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2018-08-12 07:07:27   •   ID: 2016

From the Central European Micoquian to Keilmessergruppen

Figure 1
Figure 2
Figure 3
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 (Fiure 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

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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; 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 eexcavations 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

2018-08-01 15:23:25   •   ID: 1087

Handaxe from Cosne-sur-Loire

Figure 1
7300 archeological sites are known from the Nièvre area.  About 15% of these sites are prehistoric, ranging from isolated artifacts or small surface scatters to larger artifact concentrations. Stone Age artifacts were collected beginning with the 19th century (J. de Saint-Venant, H Jacquinot and A. Desforges).

Despite the rise of a professionalized archeology during the last 50 years in France, systematic prospection by enthusiastic collectors remains an important element in the creation of local archaeological inventories. In 1999, during a nice local exposition (“Enquête de Pierres”) at Cosne-sur-Loire, good examples from the lower and middle Paleolithic were shown at the town hall, mainly from the Collection of G Cuniere.

While some large lanceolated bifaces can be unambiguously assigned to the lower Paleolithic (Acheulian), the ascription of smaller and more cordiform handaxes to the middle Paleolithic is problematic. Such items can be much older than the “MTA” as stated earlier in this blog- see here: 1350 .

This fine handaxe is from the la Beaubutaine site at Cosne-sur-Loire, and can be certainly ascribed to the lower Paleolithic. It is made from local chert and has a characteristic thick white-yellow patina.

Resources and images in full resolution:

2018-07-26 13:00:27   •   ID: 2012

Shambyu - Kavango East and the quest for the regional Middle Stone Age

Figure 1

These are some extremely fine Stone Age points, that were collected by Rev. Hartmann of the Shambyu Catholic mission, all found in the vicinity of the mission. Shambyu is located In Kavango East, one of the fourteen Regions of Namibia, near the Caprivi Strip.

The private collection of the late Rev. Hartmann, most material is still stored in a local museum, comprises several thousands of microlithic artifacts, pionts and prehistoric ceramics. Unfortunately we have only the course information, that artifacts were found distributed over the landscape in small scatters, but the findings of these sites were not curated separately. Although the points shown here seem to represent a certain local "style" (sensu: Clark 1980), we can not be sure that the have a similar age or are from just one site.

Figure 2
These points are produced by blanks of Discoid and Levallois origin. They can be divided into two clusters: Medium sized (5 +/- 1 cm long) (Figure 1) and small sized,, delicate and extremely thin (2,7 +7-0,5 cm in length ; with: 1,5- 2,5 mm; Figure 2).

Some points, irrespectively their size, appear as classic unifacial "Mousterian points" , but bifacial points are more common.

Many of the bifacial points show basal thinning by flat retouches. The smaller points are usually bifacial, thin and show a great diversity of types. We even find hollow bases and triangular points, similar to the points that are known in the Kostenki area (Streletskian ensembles); ca. 40 k.a. at Kostenki).

On the other hand, some unifacial points show a "keeled" character and are relatively short, broad and thick, resembling rather converget scrapers than projectile-points. Some scrapers are also present in the "larger artifact" subgroup

The raw materials are local (fine grained Quartzite, but many more often "exotic" (Calcedony, smoked Quartz, Silkrete).

The University of Köln currently conducts a project "Palaeoecology and the Late Holocene Occupation of Northern Namibia" and found scatters of a possible Oldowan, Acheulian with Victoria-West technique and MSA points. Until now stratified deposits were not excavated.

During the Early Holocene microlithic, still aceramic inventories are abundant regarding the Hartmann collection. Characteristic tool-types are microlithic tools, especially projectile-insets such as lunates and micro-points.

What remains to be further discussed is a complex, which is earlier than the Namibian Holocene Microlithic, called by J. Richter: Messum-Menongue Complex.

The complex around 10 k.a. BC, is named after Menongue in Central Angola and Messum in the Central Namib Desert where microliths occur along side bifacially worked leaf-shaped points. This Complex seems to be another Late MSA inventory that mingles MSA and LSA technology, already known elswhere from Africa (Senegal, Horn of Africa for example).

Back to the artifacts of our post:

- They could indicate a local Late Pleistocene MSA, and would well fit to ensembles elsewhere in the Region

- They could belong to the Holocene Messum-Menongue Complex.

