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2018-09-15 18:08:54   •   ID: 2026

Let Us Now Praise Unknown Men and Women*

Figure 1
Figure 1 shows a Middle Paleolithic / MSA point from Melka Kunture / Ethiopia, which is at least 120 k.a. old. and associated with the remains of an (archaic) Homo Sapiens.

Humid phases during the Pleistocene in Africa offered interregional connections and chances for dispersal events of early humans all over the continent. Middle Pleistocene Hominines explored during several times landscapes with their plentiful resources, even acting in regions that are deserts today (The Sahara, the Namib, the Arabian Desert, wide parts of the Near East).

Early Humans adapted to a variety of niches, even during arid times, when water and pray got sparse, which resulted in local extinctions. But- Some of our ancestors survived.

According to paleogenetic models, the lineage Homo Sapiens originated in Africa at least at 500 k.a. - with still archaic morphology-as identifiable at Jebel Irhoud in Morocco around 300 k.a.

Early Sapiens showed remarkable morphological and behavioural diversity and a geographical spread over vast areas. This can be demonstrated with the few early fossils, that have been detected so far: The Florisbad scull in South Africa is ca 260 k.a. years old, Sapiens in South Africa was also present at Border Cave between 115-90 k.a. at Klasies River Mouth at ca 90 k.a.

Sapiens remains at Omo Kibish and Herto in Ethiopia are dated ca 200 and 160 k.a. respectively.

Figure 2
Figure 2: Levallois-Mousterian from the Carmel caves. Sapiens findings in the caves of Skhul and Qafzeh in Israel are 90-100 k.a. old and skull fragments with indisputable and specific clues of Homo Sapiens lived during the late Middle Pleistocene (177-194 k.a.) at the nearby Misliya site.

Variants of Genus Homo, during his evolutionary progress in Africa during the Middle Pleistocene exhibited a quasi-rhizomatic network structure, most probably with intermitent gene-flow between “newer” evolutionary forms with more “archaic” ones.

This cannot be proven for Africa, but the mixing of Sapiens with Denisovans and Neanderthals in Asia can be used as a testable and probable Model also for other regions.

During the Middle Pleistocene, Sapiens was not alone -neither in Asia nor in Africa. In Africa other hominins coexisted with Homo sapiens, raising the possibility of interbreeding: Homo naledi dates to between 335 k.a. and 236 k.a. and a late Homo heidelbergensis skull from Broken Hill is probably 300–125 k.a. old.

Figure 3
Figure 3 shows a small MSA bifacial Point from the Libyan Desert.

It is important that adaptions and innovations of Homo Sapiens in Africa and the Middle East are deeply embedded in a Middle Paleolithic / MSA technology for most of the time. Typical “Upper Paleolithic” ensembles appeared only at ca 45-40 k.a. calBP.

At Irhoud the stone artifacts are Levallois dominated with a high proportion of retouched tools, especially convergent specimens- a quasi Ferrassie ensemble...

The Omo Kibish remains were found with an elaborated MSA industry (Levallois and Discoidal technology, scrapers and denticulated tools / bifacial points and small handaxes: rare but present), Homo sapiens Idaltu from Herto/Middle Awash site in Ethiopia together with a typical Sangoan industry with some handaxes.

Modern humans in Israel produced several variants of the "Levallois- Mousterian " (“Tabun D and C”). In the Nil valley the Taramsa child is coming from a late Middle Paleolithic, Levallois based context ca 55 k.a.

Beyond Irhoud, Morocco has yielded one of the richest and most complete hominin fossil records of AHMs, dating to OIS5/6 including important cranial remains from Dar-es-Soltan II, and Contrebandiers Cave.

Early Moroccan H. sapiens is always associated with Middle Paleolithic (Aterian and “Mousterian”). If these populations contributed to the genetic pool of modern Humans that finally moved “out of Africa” or went to extinction remains unclear.

There are two possibilities for Sapiens to leave Africa. The Northern Corridor via the Levant and the the Southern Corridor via the Bab-el-Mandeb, connecting what is today Ethiopia and Yemen. There is genetic evidence for both routes. As discussed earlier, there is a stable fossil record for Homo Sapiens in the Levant, but no really convincing connections between the Levantine lithic industries and the Nil valley.

Figure 4
Figure 4 shows two foliates from Yemen- this is important because there is a strong connection between the lithic industries on both sides of Bab-el-Mandeb, suggesting that Homo Sapiens had already crossed the street at 120 k.a. Fossil evidence was nil until 2018. Recently a single finger bone of Homo Sapiens from Wusta in the Saudi Arabian desert associated with an MSA industry dating to 85 k.a. was published, thus underpinning the importance of the Southern Corridor.

During the last years is becomes clear, when and how Homo Sapiens dispersed over Asia. Lida Ajer is a Sumatran Pleistocene cave with a rich rainforest fauna associated with fossil, unequivocal Homo Sapiens human teeth.

