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2019-11-07 12:57:35   •   ID: 2133

Pleistocene Human- Cave-bear Interactions

Figure 1
This is zoomorph, 5 cm long, figurine representing a bear in upright position. It is a rare finding from the Tarya "Neolithic" (4,0-2,5 k.a. BP) of the Kamchatka Peninsula made from now patinated Obsidian.

A bear standing on its hind legs is normally not aggressive but highly attentive. It is just standing upright to survey the surroundings and to catch airborne scent, but always ready to become agressive if it feels threatened.

"The bear is a large and dangerous carnivore. However, fear alone does not account for the rich and varied traditions linking bears and humans. Not infrequently, people have felt a kind of kinship with bears, for humans and bears share many characteristics.

They live in the same regions and eat the same fish, roots, and berries. Unlike other animals, bears can stand on their hind legs as humans do and they can use their fore paws as humans use their hands.

A bear’s skinned body looks human, and several bear bones resemble human bones, which lends credence to the view that the animal is really a man in disguise
" (Germonpré 2007).

According to Joachim Hahn, who worked on similar, but much more older Pleistocene animal figurines, they could have been created as a Symbol of physical power and agression- maybe as a humans "Alter Ego".

The motive of a bear, shown as a mighty beast in a human–like upright two legged position, is known since the Paleolithic.

The most important item in this context is an 5,5 cm long erect anthropomorphic Bear from the Aurignacian layers of the Geissenklösterle Cave in the Swabian Alb which was reconstructed from 11 pieces of ivory.

Its head is raised and the snout slightly opened, a quite realistic depiction, compared with the stylized Kamtschatka counterparts: https://nat.museum-digital.de/singleimage.php?resourcenr=377354 .

At Cap Blanc (Dordogne) a contour of a attentive bear (3,3 cm long) was created of flint stone, conceptionally near the zoomorph statuette, shown in this post.

Figure 2
The Tarya Complex was concentrated in Central and Southern Kamchatka. Subsidence was based on Hunting and Fishing. While hunting is evidenced by Projectiles, fishing may be indicated by the abundance of sink-pebbles.

People lived in small sedentary housholds. Ceramics are extremely rare and food was mainly cooked in wooden or birch-bark vessels.

The Tarya lithic tools, some are shown in Figure 5, are mostly bifacial and made from Obsidian

In central Kamchatka the Microblade industry is still very present, but had already disappeared from Southern parts of the Peninsula. Different ground adzes and oil lamps are present for the first time in the Kamchatka Archaeological record.

The Tarya Complex is characterized by retouched stone figurines, first noted by Zamiatnin in 1948. The majority of them were found in the cultural level of the Tar’ia type site. They are made from small blades of obsidian reworked by pressure retouch as highly stylized figurines often with a zoomorphic character.

Figure 3
The Kamchatka brown bear (Ursus arctos beringianus) is a subspecies of the brown bear, native to Circumpolar regions, among them to the Kamchatka Peninsula.

According to the bear population assessment, there are more 20000 species on the peninsula. This is 5% of the bear population on the planet or 15% of all bears in Russia. Most of the bears inhabit the area of Lake Kuril.

According to aviation assessment, up to one thousand bears gather each year in this area during a spectacular salmon spawning.

The literature about the relationship between man and bear is extensive. In the Archaeological context, the Pleistocene cave bear (Ursus spelaeus), which represents one of the most frequently found paleontological remains from the Pleistocene in Europe is most important.

The cave bear was always confined to Europe and was contemporary with the brown bear, Ursus arctos, which still exists today and plays a major role in early Ethnological reports, but also in old and modern Archaeological Myths and in the popular Folklore of the Circumpolar countries.

"Relationships between the cave bear and the two lineages of brown bears defined in Europe, as well as the origins of the two species, remain controversial, mainly due to the wide morphological diversity of the fossil remains, which makes interpretation difficult (Loreille et al. 2001). This complicated issue will not be further discussed in this post.

The cave bear's range stretched across Europe; from Spain and Great Britain in the west, Italy, parts of Germany, Poland, the Balkans, Romania and parts of Russia, including the Caucasus; and northern Iran.

Figure 4
The largest numbers of cave bear remains have been found in Austria, Switzerland, northern Italy, northern Spain, southern France, and Romania, roughly corresponding with the Pyrenees, Alps, and Carpathians.

The huge number of bones found in southern, central and eastern Europe has led some scientists to think Europe may have once had literally herds of cave bears.

Others, however, point out that, though some caves have thousands of bones, they were accumulated over a period of 100k.a. or more, thus requiring only two deaths in a cave per year to account for the large numbers.

The cave bear inhabited low mountainous areas, especially in regions rich in limestone caves. They seem to have avoided open plains, preferring forested or forest-edged terrains.

Even the behaviour of certain family groups and their preferences for specific caves was predictable:

Figure 5
Genetic studies showed that: "Late Pleistocene cave bears and middle Holocene brown bears that each inhabited multiple geographically proximate caves in northern Spain.

In cave bears, we find that, although most caves were occupied simultaneously, each cave almost exclusively contains a unique lineage of closely related haplotypes.

This remarkable pattern suggests extreme fidelity to their birth site in cave bears, best described as homing behaviour, and that cave bears formed stable maternal social groups at least for hibernation.

In contrast, brown bears do not show any strong association of mitochondrial lineage and cave, suggesting that these two closely related species differed in aspects of their behaviour and sociality
" (González Fortes et al. 2016).

The interaction between humans and Pleistocene Bears will be discussed around three important issues:

  • Did Humans successfully hunt Pleistocene Cave Bears in Europe?


  • Was there a Pleistocene "Bear Cult"?


  • Why did the Cave Bear dissapear around the Late Glacial Maximum from Europe?


Figure 6
Figure 6 shows an illustration of a "Bear Hunt" by Zdeněk Michael František Burian (1905-1981), a Czech painter and book illustrator whose work played around the mid 20th century a central role in the development of paleontological reconstruction.

Burian depicts a Hunting scenario between three Anatomical Modern Humans and an erect aggressive Bear in an interglacial / interstadial landscape during Summer or Autumn.