Hope that-the Köln team will settle these problems!

Resources and images in full resolution:

2018-07-26 13:00:17   •   ID: 2011

What is the S’baikian (Sbaikian)-The forgotten Paleolithic heritage of Tunisia (III)

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Here I show delicate and thin foliates, made of local flint (max. length: 6,5 cm), found in Tunisia near Gafsa nearly 100 years ago. They do not resemble the local Neolithic and are most probably part of a differentiated local MSA.

Near the Algerian border, Northwest of Gafsa (Tunisia), a surface industry containing mainly bifacial tools was detected and described early during the 20th century. The bifaces of this industry, which is also known from surface scatters in Algeria, range from asymmetric and thick foliates to finely symmetric “Solutrean” like Leaf points. The term Sbaikian for such assemblages was subsequently coined. During the 1920ies and 1930ies the Sbaikian played a prominent role in the discussion about the roots of the West European Solutrean.

After the 1950ies such ensembles were forgotten, mainly because not a single in-situ site was found and excavated. In addition it became clear that the Solutrean had no African roots.

During the last years and within the framework of renewed examination of the N-African MSA, the Sbaikian was reintroduced into the discourse again- now as a “Lupemban-like” industry with foliates and the occasional presence of core axes.

Sorry-there is nearly no digitalized literature about the S’baikian but after the scientific recognition of the forgotten ensembles I hope that this will change within the near future.

Resources and images in full resolution:

2018-07-26 13:00:02   •   ID: 2010

The Stone Age of Erg Rebiana (Rabiana, Rabyanah موزي ),

Figure 1
Figure 2
Figure 3
Figure 4
Ergs are flat area of desert covered with a huge volume of parallel sand dunes excavated by the aeolian activities and having little to no vegetation cover.

These are normally hundreds of kilometers in length and occasionally reach heights of a hundred meters. What even today seems to be an insuperable barrier, was permeable for our ancestors during specific time periods.

‘‘Deserts have a special role in human evolution and adaptation. They appear to be the major terrestrial habitat that channeled early human dispersal, representing barriers at some times, corridors at others" (Smith et al.2005).

Regarding the Paleolithic findings at the margins of the large sand seas of Libya, there must have been several pulses of settlement since the Middle Pleistocene during humid periods.

The findings shown here, were made at Erg Rebiana (or Rabiana, Rabyanah), South-East Lybia, decennia ago. Geographically the Erg Rabinia belongs to the three great Sand Seas of eastern Sahara: the Egyptian Great Sand Sea, the Calanascio Sand Sea, and the Rebiana Sand Sea.

The Erg Rebiana is nearer to what is today Egypt and Sudan, than other find-spots in the Libyan desert, already reviewed in this Blog (See here: 1030 , here 1751 , and here 2002 ).

Anyhow, in contrast to other regions of Libya, no actual scientific expeditions on the issue of Paleolithic settlement have been undertake during the last 60 years, although a Libyan-French mission recently reported about the rich heritage of Holocene rock art in the nearby region of Kufra.

A. J. Arkell reported MSA and Neolithic findings from the Kutra oasis and the Rebiana Sand Sea on behalf the British Ennedi Expedition in 1957 (see external links) .

He described tanged "Aterian" MSA and, more interesting, wonderful bifacial foliates and unifacial foliated MSA points up to 17 cm long. Arkell was the first who compared the material with with Lupemban and East African artifacts.

The artifacts are usually made from fine grained Quartzite covered with a thick and multicolored desert patina. Flint is uncommon during the MSA, but known from the local Neolithic (not shown here). This is the common way of raw material procurement all over the Sahara.

If the typologically advanced medium sized cordiform and lanceolate Bifaces (Figure 1; courteously by Werner Hernus) indicate an ESA settlement, or are part of the MSA, remains unclear.

Large MSA points up to 9 cm are present. Many of these are bifacial, sometimes they have a short ("Aterian like") tang.

Unifacial points (Figure 2) usually show delicate and continuous lateral retouches, which may be completely inverse. Basal thinnig by flat retouches is present in most of the pieces. Striking platforms are usually facetted. Because no cores have survived in the collection. I am unable to decide what techniques (discoid, Levallois, laminar) have been applied.