Several lines of evidence (Luminescence and uranium-series techniques and ESR place modern humans in Sumatra securely between 73 and 63 k.a. - an early evidence of rainforest occupation by Homo Sapiens.

And in Australia, excavations were carried out of the Madjedbebe rock shelter in Arnhem Land etween 2012 and 2015 with rigorous stratigraphic control and an extensive TL-dating program.

Dating to 65 k.a., hundreds of thousands of in-situ stone artifacts, including "elaborate" technologies such as quadrangular ground-edge stone axes, grindstones for pulverizing seeds, and finely stone artifacts ( sorry I never saw a picture of them) were found.

The earliest people at the site also used "huge quantities of ochre" maybe both for utilitarian and non-utilitarian purposes.

But there are also indications, that Australia could have been reached by Homo Sapiens much earlier (80-120 k.a.)- the evaluation of this continent has just begun…

We are still waiting for reliable data in China, where Homo Sapiens was suggested to be in Place already at 120 k.a.

First traces of our species in Europe are dating late, around 35-40 k.a. old (Peştera cu Oase). Remember that it was already H. Breuils conviction, expressed in print in 1912, that prehistoric Europe was but a peninsula of Africa and Asia.

Surf the Blog: here: 1659 , 1714 , 1363 , here 1361 , here: 1714 and here 1668

*Paraphrases to: Let Us Now Praise Famous Men—a book with text by American writer James Agee and photographs by American photographer Walker Evans, first published in 1941 in the United States. The work documents the lives of impoverished tenant farmers during the Great Depression.

2018-09-11 18:32:04   •   ID: 2024

Bifacial Foliates in the African Paleolithic Record

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Fig. 1 shows two bifacially retouched MSA foliates from the central Sahara made from Quartzite, the larger one is 12,5 cm long. Foliates are part of four important African technocomplexes: the early Nubian complex, the Aterian, the Lupemban and the Stillbay complex in South Africa.

The question, if the African bifacial foliate point production emerged independently in these technocomplexes, or if different regions and traditions were interconnected, is not resolved and remains an open gateway for cultural historical assumptions.

However, paleoclimatic considerations show that ideas and people might have crossed the continent during wet-phases creating a common savoir-faire.

Stillbay Ensembles in South Africa assemblages are rare and, with the exception of Sibudu Cave (KwaZulu-Natal), and Apollo 11 (Namibia), all concentrated in the Cape Province of South Africa.

Foliate shaped bifacially worked stone points are the hallmarks of the Stillbay techno-tradition. At the sites, Bifacial roughouts are more common than the finished product and correspond to various stages of the reduction process during which flakes are produced by thinning and shaping the biface preforms.

Bifacial points were most probably used as spear points, as indicated by use wear analysis, but also served as multifunctional tools and were used as knives. At Blombos Cave, the majority of the bifacial points recovered were made on silcrete that was heat-treated before flaking. After applying hard- and soft-hammer techniques to shape the blank, the points were finely finished using an sophisticated pressure-flaking technique, which is also known from the Lupemban complex.

At present the known Still Bay assemblages show temporal and spatial discontinuity and much variability. At this point it seems not to be possible to reconstruct technological trends or directional change, but this may be a consequence of a sampling bias, with only a handful sites with undisturbed stratigraphy.

Data already available suggest for the Stillbay techno-complexes in several South African sites an age from end of MIS 5 to the beginning of MIS 4. Thermoluminescence dating undertaken at Diepkloof Rock Shelter, Sibudu and Apollo 11 indicate a duration for the Still Bay period of around 7,700 years, from 75,5 to 67,8 k.a. ago.

Anyhow, newly detected bifacial points from the "pre-Stillbay" strata at Sibudu and Thermoluminescence data from Diepkloof with a mean age of 109 k.a. could indicate that the Stillbay phase started considerably earlier.

Figure 2: Foliate from the local MSA of Thebes
Figure 2
. Another regional trend in the development of the Middle Paleolithic can be traced in North Africa. Here, two complexes, the Aterian and the Nubian Complex, were recognized. They resemble a finely made foliate from the Aterian of the Kharga Oasis, published by Gertrude Caton-Thompson in her seminal work about the Aterian.

As already described in another posts- see here: 1052 , here 1273 , and here: 1272 , the Aterian industry is characterized by the use of the Levallois primary reduction technology. The industry was intended for manufacturing points, flakes, and blades. Its diagnostic elements are stemmed pieces, primarily points with a retouched tip and stem.

Stems are observed on side-scrapers, end-scrapers, borers, and burins, which indicate that the people widely utilized multifunctional composite tools and reliable hafting-techniques. Lithic assemblages associated with the Aterian sites are dominated by side-scrapers of various modifications, and also include notched pieces.