The scenario directly contradicts the Archaeological and Ethnographic record, where Cave Bears were killed in caves and not in the free landscape during hibernation in the Winter and not during Summer (Pacher 2000, 2002).

Indeed there are rare but clear indications, that Humans directly attacked bears in Caves: Münzel described Cave Bear remains from several Upper Paleolithic pre LGM Ach- Valley sites. In the Geissenklösterle cut marks on some skull fragments of cave bear were recognized.

Figure 7
At Hohle Fels human modifications on cave bear bones were even more frequent. A cave vertebra with an embedded fragment of a flint was recovered in the year 2000 in an early Gravettian layer at Hohle Fels (Münzel 2004).

Similar hunting injuries were found at Bear bones at Potočka Zijalka in Slovenia, wher Aurignacian Hunters visied the large Cave and left behind a collection of more than 130 Mladec Points: see here: 1318 .

An Engraving on schist of two humans attacking a bear is shown in Figure 7 (Courteously by Don Hitchcock). It was found early between 1912-1927 at the grotte du Chien à Péchialet, at Groléjac, Dordogne- about other Abris at Groléjac see: 1011 .

Although assigned to a Gravettian by Breuil, who found in 1927 some Noailles burins at the already heavily disturbed site, the style of the figures is close to a similar plaque from Limeuil, found in a late Magdalenian layer.

Note that this scene resembles Burian's vision of a Bear Hunt and may have inspired him for his composition.

The Magdalenian of S/W-France is rich in depictions of the bear, made on different materials and by different techniques:

Engravings on bone, like the famous, partial destroyed rondel from Mas-d'Azil, showing a bear paw combined with a man exhibiting an erected penis- another example is the combination of a bear en face with several stylized humans (a hunt?) on an animal long bone from La Vache (Ariege);

Scuptures in bone and stone: remember the sitting bear from Laugerie-Basse today exposed in the MAN;

Last but not least the bear as a common motive of several Contour découpés...

During the Pavlovian (Dolni Vestonice, Pavlov) we know several bear statuettes made of burnt clay- maybe produced by children and possible profane toys without ritual connotations.

Magdalenian parietal art of the Portel, Combarelles, Massat and the Trois-Frères Grottos, shows bears with signs of battle and wounds.

Figure 8
After the end of the first World War, the Swiss paleontologist Emil Bächler excavated the Drachenloch cave in eastern Switzerland, and found some intriguing arrangements of Cave Bear Bones together with Mousterian tools.

He described, that Skull and leg bones had been arranged in “stone boxes”. He subsequently excavated other caves where he discovered burnt cave bear remains, broken bear bones, and skulls on or under rock slabs or in niches.

Bächler’s findings, and similar discoveries in Swiss, Austria and Slovenia, have given rise to a widespread belief in the popular literature of a Neanderthal «cave bear cult».

Figure 8 shows Burians vision of this scientific myth, still popular during the 1950ies.

With the advances in taphonomic research the "Bear Cult Theory" was refuted. It was shown that the enigmatic assortments of bear skulls and long bones in the caves were not due to human activities, but to the flowing water or other transport mediums.

Until now, there is no convincing evidence for a Paleolithic bear cult.

To use of Ethnographic records and other sources, dating back to 1000 years at best, for the construction a "Bear Cult" remain nothing more than nice speculations- especially if the "Shamans" are intertwined with this narrative-see 1301 . Ethnographic literature can be found in the external links.

Anyhow some non-disputable facts, which point to a special releationship of Homo Sapiens and Cave Bear remain:

  • "Red ochre traces on several fossil bear remains in Belgian caves were shown to have been applied purposely by prehistoric people and were not the result of contamination with spilt ochre or ochre containing sediment". (Germonpré 2007)


  • At Chauvet Cave- Excellent parietal art maybe from the Aurignacian or Gravettian- which stylistically would fit better to the Gravettian style- at 32-28 k.a. calBP. In the in the "Recess of the Bears" three monochrome red Bears are assembled in a panel and 12 other monochrome (red or black) depictions of a bear detected together with the presence of 55 ancient bear skulls in the Cave, including one carefully placed isolated Bear scull on a fallen rock- undoubtedly an intentional gesture of the people who entered the cave before the LGM.


  • A very special finding from the Middle to Late Magdalenian was discovered in 1923 by the speleologist Norbert Casteret deep in the cave of Montespan (Haute-Garonne, France).

    Here the loosely modelled, near-life size, headless clay model of a bear was found in the Galerie Casteret, 300 m deep in the Cave in the context of stylistically Magdalenian engravings and disturbed further clay models.

    It is said that between his front paws lay the skull of a real bear, maybe once been attached to the figure itself. Unfortunately it got lost or stolen before an independent scientific committee visited the site and we have no Photodocumentation of the site, that could proof its existence.

    In the sculpture 41 circular holes are visible, which are interpreted as punctures of spears or arrows. It is possible that this figure is a ritual object in connection with a hunting ceremony. But this interpretation may be misleading and another modern myth.


Why did the Cave Bear disappear from the Archeological record in Europe around the LGM? As always a combination of climatic events and hunting by Humans is discussed.

The latest paper about this topic took into account Paleogenetic data and Bayesian phylogenetic analysis and assumed a constant decline of the female Cave Bear population after 40 k.a. calBP (Gretzinger et al. 2019).

The authors stated that: "Our calculated effective female population sizes suggest a drastic cave bear population decline starting around 40,000 years ago at the onset of the Aurignacian, coinciding with the spread of anatomically modern humans in Europe.

While climatic fluctuations during MIS 3 may significantly decreased the population, a new human player with more effective hunting techniques could further decimated the species:

our study supports a potential significant human role in the general extinction and local extirpation of the European cave bear and illuminates the fate of this megafauna species".

But we should remember, that a coincidence is never a proof of causality....

Surf the Blog: 1198 , and here: 1318

Suggested Reading:

L'ours dans l'art préhistorique. MAN 2014 (at your local bookstore); see also:

https://www.grandpalais.fr/fr/article/lours-dans-lart-prehistorique . with 3-D Animated Objects from French Sites!

