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2021-09-20 15:53:58   •   ID: 2270

From Africa to Europe: A Single Origin for the Handaxe?

Figure 1
For this post I have chosen several Handaxes and Cleavers mainly from the Early Paleolithic, with an appealing design.

Overall, there is a broad consensus among Prehistorians that the appearance of Large Cutting Tools (LCTs) at about 1,5 mya, indicated a new level of cognitive competence that was achieved by our ancestors- a new treatment of three-dimensional organized volumetric surfaces, which, although foreshadowed in late Oldowan stages, had not yet been generally achieved before.

Lithic ensembles, whether they include one, several or many Handaxes and Cleavers are designated in this post as Acheulian. If we assume that the occurrence of these lithics requires a certain cognitive level, then a single specimen is sufficient to prove that it has been achieved.

It is worth noting that there are no prototypes for these tools in Nature, and that recent and fossil large apes were never capable of producing such complex objects. The transition between the Oldowan and the Acheulian in Africa and Europe was rather abrupt.

Furthermore, it is remarkable that the design of a handaxe, whether it was produced by the LTC technology or by the Façonnage Method, remained constant over a period of about 1.5 mya.

Figure 1 shows the ventral and dorsal side of a spatula-like 22 cm long Cleaver, made from Mylonite, found near Iringa in the southern highlands of Tanzania at Isimila- see here: 1216 and here 1217 . The site consists of abundant multiple ESA sites, but also features MSA and LSA components.

It is one of the most prominent Acheulian Mega Site in East Africa and unfortunately undated with up-to-date methods, but it may be as old as 700-900 k.a. Final results of a multidisciplinary project, that run until 2017 are not available yet.

Figure 2
Figure 2 shows a Lanceolate Handaxe (23,5x9,6x5 cm) from Adrar Bous (Niger) with biconvex invasive retouches made from typical green vitic tuff.

I already reported some details about the groundbreaking work of Desmond Clark at Adrar Bous and the Lithic succession in the area from the lower Paleolithic to the Pastoral „Neolithic“-see here: 2109 , here 1019 , and here: 1368

Figure 3 displays a rare bifacial Cleaver from Tihodaine (16x9,5x2,7 cm), made from translucent yellow Quartz-The site was already introduced in this Blog-see: 1447

The fauna and archeology at Tihodaïne has been argued to show correlations to those of Olduvai Bed IV (> 600 k.a. ), as well as to those of Gesher Benot Ya’aqov in the Dead Sea Rift dated to 780 k.a.

Here, quartz was truly masterfully worked into large handaxes and quartz is by no means rare as a raw material at the site. During the ESA of Africa it occurred early in the Acheulian (e.g. at the Olduvai Bed II)- see here: Olduvai Bed II . For me it will remain an eternal mystery why quartz, which is so difficult to work, was processed in large quantities throughout the African ESA and MSA. Anyhow it was a conscious choice.

Figure 4 shows a cordiform Handaxe made from quartzite from Murzuq ( 15x9,5x3,5 cm). Murzuq is an oasis in South-Western Libya on the northern edge of the Murzuq Sand Sea (Idhan Murzuq) already discussed in this Blog for its ESA and MSA Material- see here 1030 , here 2030 , and here 2032

Figure 5 shows a thick sub-Cordiform Handaxe (16x9,5x4 cm) from a quarry near Tours (Central France), made from yellow patinated Maastrichian Flint by a Hard hammer method.

Figure 3
Paul Fitte was the one of the first researchers who systematically screened for in-situ Lower Paleolithic stratigraphies around the Middle Loire area, unfortunately without any success.

A site with an intact stratigraphy was eventually found during the 1990ies at the the multilayered La Noira site - 130 km East of Tours. Other sites followed, thanks to a systematic preventive Archaeology.

Comparing our example from Tours with the inventory of the upper strata from La Noira, the Handaxe, shown here, may be about 450 k.a. old.

Figure 6 is an Biface from Villeneuve S. Verberie (10x7x2,5 cm) from the Oise; France) with an asymmetric appearance and affinities to the Middle European KMG-Groups. In the Central European Research Tradition such a tool is called a Faustkeilblatt (Bosinski 1968)

KMG-Eliments are not really rare in the Oise Region, and I know several undated findings from the region, that resemble asymmetric Faustkeilblätter and Keilmesser.

An almost identical piece is displayed in the work of Berrin Cep from the Bockstein Schmiede site in Swabia (Germany) in one of the attached files of this post (Figure 1; Nr.4 for example).

While the example from Villeneuve S. Verberie may be possibly dated late to MIS 5-3; the other Artifacts are from the Middle Pleistocene, with the oldest example tentatively from East Africa..

There is a lively debate whether the idea of hand axe making spread from one region in Africa over further parts of the Continent into the old world, or whether we should rather suggest a repeated re-invention of this tool by Homo sp.

Figure 4
A closer examination has above all the chronological data, which may be used for further modeling about this issue, derived from different disciplines.

Geomorphology and Ecology of the African Acheulian: Acheulian sites are found over Africa in a variety of geomorphological settings. They are present, for example, at artesian springs (e.g., Sidi Zin, Amanzi Springs), on the shores of paleo-lakes (e.g. Lake Natron, Koobi Fora), in more dry parts of sedimentary basins (e.g. Olduvai), along rivers (e.g. Melka Kunture, Gorgol River), but also in open grasslands habitats at low altitudes, and even on the flanks of the east African rift valley up to high altitudes (e.g. Gadeb, Isenya).

Huge accumulations of handaxes and cleavers were found all over the Sahara, along green corridors, that connected the Sahara with the interior of the Continent at different times during the Pleistocene, over a dense network of rivers and lakes and their swampy environments.

Finally, the makers of the Acheulian reached the coastal regions of the Atlantic or the Mediterranean (for example the different sites at Casablanca).

It remains unclear whether Homo sp. had already permanently invaded tropical rainforest zones before the MSA - most probably not.

During the Middle Pleistocene, almost all habitats and a great variety of ecological niches were colonized and used over a period of 1.5 mya, which points to an extremely flexible hominin behavioral pattern.

Acheulian Hominins made the step from Scavenging to active hunting, contrary to the hypercritical opinion of Archeologists, that were en vogue some decennia ago. Plant food also played a variable role in the diet. This knowledge is the consequence of new intact sites and high resolution excavations of already known localities as well as improved micro morphological and taphonomic procedures.

There are certainly several geographical differences reflecting regional adaptations to foraging for variable food resources-an indication of an increasing flexibility of Homo sp.to exploit a great diversity of different ecological settings, which ultimately resulted in the route out of Africa into the Eurasian sphere.

Dating the African Acheulian: First, we should note that the possibility of absolute dating varies greatly in different parts of Africa. This introduces a certain bias.

Figure 5
The basis of age determination still remain the classic concepts of Stratigraphy, the use of Paleomagnetism and the use of Index Fossils.

Isotopic K/Ar and Ar/Ar -U/Th methods of age determination of Early and Middle Pleistocene volcanic deposits have a decades-old history and are now very reliable. They are widely used in the presence of volcanic tuffs, in the Rift Valley.

The determination of the the Burial Age by Cosmogenic Al-26 and Be-10 has prevailed in South Africa in the absence of a volcanic environment. However there is certainly still a need for further developments until a high degree of reliability will be achieved.

In North Africa, there are only a few sites that have been dated by ESR, and by Geochemical analyses, including the methods of X-ray fluorescence, mass spectrometry and inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry for both whole-rock analysis and in situ micro-analysis.These methods have a great potential and will certainly become more important in the future.