MSA samples from Ubari, Murzuq and Rabiana show a unifying typo / technological trend that was diversified enough not to come under the limited "Aterian" umbrella. As Arkell already recognized, connections to Nubia, West- and East Africa are obvious.

Suggested Introduction:

Smith, M., Veth, P., Hiscock, P., & Wallis, L. A. (2005). Global deserts in perspective. In P. Veth, M. Smith, & P. Hiscock (Eds.), Desert peoples: Archaeological perspectives (pp. 1–13). Oxford: Blackwell.

Resources and images in full resolution:

2018-07-04 05:49:53   •   ID: 2003

How to Kill a Beast: Thinning, Hafting, and Success in Hunt

Figure 1- ventral view

Figure 2-dorsal view
This is a convergent scraper or a long “Mousterian Point” (12 cm long), an old surface found from central France, made on now heavily patinated blue flint, by an operational sequence that was clearly not Levallois. It shows basal thinning, removing the thickness of the base from 1,3 cm to 0,3 cm (Fig.1,2). But not only the base is thinned, the tip of this convergent artifact is also thinned, in this case by bifacial invasive flat retouch.

Thinning is a technique, characterized by the intentional removal of thickness by small flakes from the ventral and / or dorsal base of a chipped stone tool, usually to facilitate hafting (See the retouches on the dorsal base in Fig. 2). Basal thinning in Africa appears first at Gadometta, Site ETH–72–8 B, dating to >279 k.a. Ago. The technique becomes more common during the late MSA .

Thinning is described as a concept of the Acheulo-Yabroudian (400-200 k.a.) The scraper assemblage from Zuttiyeh has been described and analyzed in some detail. Here an interesting phenomenon is removal of the bulb of percussion, either by a single blow or through thinning. Similar observations were made by Le Tensorer at the Yabroudian layers in Hummal (Syria).

The Initial Upper Paleolithic (IUP) of the Levant is characterized by a parallel blend of old (MP) and new (UP) traits. Refitted cores from Boker Tachtit demonstrated that morphologically Middle Paleolithic artifacts (Emiran points, Levallois points) were produced by Upper Paleolithic blade technology; a change in the knappers’ concept of the nodule’s volume. Emireh points are the hallmark of the IUP in Israel and the Lebanon and have described as a triangular point, Levallois or not, struck from a bipolar core after which all of the striking-platform and most of the bulb of percussion were removed by lamellar bifacial retouch (i.e. carried out on both faces of the proximal end) forming a bevel, V-shaped in profile and straight or slightly wavy in cross-section.

Similar thinning concepts are known from the IUP at Umm el Tlel (Syria). Technologically the sequence at Umm el Tlel provides a long span, containing industries from the Lower to the Upper Palaeolithic. Three layers (III2b\ III2a’, JIbase’) are regarded as “intermediate”, sandwiched between Mousterian and fully Upper Paleolithic levels, and separated by sterile layers. A blade concept of Upper Palaeolithic type, which can be regarded as Ahmarian, is characteristic for layer III2b’, whereas several volumetric reduction concepts were used in III2a’ and Ilbase’.

During the lower “intermediate” levels, most frequently a Levallois technique aimed at the production of elongated triangular blanks (Levallois points), often with thinning of the proximal end and by the removal of several small elongated flakes, was employed (Umm el-Tlel point type). The regulation of the proximal end produces the same result as the (basal/bulbar) thinning of Emireh points as at Boker Tachtit. It is unknown if Umm el-Tlel points or Emireh points were projectile points or hafted for other reasons.

Although thinning of artifacts in Europe is usually assigned to the Mousterian of the last Glacial, especially to the variants of the Quina technique, and to the KMG-groups of central Europe, systematic thinning appears earlier. In S/W-France the site of Bouheben (layer 2; Late Acheulian) is dated by geostratigraphic arguments to MIS 6. The artifacts consist of Acheulian handaxes with a large set of very fine and elaborated “Mousterian” convergent scrapers and points. Convergent tools, which resemble the one, shown in this post, are abundant at Bouheben as shown by Villa et al.. Especially elongated forms usually show basal thinning. The tips are sometimes thinned, too. Morphometric and impact scar analysis suggest that at least some of the points at Bouheben were part of hunting devices.