Burian Z: Menschen der Vorzeit, Artia, 1961

Andre Leroi-Gourhan: Die Religionen der Vorgeschichte, Surkamp 1981

Waers et al.: Bärenkult und Schamanenzauber Rituale früher Jäger, Archäologisches Museum Frankfurt 2015: you can read it as a free pdf in the external link section!

A. Russia: Visiter Cap Blanc, 1999; Edition Sud Oest

2019-11-07 12:49:32   •   ID: 2132

Late Glacial tanged Points of Northern Europe

Figure 1
Figure 2
Figure 3
These are two ca 5 cm long tanged thin Points, found in Denmark during the 1940ies. According to the formal definition, they are Ahrensburgian points sensu stricto where the the tang has been worked from the ventral face.

Late Glacial tanged points were present all over the N- West and East European plain, with some outposts in the low and middle mountain ranges (for example in the Carparto-Ukraine and Lower Saxony) and in the greater Aquitaine (so called "Teyat Points").

According to the typology Late Glacial tanged Pointshave been designated as Ahrensburg, Bromme and Swidery -points -: see here 1459 , here 1243 , here: 1010 , and here: 1304 - as already described during earlier posts.

The different types may have chronological and / or functional and regional meanings.

Notably the lithics of this posts are not Havele-type points, characterized by an asymmetrical shouldered design, nor Bromme points, which are larger and more massive, or Swidery points, with their willow leave form and flat basal retouch on the dorsal side.

Regarding large and massive tanged Late Palaeolithic European points, Riede recently stated that "The earliest occurrences of Final Palaeolithic large tanged points date to late GS-2 or GI-1e (~15,000–14,000 cal BP), alongside arch-backed points.

Their presence in later assemblages and technocomplexes such as the Brommean cannot therefore be considered as a derived or diagnostic feature.

We suggest that this artefact class should rather be linked to weapon systems function (dart-points) different from the coeval arch-backed points (arrowheads) and that de!nitions of cultures based on these should thus be taken up for critical revision"
.

Multifold problems also still exist in the interpretation of smaller sized tanged points:

  • Reliable and calibrated C-14 data correlating with credible local environmental proxies for the comparison of climatic events and human activities are still rare


  • Most findings are still surface findings


  • Many questions about the relationships between the Tanged Late Glacial Technocomplexes and Backed Arched Point ensembles are not sufficiently answered

2019-10-31 08:36:36   •   ID: 2131

Gravettian from the Middle Dnjestr Valley

Figure 1
Figure 1 and 2: This is a pointed blade with dorsal semi-abrupt retouches and flat retouches at the apical ventral side from the Middle Dnjestr Region, diplaying the characteristics of a "Point de Pavlov".

These designation is sometimes used in textbooks, dealing with the Central / Eastern European Gravettian. A similar item can be found in the book of M. Oliva about the Paleolithic and Mesolithic of Moravia and multiple examples are displayed in the Předmostí Monograph of Absolon and Klima.

Not every Pointed blade is a "Pavlov Type Blade". A Point de Pavlov is a pointed blade with bilateral direct semi-abrupt retouches on the dorsal side and a flat retouche on the apical and/or basal ventral side.

Notably I did not found any detailed description in the literature nor microtraceological studies. Some Authors suggest the use as an armature.

Central and East Europe during the Gravettian are characterized by different local developments in lithics, lifestyle, ritual and art. The Middle Danube cluster (with the Wachau and Pavlov / Dolni Vestonice clusters) is in many respect different from the Molodova / middle Dnjestr clusters.

Figure 2
Pointed blades with lateral retouches are an important component in some “Pavlovian / Eastern Gravettian” ensembles (for example at Willendorf II and Aggsbach / Lower Austria) and are common in the “Facies II” of the Pavlovian which is characterized by the use of marginal retouches, pointed blades and by a reduced number of microliths (Předmostí; Dolní Věstonice II middle and upper strata, Willendorf II; 6/7/8 and Langenlois).

At Moravany nad Vahom in Slovakia, Zotz illustrated a lot of large pointed and retouched Blades from a Willendorf -Kostenki context, some with a „Pavlov“ aspect (see attached file).

During the Gravettian of Molodova (Molodova V, Stratum 10 and 8) these Pavlov Points are common. While they play an eminent role before 25 k.a., they are more rare during the later ensembles with shouldered points (Molodova V, Stratum 7).

A similar phenomenon was reported from Mitoc-Malu Galben (Romania)

D. Nuzhnyi noticed that the data base has broadened during the last 30 years, leading to a much more differentiated picture about the Gravettian in the Western Ukraine. He proposes 2 Gravettian-Facies probably with chronometric meaning.

A total of thirteen eastern Gravettian assemblages are currently known from western Ukraine, most of which are situated in the basin of the Middle and Upper Dnestr river: Molodova 5, layers X – VII; Molodova 1, layers I and II; Korman 4, layers VII and VI; Oselivka 1, layers III and II; Babin 1, lower and middle layers; Voronovitsa 1, lower and upper layers; and Mezhygirtsy 1.

"The main difference between these industries is seen in the typology of various backed microliths and points (e.g. bifacial points, Pavlov-type points or shouldered points, fléchettes etc.). In contrast to marked differences in these lithics, which are interpreted as projectile implements, other tools (e.g. burins, scrapers, truncated blades, awls etc.) show surprising similarities, an observation that also accounts for the reduction sequences of prismatic blade cores.

Figure 3
During the first phase, dated to 28 700 to 27 070 BP and found at Molodova 5, layer X (and layer IX ?) as well as Mezhigirtsy 1, rare leaf shaped or sub-triangular shaped bifacial points with biconvex cross-section coexist with short “Pavlov points” and small backed or truncated microliths. The latter include microgravettes, fléchettes, rectangles, “denticulated” backed forms and shouldered bladelets.