The Acheulian first appears to emerge in the eastern Rift in areas such as Konso-Gardula in Ethiopia, and Kokiselei 4 in Kenia at ca 1,75 mya. At Olduvai Gorge Bed II / FLK-Nord in Tansania an very early LCT Acheulian occupation was documented at 1,7 mya. Other early Acheulian localities at Olduvai date around 1,66 mya.

Melka Kunture (Garba IVD) in Ethiopia, initially known as late Oldovan, has recently reassessed as Early Acheulean with dates around 1.5 Mya. Other Acheulian Sites at Melka Kunture are definitively younger (around 1mya-250 k.a.)-see: 2036 , 1192 , 1233 , and 2026 .

The earliest Acheulean sites beyond East Africa seem to be nearly as old as in some parts of the Great Rift Valley: At Sterkfontein in South Africa, the early Acheulean (Member 5 West), is dated to 1,7-1,4 Mya.

Anyhow a new dating program revealed a date of 1,84 Mya see: 2227 . Kuman and Gibbon recently described an early Acheulian located near the well known Rietputs Pit 1, with an age of ca 1,7 Ma-see: 2224 .

Most Saharan sites remain undated, although they can broadly assigned to the Middle Pleistocene, if faunal remains have been preserved.

According to all we know, the Atlantic coast was reached by Acheulian groups around ~ 1.3 Mya (Thomas Quarry I-Unit L at Casablanca in Morocco). The next older site in the Maghreb is Tighennif (Algeria), which is about 1 mya old.

Figure 6
The Levant is one important corridor to Eurasia. Therefore the findings at Ubeidiya are of overall importance: It is located in the Jordan Rift Valley, where "Oldowan" and "early Acheulean" levels in a lake margin context have been dated on biostratigraphic grounds and paleomagnetism, between 1.4 and 1.0 Million years ago.

According to current knowledge, the oldest Acheulian in Africa shows a clear age gradient: from East and South Africa around 1.7-1.5 mya to North Africa and the Levantine Corridor around 1.3-1 mya.

So what happened after the Acheulian-making hominins left Africa? In principle, there were three corridors that might have been used: The Levantine corridor, the Gibraltar route or the Bab al-Mandab.

If we could establish a chronologically and geographic coherent series, in which a route can be reconstructed that proves a spread of the Handaxe concept without temporal interruption, then a single origin might be possible.

If such a series is missing, then it is either due to our insufficient knowledge or the Handaxe was re-invented in different geographical regions again and again.

The European Acheulian: Since several years Mode I industries are known from South Europe (Italia and Spain), proving that an early immigration into the European Continent occurred. The Pirro Nord site, situated at the north-western margin of the Gargano promontory in Apulia was dated between 1,3 and 1,6 mya on a bichronological basis.

Evidence for Early Palaeolithic industries with an in situ context indicates that Hominins were allready present in the center of France around 1,1mya (Pont-de-Lavaud in the Creuse Valley, Lunery in the Cher Valley and probably Saint-Hilaire-la-Gravelle in the Loire Valley).

The importance of the Atapuerca complex in the context of the Early and Middle Pleistocene human occupation of Europe can hardly be overestimated.

The lower levels of at Sima del Elefante (Units TE-TE14) are an essential reference for understanding the early stages of the colonization of Europe. The TE9c level has provided stone tools (Mode 1), faunal remains, and human fossils dated to 1,22 mya.

European Acheulian: As already noted for the Mode I industries, the oldest European traces of an Acheulian are also found in Southern Europe (Figure 7).

Figure 7
Anyhow, the sites in southern Europe are either chronologically problematic, they are few in number, and they are moreover poor in artefacts.

First we have one handaxe from Estrecho de Quípar (Murcia, Spain) and another from Solana de Zamborino (Granada, Spain) (Scott and Gibert, 2009).

The initial classification as Early Pleistocene has been criticized by several authors for good reasons. Besides: One swallow does not make a spring (Jimenez-Arenas et al., Mosquera et al. 2015).

However, the site of Barranc de la Boella (Tarragona, Catalonia, Spain) is somewhat different.

It has an intact stratigraphic, together with rich paleontological and archaeological finds in three different places: La Mina, El Forn and "Pit 1“.

Moreover, by several methods (Paleontology of macro and micro-mammals, Paleomagnetism and Cosmogenic Analyses) we have a fairly accurate dating around 1 mya.

Lage cutting tools (LCTs)- a Cleaver and a crude Handaxe / Pic together with Choppers, Chopping Tools / Cores, several Flakes-sometimes retouched (Denticulated tools and Notches) were present.

Morover, the find situation at Pit 1, where the remains of a young-adult Mammuthus meridionals were closly associated with the lithic inventory, speaks for a butchering site that remained intact (P. García-Medrano et al. 2014).

By the way, the inventory of Barranc de la Boella resembles the oldest archaic Acheulian at Casablanca. One gets the impression that the technique, which was already so advanced at the same time in East Africa, had to be reinvented or learned once again.

The time gap between the first core and flake ensembles and the first traces of the Acheulian in South Europe (ca 300 k.a.) is too large to assume an autochthonous development from Mode I to Mode II-industries.

This is also evidenced by the stratigraphy at Barranc de la Boella; where a sharp discontinuity between the Lithics of the Acheulian butchering site and the underlying Mode I Industries was noted (Mosquera et al. 2015).

Instead, one will have to discuss at least two waves of emigration from Africa to Europe, if the origin of the Acheulian is assumed to be in Africa.

Figure 8
Figure 8 displays a Handaxe (12x6,5x3 cm) from the Venosa Basin in Southern Italy of unknown age. At a nearby site, Notarchirico, new 40Ar/39Ar on tephras and ESR dates on bleached quartz place the Paleolithic occupations, some of them with Handaxes, between 695 and 670 k.a. (Moncel et al 2020). The stratigraphy of the site has been already described in this Blog elswhere- see: 1104

Around the same time, securely dated Acheulian inventories are found at La Noira-see: 1587 where well executed Handaxes are altrady present in the lower level at about 700 k.a. , at Arago at ca 550 k.a. In Southern France, and on the Somme, at the historically significant site Moulin Quignon around 550 k.a. -see: 1306 . The finds at the Somme have already been described several times in the blog.

These simultaneities speak for a now rapid spread of the Acheulian from south to north-west Europe.

After these Beginnings, during MIS16 / 15, the Acheulian is becoming finally the predominant technocomplex in these regions at least since MIS 13. Figure 9 from a gravel at Châtellerault displays a typical Middle Pleistocene example from Central France.

West of the Rhine and over Eastern Europe, Handaxes within the Acheulian Complex thin out and are not attested before 300 k.a.. The reasons for this observation remain unclear. Nevertheless Bifaces play a role during the Micoquian / KMG-Groups after MIS5.

After this tour de force on the Afro-European Acheulian, I return to the question asked at the beginning: was there one single origin of the Handaxe in East Africa and a continuous spread of this tool to Europe?

First, we must realize that the data on the corridors described above are still insufficient. For example, the corridor leading to Southern Europe via today's Turkey, Greece and the Balkans is insufficiently studied or inaccessible.

Figure 9
Moreover, we know next to nothing about the Great Adriatic plain, which would have allowed diffusion of people or ideas at low sea levels in the late Early Pleistocene to south Italy.

Currently we can neither establish a chronological nor a geographic coherent series, in which a route can be reconstructed that proves a slow and continuous spread of the Handaxe concept without temporal interruption and therefore the single origin hypothesis of Handaxe production can not be verified.

A temporal gap of at least 500 k.a. and large Geographic gaps remain at the moment.

Maybe these gaps will be filled in the Future.

