of recurrent flaking (Shipton et al. 2022).

In the East African MSA, tools are characterized by points with unifacial and bifacial retouch on non-Levallois and Levallois blanks, partially made from Nubian cores. This is the case at Gademotta (ETH-72-8B before 276±4 k.a BP; ETH-72-6 after 183±10 k.a BP) and at Kulkuletti (200–300 k.a BP) (Douze 2007).

In the Levant first "proto-Levallois" cores have been identified in the late Acheulian / Acheulean at about 400-200 k.a.. Levallois elements became common in “Tabun D-ensembles , which appear after 250 k.a BP in Israel, Palestine, Lebanon and the El Kowm region in Syria (Shea 2003, 2017, 2020).

Figure 4 and 5
The oldest MSA settlements in northeastern Africa are the “larged-sized MSA” unit from Dakhleh Oasis and the “lower Levallois” site from Kharga Oasis Locus IV, which are dated around 200 k.a. (Kleindienst et al. 2008).

The same may hold true for the sites of Bir Sahara East and Bir Tarfawi (Wendorf, Schild, and Close 1993); however, OSL dating results for Kharga point to a considerable younger age.

Recently Jebel Irhoud in Morocco was dated by several lines of evidence to 315 k.a. The rich site is characterized by Levallois and non-levallois debitage and by the occurrence of an early ("archaic" ) H. Sapiens (Richter et al. 2017).

The Levallois technology in W- Europe seems to be present as early as MIS 10 at Mesvin IV in Belgium and appeared at several sites during early OIS 8 (Orgnac 3, Baume Bonne, Bankers Hole, Crayford).

How should we imagine the development of Levallois Technology?

Some researchers have shown that bifaces were regularly used to produce flakes during the Middle Pleistocene. Figure 4 and 5 show a "Handaxe-Core" (dorsal and ventral view) from St. Meme in the Charente.

Another example is from Angers in France and was already shown here: 2359 .

Other scholars emphasize the possibility of an evolution from discoid cores to Levallois cores. In this case, the hierarchization of the volume could have been initially accidental, and the advantages for the knapper were evident.

Figure 6
Probably both possibilities should be considered to be equally likely. And, of course, one must assume multiple events and multiple regions of origin.

Finally, I show in Figure 6 several Discoid and Levallois cores from S/W France, simply because the image fits the theme so nicely.

Surf the Blog About Levallois in the old world -see here: 1156 , here: 1185 , here: 1564 , and here: 2257

2022-12-28 17:00:46   •   ID: 2363

Keilmesser from the Oise Valley

In my limited family collection, artifacts with a "Keilmesser" aspect are commonly to be found from the Oise Valley sample. Either they are bifacial knives or the artifact proves the application of the KMG concept (sensu: Weiss) to bifacial implements.

In recent years there have been several attempts to reconcile concepts of the Middle Paleolithic from a Western and a Middle European perspective. A persistent incompatibility between the views is still apparent.

Figure 2
While the Western European model is mainly defined by technological terms, Central European researchers still adhere more strongly to the concept of the Fossil Directeur.

In this context, the discourse on the Keilmesser and about the Keilmesser-Groups (KMG) is of mayor importance - See: Reflections on the term Micoquian .

Whether it is justified to use the Term: Keilmesser as a Fossil directeur -a tool that can be tracked within strictly defined temporal and spatial boundaries is open to question, because this artifact is anything but spatially and temporally limited.

However, archaeologically speaking, the handaxe is certainly a fossil directeur, although the Acheulian/Acheulean entity is defined temporally and geographically within even wider limits

Figure 3
Classical bifacial Keilmesser are found, as already reported in the Blog- see: 2292 -, in the Levant and North Africa as well as in Eurasia between MIS 9-3 with a focus on the Central European Late Middle Paleolithic.

Epistemologically, it is not at all reasonable to narrow the occurrence of the Bifacial Wedge Knife to the repertoire of a specific group. If one proceeds in this way, one would have no explanation for several important phenomena, for example for the activity-dependent and settlement occurrence of bifacial lithic inventories in Eastern Europe and in the Crimea.

After German research has highlighted the occurrence of inventories, which may well be compared with the Central European Micoquien in the Rhone-Saone Valley / Burgundy, a corresponding systematic reappraisal of inventories in other parts of France is missing. This has been pointed out repeatedly in this blog.

The examples in the post show that Keilmesser or at least the use of a KMG concept may be by no means rare in the Oise area.