The second phase falls within the time range 25 000 to 23 000 BP and is observed at Molodova 5, layer VII and possibly layer VIII. It is at this point in time that the first shouldered points appear in the Dnestr basin. In addition, the most representative microlithic assemblage of Molodova 5, layer VII includes numerous “Vachons” points of various sizes, and long “Pavlov points”. Whereas bifacial points are absent, unifacial tools characteristic for the first phase are less numerous
". (D. Nuzhnyi 2009)

The richness of these ensembles is astonishing and the non-excavated sites at the Dnjestr bear enormous Archeological potential for future excavations.

Figure 3: A View on the Middle Dnjestr Valley (Wikipedia Commons; Author: Julian Nyca)

2019-10-24 08:20:20   •   ID: 2129

Rare late ESA Biface from Issaouane / Algeria

Figure 1
Figure 2
Figure 3
Figure 1-3: This is a bi-convex 11 cm long ESA Biface from the Erg Issaouane / Algeria, a region already introduced in the Blog see here 2048 .

It does not resemble Aterian Foliates nor can it assigned to the local Neolithic. It can clearly characterised as a late Acheulian artifact. Note that it has been made by a sophisticated soft hammer-technique.

In Algeria, such superb examples also were found in situ in the Wadi Saoura during the 1960ies in the the End-Ougartien Geological Formation by J. Chavaillon und H. Alimen, especially at Zaouïa-el- Kebira.

On Geological grounds such items date to the late Middle Pleistocene.

It is suggested that such Handaxes are later than the Material from the famous Tihodaine (Tassili n'Ajjer) site, already introduced in the Blog, see here 1447 ,

South of Tebessa, the prominent site of El Ma el Abiod was reported in 1909 by A. Debruge. Unlike most other Acheulian scatters with only a small number of artifacts, it is, with more than a thousand pieces, particularly rich.

The Handaxes of El Ma el Abiod are beautiful, at least for our „ modern“ perception, and very similar to the pointed example shown here, most of elongated cordiform character with regularized edges, made by soft hammer technique.

The stratigraphic position of the deposit remains imprecise, although it seems to belong to a stratified gravel encountered at 8 m depth by geological drilling from which two elephant molars of the Loxodonta atlantica originate.

The prehistoric lithic archeological record from Erg Issouane is remarkable sparse. Beyond isolated Handaxes, like the one shown in this post, early researchers described Lower Paleolithic tools, of "Clactonian" technique, for the most part located at the top of the gorges and cliffs.

Figure 4
Figure 4 (courteously by W. Hernus) shows a non-Levallois, non-Tanged MSA-Point from Erg

At Issaouane MSA tools (with and without tangs) are notoreous rare, compared to other Algerian sites and surface scatters.

Surface findings of Neolithic arrowheads were detected together with decorated ostrich eggs, most of the collections are today deposited in the Museum of Bardo in Algiers.

Asymmetric flat flint Neolithic artifacts (maybe sickles) have already described here 2048 . Single large Neolithic Foliates up to 30 cm long, similar to the Neolithic pieces from Fort Flaters and from the Fort-Thiriet region have been described and may point to a non utilitarian use.

Suggested Reading:

A really beautiful Publication, highly estetic and still relatively cheap on the Market:

BOUYSSONIE J., Abbé BREUIL H.: COLLECTIONS PREHISTORIQUES - PLANCHES Album n° 1. MUSEE D'ETHNOGRAPHIE ET DE PREHISTOIRE DU BARDO, BOUYSSONIE J., Abbé BREUIL H. Edité par Arts et Métiers Graphiques, Alger, 1956.

ALIMEN M.H., ZUATE Y. ZUBER J., 1978 – L’évolution de l’Acheuléen au Sahara nord-occidental. Meudon, CNRS.

2019-10-10 18:28:19   •   ID: 2128

A Jomon tanged Scraper from Hokkaido

Figure 1
Figure 2
Formally this is a tanged scraper from the Jormon culture in Japan (Hokkaido region).

The tang is 1,6 cm long and the bifacial scraper, which may be intentionally broken on the left end is 6,3 cm long.

The artifact is not made from Obsidian, the most prominent raw material in Japan, but of a homogeneous greenish flint-maybe because we are talking about a domestic expedient tool. Similar tanged scrapers were described from the Jormon Moroiso phase.

Anyhow it remains unclear, if the original artifact was broken, and reworked from a very large tanged Dagger (such items are known from the Archipelago, especially from Hokkaido).

Such a hypothetical dagger must have been 15-20 cm long- indeed they existed- see the last external link-first picture - an excellent piece of workmen ship.

The most astonishing characteristic of the tool, displayed in this post, is the tang, which in every aspect resembles the tang of an "Aterian" artifact.

Figure 3
Aterian tools are uni-or bifacially retouched, yielding a roughly rhomboid or biconvex cross-section of the Tang (Figure 3) and see here 1273 , here 1272 , and here: 1052

Regarding the 120-30 k.a.temporal gap between the "Aterian" or "Levallois based Middle Stone age with tangs" and the large geographical distance between the two entities, this similarities are certainly a convergence phenomenon, due to the fact that the knappers wanted to design a stable tang, avoiding early breakage.

The most interesting difference between the Jomon and Aterian tangs is, that the Aterian tangs are strictly axial, while the Jomon tangs can be axial or lateral to the working edge.

I did not find anything about the operational sequence that finally led to the Jomon tangs- it would be exciting!

Regarding the sparse scientific literature about Jormon and the rare pics- you have to explore the net by yourself-good luck!

Suggested Reading:

Junku Habu: ancient Jomon of Japan (2004): Far the best for an English speaking Audience- brings together Japanese and Angloamerican approaches).

2019-10-08 08:56:37   •   ID: 2127

Bifacial Obsidian Points of the Kyōto Province / Japan

Figure 1
Figure 2
Figure 3
Figure 4
Figure 1 and 2: This is a bifacial, flat foliated artifact, from the Kyōto Province / Japan, measuring from 7 x 35 x 92 mm, made from obsidian, a naturally occurring volcanic glass.

Another example from the same site is displayed in Figure 3 and 4 (40 x 10 x 8mm) - certainly a tanged projectile point made by the same material.