Always remember: - "Absence of evidence is never the evidence of absence".

Suggested Readings and attached Files: Note: I have avoided citations in the text because the ductus of my narrative would have been significantly disrupted. The primary literature can be found in the attached files.

François Djindjian: La préhistoire de la France; 2018

J. Desmond Clark [et al.] Adrar Bous : archaeology of a central Saharan granitic ring complex in Niger; 2009

J.C. Marquet: La Préhistoire en Touraine (Perspectives historiques); 2011.

S.C Jones, B.A.Stewart (ed) Africa from MIS 6-2: Population Dynamics and Paleoenvironments (Vertebrate Paleobiology and Paleoanthropology); 2016

G. Aumassip Préhistoire du Sahara et de ses abords . Editions L'Harmattan-Tome 1 et 2; 2019




Resources and images in full resolution:

2021-09-04 22:51:58   •   ID: 2266

Flint Sickle, Keilmesser or a Neolithic Crescent-Knife?- An Artifact from the Seine/Marne Region

Figure 1
Figure 2
Figure 3
Figure 4
This is a flat, most probably late Neolithic Flint Tool (8x5x2,5 cm), found decennia ago in the Seine /Marne Region in France.

The upper part, in the orientation shown in Figure 1-3, resembles a highly convex bow, with a bifacial flat retouche and a repeatedly reworked, circumferential working edge.

The artifact ends with a short bifacially retouched pin-like short tang, which probably facilitated hafting.

the "Back" of the tool,-the lower part in the orientation shown in Figure 4, consists of a 1.2 cm thick intentional breaking edge- a principle that has been widely used since the Mousterian and MSA- see here: 1734 .

The most well known example of this technique in Prehistory is probably the intentionally breakage of large “Canaanean” blades during the Latest Neolithic / Early Bronze Age of the Middle East.

Principially the tool could be an extreme form of a "Keilmesser" from the Late Middle Paleolithic, but such a designation seems to be not very probable, although not impossible (see attached file from Weiss 2020). Anyhow I am not aware of any comparable piece from the Paleolithic of northern France and the Paris region.

The artifact does not resemble any Neolithic or early Bronze Age sickle. Since the early Neolithic, sickles are either made from rectangular, often backed and sometimes serrated blades or flakes. An example from the early Bronze Age in Israel can be viewed here: 1298

Or, on the other hand, sickles with a Bifacial, straight or concave design are well known from Neolithic Egypt, North Africa and North/East Europe -see here: 1737

Finally, many prehistoric sickles are characterized by a shiny patina, called sickle-gloss, a silica residue, clearly missing on the artifact, shown of this post. Therfore, I personally consider the tool to be rather a knife-like artifact.

During the Late Neolithic of Northern France comparable pieces are found sporadically, for example from La Croix-Saint-Ouen site (Oise)- although designated in the Publication as a Flake-Scraper.

Functionally, a convex design of a knife-like stone tool has a number of important advantages. When properly executed, a convex retouched knife-like tool will have a comparatively stronger cutting edge and still be able to cut smoothly, as it can be thinned several times over the entire circumference by reworking.

If the device is shafted along the blunted back, it is possible to achieve a much stronger cutting force than with an ordinary knife as we know it from today, which ends in a longitudinal handle.

Also conceivable would be a levering function that would have allowed to break pieces from different materials. Finally, the cutting edge is comparatively longer compared with straight examples.

I do not think much of ethnological comparisons, but in the case of this artifact, the idea of an Ulu (Manson 1890), a crescent knife made from thin slate plates, but occasionally also from Flint and Hornfels by Inuit women, comes to my mind. The Ulu had a high symbolic value for woman’s identity as described in a short essay here: Symbolism .

The hafting of an Ulu by wood, bone or horn followed various configurations and was already described in detail by Mason in 1890 - a good example of an early material-based ethnology - still worth reading today (see attached file).

This technological analogy was first proposed for Middle Paleolithic leaf points and Keilmesser, as far as I know by the eminent German Prehistorian Hansjürgen Müller-Beck (1927–2018).

Ethnological comparisons show that similar hafted tools, in addition to a cutting function, allow scraping movements from different directions, for example for cleaning skins or cutting up meat for food sharing.

2021-08-31 16:42:06   •   ID: 2265

Reflections about the Reality of the Ferrassie-Mousterian

Figure 1
This is a large (10x7 cm) flat Levallois double convex scraper, with rather carless simple retouches on the margins of the dorsal side (Figure 1 and 2). The Bulb of Percussion has been removed by some truncations on the proximal ventral side by hard hammer technique (Figure 3).

The scraper was found at La Ferrassie and is made from banded Bergeracois Flint - very appealing for a modern Homo sapiens. Whether this also applies to Neanderthals remains unexplained, although they certainly appreciated the quality of the raw material.

Interestingly you can find an almost exact counterpart coming from La Ferrassie, also made from Bergeracois Flint, displayed in the wonderful Don's Map (with permission) here: Ferrassie - look at the second picture in the first row.

Today, findings from La Ferrassie are rare in private collections. Parts of the important excavations from the 1920s by Denis Peyrony have been sold to wealthy Scientific Institutions and private collectors, mainly from the US and are probably lost forever for a summary assessment.

The artifact of this post originally comes from the collection of E. Rivière, who excavated at La Ferrassie by himself. Items from his important collection were sold by his two sons during an auction in 1922, at the Hotel Drouot in Paris-see: 1689

I have already written about important new results from the La Ferrassie Paleolithic site in 2018-see: 1444 . Anyhow, the present post asks about the Reality of F. Bordes' "Charentien type Ferrassie" and the chronology of the Mousterian Ensembles at the Type Site. We will see that the answers have main implications for the reconstruction of the Middle Paleolithic in S/W-France and beyond.

Figure 2
In short, the site was discovered by chance towards the end of the 19th century during the construction of the D 32. It very quickly attracted the attention of enthusiasts of prehistory.

It was Denis Peyrony, who undertook first serious excavations here together with Louis Capitan since 1896. Between 1909 and 1921, Peyrony came across several Neanderthal burials- I have already reported about these burials and new skeletal Neanderthal findings in the Blog before.

Peyrony described three Mousterian Layers: "a, b, c"- according to the Conventions of his time Peyrony designated stratum “a” as Acheulian. While in layer "a" small Handaxe-bearing Middle Paleolithic Ensembles were present , the Bulk of Mousterian Findings was excavated from Layer b and c. Later excavations revealed the presence of even four Mousterian strata.

The most common lithics, Peyrony described, were highly retouched and curated large Simple scrapers, Double scrapers, some Dejete scrapers, convergent tools (Scraper and/or Points) and Quina like transversal Scrapers together with some denticulated and notched pieces. Most tools were made from Levallois blanks.

I never had access to the orginal Publication-but the tools that are displayed in the Museum at Les Eyzies give you a nice impression about the findings, that were collected: Ferrassie B and C .

Peyrony and Capitan acquired the site in 1923 for the French state. To refine the stratigraphic sequence, Henri Delporte subjected La Ferrassie to a meticulous re-excavation and examination between 1968 and 1973.

Figure 3
Finally new investigations were carried out by the indefatigable late H. Dibble in recent years and brought new results and grosso modo confirmed the stratigraphic observations.

"The lowermost layers (1 to 5 of the new stratigraphy) contain Middle Palaeolithic stone tools (Dibble et al. 2018) associated with mostly large bovids (Bison/Bos) and red deer (Cervus elaphus). These levels are overlain by a well‐ constrained Châtelperronian in Layer 6 (Talamo et al. 2020)"

Dibble compared the Middle Paleolithic artifact ensemble, from the Peyrony excavations with those from his new dig.