This brings me back to our artifact. As noted earlier and shown from both sides in Fig. 3 and 4, the tip was retouched by bifacial invasive flat retouche, removing the thickness of the tip from 0,8 cm to 0,2 cm. Such thinning on the base and the tip is highly suggestive of a large point hafted on a spear.

The Schöningen Spears, eight wooden throwing spears from the Lower Palaeolithic and an associated cache of approximately 16,000 animal bones, excavated under the management of Dr. Hartmut Thieme between 1994 and 1998 in the open-cast lignite mine, Schöningen, county Helmstedt district, Germany are ca 300 k.a. old, and represent the oldest completely preserved hunting weapons worldwide. Their discovery led to a change in paradigms, namely that Homo before Homo sapiens was a poorly equipped scavenger, the hunted, but not the hunter.

Figure 3
Since this paradigmatic change the search for Paleolithic stone projectile tips delivered with thrusting and throwing spears become again a focus of Middle Paleolithic and MSA research.Stone tipped Projectile weapons (i.e. those delivered from a distance) enhanced prehistoric hunting efficiency by enabling higher impact delivery and hunting of a broader range of animals while reducing confrontations with dangerous prey species. In this sense our artifact could be an early document for this technique.

Figure 4
Fig. 3 and Fig. 4 give a closer look at the thinning retouches, found both at the apical and basal side of the large Pointed Tool.

The Artifact comes from the The department Cher which is part of the current administrative region of Centre-Val de Loire. It is surrounded by the departments of Indre, Loir-et-Cher, Loiret, Nièvre, Allier, and Creuse.

2018-06-23 10:49:52   •   ID: 2002

MSA from the Edeyen Ubari

Figure 1
This are artifacts from one of the common MSA surface scatters at Ubari (Libya). From Left to Right: elongated unifacial MSA point, fine "Mousterian" point with facetted base presumably Levallois, one unifacial scraper also shown in Fig.2, two small bifacial foliates not larger than 6,5 cm, last but not least: a bifacial bi-pointe, also seen in Fig.3).

Ubari is an oasis is situated between the Messak Sattafat plateau and Idhan Ubari erg sand dunes and lakes. Today Ubari is located in one of the driest areas in the world. It has a hot desert climate with short, very warm winters but long, extremely hot summers. Average annual rainfall is one of the lowest found on the planet with only 8 mm and many decades may easily pass without seeing any rainfall at all.

As early as in 1857, Heinrich Barth, one of the first systematic European "explorers" of Africa noted petroglyphs in the Erg Murzuk and discussed them in the context of past climate change, oscillating between dry and humid phases. It became subsequently clear that the Sahara saw several significant Humid Phases during the Pleistocene and the Holocene.

Figure 2
Recent research showed that perennial lakes, interconnected with water bearing paleo-rivers were abundant in the Sahara during these African Humid Periods (AHP). They are contested from the early Holocene and from the Middle Pleistocene. This hold true for MIS5e at 130-120 k.a. One event is dated around 170 k.a. and another at 330 k.a. Even during drier times there were certainly many econiches where animals and Homo sp. could survive. One example is the MIS4 (TL and OSL) occupation at Uan Afuda and Uan Tabu (Lybia, MSA / Aterian).
Figure 3

The artifacts shown here were found at Edeyen Ubari more than 40 yrs. ago and represent parts of one discrete surface cluster.

Fieldwork in the Ubari sand sea during the last years has identified a “Mode 1 Industry” which could be very old (ca 1 Mio years), but these surface scatter could not be dated till now.

Small clusters of Acheulian were also detected (Cancellieri and di Lernia 2013, Foley et al. 2013). The Acheulean shows a hypothetical early phase followed by a phase characterized by Large Cutting Tools (LCTs) made by the Tabelbala-Tachengit technique, and a “final Acheulean” with flat symmetrical handaxes and artifacts made by different Levallois techniques).

The rich regional MSA is currently undated. Different Levallois methods and the production of large blades were observed during surveys of International Teams working at the boundaries of the Ubari Sand Sea (also known as Edeyen Ubari). Tanged pieces are common at some clusters and bifacial foliates may indicate some Lupemban and Sangoan influence. Anyhow the diversity of the local MSA goes beyond the MSA / Aterian dichotomy.

