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2019-10-10 18:28:19   •   ID: 2128

A Jomon tanged Scraper from Hokkaido

Figure 1
Figure 2
Figure 3
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 but of a homogeneous greenish flint-maybe because we are talking about a domestic expedient tool.

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.

This dagger must have been 15-20 cm long- see the last external link-first picture.

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.

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 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! Maybe a professional could help with further information ?

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 "Antiquarians, 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.

2019-08-30 11:42:04   •   ID: 2115

Why are flint tools retouched?

Figure 1
Figure 1 shows some flakes from different Mousterian Sites in the Vezere Valley, using the same raw material.

It was Alfred Tode, the Excavator of the late KMG site Salzgitter-Lebenstedt, dated to ca 50 k.a., who made a little but, in my view, important experiment, not described in the official Excavation report.

He asked an experienced butcher to disassemble carcasses of different animals by the site's most common stone tools (scraper, Handaxes, simple Levallois flakes without retouches).

Everyone in the excavation team was astonished that after a few test cuts, the butcher preferred the non-retouched Levallois flakes to all the others.

With these sharp and flat instruments, the disassembly of the carcasses worked most easily- just if the butcher would have used modern knifes.

Other sites in Germany point to a similar strategy of Neanderthals dismembering and deboning carcasses of large Mammalians like Elephants.

At the Lehringen site in Lower Saxony (Germany), an elephant skeleton was buried at a lake-side together with a 2,4 m long wooden spear and 27 unretouched Levallois flakes.

Whether humans actually hunted the animal or just killed it when already trapped in the swamp, remains open to discussion.

Figure 2
It was certainly butchered, as is equally attested for an elephant skeleton found at Gröbern, again at a lake-side, and again along with 27 Levallois artefacts.

This mode of disassemble carcasses has a considerably time- depth: Currently the oldest stone tools that are widely accepted date to 2.6 million years ago (Mode I Industries / Oldowan) and the use of unretouched flakes was present at least until the end of the Paleolithic, proven by a prolifering data set of microtraceological data.

The tools were simple core and flake tools that generally consisted of on a few removal flakes. It is thought the hominin to use these was probably Homo habilis, although there is some debate that it may be a late Australopithecine. The function of Oldowan tools is likely to be plant matter processing and slaughtering activities.

Figure 3
If simple flakes can successfully be used for cutting and scraping soft and hard materials, why are so many implements during the Paleolithic retouched?

Retouch is the act of producing controlled scars on a stone flake or blade. There is almost no literature about the the need of Retouching and possible advantages of such a technology.

In general I suggest, that retouching is an indication of increasing skills and specialisation during the evolution of Homo sp.

It is interesting that every scientific discipline has some basic issues, that never have been systematically evaluated, because researchers assume that such work has been certainly already done....

Some basic assumtions may serve as a starting point:

  • thick flakes or another unfavourable geometry may often not usable for immediate use without further modification (Quina Scraper in Figure 2)


  • Retouching can be done on one or more edges of an implement in order to make it into a tool, serving for specific functions, as shown by a classic Lacam Burin from the late Magdalenian at La Madeleine in the Vezere Valley in Figure 3


  • Retouch can be a strategy to resharpen an existing lithic tool, like the tranchet blow technique, present in the Old World since the Middle Pleistoceine, but most common in Central European KMG Ensembles


  • Retouch can be a strategy in the implimentation of hafting devices, known since the Middle Pleistocene in the Old World. Figure 4 shows a typical double Endscraper from the "Aurignacian I" at Les Cottes with lateral retouches, that were certainly useful in a hafting context


  • Retouching can be used to transform one lithic artifact into another tool


  • Although I am talking about flakes and blades in this post, the same suggestions on Retouching can be made on Bifaces; for example a classical Handaxe maybe transformed into a core.

    A biface can be used as a tool blank ”(biface support d’outil)". Here the façonnage of a volume is done to create a bifacial artifact with functional different working edges.


Suggested reading:

Alfred Tode: Mammutjäger vor 100000 Jahren. Natur und Mensch in Nordwestdeutschland zur letzten Eiszeit auf Grund der Ausgrabungen bei Salzgitter-Lebenstedt; 1954.

Figure 4
André Debénath and Harold L. Dibble: Handbook of Paleolithic Typology: Lower and Middle Paleolithic of Europe; 1994.