Surf the Blog: here: 2135 , here: 2016 , here: 2016 , and here: 1609

Resources and images in full resolution:

2022-12-21 10:13:47   •   ID: 2362

The Acheulen at Menashe Hills: Do not forget the debitage....

Acheulean Scarper
Figure 2
Figure 3
Figure 1 shows a small and thick flake tool with almost continuous retouche, 3-5 cm in diameter. At several scattered sites in the Menashe Hills near the Mt. Carmel in Israel such tools were made from discoid cores, shown in Figure 3. A non-worked blank of this Chaîne opératoire is shown in Figure 2.

Figure 4: Interestingly Cores for the production of small short blades were also found in the Menashe area, already introduced by the description of Handaxes earlier in the Blog - see here: 1460 . The early appearance of Blades is not surprising in the Levant and for example a regular component of the Amudian / Acheulo-Yabrudian (400-250 k.a.).

It is suggested that the Early Paleolithic workshops at Menashe represent a variant of the late regional Acheulean / Acheulian in the Carmel region.

The Menashe Material has similarities with the nearby multi-layered Lower Paleolithic Acheulian site of Revadim Quarry, which was excavated to a large extent (~250 m2) and yielded a wealth of lithic and faunal remains.

Revadim, dated to c. 400 k.a. is both a testimony of complex exploitation of proboscideans (Rabinovich et al. 2012) and and the differentiated use and recycling of small flakes (Agam 2016).

The lithics at Revadim included several handaxes, but were mostly dominated by mainly non-Levallois flake tools.

Small and medium sized Flakes at Revadim were made either by detachment from (recycled) handaxes or from cores (Barkai and Marder 2010).

Figure 4
As stated earlier, in a broader context the Acheulian may be defined as the competence by its makers in the mastery and use of three-dimensional (handaxe and core) volumes.

An important mental threshold was the production of prepared core technology, which is linked with some degree of predetermination, recurrence and learning-teaching processes, initiated either by gestures or verbally.

„To a certain extent, prepared core technology reflects a cognitive shift in core volume management and flake production due to some degree of predetermination. It is especially  true when considering some raw materials such as vein quartz which are usually harder to  control for knappers“ (Mesfin and Texier 2023 in Review).

Suggested X-mas song:

The Bill Evans Trio is playing Nardis on:

A highly complex delight - just listen to the crystal clear interplay between Evans and his fellow players- For Christmas I would have only one wish: the trio in my living room....

2022-12-18 13:15:44   •   ID: 2361

The Final Acheulian of the Saoura Valley (Algeria)

Figure 2
These are seven Handaxes from an isolated surface scatter in the Saoura Valley in southwestern Algeria. They are 6-12 cm long and show a high grade of refinement. The most common raw material in this sample is fine grained Quartzite and red Ironstone. All Handaxes are made by soft hammer techniques.

Today the Oued Saoura (Arabic: ساورة) is a river in the western Algerian Sahara whose valley forms the western border of the Western Great Erg. It is the river system penetrating furthest south into the Sahara from the Atlas Mountains. In its valley there are a number of oases. The river gave the name to the whole western part of the Algerian Sahara as the name of a province until it was divided into the provinces of Adrar, Bechar and Tindouf.

The axis of the Saoura testifies an important activity at various times of the Quaternary. The Saoura was, therefore, a privileged place for prehistoric man. This also is true for some small wadis that dissect the Ougarta Mountains and for those that flowed on its foothills.

The Saoura region belongs to the relief known as the "Monts d'Ougarta" and characterized by important sedimentary deposits of fluvio-lacustrine and eolian origin from the Lower Pleistocene to the Holocene. These deposits contain exceptionally rich archaeological sites attesting to a very ancient human presence in this part of the Sahara.

Figure 3
These remains were identified mainly in the sites of Meksem ed Douar, the Gara Taourirt in Béni Abbes, Anchal , Oued Fares and Kheneg-et-Tlaïa in the Monts d'Ougarta (Alimen 1978).

However, it is in Tabelbala that the archeological potential is considerable with many sites that have made the region world famous and of which the best known are Hassi Tachenghit on the edge of the Erg er Raoui -the type station for the Tabelbala-Tachenghit" technique -see here: 1003 (Tixier, 1965).

The region is particularly important for the understanding of successive Paleolithic cultures, especially with regard to the Lower Paleolithic (ESA)-Middle Paleolithic (MSA)- transition and the diffusion of technological traditions.