The examination showed that Peyrony had retained only 2-3% of the original inventory and therefore that there is a considerable collection bias, as has already being observed from Le Moustier-see: 1487 and other classical sites in the Perigord, like La Combe Capelle, which became evident during re-excavations of the last years.

In Ferrasie, especially small, unretouched pieces, simple scraper, denticules and notches are underrepresented in Peyrony's collection - which is not surprising since they were not considered as "Belles Pieces". Important enough the Levallois Index from Peyrony's collection is around 39-45% while it is much lower (about 12-17%) regarding the newly recovered material (Dibble et al. 2018).

However, there are also sampling biases in the opposite direction: while Dibble et al. removed 8,7 m3 of sediment, Peyrony removed a total of approximately 150 m3 of Mousterian deposits, that may have captured more representative portions of the site.

Figure 4
By the way, these new insights are not intended to downgrade the highly valuable work of Peyrony, who, unlike many of his colleagues, did a job according to the scientific standards of his time, and established for the first time a reliable local stratigraphy of the Palaeolithic for the Perigord...

The Mousterian of layers 4,5a and 5b from Dibble's excavation where attributed by OSL, between 54 ± 3 and 40 ± 2 k.a, while the AMS C-14 dates for Layer 5b gave an age between 44 and 47 k.a. cal BP.

In General the systematic inconsistencies between OSL and C-14 Methods have already discussed elsewhere in the Blog. Anyhow the Mousterian of La Ferrassie appear to belong to MIS3 and to the the final Middle Paleolithic of the region (Talamo et al. 2020).

What conclusions can we draw from a reassessment of high ranked older excavations (Combe Grenal) and new excavations at Le Moustier and La Ferrassie?

  • Even "Type Stations" proved to be complex individual assemblages determined by a multitude of influencing factors


  • The rigid, typological definition of discrete Mousterian facies by F. Bordes, which is still used in a hidden form despite all criticism, should be replaced by a detailed description of all techno-typological components of the inventory under study, especially when sampled during modern excavations


  • This can be done, for example, by a unified description of the manufacturing technique and its dynamic diversity during the production process and a typological system characterised by “fluid transitions”


  • "Independent palaeo-environmental data, raw material provisioning strategies and elements of faunal exploitation will have to be integrated for a more realistic picture of changing patterns of Neandertal landscape use" (this point was slightly modified after Faivre et al. 2014)




Surf the Blog:

Some remarks about the Bergerac Region from the lower Paleolithic to the Neolithic-see here: 1420 , here 1164 , here: 1369 , here: 1017 , here: 2064 , and here: 1479

2021-08-28 07:05:00   •   ID: 2263

A Mousterian Point from Bergerac Flint from Lagarrigue (Lot-et-Garonne).

Figure 1
Lagarrigue is a commune in the Lot-et-Garonne department in the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region in north-central France, currently with a population of c 270 Inhabitants. It is situated about 80 km South of Bergerac (Dordogne).

The region is already known from the literature by several Mousterian artifacts (Brun-Ricalens, 1988 and 1993).

The finding of a single Paleolithic tool is rather typical for the Middle Paleolithic record in the Lot-et-Garonne department, which is rather poor and confined to single stone artifacts, small surface scatters of Mousterian Handaxes and scrapers and occasionally other Middle and Upper Paleolithic tools.

Compared to the Dordogne region, one wonders why paleolithic finds are so rare in the Lot-et-Garonne department.

Figure 2
Beside a bias by different intensity of research of the two adjacent regions, differences in glacial geomorphology, differences in microclimatic conditions and in post-depositional erosion may be of importance, but there are no studies on these issues at present.

Maybe one of my readers has some answers and could share them with my audience via: Breul1956@email.de

One interesting Upper Paleolithic site, although without a reliable stratigraphy is the Aurignacian assemblage from the surface site of Toulousète, ca 50 km west from Lagarrigue.

A techno-typological analysis about the Aurignacian ensemble has already published by Brun-Ricalens in 1993.

Interestingly, some raw material came from the Bergeracois, indicating connections to the Perigord. Some Middle Paleolithic Bifaces from this site are also known.

Figure 3
Anyhow, the adjacent Lot Department is much more rich in important Paleolithic findings and intact sites.

The most important site in the Lot-region remains le Roc de Combe (Discoid-Denticulated Mousterian, Châtelperronian, Aurignacian I, Gravettian).

This multilayered site, together with Le Piage locality (sparse Mousterian, followed by Châtelperronian, four Aurignacian levels - a rare finding in S/W-France (!), Solutrean, early Magdalenian / Badegoulian), which is also situated in the Lot Departement, were once the crown witnesses for an inter-stratification of the Châtelperronian and Aurignacian- a theory that has been convincingly refuted in the meantime, by a new reading of the taphonomic history of the two key-localities, indicating severe postdepositional mixing (Zilhão & d’Errico 1999, Zilhão 2006, 2007, 2009).

Also situated in the Lot region, the Pech Merle cave, famous for its mainly Gravettian Paleolithic paintings is worth noting. The Panel of the famous Dotted Horses of Pech Merle Cave has been assigned to five subsequent phases (Lorblanchet, 2010).

Figure 4
One of the horses is found under a black hand stencil; a sample from this horse was dated to 24,6±0,4 k.a.BP (Lorblanchet et al., 1995). Anyhow, some of the paintings and engravings may date to the Magdalenian ca 16 k.a. BP.

But back to the artifact of this post: A nine cm long and flat Mousterian point from Lagarrigue. In short, Mousterian Points are retouched triangular artifacts made from different blanks and by different techniques. For me this example is one of the Middle Paleolithic Highlights from my personal collection.

Figure 1-6: Different projections of the dorsal side. Figure 7: view of the Ventral side of the tool. The artifact was made from the very typical Maastrichian banded Bergeracois Flint - see 1164 and Figure 3 of this post.

This excellent, homogeneous and easy to knap raw material has been confirmed at several localities in the region, although always in rather low numbers (< 10%). One example is the Middle Palaeolithic of Roc de Combe (M.L. Martinez et al. 2014).

Figure 5
Usually Neanderthals imported precious raw materials, either as cores or finished tools over max 120 km from the source region.

My example has therefore traveled a rather long distance to the Region where it was finally lost and found during the 1930ies, at the outermost limits of the raw-material transport, known from the S/W-European Neanderthals.

The Mousterian Point was made from a Triangular Blank with a plain platform, as shown in Figure 2,6 and 7. The axis of the piece clearly differs from the axis of flaking. The Flake scar and bulb of percussion are well developed.

The retouching is continuous and light and more or less marginal on all three sides, as shown in Figure 1-6 with the exception of the right side - best seen on Figure 2- where a flat scalar retouch can be noted.

There are no indications for secondary reworking, remodeling or reserving-similar to the Point displayed in the last post-see here: 2261

Figure 6
The original blank of our example may have been produced either by a Pseudolevallois or a classic Levallois approach.

Pseudolevallois Points are one hallmark of a dominant discoid débitage (Boëda 1993) although convergent tools are rarely seen. Furthermore this method produces more asymmetrical blanks, than Points, made by a Levallois approache and usually do not bear the characteristics of a “second generation” blank.

Such Blanks may also be produced by a genuine Levallois technology, if detached from the lateral circumference of an oval core.

The design of the Mousterian Point, shown here, fits more simple, parsimonious and by generally consensual description to a Centripetal Recurrent operational sequence of such a core-see 2257 .