Obsidian is found in areas where volcanic eruptions have taken place and is the result of a rapid cooling of the lava.

Due to Japans seismic activity and geological characteristics, the Archipelago has an abundance of obsidian, exploited even by mining since c 30 k.a. BP.

Further information about the prehistoric use of Obsidian can be found here: 1018 , here 1111 , here: 1509 , here: 1647 , here: 1734 , and here 1313

For a West-European observer it is almost impossible to get a concise overview about the Paleolithic of Japan. Trouble begins with the scientific literature, usually not written in English, continues with an uncommon nomenclature of Prehistoric Periods, and ends with a system of Archaeological research , different to the Western world.

For this post I will use the terms: Paleolithic (38-14 k.a. BP) and Jomon (14 k.a.- 1,3 k.a. BP) periods. Both entities are characterized by a Hunter-Gatherer Lifestyle, no indication for domesticates and the presence of pottery during the Jomon period.

It seems that the artifacts of this post are rather from the Paleolithic than from the Jomon phase. At least they do not show the typical Jomon-characteristics but fit into the spectrum of the local " late Paleolithic"

During MIS 3/2, and especially during the LGM, Japan was connected to mainland Asia by at least one land bridge, and nomadic hunter-gatherers crossed to Japan.

Anatomical modern humans reached East Asia by > 40k.a. Humans are believed to have arrived in Japan later, around 38 k.a. by following great herds of animals across land bridges connecting the islands of Japan with the Asian continent but more likely on boats via the chain of islands that link Korea, Okinawa and the southern Japanese island of Kyushu.

Genetic and archaeological evidence indicate that the Jomon-people are direct descendants of the Upper-Paleolithic people who started living in the Japanese archipelago around 38 k.a. (Takashi et al. 2019).

The Paleolithic on the Japanese Archipelago is represented by a series of regional Technocomplexes with characteristic Upper Paleolithic tools in European terms (Blades, Bladelets, Scraper, Burins...) but some unique features like the early appearance of edge-ground axes, the presence of trapezoids and knife-shaped tools (Nakazawa 2017). Bifacially flaked stemmed points are common during 16-13 k.a. Cal BP)

Please note that the Archipelago shows an enormous variability in the Paleolithic Archaeological record. Paleolithic in the Paleo-Honshu region started around 38 k.a. whereas the beginning of the Paleolithic Record in Hokkaido is not earlier than 30 k.a.

The „ Early Upper Paleolithic“ consisted of Pebble and Flake Tools and first appeared around 38 k.a. CalBP. These lithic assemblages probably testify a Pioneer Phase of settlement.

Kudo Yuichiro has proposed the following chronology for the Japanese "Late Paleolithic" and the beginning of the Jomon Period in eastern Honshu, based on nearly 90 calibrated radiocarbon dates from over 20 sites.

It seems, that he, like many of his colleagues, follows a Culture- Historical approach. The bifacial Obsidian Artifacts of this post seem to come from his Group 4.

1. Backed point industry: 29-20 k.a. calBP. It consists of knife-shaped partially backed tools. These implements have an appearance similar to "Ksar Akil" Points in the Levant (certainly a convergence phenomenon).

2. Point industry: 21-19 k.a. calBP. Unfortunately I have no literature about the morphology of these points...

3. Microblade industry: 18-15 k.a. calBP: Wedge-shaped microblade cores have been regarded as the material signature of human adaptation across the northern latitudes (>40 N), namely regions of the northern Pacific Rim consisting of northeastern Asia (i.e., Siberia, Mongolia, China, Korea, and Japan) and northern North America (i.e., Alaska and Pacific coast of Canada). About Microblades see: 1517

The next chronological stages are defined more by pottery than by stone artifacts and are called "Incipient Jomon" by local researchers:

4. Bifacial (Point) Industry & Plain pottery group: 17-15 k.a. calBP. Large Foliates and bifacial retouched and stemmed points are common. Together with some isolated pottery findings from China, this complex exhibits one of the first evidence of the production of Pottery in the world.

5. Slender-clay-ridges pottery group: 16-15) k.a. calBP

6. Crescent-impressed & cord-marked pottery group: 13-11 k.a. calBP

7. Cord-wrapped-stick pattern pottery group: 11 k.a. calBP: This group marks the Beginning of the "typical" Jomon culture represented by the so called Yoriitomon Pottery phase in the Kanto Region, with the impressive increase in the quantities of pottery and the first appearance of shellmounds (Nakazawa 2017).

Note that in other regions the chronology differs from eastern Honshū. For example slender bifacial points were present at Kyūshū around 16-14 k.a. B.P together with tanged points, similar to contemporaneous tanged points in Korea.

A Pre-Clovis American-Japan connection ?

"The Cooper's Ferry archaeological site in western North America has provided evidence for the pattern and time course of the early peopling of the Americas. Davis et al. describe new evidence of human activity from this site, including stemmed projectile points.

Radiocarbon dating and Bayesian analysis indicate an age between 16,560 and 15,280 years before present. Humans therefore arrived in the Americas before an inland ice-free corridor had opened, so a Pacific coastal route was the probable entry route.

The stemmed projectile points closely resemble those found in Upper Paleolithic Japan, also supporting the hypothesis of a coastal route
“ (Davies et al. 2019).

More likely and less speculative than the infamous Solutrean-Clovis connection!

Suggested Reading:

M Otte: La Prehistoire de la Chine er de l Extreme Orient (2010).

J Habu: Ancient Jomon of Japan (Case Studies in Early Societies; 2004)

2019-09-12 15:31:50   •   ID: 2126

An incomplete look on the Cucuteni-Trypillian culture

Figure 1-3
These are typical artifacts from the Cucuteni-Trypillian culture, including painted ceramics and typical arrowheads from the Dniester river valley

The Cucuteni-Trypillian culture is a Neolithic–Eneolithic archaeological culture (ca. 4800 to 2800 BC) in Eastern Europe.

The Cucuteni-Trypillian culture is commonly divided into an Early, Middle, Late period, with varying smaller sub-divisions marked by changes in settlement and material culture. A key point of contention lies in how these phases correspond to radiocarbon data.