Is likely that the Aterian industry evolved during late OIS6/OIS 5e and existed for a long time (latest dates around 32 k.a. BP). Sites containing Aterian assemblages located in north-western Africa seem not to be systematically older than similar MSA techno-complexes in Egypt.

Figure 3
In Egypt, Kharga Oasis, according to M. Kleindienst, the Aterian Unit here is dated between 100-50 k.a. BP. few tanged elements occur in a number of Nubian Complex assemblages from the Nile Valley, such as E-78-11 and Arkin 5. Tanged pieces are also present as well in MIS 5 assemblages at Bir Sahara and in the Bir Tarfawi area.

One of the first researchers of the Aterian, G. Caton-Thompson (1946), considered this industry a flexible technological system tracing its roots to Sub-Saharan Africa. Some scholars link the origin of the Aterian to the Lupemban industry.

Ph. Van Peer concluded that the Aterian culture belonged to lithic industries from the Nile Valley, and should be integrated it into the Nubian complex. Figure 3 shows a broad Aterian foliate, made from Quartzite, from a surface scatter in Libya.

Figure 4
Many Early Nubian Complex surface scatters in upper Egypt/Sudan were detected by the Combined Prehistoric Expedition in the Sahara Desert led by F. Wendorf from 1962-1999 . As early as 1964/ 1965 the Guichards reported about non-stratified assemblages with Nubian cores, Nubian Points, thick scrapers and mostly asymmetric and rather crude bifacial foliates in the area that would later be flooded by the Aswan dam.

The early Nubian Complex since then was suggested to be characterized exactly by this artifact spectrum (Figure 2 and 4). More about the early Nubian complex can be found here: 1135 , here 1576 , here: 1363

The term "Lupemban" for unstratified assemblages in southwestern Zaire and north-eastern Angola was first proposed by Belgian scientists in the Congo Basin (Breuil, 1944).

The Lupemban is a West and Central-African post-Acheulean early MSA complex, characterized by heavy and light tools.

The Lupemban overlies the Sangoan industry at the sites of Muguruk, Kenya , Kalambo Falls, Zambia, and in north-eastern Angola. The Sangoan itself overlies Acheulian industries at Nsongezi, Uganda and Kalambo Falls, Zambia.

The heavy-duty tool category consists of core axes, possibly used as hafted tools for woodworking or sub-surface exploitation, already discussed in this blog: see here: 1749 and the occasionally presence of handaxes and planoconvex sectioned picks. The highlight of the Lupemban stone technology are long, finely made lanceolate points with biconvex to lenticular cross sections.

There is evidence of a systematic blade production, backed pieces are also present at Twin Rivers and Kalambo Falls, pointing to a hafting technology. The smaller debitage component evidences a developed Levallois technology and is characterized by the presence of unifacial and bifacial points.

The systematic use of pigments and devices for their grinding and processing is another aspect of the Lupemban-complex.

While most occurrences of the Lupemban in Central and West Africa remain undated, we have some data from the “periphery”

Stimulated Luminescence (OSL) and Uranium-Series date the Lupemban to roughly 400-200 k.a.

OSL dates from Sai Island have yielded a maximum age of 182±20 k.a. and minimum age of 152±10 k.a.

The age of the Lupemban-bearing breccia at Twin Rivers by Uranium-series has resulted in a date range of 170– >400 k.a. A speleothem sample directly associated with the tool assemblage gave a date of 270 k.a.

Renewed excavations at Kalambo Falls, Zambia were undertaken in 2006 and brought a new Luminescence chronology (Acheulian-MSA transition between 500-300 k.a.).

Some researchers argue that the hominins of the Lupemban complex were the first that permanently occupied different habitats in Central / West Africa, enabled by an innovative technology – we will hear certainly more about these thrilling ideas during the next years.

Suggested Reading:

Sacha C. Jones, Brian A. Stewart (Ed.): Africa from MIS 6-2: Population Dynamics and Paleoenvironments (Vertebrate Paleobiology and Paleoanthropology). The most interesting book about the African Record published during the last years

AJ Arkell: The Old Stone Age in the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan / by A.J. Arkell. (Sudan Antiquities Service occasional papers ; no. 1)




Resources and images in full resolution:

2018-09-09 09:52:05   •   ID: 2022

A Serrated / Denticulated Levallois Point from Erg Tit / Algeria

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Tit (Arabic: ﺗﻴﺖ ) is a town and commune in Aoulef District, Adrar Province, south- central Algeria.

Erg Tit was introduced into the literature by Henri-Jean Hugot (1916 -2014), who was originally directeur d’école à Aoulef, in the Tidikelt during the early 50ies. Later, already attached to the CNRS Hugot became an extraordinary professor for Prehistory and deputy director at the Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle in Paris.

He wrote the influential “Essai sur les armatures de pointes de flèches du Sahara (1957)“ which is still the the basic work for the description of neolithic arrowheads in the Sahara.