Suggested Reading:

Figure 7
Andre Debenath, Harold L. Dibble, Handbook of Paleolithic Typology, Volume One, Lower and Middle Paleolithic of Europe, 1996

Francois Bordes, Typologie du Paléolithique. Ancien et moyen (= Publications de l’Institut de Préhistoire de l’Université de Bordeaux. Mémoire. 1, , 1991

Francois Bordes, Le Paléolitique en Europe, 1984

Francois Bordes, Le Paléolitique hors d’Europe. 1984

J.J- Shea, Stone Tools in the Paleolithic and Neolithic Near East: A Guide,2014

Surf the Blog:

about the Bergerac Region from the lower Paleolithic to the Neolithic-see here: 1420 , here 1164 , here: 1369 , here: 1017 , here: 2064 , and here 1479

2021-08-09 15:12:24   •   ID: 2261

Self Evident: Reading Neanderthal skills

Figure 1
Figure 1 and 2 displays the ventral and dorsal side of a retouched leaf-shaped to quadrangular Levallois "Point"

Today, the commune of Baron is located in the department Oise, in the region Picardie. Currently Baron has a population of about 800 inhabitants and an area of 2147 ha.

Interestingly Baron is located only a few km from the famous Versigny site, already introduced into the Blog- see here: 1456

This post shows a very symmetric Levallois Point made from local Flint and was found during the 1930ies as a stray find in Baron. It was semi - abruptly and regular continuously retouched on the convergent margins on its dorsal side.

There is no single indication, that the point was reworked-what you see seems to be the pure idea of its maker, -a Neanderthal. He or She carefully planned and subsequently skilfully executed the artefact at around 50 k.a. BP. This impression remains self-evident - at least in my opinion.

A very similar, but partly reworked example, made from a non-Levallois quadrangular flake from the Château de la Roche-Courbon site can be seen here: 1636 - a different technique but nearly the same result.

Figure 2
Functional requirements together with learned sophisticated skills of the Flint knapper were the most important prerequisites for the creation of this artifact.

Regarding the design of the tool, shown here, I will not use the term of a “mental template", agreeing with Philip G. Chase that it is neither useful nor necessary for the often so tiering discussion about differences in the cognitive competence between AHMs and their Cousins.

Fortunately the debate has moved from the influential “AHMs were the winners in all disciplines” view towards a more reasonable position- namely that different contemporaneous Hominins had comparable modes of neuronal organisation.

This was recently shown by equal lithic knapping skills - mainly characterised by „Tabun-C” Levallois blank production, site use, modes of subsidence organisation and social life of contemporaneous H.Sapiens, Neanderthals and The “Nesher Ramla Hominids” in Israel at the MIS6/5 boundary (Hershkovitz et al. 2021) - times have changed and are still changing……

Chase`s still convincing arguments from 2008 are found in one of the attached files.

2021-08-04 17:56:42   •   ID: 2260

Lupemban at Lake Tumba - The Heart of Darkness

Figure 1
Figure 2
Lake Tumba, is part of the Congo River basin in northwestern Congo (Kinshasa). It covers 500 square km and is only about 2–6 m deep. The lake empties into the Congo River by the Irebu channel, just opposite its confluence with the Ubangi River.

Interestingly, in Central Africa, the first recorded Paleolithic assemblages were exactly collected in the Tumba lake area (now in the Democratic Republic of Congo) and several prehistoric periods were described collectively as the "Tumbakultur" (Menghin 1925).

Later it became clear that the "Tumbakultur" was a mix of several technocomplexes-among them the Lupemban - see 1651

During the Middle Pleistocene, the lake largely resembled its present appearance both morphologically and as a tropic habitat. It was certainly an attractive ecotope for hominins and their prey.

Presently, the clustering of MSA scatters in the area of former beach shores at Lake Tumba is thought to indicate relatively continuous colonization by an early (Archaic) Homo sapiens - the last forerunners of our species and maybe the first Hominins to colonize the rainforest in small groups.

The first artifact, shown in this post (Figure 1 and 2) is 9 cm long, made of high quality flint and according the current nomenclature a typical Bifacial Lanceolate- see 2024 . Such tools have been found, mostly without a secure stratigraphical context, within the rainforest belt of Central Africa. They are seen as one hallmark of the Lupemban, a technocomplex adapted both to Rainforest and Savanna environments.

The second tool (Figure 3 and 4) was made from quartz and maybe it has a brocken tip. The raw material that was used made it difficult to produce a sufficiently thin bifacial point or on the contrary the manufacturer intended to produce a different tool - for example an core-axe.

Figure 3
Figure 4
Lupemban Bifacial Lanceolates are considered to be spear points, although we do not yet have any microtraceological studies of these tools. So far this view is only based on analogies, drawn from the meanwhile well studied Stillbay points of South Africa.

Isis Mesfin has recently summarized the few chronological data on the Lupemban. They range from the middle Pleistocene to the Holocene and are partly associated with large methodological uncertainties (Mesfin 2021).

"Only few Lupemban assemblages are dated and available ages suggest a large chronological hiatus questioning the definition and the homogeneity of this complex:

• In the Congo Basin, radiocarbon ages range from 40 k.a. (Maboue V, Gabon) (Assoko Ndong 2002) to 12 k.a. (Kinshasa Plain, Democratic Republic of Congo) (Van Moorsel 1968).

• In the southern margins of Central Africa, Uranium-Thorium dating has placed the earliest age for the Lupemban at 230 k.a. at Twin Rivers (Zambia) (Barham & Smart 1996).

• In the Nile Valley, OSL dating of the Lupemban layer from Sai Island (Sudan) produced an age of 182±20 k.a. (Van Peer et al. 2003).

• In the Lake Victoria area, the Sangoan-Lupemban assemblage of Muguruk (Kenya) has been estimated between 30 and 120 k.a. based on sedimentation rates (McBrearty 1988)"

Taylor's and Mesfin's summaries of the Lupemban in Central Africa show one aspect above all: Central Africa is one of the most insufficiently studied regions of the Continent to provide information about transcontinental connections by opening „Green Corridors“ by early hominins during the Middle and Late Pleistocene - a true heart of darkness.

This is mainly the consequence of the political situation in this area and the extraordinary unclear, undescribed or disturbed stratigraphic contexts.

Some associations to the Heart of Darkness theme have emerged for me through the eponymous story by Joseph Conrad, published in 1899, and the film Apocalypse Now by Francis Ford Coppola from 1979. And not to forget: the film's theme music by Jim Morrison and the Doors.....

2021-07-22 21:07:51   •   ID: 2259

The Age of Middle Paleolithic Leaf-Points in Germany

Figure 1
These are different views from a typical bifacial Middle Paleolithic Leaf-Point from the famous Weinberghöhlen Cave Complex at Mauern in Bavaria.

Middle Paleolithic Leaf-Points in Germany are rare (< than 500 pieces in Museums and private Collections).

About the Mauern site see here: 1157 and about the Central European Leafpoints in general -see here: 1528 .

In Germany Leaf-Points were usually found as isolated stray finds without any context. Some were part of larger mixed ensembles from Quarry operations and other specimens were found in caves, but without being part of larger Ensembles, for example in the Oberneder-Cave and the Hohle Stein/Schambach.

In Germany, most of them are found in Hessen-see: 2031 , NRW and S/W-Germany. They are suggested to have been used as Knifes and Projectile Points.

There is a some agreement, that Middle Paleolithic Leafpoints from Germany were a late facies of the local "Central European Micoquian", while other Researchers stated that this Leaf-Points are a variable part of a larger Middle Paleolithic concept, sometimes characterized by a bifacial component and sometimes not.

Figure 2
If defined as an isolated phenomenon the so-called Blattspitzengruppe in Germany has been tentatively dated to a late Middle Paleolithic around 45-55k.a. BP - similar to the Moravian Szeletian.