The following chart represents this most current interpretation:

  • Early (Pre-Cucuteni I-III to Cucuteni A-B, Trypillia A to Trypillia BI-II): 4800 to 4000 BC
  • Middle (Cucuteni B, Trypillia BII to CI-II): 4000 to 3500 BC
  • Late (Horodiştea-Folteşti, Trypillia CII): 3500 to 3000 BC


The emergence of this complex in the Transcarpathia and in the Dniester basin is dated to the late sixth and early fifth millennia BC and is related to such cultures as the Linearbandkeramik (LBK), Boian, Criş and Hamangia and Vinča.

It extends from the Carpathian Mountains to the Dniester and Dnieper regions, centered on modern-day Moldova and covering substantial parts of western Ukraine and north-eastern Romania, encompassing an area of some 350,000 km2.

The early Cucuteni-Trypillian settlements consisted of high-density, small settlements, concentrated mainly in the Siret, Prut, and Dniester river valleys. Villages covered an area of 0.5–6 ha and contained no more than fifteen dwellings.

Figure 2
This phase is followed by settlements of 20–40 ha in size consisting of around two hundred dwellings and a late phase with the mega-site phenomenon, when areas up to 300 ha were settled by about 15,000 inhabitants (Müller et al. 2016).

The Cucuteni-Trypillian people built the largest settlements in Neolithic Europe and Megasites, such as Talianki in the Uman district of Ukraine, were as large as (or perhaps even larger than) the more famous city-states of Sumer predating Sumerian cities by more than half of a millennium.

One of the most notable aspects of this culture was the periodic destruction of settlements, with each single-habitation site having a roughly 60 to 80 year lifetime.

The purpose of burning these settlements is a subject of debate among scholars; some of the settlements were reconstructed several times on top of earlier habitation levels, preserving the shape and the orientation of the older buildings.

Many researchers suggest a religious background, maybe connected with some kind of funerary ritual: it has been noted that there have been very few discoveries of funerary objects, and very few cemeteries attributed to the culture.

Perhaps the burning of the settlements truly was how the Cucuteni-Tripolye “buried” and honored their dead. Rather than creating a tomb where the deceased could be interred with important objects, the home that the deceased had lived in became their tomb, and they entered the afterlife with the objects they possessed during their earthly life. (MR Reese 2015).

Although, human skeletons of the Cucuteni-Trypillian are rare, mtDNA haplogroup diversity found in the Cucuteni-Trypillian remains at Verteba (Ukraine) is characteristic for a group of European Neolithic farmers tracing their maternal genetic roots from Anatolia with little or no admixture with indigenous hunter-gatherers (Nikitin et al 2017).

Cucuteni-Trypillian society as a whole is based on pastoralists and subsistence farmers who run a simple economy, not very different to other groups in South-East Europe.

Figure 3
The disappearance of the Cucuteni-Trypillian Mega-sites is enigmatic. Maybe the occupation density exceeded the limit of social or ecological sustainability. Anyhow there are no indications that the social organization was terminated by armed conflicts.

What makes the Cucuteni-Trypillian culture unique in the Neolithic Europe is:

  • An almost nonexistent social stratification
  • An obvious lack of a political and religious elite


How could the Megasite phenomenon be integrated in a balanced social constitution? Maybe the Cucuteni-Trypillian culture was an acephalous, non-stratified, society lacking political leaders or hierarchies.

Typically these societies are small-scale, organized into lineages, that make decisions through consensus decision making rather than appointing permanent "big man" to settle the societies affairs.

The lack of monumental architecture and the paucity of prestige goods, together with an undeveloped mortuary domain in which to display differences in social status, constitute the main arguments against a permanent, ranked socio- political organization for the Trypillia population. More likely, an inter-regional decision-making political body developed during collective gathering events for the seasonal megasite co-ordination of a generally egalitarian society.(Nebbia 2018)

Suggested Reading:

Trypillia Mega-Sites and European Prehistory: 4100-3400 BCE (Themes in Contemporary Archaeology) (S.XXI). Taylor and Francis 2016.

J. Müller et al: The social constitution and political organisation of Tripolye mega-sites: hierarchy and balance. In Tagungen des Landesmuseums für Vorgeschichte Halle Band18|2018

D.W. Anthony: Lost World of Old Europe 2009

2019-09-09 12:43:20   •   ID: 2125

The Reappearance of European Bifaces during MIS 3

Figure 1
Figure 2
The European Middle Paleolithic started about 250 k.a. ago and is characterized by different methods of prepared core techniques, a decrease of Bifaces and an increase of diversified unifacial artifacts.

But Around MIS3 a significant reappearance of bifacial tools is noted in many regions.

Figure 1 and 2 display a 7 cm long, plano-convex, flat Bifacial tool, from Saint-Brice-sous-Rânes (Orne department; France).

Figure 3 and 4 show a small, 9 cm long, biconvex, elongated Handaxe from Le Bois-l'Abbé at Saint-Julien de la Liègue, a commune in the Eure department in Haute-Normandie; France.

This tool exhibits a site-specific yellow-red and glossy patination, which is present on ca 80 % of all tools from this Multi-workshop site.

An MIS 3 date has already established for the Saint-Brice-sous-Rânes site and is also suggested for the Saint-Julien de la Liègue sites.

Further information about the sites the can be found here 1601 ,here 1665 and here: 1163

Ruebens described several late Middle Paleolithic complexes with bifacial tools in continental Europe:

-Mousterian of Acheulean Tradition (MTA)in S/W-France

-Keilmessergruppen (KMG) in Central/ East Europe

- Mousterian with Bifacial Tools (MBT) in N/W-France

Figure 3
Figure 4
Microtraceological evaluation showed, that these late bifacial Neanderthal Tools were highly curated and repeatedly resharpened and recycled. They were used for a variety of activities and with varying prehension modes.

Anyhow, beside the presence or absence of "Keilmesser" and to a lesser degree of „Blattspitzen“ there is no single artifact, or a tool-kit, that is specific enough to discriminate between MTA, MBT and KMG.