In 1957 he published a monograph about l’Ahaggar nord-occidental, also discussing findings from the Aoulef District. He reported a poorly characterized Acheulean, while the MSA was rich in tanged pieces ("Aterien“). Epipaleolithic findings also include "Ounanian" points (see: 2020 )

Ounanian Points were found in stratigraphic context by the late J.D Clark at Adrar Bous (Niger) ca 400 km South-East to Tit. See also 1541

The denticulated Mousterian point (7,5x0,3x3 cm) from Erg Tit shown here was made on a slightly curved Levallois Point on Quartzite. Its perimeters could qualify the artifact as an dart-point.

The artifact ftomu Erg Titn has some structural resemblance to the serrated MSA points, which were reported in 2017 by Rots from the Sibudu , a large rock shelter in the northern part of KwaZulu-Natal Province of South Africa.

At Sibudu there was strong evidence for their use as Projectile in a layer with an OSL age at least 77.3 ± 2.7 k.a.

Suggested Readings:

Hugot H.-J. (1963) – Recherches préhistoriques dans ­l’Ahaggar nord-occidental, 1950-1957. Mémoire du CRAPE, I. Arts et métiers graphiques, Paris.

Hugot H.-J., Roubet C. & Souville G. (1981) – Préhistoire africaine. Mélanges offerts au doyen L. Balout. Éditions A.D.P.F., Paris.

Clark, J.D., M.A.J. Williams and A.B. Smith. 1973. The geomorphology and archaeology of Adrar Bous, Central Sahara: a preliminary report. Quaternaria 17: 245 - 297.

2018-08-28 18:35:40   •   ID: 2021

The ESA-MSA Mosaic in East Africa

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This is a large and thin (11x6x0,7 mm) convergent tool ("Point") with lateral semi-abrupt retouches and a thinned base made from a greenish ignimbrite, found decennia ago in Kenya. It is a classic MSA lithic tool, allthough the raw material was pretty exotic.

During the Oldowan and Acheulian of East Africa most artifacts are made of volcanic rocks like basalt, rhyolites, obsidian and ignimbrites (Welded tuff).

During the MSA, Ignimbrite becomes very rare, but was for unknown reasons occasionally preferred for single artifacts (for example at Porc Epic cave, Dire Dawa (east-central Ethiopia)- see also: 1450 .

Between 500 k.a. and 300 k.a. BP we notice large technological shifts in East Africa:

  • The late Acheulian, as recently shown at the Hugub site in N-Ethiopia shows an increase of smaller Handaxes- some of them have already the appearance of bifacial MSA-Points, a decrease in Cleaver production, and evidence of intensive use of resharpening techniques. This was taken by the excavators as proof of a higher rate of curation and longer tool life, compared to earlier Acheulean ensembles. Interestingly the dates for the latest Acheulean in East Africa from Ethiopia and Eritrea were reported to be 160- 125 k.a. BP- and therfore much later, than the MSA was fully established elsewhere in the region.


  • The earliest MSA- here defined as absence of LCTs and the use of prepared core techniques- developed side by side with the Acheulian. In the Kapthurin formation (Kenya), Blades, Levallois debitage, grindstones, and traces of pigment are found at site GnJh-15. At the Acheulian site of GnJh-03, large Levallois flakes from centripetally cores where produced and sometimes retouched into handaxes or scrapers. Blade tools also co-occur with this industry. LHA/GnJh-03 is dated to 545-509 k.a. ,thus preceding anatomical modernity in hominins.

    New excavations since 2001 at Olorgesailie revealed a similar picture: Acheulean occupations were followed by a long sequence of Middle Stone Age occupations without handaxes, beginning well before 315 k. a and ending before 64 k.a. Levallois technology was present already in the later Acheulean horizons of Members 11 and 13 of the Olorgesailie formation (between 625 and 550 k.a).


  • After 300 k.a. BP, the MSA In the East African MSA is already fully developed. Lithics are characterized by points with unifacial and bifacial retouch on non-Levallois and Levallois blanks, partially made from "Classic”, but also from "Nubian "cores. This is for example the 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)

2018-08-28 13:10:39   •   ID: 2020

Lithic Projectile Points: A success Story

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This is 7 cm long Ounanian Point, found at Erg Tit in Algeria. Tit today is a small village in the commune of Tamanrasset, in Tamanrasset District. Certainly a successful projectile point from the local Epipaleolithic. More about Ounanian Points-see here: 1541 , and here 1544 .

Lithic projectile points crush, slice and generally disrupt a greater volume of tissue than do wood-tipped missiles (Sisk and Shea 2009, 2011), which made them such a successful innovation since their first appearance during the MSA of South Africa, roughly at 70 k.a. BP.

The aim of producing projectile points is the effective hurting and killing of animals and other humans. The depth of penetration into the target is mainly influenced by the mass-velocity relationship, the tip cross-sectional perimeter (TCSP), and the tip angle .