Different techno-typological concepts are associated with the Leaf-Point-Concept. They were produced both by debitage and faconage approachs.

While a large Leafpoint from Ranis is indistinguishable from a Solutrean Point, the Leafpoints from Röhrsheim resemble indeed Lupemban Bifacial Foliates-certainly convergence phenomenons.As M. Kot recently demonstrated, that the Röhrsheim examples were intentionally broken (M. Kot 2021).

Early Leaf-Points in Central Germany appeared around MIS7 at Ehringsdorf-see: 1630 . You can read the original Publication here:behm blancke ehringsdorf

Unfortunately many Cave-findings so far, with the exception of the Sesselfelsgrotte, have been detected before modern dating methods allowed a reliable age estimate and before microtraceological methods were available. Leaf Points appear during the "Micoquian" in small quantities, at complex sites like Schambach (MIS3), Bockstein-Schmiede (MIS5 or 3), Große Grotte at Urspring (age unknown) Röhrsheim (age unknown) and at the Sesselfelsgrotte in Bavaria ("G-Schicht Komplex" MIS3).

The most important stratified findings with larger quantities of Leaf-Points come from the Weinberghöhlen at Mauern (Bavaria) and the Ilsenhöhle at Ranis (Thuringia).

Figure 3
The Blattspitzen from Mauern in Bavaria was deposited during an MIS3-Interstadial and are also clearly associated with middle Paleolithic ("Micoquian") material, while Stratum 2 of the Ranis site, also deposited during an Interstadial, shows both Jerzmanovice (Beedings)- points and classical bifacial Blattspitzen.

In S/W Germany, the last time similar finds in an Archeological context were recovered in 1936 at the Haldensteinhöhle, where two isolated Leaf-Points of great beauty together with a large unretouched blade were excavated-see here: Haldensteinhöhle . Anyhow the exact localisation of the blade within the stratigraphy remains dubious (Hahn 1982 personal communication).

Now, for the first time since 70 years, it has been possible to excavate and examine a Leaf-Point in an archaeological context using modern methods. It was found in situ at Hohle Fels Cave from the archaeological horizon (AH) X ca. 1,2 m below the base of the Aurignacian from the site. The tip is 7.6 centimeters long, 4.1 centimeters wide, 0.9 centimeters thick- see here: Hohler Fels Leaf-Point

It was a surprise, that it was localized in the lowest Middle Paleolithic stratum of the cave and therefore contradicting the paradigm of being a marker of a late Middle Paleolithic as suggest before.

The Middle Paleolithic at Hohle Fels is a typical unifacial Mousterian, with Levallois affinities. The Leaf Point was dated by ESR to an age of older than 65 k.a.

Figure 1
The second surprise was provided by a microtraceological investigation led by V. Rots. For the first time it was possible to prove that a Central European leaf point was a shafted projectile.

According to Rots "the leaf tip was shafted at its flat end with a plant-based adhesive and strengthened with appropriate fibers, animal sinew or leather straps. Thus, a gluing into a specially adapted wooden shaft can be assumed".

This find shows that even a single well-preserved artifact, when using modern excavation methods, has enormous explanatory power that revises previous assumptions.

Suggested Reading:

G.Freund: Die Blattspitzen des Paläolithikums in Europa ; 1952

G. Freund. Das Paläolithikum der Oberneder-Höhle - Ldkr. Kelheim-Donau; 1987

G. Bosinski und R Wetzel: Die Bocksteinschmiede im Lonetal; 1969

G. Bosinski: mittelpaläolithischen Funde im westlichen Mitteleuropa, 1967

K. Günter: Alt- und mittelsteinzeitliche Fundplätze in Westfalen, Teil 1 + Teil 2; 1986, 1988

K. Günther: Die altsteinzeitlichen Funde der Balver Höhle. Bodenaltertümer Westfalens 8. Münster; 1964

Baales M et al. : Westfalen in der Alt- und Mittelsteinzeit; 2014

Richter J: Sesselfelsgrotte III. Der G-Schichten-Komplex der Sesselfelsgrotte; 1997

Rots V et al: A Leaf Point Documents Hunting with Spears in the Middle Paleolithic at Hohle Fels, Germany / Eine Blattspitze belegt die Jagd mit Speeren im Mittelpaläolithikum am Hohle Fels, Deutschland Mitteilungen der Gesellschaft für Urgeschichte 30, S.1-28. 2021

2021-07-08 13:31:41   •   ID: 2258

A Levallois Point from the the Ruquier Quarry at Oissel

Figure 1
This is a classic Levallois Point from the the Ruquier Quarry at Oissel, a commune in the Seine-Maritime department in the Normandy region in northern France near the important site of Saint-Pierre-lès-Elbeuf-see here: 1595

Figure 1 shows the dorsal view, Figure 2 the ventral side and Figure 3 the facetted base of the Point.

In his classic work: "Les limons quaternaires du Bassin de la Seine"; François Bordes gave an important account about the many gravel quarries and their Quaternary stratigraphy in the Oisell area.

Near Oisell, in the commune of Grand-Couronne, the brickworks of Petit-Essart yielded several series that can be linked to a Late Acheulean and to a Mousterian of Acheulean tradition.

In particular, several brickyards opened in Oissel from 1869 onwards have yielded abundant material allowing important stratigraphic surveys.

These were located on the southeast-facing hillside overlooking Oissel, at an altitude of 67-70 m. The deepest excavation reached 22 m.

Bordes noted the succession of ten silty layers separated by eight levels of rubble.

Figure 2
The artifacts were found to be in different condition: - rolled, with some traces of gelifraction, - lustrous, - and fresh. This last series let Bordes believe that a part of the material was little or not disturbed.

The whole ensemble constituted one of the largest series collected in Haute-Normandie since the end of the 19th century. Bordes as a child of his time, recognized the existence of "Mindelian, Rissian and Würmian loess" largely disturbed by phases of erosion and solifluction.

Bordes highlighted an Upper Acheulean of Micoquian facies-see 1532 and a typical Mousterian at the Ruquier quarry, the latter at the the base of the recent loess I (Most Probably MIS 5).

His typological analysis showed that "the Levallois typological index is very high: 61.9, which classifies this industry in the Mousterian of Levalloisian facies. The scraper index is relatively high: 12.8, The "Charentian" index is 2.5, which is low. The total Acheulean index is poor, 3.1, as well as the back knife index, 2.9. The biface index is extremely low: 0.2. Indeed, only one biface was present".

Figure 3
Recently, the "Mare d'Oisse" has yielded a series of 5561 objects that also can be linked to a typical Mousterian and have been excavated with modern methods (see attached file), although absolute dates are not available.

This industry is characterized by strong Levallois component, with full mastery of a Non-Levallois Blade production.

The occupation corresponds mainly to a workshop on an extraction site; it may have been related to the nearby typical Mousterian of the Ruquier quarry site, on the same contiguous area.

Levallois Cores represent nearly 83% of the whole ensemble. The whole spectrum from lineal, recurrent (unidirectional, bidirectional, centripetal) and laminar techniques is present. On the other hand, several cores with prismatic appearance "à débitage semi-tournant" were qualified as Upper Paleolithic type.

In this respect the site is similar to Mousterian Ensembles with a strong laminar component from MIS5 in Northern Europe, first described at Seclin and later also recognized at Wallertheim D, Saint-Germain-des-Vaux, Tönchesberg 2B and Riencourt-lès-Bapaume for example. Geologically and in concordance with Bordes suggestions, the "Mare d'Oisse" site belongs to the end of MIS5 around 80-70 k.a. BP- see 1522

Suggested Reading:

Figure 3
Francois Bordes, Les limons quaternaires du Bassin de la Seine. Stratigraphie et archéologie paléolithique; 1955.