About the topography of Saharan sand-seas : see the last external link

Use the first external Link for impressions made by Ursula in the region!

2018-06-18 13:42:22   •   ID: 1751

MSA from Murzuq in Southwest Libya

Fig. 1
Figure 1: These are several sophisticated flint implements found in the Sahara desert more than 40 yrs. ago at the margins of the Murzuq sandsea. They are representative for a certain surface scatter (“Nr. 37”) and pose many questions.

Nr. 1 is a thin asymmetrical, 9 cm long, leaf-point, followed (Nr. 2-6) by bifacial foliates, one (Nr.3) is pedunculated / Aterian like). Nr 6 is formally an unifacial Mousterian Point. Nr. 7 is very interesting: a 5,6 long, partially backed crescent, very different from what is known from the Saharan Epipaleolithic. The last artifact is a slightly curved broad flat blade with continuous retouches on the ventral margins and a flat basal retouch on the dorsal base.

Murzuk, also spelled Marzūq is the name of an oasis in southwestern Libya. It lies on the northern edge of the Murzuk Sand Sea (Idhān Murzuk).

As early as in 1857, Heinrich Barth, one of the first systematic European "explorers" of Africa noted petroglyphs in the Erg Murzuk and discussed them in the context of past climate change, oscillating between dry and humid phases. It became subsequently clear that the Sahara saw several significant Humid Phases during the Pleistocene and the Holocene.

Reconstructions showed that perennial lakes, interconnected with water bearing paleo-rivers were abundant in the Sahara during these African Humid Periods (AHP). They are contested from the early Holocene and from the Middle an early late Pleistocene. This is evidenced for MIS5e at 130-120 k.a. One event is dated around 170 k.a. and another at 330 k.a. Even during drier times there were certainly many econiches where animals and Homo sp. could survive. One example is the MIS4 (TL and OSL) occupation at Uan Afuda and Uan Tabu (Lybia, MSA / Aterian).

Fieldwork at Murzuq during the last years has identified a dubious “Oldowan” and large clusters of Acheulian (Cancellieri and di Lernia 2013). The Acheulean shows a hypothetical early phase followed by a phase characterized by Large Cutting Tools (LCTs) made by the Tabelbala-Tachengit technique, and a “final Acheulean” with flat symmetrical handaxes and Levallois products. The regional MSA begins roughly 250 k.a and ends during MIS3. We know from other areas that MSA-like pieces may persist or reappear even during the Holocene. In the South-West at Ounjougou in the Dogon country (Mali) there is a rich MSA-succession without Aterian characteristics. The oldest MSA occupations are dated to roughly 150 k.a. ago. They are more common between 80 and 25 k.a. and find their end as late as MIS2 (25 k.a.). Scerri et al. (2017) described a late MSA site in Northern Senegal near the Senegal River dated to the Pleistocene/Holocene transition at Ndiayène Pendao quarry. Moving east Borago in Ethiopia and Affad 23 in Sudan are other exaples of a very late MSA.

Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Our artifacts from Murzuq a certainly neither Neolithic nor Upper Paleolithic. In contrast they have affinities to the African MSA / Aterian and the leaf-points from the so called, non-dated S'baikien, first described by M. Reygasse from the Tébessa region and recently reintroduced into the discussion by Van Peer. The crescent rather resembles the East African MSA at Mumba cave (Bed V) dated between 57 and 49 k.a. than Epipaleolithic pieces.

The ensemble from point 43 remains thrilling and may contest another late MSA in N-Africa. It can be hoped that someday further ensembles of this kind are dated and evaluated by scientific methods. It can be speculated that such ensembles may be linked to isolated populations with archaic ancestry or may represent a reinvention of an "outdated" technique.

Suggested Reading:

Far the Best about the theme: Africa from MIS 6-2: Population Dynamics and Paleoenvironments (Vertebrate Paleobiology and Paleoanthropology) | Sacha C. Jones, Brian A. Stewart, 2016

Foley et al. The Middle Stone Age of the Central Sahara: Biogeographical opportunities and technological strategies in later human evolution. Quaternary International 2013

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