The tip cross-sectional area (TCSA) and the tip cross-sectional perimeter (TCSP) are widely used to gather quantified information about projectile points (definition: see external links).

Both TCSA and TCSP show a direct correlation with the width and thickness of the projectile. TCSA and TCSP do not allow to proof, that a tool was used as projectile, but they allow to suggest what kind of launching system (spear, dart, arrow) fits to the presumed projectile. In this post the discussion is limited to spear throwers propelling a dart and to bow and arrow systems.

From the physical point of view, there are two important factors that influence penetration of a projectile: kinetic energy and linear momentum. Both kinetic energy (K) and linear momentum (P) depend on mass (m) and speed (v).

Kinetic energy is the energy associated with the motion. The kinetic energy of an object is directly proportional to the square of its speed (K = (0,5) x mv2).

Linear momentum is a vector quantity describing that the projectile is holding its trajectory or more correctly describes the targeted amount of mass in motion (P = mv).

Therefore, the velocity of a projectile is an important measure of weapon performance because velocity directly affects a projectile’s range, momentum, and kinetic energy, and thus its impact on the target and killing efficiency.

There is no ideal launching system for all situations-the decision of using a spear thrower or a bow–if you have both – depends on the target pray. Some large game hunting societies preferred the use of a dart propelled by a spear thrower.

“Paleoindians who used the weapon to hunt very large animals, with the intent of penetrating the body and killing with hemorrhaging, would have needed heavy darts to reach adequate levels of kinetic energy and momentum to be lethal. Experiments on elephant carcasses support this “(Whittaker et al. 2017)

Maximal width is one way of approaching past projectile weaponry. There is general agreement, that lethality of projectiles is greatly enhanced by arming them with broad, sharp points.

Point symmetry is an important determinant of flight-path stability and ensures uniform distribution of impact forces on the target (Beckhoff 1966).

Tip angles: In general angles of 30–40° are suggested to be the ideal according ballistic theory.

Tanging: An axial tang may theoretically provide the most stable hafting, but specific arrangements may have compensated for the inherent asymmetry of non-axial points, which are even more common during Prehistory. Because hafting devices have usually not survived in the record-the appearance of such arrangements can only experimentally simulated.

Durability: An important point fur the hunter is the durability of his hunting system. Thin lithic points are easily fractured, therefore a thicker-based, more conical, point is better at resisting compressive forces and thus impact fracture.

Bifacial Points vs. Unifacial Points: Bifacial points allow easier hafting, deeper penetration and a multi-purpose use, e.g. as knifes.

Serration: If used as an arrowhead, serrated projectiles are supposed to cause increased hemorrhage of the prey. This seems reasonable, but to my knowledge this assumption has not been experimentally evaluated till now.

2018-08-20 19:01:41   •   ID: 2018

A Chopping Tool from Reggane in Algeria

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In Algeria, a lot of presumed archaeological sites were assigned to an Oldowan and have been described during the last decennia. Ain Hanech is indeed an unique early Paleolithic site in primary context and dated at least to 1,2 my.

Other locations were excavated, especially in the Saoura region (Alimen and Chavaillon 1962), but remain dubious according to current standards.

The surface collections of Aoulef (Hugot, 1955) and Reggane (Chavaillon 1961, Ramendo 1963 and 1964) may again indicate a very old Paleolithic- but again the samples have been selectively collected decennia ago.

Nicole Chavaillon in 1961 published Reggane artifacts, collected during the 1950ies and described MSA, consisting of large Levallois cores, "Aterian points" and bifacial foliates and -several series of "Chopper" and "Chopping tools". Remaining sceptic, which was a rare attitude at this time, she pointed out, that the more simple tools could be part of the "Aterian"

The Reggan collection described by Ramedo comprises 321 pieces. The artifacts include mainly cores / "Chopping-Tools": unifacially, bifacially, facetted pebbles, discoids, and flakes made from diverse raw materials (quartz, quartzite, sandstone, flint, fossil wood and other volcanic rocks).

This surface collection includes a flake that refits with a bifacially-flaked "Chopping Tool" made from quartz (Ramendo, 1964). If the flake was not removed as a result of post-depositional processes, these conjoined pieces suggest that the assemblage may not have been heavily disturbed by post-depositional processes (included in the external link).

The specimen from Reggane, shown here is a "Chopper" / Core (8x4x1,5 cm) made from a small and flatt Quartzite pebble. It is slightly patinated but neither rolled nor much altered by post-depositional agency.

It remains unfortunate, that scientific evaluation of the deposits at Reggan stopped during the 1970ies.

Suggested Reading:

Surf the Blog: 1183 , here 1235 , and here: 1697 .

Ramendo, L. (1963). Les galets aménagés de Reggan (Sahara). Libyca 11, 42-73.