François Bordes: du Paléolithique ancien et moyen; 1988

Peter Hiscock: "Looking the other way: a materialist/technological approach to classifying tools and implements, cores and retouched flakes", In S. McPherron and J. Lindley (eds). Tools or Cores? The Identification and Study of Alternative Core Technology in Lithic Assemblages; 2007

John Shea: Stone Tools in the Paleolithic and Neolithic of the Near East: A Guide; 2013

2019-08-09 12:02:03   •   ID: 2114

Early Paleolithic Pleistocene European Straight-Tusked Elephants and early Humans

Figure 1: Pleistocene European Straight-Tusked Elephant; Wikipedia Commons
Figure 2
Figure 2-4 shows different views from a molar of an European Straight-Tusked Elephant the Elephas (Palaeoloxodon) antiquus (FALCONER & CAUTLEY, 1847), found within the Rhine- Region and stratigraphically dated to MIS 5 sediments- Credits to D. Döbert / Lorsch.

The Typical "Elephas Antiquus-Fauna", which contains Stephanorhinus kirchbergensis, Sus scrofa, Dama dama, Capreolus capreolus, Megaloceros giganteus, Alces latifrons, and Bos primigenius in addition to the straight tusked elephant is characteristic for the European Middle to Late Pleistocene Interglacial conditions. Under optimal conditions even Hippopotamus amphibius and Bubalus murrensis occurred.

Figure 3
This Faunal Association is especially found within a Mediterranean Core area, expanding to West and Central Europe under warm thermal conditions. The Eastern boundary of the Antiquus fauna can be roughly drawn from Poland to Romania.

Proboscideans are an order of mammals that include the living elephants as well as the extinct mammoths, mastodons and gomphotheres. All members of the order have a proboscis or trunk that they use to grab food and water.

They also have specialized teeth to browse and graze on vegetation as well as tusks (modified second upper incisors) used to scrape bark off trees, dig on the ground for food, and to fight.

The living three species of elephants on our planet are the African bush elephant (Loxodonta africana), the African forest elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis) and the Asian elephant (Elephas maximus).

Figure 4
Genetic evidence from four individuals of Straight-Tusked Elephants, from two well known sites in Central German sites (Neumark-Nord: n=3; MIS5) and Weimar Ehringsdorf (n=1; MIS7) indicates that P. antiquus mitochondrial genomes are related to African forest elephants.

This is of major interest, regarding that until recently Palaeontologists suggested, based on skeletal traits, that Palaeoloxodon was related to the Asian elephant.

Surprisingly, P. antiquus did not cluster with E. maximus, as hypothesized from morphological analyses. Instead, it fell within the mito-genetic diversity of extant L. cyclotis, with very high statistical support.

The four straight-tusked elephants did not cluster together within this mitochondrial clade, but formed two separate lineages that share a common ancestor with an extant L. cyclotis lineage 0.7–1.6 Ma (NN) and 1.5–3.0 Ma (WE) ago, respectively
“ (Meyer et al. 2017).

Figure 5 shows a transversal scraper from a Palaeoloxodon site in Spain, probably used in butchering Activities.

Experimental work shows, that even simple flakes, but also Handaxes, and Scrapers were used in the processing of Elephant carcasses during the Lower and Middle Paleolithic.

Figure 6 shows two typical Limestone Handaxes from Venosa, dated to the middle Pleistocene. Here a site with Palaeoloxodon antiquus fauna was "excavated" early in the 20th century.

The Archeological Record from the Levante to Europe, evaluated with up-to-date Methods (Isotope- techniques, TL, Microstratigraphy, Taphonomy, Strontium isotope analysis, Paleogenetic methods) allow a reliable reconstruction of Man- Elephant relationship focused on the following points:

Figure 5
Nutritional importance of Meat and Fat: Getting access to large quantities of high quality Fat and Meat, whether by scavenging or active hunting (The Start of active hunting roughly coincidences with the Evolution of H. Erectus), was one important prerequisite of Human Encephalation, because inclusion of more animal food in the diet stimulated brains to enlarge.

We argue that a significant aspect of meat and fat came from elephants, as long as elephants were available. It is true that Acheulian hominins consumed a large variety of other animals, but none of these resembles the “ideal” package of fat and meat offered by the elephant.

The archaeological evidence clearly demonstrates that Acheulian homi- nins were not indifferent to such ideal food-packages that roamed Africa, Europe, Asia and the Levant during the Pleistocene, and ate elephants continuously over hundreds of thousands of years
“ (Barkai and Gopher 2013).

Ron Barkei even suggests, that: „ early hominins might have had taste preferences and that elephant meat played a significant role in their diet, when available.