Geologically it is possible to characterize deposits of the Villafranchian, with two pluvial-arid cycles (Aïdien and Mazzérien) ; the middle Quaternary, with two cycles (Taourirtien and Ougartien); and the late Quaternary, with a main cycle (Saourien) followed by a secondary cycle (Guirien). Sites with ESA and MSA tools are incorporated in the geological deposits. The absolute age of the deposits is still unknown, but to my knowledge work is in progress....

After a dynamic period in the 1950s and 1960s, research on the Saharan Palaeolithic in the region was long neglected. French researchers during the 1950ies and 1960ies found stratified sites in Early to Middle Pleistocene deposits in-situ, and described the local development of the Acheulian into 7 stages (I-VII).

Figure 4
The excavation results and their interpretation were in my eyes ahead of their time and dealt for example with taphonomic and technical problems and with the question of the use of the individual sites. Finally, they also practiced landscape archaeology, long before the discipline of prehistory made a corresponding "turn" (Alimen 1978)

During the last years renewed studies were undertaken by the Centre National de Recherches Préhistoriques Anthropologiques et Historiques (CNRPAH) whose objective is to revise the stratigraphy of the Paleolithic sites of the Saoura, to estimate their archaeological potential and to implement a radiometric dating program.

The handaxes of this post are highly characteristic for the late Acheulian ("Acheuleen VII") during the second (late) phase of the "final Ougartian" geological formation. Bifaces are characterized by circumscribed single layer sites near ancient springs and point by their composition to the action of a small group of individuals or even single persons (Alimen 1978).

Climatologically the 2nd phase of the final Ougartian is characterized by more humid conditions with the consequence of of the formation of shallow ephemeral lakes where sites near the shores were subsequently rapidly buried and remained intact.

According to these conditions the the pieces of the 2nd phase of the Final Ugartian are generally fresh and only a minority of pieces is rolled. Alimen studied seven stations in total and found considerable variations regarding a different ratio of the percentages of bifaces and choppers, and in the distributions of the lengths and morphological indices.

Handaxes are characterized by the increased use of the soft percussion tools, with all the consequences especially implying: an increase in the number of bifaces with straight edges and increase in the number of flat bifaces, complex striking patterns, made on flakes from Kombewa cores etc. These bifaces have been mainly described as lanceolate and cordiform, as also seen in our examples.

Compared to earlier Acheulian stages, in Stage VII ,Spheroids play only a negligible or no role. The cores are very few (less than 4% of the total number of pieces). As for the asymmetrical pieces, Alimen noted that the proportion of asymmetrical pieces becomes very low and that the proportion of pieces produced by soft hammer increased significantly. The proportion of flat bifaces increased up to 50%, except in one station. As for the shape, the Amygdaloids remained dominant only in one station, while Cordiformes and Lanceolates were the most common specimens.

Provenance: Collection Bachmayer (AUT).

Suggested Readings:

MH Alimen and MS Steve (Eds): Vorgeschichte (= Fischer Weltgeschichte. Bd. 1). Fischer-Taschenbuch-Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1966.

MH Alimen and J Zuate y Zuber: L’évolution de l’Acheuléen au Sahara nord-occidental. 2 Vol. Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Meudon 1978.

Resources and images in full resolution:

2022-11-26 17:36:43   •   ID: 2360

The Last Acheulean: or what happened to Nature publishing?

Figure 1
Figure 1 shows a very regular discoidal Handaxe from a surface site in the Menashe Hills near Haifa in Israel -already introduced into the blog-see: 1460 . Figures 2-4 display Handaxes from Swanscombe (MIS 11), Algeria (Middle Pleistocene) and the Northern European Plain (MIS 3).

In "Springer Nature", Alastair J. M. Key et al. recently published their view about the interesting issue of the ending of the Acheulean over the old world as a distinct technocomplex.

Although the authors took every effort to avoid data bias and used some impressive statistical methodology, they stumble over even the most significant methodological problem: the definition of the Acheulian. This issue virtually invites multiple data bias.

The Acheulian technocomplex in the publication is defined by the authors as follows:

"We defined a site as belonging to the Acheulean cultural tradition based on two factors: (1) the presence of large bifacially flaked cutting tools (handaxes and cleavers) and an absence of Levallois technologies, and (2) the original authors describing a site also assigning it to the Acheulean. We are aware that not all individuals will be happy with this definition." .........

First, Handaxes are not always made from LTCs.