Figure 4 displays page 152 from my own example of Bordes publication with Levallois Points- retouched and unretouched among a typical Scraper rich Levallois-Mousterian ensemble.

Interestingly typical blades are also shown, but not described in the text-I suggest because Bordes could not imagine a "blade Mousterian".

Aude Coudenneau: Éléments triangulaires et armes de chasse au Paléolithique moyen. Free via Theses.fr

2021-07-01 15:06:22   •   ID: 2257

A short introduction into the Levallois Techniques

Figure 1
Figure 2
Figure 3
Figure 1 shows a Levallois Point, re- fitted to a Levallois Core. Figure 2 shows separated pictures of the triangular flake-also called Levallois Point- and Figure 3 the corresponding Core.

This mode of Levallois Production is called linear or preferential Levallois technique (Boeda 1983)- see below.

Today Levallois-Perret is a town in the Île-de-France region. It lies some 6 km from the centre of Paris in the north-western suburbs of the French capital. It is the most densely populated town in Europe and, together with neighbouring Neuilly-sur-Seine, one of the most expensive suburbs of Paris.

In 1857 Boucher de Perthes was the first who described in nuce the Levallois technique by his findings from the Somme gravels, without coining a particular name.

Particular stone artifacts (distinctive cores and flakes) were recovered in large quantities in 1867 by Reboux from Levallois-Perret and were subsequently referred to as “Levallois Technique " by G. De Mortillet in 1883, who especially focused on the characteristic triangular and oval flakes. Mortillet already noted the close connection of these flakes with the Acheulian and Mousterian.

Some credit should also go to Victor Commont who first reconstructed this particular type of debitage in 1909. According to a definition, suggested by Francois Bordes in 1961, the Levallois technique is characterized by the manufacture of a "flake of a form predetermined by special preparation of the core prior to the removal of that flake". It was Bordes, who first mentioned that Flaking is exclusively done with a hard hammer.

Levallois flakes can be processed further by retouching, as seen in Figure 4, which show a scraper on a triangular Levallois flake from the Nievre Area in France.

Anyhow Bordes short definition was obviously too unspecific for a full technological characterization of Levallois. It became also clear that there is a plethora of techniques under the broad "Levallois" umbrella, that had to be described more in detail.

A new Generation of Archeologists (Boeda, Tixier, Van Peer, Kuhn...) used experimental data and refittings from high resolution Archeological records for a deeper understanding of Levallois.

Although these scholars disagree in some minor aspects, the main points of their characterization will shortly described here, following the Texts of P.A. Mellars (The Neanderthal Legacy 1996) and E. Boeda (The Definition and Interpretation of Levallois Technology 1995).

  • The classic Levallois reduction is clearly geared towards removing large flakes from a surface rather than a volume (Boeda 1995). The core is divided into two major asymmetrical convex "surfaces" and two corresponding "volumes" The lower face is used to prepare the continuous striking platform around the perimeter of the core, while the upper face is carefully prepared for the production of one or more Levallois flakes.

    The intersection of these two surfaces is defined by a plane of intersection. In contrast to Discoid Cores, Levallois Cores always show the existence of hierarchization of the two volumes-see 1705
  • Indeed some researchers maintain that one can still call a technique Levallois if only one essential is present: two hierarchically related surfaces separated by a plane of intersection


Figure 4
  • Levallois products split off along a fracture plane that is parallel or sub-parallel to the plane of intersection


  • The Lineal or Preferential techniques are strategies designed essentially for production of only a single major flake removal from the prepared core surface. In this sense the definition coincides with the classic definition of Levallois flakes presented in most of the earlier textbooks

    Where the preparatory flaking was carried out in a predominantly radial or centripetal fashion from various points around the core perimeter, the resulting flakes are oval or rectangular in outline and show clear traces of this radial flaking on their dorsal surfaces.

    In other cases, however, the preparatory flaking was oriented either primarily or exclusively from either one or both ends of the core, leading to the production of flakes with a more elongated or triangular form. A good example are Nubian triangular Cores


  • The process can be stopped after the detachment of one flake, but there was the opportunity to repeat the cycle of special preparation of the upper surface of the core to allow for the removal of further flakes from successively deeper levels in the core interior


  • The definition of Recurrent Levallois techniques lies in the clear intention, from the initial stages of core preparation, to produce not one but a repeated succession of flakes of predetermined shape and size from the same, carefully prepared upper face of the core (Boëda 1988).

    Figure 5
    Recurrent techniques can be Uni- or Bipolar. Unipolar techniques are characterized by the fact, that the subsequent Levallois flake is removed along the same axis as the first and in the same direction. Bipolar techniques are characterized by the fact, that the subsequent Levallois flake is removed along the same axis as the first , but in the opposite direction. Uni- and Bipolar Levallois Techniques were often used for the production of Levallois Blades, similar to the example, shown in Figure 5 (from the Charente)

  • Another recurrent technique is called Centripetal Recurrent. Here the Levallois flakes are removed in a variable sequence, directed towards the centre of the core Mellars 1996). This technique is more versatile, than the others mentioned above. Successive Levallois flakes (up to 10) can be detached from different parts of the core perimeter, with only a limited amount of intervening re-preparation of the core surface.

  • Nubian Cores from the African and Near Eastern MSA: The Nubian type-1 core method enables the production of Levallois points and pointed blades by means of a central ridge created from the platform opposed to the one from which the future Levallois flake would be struck.

    The distal ridge, which lies approximately along the axis of the core is created by striking two unidirectional divergent removals undertaken from the distal part of the core. A series of smaller flakes is then removed from the sides of the other end of the core and a facetted platform is prepared for the removal of the Levallois point.

    Type 2 cores are marked by an elaborated centripetal preparation arranged perpendicularly to the central axis of the triangular silhouette of the Levallois surface from which a Levallois point, unlike the ‘‘classical’’ Levallois points is struck (Guichard and Guichard 1964).

  • There are differing opinions as to whether the Levallois technique was really applied for the production of the intended end product, or whether the "preparation flakes" were the goal of the their makers. Well-why shouldn't both opinions be valid?

  • Another question that has not been finally settled is whether the Levallois technique is principally an expression of a qualitatively higher cognitive competence of its makers, compared with their ancestors- a „Quantum Leap“-, or just the consequence of a continuum of different core shaping strategies that began with Discoid cores already in the developed Oldowan.

  • The Levallois technique appeared around 300 k.a. both in Africa and Eurasia (MIS9) or even earlier (around 500 k.a. in South Africa at Katu Pan 1 and Wonderwork Cave ?)


  • Around 60-50 k.a. the technological approach changed from a planimetric to a volumetric conception at several sites in the Levant, the Nil Valley, the Balkans and the Eastern European Plain, as well at sites in the Altai region and further East in Asia. This was the beginning of the Initial Upper Paleolithic over a vast area.

    This evolution of lithic equipment may be related to the invention of new, more efficient, hunting strategies see here: 1494


  • Surf the Blog for more information about the Discoid Technique:

    here 1424 , here 2077 , and here 1705

    Suggested Reading around Levallois:

    P.A. Mellars: The Neanderthal Legacy 1996.

    Harold L. Dibble and Ofer Bar-Yosef (Eds): The Definition and Interpretation of Levallois Technology (Monographs in World Archaeology, Band 23) 1995

    Marie-Louise Inizan, Michèle Reduron-Ballinger, Hélène Roche Jacques Tixier: Technology and Terminology of Knapped Stone 1999

    2021-06-15 14:53:00   •   ID: 2256

    The many Faces of the Jabrudian: One Entity or synchronous Technocomplexes?