Cordiform Handaxes are present in MTA, MBT and KMG ensembles. The same holds true for bifacial scrapers and "Faustkeilblätter" (symmetric or asymmetrical flat artifacts with a finely retouched point, one side is covered by retouches, the other side is only partially retouched).

A critical and highly polemic text about Reubens database and methodology was published by Bob Gargett some time ago (see last external link).

In Reality, the broad Uniformity of bifacial tools during MIS3 is hidden behind different research - traditions, different classification Systems and the subjective, researcher dependent classification of bifacial artifacts.

The first tool in the post (Figure 1&2) would be named "Faustkeilblatt" according to a Central European nomenclature. Moreover it would appeare as a typical KMG-artifact. At the Lichtenberg KMG-site in N-Germany an almost identical piece was excavated.

In France it would be simply called: small flat Biface. Indeed the tool comes from the "MBT heartland" and not from a KMG context.

In Central Europe the second tool (Figure 3&4) would be called "Middle or early upper Paleolithic Leaf Point“ (Blattspitze) and indeed similar items are known from the Szeletian site Vendrovice in Moravia.

In France it would be classified as an elongated small Handaxe. Again the site has no Szeletian or KMG characteristics.

Although in Western Europe Handaxes became rarer after MIS 9, they never disappeared from the Archaeological record.

The Reappearance of Bifaces and bifacial tools en masse during MIS 3 remains enigmatic and can not simply linked with settlement systems, environment, or site function.

2019-09-08 18:33:06   •   ID: 2123

Artifact or Geofact- A continuing Dilemma

Figure 1
Figure 1-3: This is a delicate and thin Middle Paleolithic scraper with alternating retouches on a Levallois flake from Saint-Maixent-l'École, located in the Haut Val de Sèvre area of western France, about 64 km from La Rochelle.

Figure 2
The artifact shown here comes from a scatter with excellent products of Levallois origin, but other scatters nearby show an elaborated Quina System,too.

Figure 3
How do you know that this flint was made by Paleolithic men? - this is the most common question I heard during the last 40 years- from people without basic knowledge of lithic technology.

While Handaxes or Leaf-Points are normally recognized even by non-specialists immediately as artifacts made by humans, flake tools from the Lower and Middle Paleolithic are not so easily recognized as human work.

Even specialists in Paleolithic research sometimes have their trouble in their decision, whether a piece is an artifact or geofact. After more than 100 years of research the quantitative database is astonishing small, especially for non–retouched flakes and flakes, not made of flint, creating a a high degree of uncertainty.

This is one reason for a hypersceptic attitude of influential scientists when faced with probably very old artifacts from the Lower and early Middle Pleistocene in Central Europe.

Figure 4 is based on mainly qualitative data and proposes, that Human Percussive Fracture on Flint is usually characterized by:

  • a Striking Platform
  • a Point of Percussion
  • a Bulb of Percussion
  • Ripple Marks
  • Specific modes of Distal Termination


For detailled description-see: https://peterborougharchaeology.org/archaeology-skills-techniques/identification-of-knapped-flints/ .

Please note that there is no strong consensus about the specificity of these diagnostic clues in the scientific Community.

Figure 4
It is important that each characteristic trait can either be stronger or weaker, depending for example on the raw material. Typical traits can be found on flint, homogeneous Obsidian and fine grained Quartzite. On the other hand they may be missing on limestone, Quartz or several volcanic stones (like Basalt).

Typical traits can be missed after secondary modifications - the bulb is sometimes removed, maybe for better hafting.

The presence and absence of characteristic clues depends on the knapping technique: For example hard hammer percussion tends to result in pronounced bulbs, whilst the use of soft hammers often results in either a small and discrete hemispherical bulb or one that is barely perceptible.

Last but not least, the presence of Diagnostic clues depends on the overarching technological system that was used (Discoidal, Levallois, Prismatic...).

On the other hand even laminar products can produced by natural forces in a high energy geological environment. This means, that we are talking not about certainties but about probabilities if a certain flake is a Geo– or an Artifact.

Lubinski and Terry used a comparative method for distinguishing flakes from geofacts by a Lithic debitage attribute scoring.

Figure 5
In their work, the probability of artifacts increased when there was a 1. Identifiable dorsal and ventral surface, 2. a Bulb of percussion, 3. a pronounced Bulb, 4. Eraillure scars, 5. Fissures, 6. Dorsal flake scar count of > n=3, 7. Dorsal flake scar orientation parallel to medial axis of the flake and the absence of any cortex, especially on the platform.

Regarding that we speak about the probability that a flake is an Artifact, it would be interesting to formalize the Attribute scoring approach further by ROC analysis and much more larger datasets for different raw materials.

The ROC (Receiver-Operator) curve analysis is a simple statistical tool, widely used for diagnostic tests in Medicine. To understand this approach it is useful to read the first external link. ROC curve analysis allows to create a complete sensitivity/specificity report.

In a ROC curve the true positive rate (Sensitivity; in this post true positives are possible artifacts) is plotted in function of the false positive rate (100-Specificity; in this post false positives are the rate of possible geofacts ) for different cut-off points of a parameter.

Each point on the ROC curve represents a sensitivity/specificity pair corresponding to a particular decision threshold. The area under the ROC curve (AUC) is a measure of how well a parameter can distinguish between two diagnostic groups (artifact/geofact).

The role of secondary Modifications: Artifacts are often characterized by secondary modifications. The most prominent feature on flake tools is the presence of a continuous retouche, which can be heardly found on Geofacts.

After 150 years of building a Paleolithic typology, the recognition of a specific tool class (a scraper, a denticulate...) also helps to differentiate between artifact and geofact.

Figure 6
Figure 5 for example is undoubtedly a typical Quina scraper, from the Type-site, underpinning the artificial nature of this piece of flint by the typical retouche, which is uncommon in Geofacts, although one important diagnostic clue for an artifact, a pronounced bulb on the dorsal side, is absent.

Style: Artifactual Modifications must exhibit a systematic shape, in other words they have to make "sense" for their user. A scraper needs a continuous retouche to fulfill its purpose and a denticulated tool needs a saw-like shape for a reasonable use.