Ramendo, L. (1964). Note sur un galet aménagé de Reggan. Libyca 12, 43-45

2018-08-19 07:13:51   •   ID: 2017

Sorry No Need For LCTs!

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This is a 14 cm long Flake Cleaver from the Bergerac Region, a surface find from the 1920ies.

In contrast to Europe the hallmark of many African Acheulian sites are Large Cutting Tools (LCTs), made from “giant cores” primarily handaxes and cleavers. This mode of production was first recognized by Isaac during the 1960ies.

LCTs very likely emerged in East Africa but have been reported from a wide range of areas, spanning South Africa, Israel (GBY), the Caucasus Region, Eastern Georgia to India (and even beyond the Movius line). They are also found in the Iberian Peninsula.

Europe beyond the Pyrenees, with the important exception of a small, narrow stretch along the Garonne and Tarn Rivers in Southern France, where flake cleaver were made on Quartzite, seems to be the only larger region with a quasi absence of LCT Acheulean.

Figure 3
It is therefore of importance that the LCT technique was also observed in Flint in the Bergeracois region (Cantalouette, les Pendus and Barbas). This was first observed and published by J and G Guichard in 1966. According to their systematical work about Bifacial and Flake Cleavers at les Pendus, the Cleaver shown here fits the defination of a flake cleaver with bilateral longitudinal retouches and bilateral beveled edges (with several transversal tranchet blows on one side; Type 14; Figure 3).

Large Flakes are an important prerequisite for the production of Flake cleavers made on Quartzite or Flint. In Europe, raw material constraints cannot be regarded as an explanation for the quasi absence of Flake cleavers.

The production of "Giant Cores" and large flakes on flint would have been indeed possible in Europe, for example in the Bergerac Region, in the Tourainne , in N-France and the UK. The same holds true for several high quality Quartzite resources outside the Garonne and Tarn.

The reasons for flake cleaver manufacturing in Europe at discrete regions have been debated since the first discoveries of these industries.

Obermaier (1924) and later Bordes (1953) asserted that the presence of flake cleavers indicates an “African influence” linked with the migration of Acheulean populations (Bordes, 1953).

Anyhow, there is currently no archaeological evidence to demonstrate a chronological continuity between the Acheulean in Africa or at GBY (800 k.a.) and the Middle Pleistocene Acheulean of Europe. The appearance of the Acheulean in Europe north of the Pyrenees is dated to ca. 700–500 k.a. , Hundred of thousand years after GBY. This Acheulean is non-LCT – that means that large flakes are not the main blank technology .

Finally, it has been proposed that flake cleavers were manufactured to respond to a specific functional need . This hypothesis would imply that the presence of flake cleavers was determined by the activities carried out at a site, and that there was therefore a complementary relationship between sites. Empiric proof is still missing

Therefore an overarching theory about the very limited production of Flake Cleavers during the Acheulean in Europa is still missing. How to explain a „Negative Tradition“?

Suggested Reading:

Guichard, J. and G. Guichard 1966 À propos d’un site Acheuléen du Bergeracois (Les Pendus, Commune de Creysse). Bifaces-hachereaux et hachereaux sur éclats. Aperçu typologique. Actes de la Société Linnéenne de Bordeau 103, Bordeaux.




Resources and images in full resolution:

2018-08-12 07:07:27   •   ID: 2016

From the Central European Micoquian to Keilmessergruppen

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The Middle European Micoquian was conceptualized by L. Zotz in the early 1950ies and this concept was later used by G. Bosinski. The term Micoquian is now mainly used for specific Middle Paleolithic assemblages in central Europe.

In contrast to the Mousterian, which almost totally lacks bifacial elements, a high occurrence of bifacial tools is the defining character of the Micoquian sensu Bosinski. Bosinski described the bifacial component of such industries by characteristic classes of artifacts:

-Keilmesser (backed asymmetric bifaces). The functional unity of a Keilmesser is characterized by opposing an active edge to a passive back. Different types have been described: Bocksteinmesser (Figure 1), Klausennischenmesser, Prodniks (Figure2)- and many others.

-Asymmetric elongated bifaces with a thick often unworked basis Fäustel, which are small bifaces

-Faustkeilblätter (Figure 3; symmetric or asymmetrical flat artifacts with a finely retouched point, one side is covered by retouches, the other side is only partially retouched)

-Halbkeile (“splitted” elongated unifaces with a D-shaped cross-section) Bifacial scrapers and leaf-shaped scrapers are also very common, whilst leaf points only appear sporadically, but often are finely made

-A "fond commun" of typical Mousterian tools, such as points, scrapers, notches, denticulates

The production of the flake tools may be characterized by a Levallois, discoidal or Quina technique. In addition a laminar technique is sometimes part of the French ensembles.

Bosinski proposed an internal chronology beginning during OIS5: Inventartyp Bockstein-Klausennische- Schambach (Buhlen, Prodnikian of the Krakow vicinity)-Röhrsheim.