Secondly: Why should the Levallois-technique not be an integral part of the late Acheulian?

Figure 2
Figure 3
Figure 4
In Key’s view, most of the classic Handaxe ensembles of Northern France, the late Acheulean Ensembles in Africa and the Near East would have to be excluded from the Acheulian tradition-and here the definition of the authors becomes almost grotesque.

Maybe we should ask other questions?

We could ask about the persistence of the faconage technique in the Paleolithic. In doing so, we would get locally different answers:

In the Levant, the Acheulo-Yabrudian ends around 250 k.a. and is replaced by a purely unifacial Levallois Mousterian, followed by Upper Palaeolithic technocomplexes without a bifacial component.

From West-Europe to the Caucasian mountains we notice that the bifacial option was always present until the end of MIS 3 (MTA, bifacial Mousterian, KMG / Micoquian options). Bifaces only disappeared with the onset of the Aurignacian sensu lato.

Easy to recognize that a particular definition has a great influence on the particular answer. The answers differ according to the questions, which are themselves biased.- see: 2336 . The reviewers of "Nature" could also have noticed these simple facts. Hopefully this publication remains an exception...

A fragmented Archaeological record still needs some kind of periodization. Perhaps it would make more sense to develop periodization of the Paleolithic according to cognitive competences of its makers, that can be derived from stone tools, instead of using again old typological or technological concepts ?

PS: For decades I read the Archäologisches Korrespondenzblatt, a great journal of best quality both of the articles and of the paper on which the contributions were printed. It was so cheap that everyone could afford it.

Unfortunately, this is now over but as a great comfort: All these contributions have been digitized and the journal is now available in open access!- see here: Korrespondenzblatt

2022-11-25 10:21:02   •   ID: 2359

A Handaxe used as a core from Angers (France-Central/West)

Figure 1
Angers is a city in the west of France, with approx. 160000 inhabitants today. It is the capital of the historical province called Anjou. Today, the name of Anjou is Maine-et-Loire.

Originally, the biface of the post (12x5x1,1 cm) was designed as a biconvex and very flat piece. However, it was subsequently re-used as a core and on the dorsal side and we still recognize the negative of a rather large flake. A nice example of the diversified use of Paleolithic Handaxes.

If such a handaxe is found without further context in the North European Plain, it is usually assigned to either a Late Acheulian or a MTA.

The same could be said for this biface. The typological chronology therefore covers a period between MIS9 and MIS3.

The artifact is a 19th century find from one of the old Gravel pits along the River Maine that flows through Angers. The Maine is a tributary of the Loire and is formed by the confluence of the Mayenne and Sarthe rivers north of Angers. It flows through the city and joins the Loire southwest of the city.

Early and Middle Paleolithic remains from or near Angers come from different terraces of the Maine. For the Lower Paleolithic, the oldest tools were found in a 42-meter terrace on the rue de Frémur.

The more recent 35 to 25 m terraces have yielded a series of Acheulean bifaces coming from Ecouflant (at La Chévère, already reported by G. de Mortillet in 1895) and from the banks of the Sarthe, mainly from Port-Launay. Another site with large lanceolated handaxes is La Mare.

Middle Paleolithic artifacts come from Angers (Mousterian, rue La Fontaine), from Ecouflant and from Empiré, in Sainte-Gemmes. The Upper Paleolithic (mainly Azian) is represented in Angers (Pond Saint-Nicolas, in Ecouflant and Empiré) and finally the Mesolithic in La Chévère d'Ecouflant.

Most of these sites are not dated by modern methods and have been excavated long time ago. The only multi stratified site near Angers at the moment is Roc-en-Pail already discovered in 1870. The early excavations yielded more than 30000 objects, fauna and industry. Limited excavations took place between 1943-1949 and again since 2014.

According to Soriano (2016) , the configuration during the occupations should be quite similar to the site of Jonzac (Charente). At the present state of knowledge, the chronology of the deposits remains entirely hypothetical, but certain archaeological layers have been related to Mousterian facies (including the Mousterian of the Ferrassie and Quina type) whose chronology is known in southwestern France.

The bulk of the occupations possibly took therefore place between the early Wurm and the Upper Pleniglacial. With faunas and microfaunas preserved in all the archaeological layers, and a stratigraphy that develops over almost 5 meters in thickness, Roc-en-Pail presents a major potential for the knowledge of the Middle Paleolithic in this region of France. We will certainly here more from this "forgotten site"