Furthermore, the archaeological evidence coupled with ethnographic observations and the study of frozen mammoths suggest that juvenile elephants were specifically a delicacy and were hunted intentionally since their specific meat and fat composition seems to have had a better taste and a better nutritional value
“ (Barkai 2017).

Hunting / Scavenging / Exploitation of Elephants: An important prerequisite of a scientific evaluation of Killing / Slaughtering sites remains the proven integrity of the site.

Participially we have to face two different scenarios:

1. the exploitation of a single elephant carcass or

2. A lithic industry in close association with multiple remains of elephants and other Mammalian Macrofauna.

There are numerous Pleistocene associations of Elephants and Paleolithic sites. Killing of Elephants by early hunters is not easy to prove.

Direct proof comes from sites, where hunting-devices (spears, fragments of stone tools found incorporated within bone) are embedded in the carcasses. Such settings remain certainly the most elegant evidence but are notorious rare.

Killing or scavenging of Elephants and the consecutive butchering may indirectly evidenced by the nearby association of Stone tools, with microtraceologic evidence of slaughtering activities and stone tools cut marks on the Elephants bones before other carnifores had opportunity to consume the carcasses.

It seems that the mortality pattern of processed animals was focused on young adults (Cerelli et al. 2016).

A critical overview was recently published by Cerelli et al. (see attached papers). Aspects from some earlier excavated sites have been already described in this Blog.- here I focus on more recent excavations, mainly from South Europe.

Figure6
Important Archaeological sites: The earliest evidence of elephant carcass butchery comes from the Early to Middle Pleistocene of Africa. The main sites are FLK North Olduvai level 6 (1,82 Ma), FLK North Olduvai Bed II and Barogali (Djibouti) (ca 1,5 Ma).

In Israel, Palaeoloxodon antiquus associated with lithic tools are reported from Gesher Benot Ya'akov (0,8 Ma). At Revadim Quarry (ca 500-300k.a BP), on the Israelian costal plain, Middle Pleistocene elephant bones with cut marks associated with bifaces made on stone and cortical elephant bone were present.

South Europe was during the last years an important area of Paleolithic research. Many of the sites date to MIS 13 and are about 500 k.a. old.

The exploitation of elephant (Palaeoloxodon) carcasses is documented in a number of Middle Pleistocene sites in Spain (Aridos 2, MIS 11 , Ambrona MIS 12) and France (Terra Amata; MIS 9-11).

At Notarchirico (Basilicata), a Lower Palaeolithic industry, that included Bifaces and Choppers, was dated between 670 and 610 k.a. and associated with a skull of P. antiquus with the tusks still in place.

The butchering site of La Ficoncella (Tarquinia, Latium) is slightly younger (MIS 13). Here, an incomplete P. antiquus carcass was associated with small sized lithics, resembling the Bilzingsleben / Vertesszöllös assemblages from the Middle Pleistocene.

Important human-elephant interaction is documented during the late Middle Pleistocene from several sites near Rome, in particular at Castel di Guido, dated between 327 and 260 k.a. (MIS9).

Castel di Guido is a famous Middle Pleistocene elephant butchering site where intentionally fragmented bones of elephant and of other large mammals were found together with Acheulean industry, including bifaces made of various stone types and of elephant bone, associated with flint tools on flakes.

La Polledrara di Cecanibbio site is another locality near Rome with rich Palaeoloxodon antiquus deposits from the the Middle Pleistocene. Geology points to a flat fluvial-marshy landscape, with open spaces and moderately covered woodlands.

Small Flake tools, made from small local flint pebbles, were found near a almost complete and articulated skeleton of an Elephant.

Several of these Flakes, without and with simple retouches, occurred together and were used for butchering / hiding purposes according to Microtraceology.

Some larger tools (mainly scrapers) were made made from Elephants cortical bones. The age of the Archaeological Horizon is associated to the "Ponte Galeria Sequence", (PGS) dated as early as 450 k.a. (MIS 13)
Figure7
.

In Greek the Early Paleolithic Site Marathousa ,Megalopolis Basin, Greece is of major importance. It is dated by ESR to MIS 13. The lithic industry is Mode 1 (Core and Flake ensemble).

of particular interest are an elephant cranium and numerous post-cranial elements, which were found in close anatomical association and are attributed to a single individual of the straight-tusked elephant Palaeoloxodon antiquus.

The skeleton belonged to a male individual in its late adulthood close to or in its sixties, with live skeletal height around 3.7 m at the shoulder and body mass around 9.0 tonnes. The good state of preservation of the MAR-1 bones allows the identification of taphonomic modifications.