Figure 6 and 7 shows a denticulated MSA-point from Erg Tit, with bilateral continuous denticulation, which makes "sense" within several contexts. In addition we see a clear bulb of percussion on the ventral side (Figure 7) and a facetted base (not shown here) suspicious for Levallois.

Bias: Older excavations and selective sampling of surface findings always carry the risk of Selection- and -Confirmation-Bias. These problems can be addressed by excavations, that capture the complete geological context of the finds, which have to be completely salvaged, without selection of artifact-like pieces during the field work . A Refitting approach in order to isolate artifacts from natural pieces is another successful strategy.

Depositional Environment: The depositional environment is mainly characterized by the energy implied from the sediments in which finds are embedded.

Figure 7
Specimens are often considered geofacts if found in dynamic, high- energy depositional environments that might have produced them naturally, such as talus cones at the base of cliffs in glacial till.

Flakes from local raw material are more suspicious for Geofacts, while the use of “exotic” raw material otherwise non-detectable in the site’s matrix is more suspicious for human agency.

Anyhow, the dilemma of separating Artifacts from Geofacts will remain as Pasda and Liebermann stated for a sample of unbiased material from Bilzingsleben:

Flint finds from the Middle Pleistocene travertine site at Bilzingsleben are revised. A discussion of the history of research in this context, and findings of recent excavations are presented.

These campaigns targeted the geological context and did not select artefact­type objects. This resulted in a twilight zone between certainly identified non­artefacts and artefact­ type exemplars, a zone which remains diffuse and resists qualitative, and thus also quantitative assessment
.

Anyhow, in my opinion, this undeniable facts should not lead to a nihilist attitue, rather to an open mind of being ready for the new and unthinkable, for example the detection of ESA sites in Central Europe.

Lutz Fiedler recently published a paper about possible lithic industries dating back to 600 k- 1,2 Ma along the Rhine Rift Valley (last external link). I recommend reading this paper, because it provides the scientific rigor and strength that is necessary in the overheated discussion between the proponents of a "Long" or "Short" chronology.

Suggested Reading:

W Adrian Die Frage der norddeutschen Eolithen; 1948

H. Floss et al: Steinartefakte: Vom Altpaläolithikum bis in die Neuzeit (Tübingen Publications in Prehistory); 2012

J. Hahn: Erkennen und Bestimmen von Stein- und Knochenartefakten. Einführung in die Artefaktmorphologie. ( = Archaeologica Venatoria, Bd. 10) (Archaeologica Venatoria); 1993

L Fiedler: Die Suche nach den kulturellen Anfängen. In: ders. (Hg.) Archäologie der ältesten Kultur in Deutschland. Materialien zur Vor- und Frühgeschichte von Hessen 18; 1997

I de la Torre : Omo revisited. Evaluating the technological skills of Pliocene hominids. Current Anthropology 45 439–465; 2004

N Goren-Inbar et al.: The Acheulian Site of Gesher Benot Ya‘aqov Volume IV: The Lithic Assemblages (Vertebrate Paleobiology and Paleoanthropology); 2018.

Figure 4: (Credit: José-Manuel Benito Álvarez / Wikimedia Commons)

2019-09-06 08:18:22   •   ID: 2116

Needle like Microliths from the N/W- Mauritanian Neolithic

Figure 1
These are Needle-Like Amartures from N/W- Mauritania (Medium Length: 2,54 cm), which were collected during the 1950ies by a French Ingenieur, together with a lot of backed points, microlithic shouldered points and some small Ounanian derived microliths ( Medium Length: 1,87 cm).

The operational sequence of these tiny tools begins with the production of straight bladelets, that were in a next step backed on one or two sides. Finally they were bi- or even trifacially reworked by pressure flaking.

Today, the lithic industries of northwestern Mauritania are almost totally denatured by looting operations.

At surface sites one can never be sure, that professional "Antiquriansa, indigenous looters, guides or tourists, have removed eye-catching artifacts, which results in biased collections and misleading interpretations. Therefore the scientific search of non disturbed contexts is of overall importance for professional Archaeologists.

Figure 2
Since the early 1970s, only three surface sites have provided archaeologists with statistically consistent information: -Tintan-necropolis, by N. Petit-Maire and his team; -Et-Teyyedché, FA 38 and 39 by R. Vernet.

During the last years it was possible to detect undisturbed Stratigraphies and to reconstruct a local succession from the Epipaleolithic to the Neolithic, mainly by Robert Vernet and his coworkers. Nouadhfat is one of these sites:

The Nouadhfat site, north-east of Nouakchott, in western Mauritania, is essential, both for a knowledge of Holocene palaeoenvironments and for the Neolithic.

The site is near an important hydrographic palaeonetwork and on the bank of a vast palaeolake marked by diatomites, freshwater gasteropods and animal tracks printed in the mud.

Fishing was intensively practiced (presence of harpoons). The habitat was occupied by hunter-gatherers, fishermen and stock-breeders who took advantage of a milieu evolving progressively towards less humidity : first of all in the Middle Neolithic (around 6400 cal. BP), then more recently (3900 – 3300 cal. BP), after a very marked arid crisis.

Figure 3
Nouadhfat, which is the region’s best dated site, fits into an extremely rich ensemble for over at least four millennia.

The main characteristic of this ensemble is without doubt the existence of numerous cultures, which followed each other or which lived together, before the northern limit of the Sahel shifted distinctly southwards.
(Vernet et al. 2017).

Needle like armatures together with microlithic lunates, trapezes and percoirs are an important component of the Neolithic site of Et Teyyedché, industrie lithique 1 (Vernet 2007).

The artifacts, shown here have affinities to the Et Teyyedche group although some artifact classes are missing, probably by sampling bias.

The composition of such ensembles are only one choice among a broad spectrum of Neolithic tools in the area and the manyfold causes for specific choices and adaptions remain unknown.

Anyhow, the large number of projectiles atest that hunting was still very important for the „Neolithic“ Mauritanian societies.