He justified this succession by assumptions of an OIS5 date for Bockstein and the stratigraphy of Balve where he suggested, that a "Bockstein" inventory was followed by "Klausennische" assemblages.

This theory was falsified by several lines of evidence. in the 1990ies by O. Joeris, who showed that Prodniks were already present in the lower strata at the Balve cave.

In addition, several other ensembles (Salzgitter (MIS3), Lichtenberg (MIS3), Pietraszyn 49 (MIS6), Dzierźyslaw I, Mesvin4 (MIS6), Sesselfels (MIS3), show individual characteristics and could not be easily incorporated into Bosinski’s theoretical succession.

Bockstein, which should be the first expression of Bosinski’s Micoquian was later dated into OIS3 and therefore was rather late.

Figure 4
At many sites Keilmesser (Figure e 4: Keilmesser from Buhlen; Hessen)are far more numerous than Micoquekeile and Faustkeilblätter (Buhlen, Ciemna) and therefore more recently the term “Keilmessergruppe” is now preferred.

Calling the middle European Micoquian “Keilmessergruppe” (KMG), focuses on ensembles with Keilmesser, and delineate entities (e.g the “Moustérien à pièces bifaciales dominantes”) which share some elements with the KMG (bifacial scraper, Faustkeilblätter, Fäustel), but do not bear Keilmesser and surely have a very different conceptualization.

There are two interpretations about the Micoquian: a functional and a rather culture-historical approach.

To explain the data from the Sesselfels-Grotte, where “pure Mousterian levels” and “Micoquian” levels are interstratified, Richter proposes that a bifacial mode of artifact production was always present in the social memory of Neanderthals, but only one option in their repertoire: MMO (“Mousterian mit Micoquian-Option”) .

He supposes that the bifaciallity of implements is mainly the result of functional factors like the duration of stay, the field of activity at the site, and the mobility pattern of the groups which used bifacial artifacts both as finished tools and high-quality cores.

In Richter’s concept, Neanderthals adapted to the constraints of their environment, but made no conscious cultural choice. In addition, Richter wants to confine the Micoquian to OIS3-which is certainly a violation of the corrent data.

Some researchers (Jöris, Kozlowski, Neruda, Ringer), suggest that the KMG display a long-lasting tradition of Homo Neanderthaliensis beginning in OIS 6 or even earlier, which lasts until the late OIS3.

Indeed, In Europe first typical “Keilmesser” can be found at Mesvin IV (Belgium; U/Th dates: 250-300 k.a). The site Pietraszyn 49 in Upper Silesia, dated by TL at 130±10 ka, already shows the whole spectrum of bifacially retouched Micoquian tools.

The Micoquian can be found beginning with OIS 5e along the rivers of the large East European Plain: Ripiceni Izvor III and Korolevo IIa at the river Pruth, Zotomir and Rhikta (Dnieper), Chotylevo (Desna), Antonowka, Nosovo (Don) Sukhaya Mechetka (Volga).

Numerous sites are known from the Krim (Ak-Kaya; Zaskalnaya, Prolom, Sary-Kaya, Volchy Grot, Kabazi I und V), dating between OIS5-3.

Many sites assigned to the Micoquian in middle Europe seem to be from the early last glacial (OIS 5 c and a; Ciemna, Zwolen, Okkienik, lower levels at Balve and Buhlen, Kůlna 9b )

Others are securely dated to OIS3: Wylotne, Piekary I, Kulna 7a,6, Lichtenberg, Salzgitter Lebenstedt and the G-layers of the Sesselfels-Grotte), while no Micoquian settlements in Middle Europe are known during OIS4.

In Northern France, several ensembles, who have many affinities to the Middle European Micoquian have been described after the reception of Bosinski’s work during the last years:

Mont de Beuvry and Tréissény (Bretagne), Champlost and Germolles in the Bourgogne, Saint-Acheul and Gentelles at the Somme, Riencourt les Bapaume near Callais and Verriers and Vinneuf near Paris. An extremely interesting site is the Abri du Musee at Les Eyzies with classic prodniks during OIS4 (?)

Ruebens recently showed, that at several sites in the Netherlands, Belgium, and Western and Northern France both typical Micoquian and Mousterian bifacial elements occur, leaving a typological dilemma as to which technocomplex they should be assigned.

This “mixed ensembles could indicate technological exchange over a contact zone of populations with a different stone knapping tradition”.

Although it is clear the all the factors, that Richter takes into account ,for the explanation of his MMO (“Mousterian mit Micoquian-Option”) play a role in the composition of Middle European Middle Paleolithic Ensembles, I would agree with Karen Ruebens that “the Mousterian and Micoquian are two closely interlinked but different taxonomic entities. Despite the similar basic knapping and touching techniques, some clear differences (especially in the character of the bifacial elements and their regional patterning) occur”.