Cut marks on the elephant skeleton, and on other elephant and mammal bones, indicate human exploitation by means of butchering activities, in accordance with the traits of the lithic assemblage and its spatial association with the bones.

Carnivore activity is also recorded on some elephant and cervid bones. Marathousa 1 is among the oldest elephant butchering sites in Europe and the only one known in Southeastern Europe
(Konidaris et al. 2018)“.

Symbolic and Spiritual aspects: Ron Barkai et al. recently discussed the Symbolic / Cosmologic connection between Elaphants and Man during the Pleistocene. Although somewhat speculative- his discussion opens new avenues of understanding the special relationship between our ancestors and Elephants (see for example the last external links)




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2019-08-06 09:56:56   •   ID: 2113

Foliated Handaxes during the European Paleolithic

Figure 1
Figure 1 and 2: These are two foliated, ca 13 cm long, flat Handaxes found many decennia ago in two different brickyards at Vailly-sur-Aisne, were such Foliates were rather common during the Acheulian.

They may date to MIS 9 or 7. About the Acheulian at the Aisne see here: 1221 and here: 1230 .

Foliated Handaxes were first described by Obermaier and Wernert (Alt Paläolithikum mit Blatt-Typen; Mitt. d. Anthrop. Gesell. in Wien, 1929, pp. 293-310) within a KMG Ensemble from the Klausennische in Bavaria.

Figure2
The Authors suggested a Late Acheulian Context for such items.

Much later it became clear that the Klausennischen- Ensemble is part of the KMG Group (Bosinski 1968) and probably dates to MIS3- a convergent phenomenon to similar and much earlier findings in N-France.

In Central Europe, a cluster of the KMG group, foliated Handaxes are common at Röhrsheim and also contested at Wahlen and Lenderscheid in Northern Hessen, already described in this Blog– See here: 1735 .

Interestingly almost all Foliates at Roersheim, probably a multilayered Workshop, were (intentionally ?) broken or alternatively left behind, while complete artifacts may have been exported from the site.

Similar leaf point–shaped fragments, also (intentionally) broken, were found in abundance on Beyvar Hill at Korolevo (Ukraine). The Layer Va has been dated by TL to 220 k.a. (MIS 7)- an age similar to the Brandschichten- complex at Ehringsdorf.

In N-France occasionally similar Foliated Handaxes appear at classic Acheulian sites like Presles-et-Boves (MIS 9-11; Aisne), within the Oise region, at Cagny (MIS 9 or 11; Somme), Mareuil (Somme) , Saint Acheul (MIS 7-9; Somme), Montières (MIS 7; Somme), but are uncommon at the so called „Micoquian" sites during MIS 5 (c. 100 – 90 k.a. BP) within the Seine region-see here: 1532 .

Foliated Handaxes in Europe are scattered in time and space and certainly are not a special "tradition" but only the statistical outliers of a group of elongated handaxes within the Acheulian and the KMG complex- more often reflecting a transitory moment in a versatile reduction process than an imposed form.

2019-08-01 09:13:53   •   ID: 2112

MTA from Coussay-les-Bois

Figure 1
Figure2
Figure 3
This is an 19th century field-find, once part of the local Ph. Cabey collection from Coussay-les-Bois.

The site is located about three kilometers from Coussay-les-Bois, near the former farm of Variet (or Verlet), on both sides of the road from Coussay-les-Bois to Pleumartin in the Vienne Department.

The artifact, shown here, is formally a broken partial Biface. Alternatively it could be a bifacial scraper, which is not only a hallmark of the KMG Group in central Europe, but also common in the Bifacial Mousterian in the Normandie and the MTA further south in Central-West France.

Figure 1 shows the countryside ofCoussay-les-Bois during the late 19th century from an old postcard.

The Middle Palaeolithic of Coussay was mentioned as early as 1872 in John Evans seminal Book "The Ancient Stone Implements, Weapons, and Ornaments of Great Britain" who wrote: Further south in Poitou, Paleolithic implements are abundant on the surface at Coussay-les-Bois and other places near Leugny.

L. Pradel described a rich surface MTA, mainly consisting of Cordiform and Triangular small (< 10 cm long) Handaxes, already described earlier in this Blog, various scrapers Discoid cores and questionable Levallois debitage.

The Coussay-les-Bois ensemble is geographically not isolated, being situated within a small distance of 30 km North-East from Fontmaure, and Châtellerault, with similar ensembles.

It fits perfectly in the abundant MTA sites in the Region-see here: 1536 , 1585 and here: 1021




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