To avoid mistakes: The Micoque site is a middle Pleistocene site with affinities to the "Bocksteingruppe", but 100000 of years earlier- a convergence phenomena.

The Micoquian of N-France (Seine region) is a late Acheulian with essentially symmetric Micoquian handaxes, dated to 100-90 k.a. ago in the Seine region. These Handaxes are very different to asymmetric Bocksteinmesser. See also 1532 .

Surf the Blog!: 2016 , here 1531 , and here 1609

2018-08-09 22:23:01   •   ID: 1425

Standing on the shoulders of giants: Refitting Strategies and the Levallois Concept

Figure 1
This picture comes from an encyclopedic manuscript containing allegorical and medical drawings (South Germany, ca. 1410);this work is in the public domain in the United States, and those countries with a copyright term of life of the author plus 100 years or less.

I always liked this metaphor, because it also describes the rank of any specific scientific work, which usually owns a lot to the ideas of good teachers. 

This also holds true for some concepts of Paleolithic archaeology, like the Refitting  and the Levallois concept.   Unlike other  and better known archaeologists of his time, Flaxman C.J. Spurrell (1842–1915) concerned himself with questions of taphonomy, of context, of methods of artifact manufacture and and refitting.  

Whilst Spurrell’s archaeological and scientific tastes were wide-ranging, his work as an early Paleolithic archaeologist stands out by the approach he took to investigating the material he recovered.

He experimented with flint knapping (Spurrell 1884), and appears to have been the first person to investigate how artefacts were made by refitting them (Spurrell 1880).

Such concepts got lost during the early 20th century, but were renewed by Harper Kelley a Harvard Archeologist and Africanist naturalized by the French state in 1917 (Figure 2). He was “Directeur de recherches” at the  C.N.R.S, “Directeur du laboratoire d'ethnologie” at the Musée de l'Homme and a member of the “Conseil de la S.P.F.”.

Harper Kelley cooperated with the Abbe Breuil for several decades after the First World War and had, compared to his friend, a much more rigorous methodological approach to Paleolithic materials. It is peculiar, that in the no biographical notes about Kelly can be found.

Figure 2
Contribution à l'étude de la technique de la taille levalloisienne” (via Persee.fr; Figure 2)  is an excellent publication from 1954 about the Levallois technique in general and refitting experiments in particular, which were applied by Kelley to material from Northern France.

In this publication almost all issues that play a role in the current debates about the Levallois concept (E. Boëda; H. Dibble; P. Van Peer) are addressed, but clearly the actual authors go in their practice and argumentation beyond Kelley's approach.

Such concept have become an important procedure during the last 25 years in the evaluation of the operational sequences, the integrity of the excavated strata and the reconstruction of  "phantom"  pieces, which have been exported from the site.

Figure 3
Techno -typological considerations and refitting concepts were never applied to the rich Levalloisian material from Lenderscheid in Northern Hessen, mainly detected by the local teacher A. Luttropp in the 1940ies and now stored at the Hessisches Landesmuseum at Kassel.

My small collection (Levalloisian flakes, cores and blades), which comprises about 100 pieces unfortunately is not suited for such an approach (Figure3).

More about the Lenderscheid site han be found here : 1624 , here 1712 , and here 1733  

2018-08-01 15:23:25   •   ID: 2013

An Upper Paleolithic Burin on Truncation from Placard

Figure 1
This a 8,5 cm long Burin, produced from a small and thin blade, which ends with an accurate concave truncation, finalized by administration of a precisely placed burin blow on the prepared striking platform at the edge of the blade. The artifact comes from an old collection of artifacts found at Le Placard (Charente). The story about this cave and the early excavations can be found here: 1633

There is a considerable functional diversity among burinated tools. A burin blow can be both: a creator of a tool or an eliminator of a used edge from a tool (Vaughan 1985).

Figure 2
Some burins (especially dihedral burins) may indeed have been used as gravers. Other burins (carinated burins from the envolved Aurignacian, polyhedral burins of the Pan-European Gravettian) can be seen as bladelet cores. Burin spalls were systematically produced at some sites and used as lamelles. On the other side, stone projectiles somtimes show a breackage pattern, called "Burin-blow like tip fracture", shown in another post: 1244 .

Burination could be a step in the rejuvenation of a tool (East African MSA, KMG-Complex in Central Europe) and an strategy in the remodeling of a stone tool into another. Therefore we should consider burination as a versatile and flexible technique and not solely as a tool class.

For very similar burins Hilbert at al. 2018 published data on three burin assemblages from the Late Paleolithic of Dhofar, southern Arabia. They found that "Functional analysis suggests that these tools have been used in woodworking activities. Traceological studies suggest that the function of the burin blow was not the creation of an active working face, as often seen in the Southwest Asian and European Upper Paleolithic; rather, the burin blow functioned to stabilize the truncation and working edge of the tool".

A closer look: Fig 3 and 4:

Figure 3


Figure 4