    Figure 1
    Figure 1-3 (1 and 2: dorsal view; 3 ventral view) show a small (9 cm long) Handaxe, from the "Acheulo-Yabrudian", found Southwest of Mt Carmel in the Menashe Heights called Balad ar-Ruha in Arabic, meaning "Land of Winds", -see: 1460 and 1596 . The Biface was made from the typical local Flint.

    This kind of raw material was occasionally used during the Yabrudian, mainly in Caves at the Mediterranean coastal plain (for example at Misliya Cave), while we do not know any examples of its use from the Levallois- Mousterian of this region.

    Figure 4 is a typical Déjeté Yabrudian scraper (Rust 1950; Tafel 24,2), found at Nachal Me'arot (נחל מערות, Wadi el- Mughara), Figure 5 is a triangular scraper with demi-Quina Retouche (Rust 1950; Tafel 1,1) and Figure 6 displays a broad cortical blade, which was found together with the Handaxe of Figure 1-3, exhibiting a typical “Amudian” design (early Paleolithic blade with natural back).

    This post aims a historical and critical review about the “Acheulo-Jabrudian” (also called “Acheulian-Yabrudian” or “Yabroudien” in French), including ensembles designated as „Pre Aurignacian“ and “Amudian”.

    Beside a description of the major sites and their history, I will focus on the question if this post-Acheulian Entity, dated to c 250-420 k.a. BP, represents a single or several independent technocomplexes.

    Figure 2
    The Type Site-Yabrud will for ever be linked with Alfred Rust (1900-1983)- see 2022 - an important but professionally and politically controversial German prehistorian.

    He was an adventurous figure who, through diligence and enthusiasm for Paleolithic research but also by direct sponsorship by Heinrich Himmler's „Ahnenerbe“, managed to gain an important position in German Paleolithic Prehistory between 1933 and 1950 despite a lack of formal academic training - a rarity in the German scientific scene.

    Alfred Rust completed only elementary school and began training as an electrical engineer in 1915, becoming a master in this profession in 1926.

    After WW I his interest in prehistory was awakened from 1923 in lectures at the „Volkshochschule Hamburg“, mainly held by the eminent Prehistorian Gustav Schwantes from Kiel, the teacher of many gifted and successful prehistorians.

    Being an ultranationalist himself, the majority of his scholars, like Jankuhn, had a high affinity to the National Socialist ideology (the so called "Kieler Schule").

    In order to gain a better understanding of the origins of the Central European Paleolithic and its possible roots in the Levant, Alfred Rust and a friend, at the suggestion of Schwantes, traveled by bicycle from Hamburg across the Balkans and Turkey to the Near East in 1930.

    Figure 3
    There they discovered by chance three large Abris of Yabrud- an quite ambivalent constellation and a real challenge and maybe a mission impossible for an untrained beginner.

    The three large Abris of Yabrud are located about 80 km northeast of Damascus and about 20 km east of the Lebanese border and remain among the most important archaeological sites of the Near East, spanning the time between the late Acheulian, Yabrudian, Levallois-Mousterian, EUP and later Upper Paleolithic Entities until the local Epipaleolithic.

    The Abris are located east of the mountain range of the Antilibanon at an altitude of about 1400 meters. Rust with help of local workers excavated at Jabrud between 1930-1933 and published first results of his extraordinary findings in 1932. At Abri I, Rust almost completely excavated Paleolithic findings throughout a stratigraphic sequence of 11.5 meters. The artifacts were sent by him to Germany and are now housed at the Institute of Prehistoric Archaeology – University of Cologne.

    In 1942, after his habilitation, Rust was funded and appointed a corresponding member in the SS sub-organization „Forschungsgemeinschaft Deutsches Ahnenerbe“ and exempted from military and war service. It possibly will for ever remain unclear whether Rust was a convinced National Socialist or "only" an opportunist. Because of Rust's membership in Ahnenerbe, celebrations of his 100th birthday in Ahrensburg were canceled in 2000.

    An extensive Monograph about the Yabrud excavations was published by Rust in 1950 and is still the basis of our knowledge about the Yabrudian at the type-site today, although better trained archaeologists, the first being F. Bordes, clearly criticized the idiosyncratic nature of Rusts nomenclature ("Prä Micro Mousterian, "Jabrudo-Mousterian"…).

    Figure 4
    With time it also became increasingly clear, that Rust assigned several Archaeological finds to strata in which they had not originally been found. Rust did not worry much about the distinction between Archeological and Geological strata. As Rust himself described in addition, several parts of the Abris were disturbed by later historic settlements.

    While Both Rust and Bordes used Déjeté-Scrapers, relatively rare in Europe and Quina Retouches as hallmark for the Jabrudian, Jelinek (1981 in Chauvain and Sanaville), who worked both with the Material from Jabrud and Tabun, suggested that statistically, the Jabrudian is mainly characterized by a high Number of scrapers and various numbers of Bifaces (if at all).

    Avraham Ronen (1980) who reexcavated Jabrudian strata in Tabun, gave a definition of a non- biased sample, which remains valid for both the Jabrud and Tabun Material:

    The Jabrudian is a flake based Non-Levallois industry, rich in various scrapers with prevalent scalar ("Quina") retouche. These scrapers are often transversal, déjeté, convergent, triangular, simple convex, sometimes small and irregular. Limaces are also present. The bulb of percussion was often removed, Handaxes are usually rare or even missing, but can also be very numerous such in the case of Misliya cave.

    Already mentioned by Rust, but only systematically evaluated by Israelian Scientists is the characteristic "Tabun Snap". This snap was created by a blow on the dorsal and proximal face of Jabrudian flakes.

    Its purpose is neither thinning, nor to obtain secondary small flakes. Most likely, the snap was created to shorten the original artifact (Shifroni and Ronen 2000).

    In Rusts Publication the early Paleolithic layers of Abri I (Statum 25-17) never included more than 200 retouched tools per stratum. A selection bias may be present, affecting especially "atypical" and small pieces.

    The designation of the layers by Rust oscillates between Jabroudian, Acheulo-Jabroudian, Jabroudo-Mousterian (!) Acheulian and Prä-Aurignacian; -a Blade industry without any Biface.

    Figure 5
    Rust took the sample of Stratum 25 as archetypical for the Definition of the Jabrudian. His Definition ultimately met the current definition of Ronen.

    Stratum 24 has a similar composition, but also exhibits some small Handaxes without any indication of a relocation from under or overlying strata.

    Stratum 23 with not more than c 50 retouched artifacts is characterized by small Handaxes and some scrapers. One large elongated handaxe shows an typical late Acheulian character. Rust also found some tanged instruments, maybe an indication for hafting . He called the stratum: "Late Middle (!) Acheulian.

    The composition of Stratum 22 with about 200 retouched artifacts is similar to stratum 24, without any Bifaces and therefore called Jabrudian by Rust.

    Stratum 21 consists of 19 retouched tools only and shows Jabrudian features.

    Stratum 20 can be qualified as Jabrudian, but based by only 60 retouched tools only. One Handaxe was present.

    Stratum 19 with about 30 retouched tools and one Handaxe ("Acheulo Jabrudian ") by Rust essentially does not differ from the "Jabrudian" of Statum 20. About 30 retouched tools were collected.

    Stratum 18: This layer also resulted in only a few retouched artifacts (around 50). It was labeled Micoquian by Rust, although none of the 8 bifaces had a Micoque morphology. Some scrapers show Jabrudian character, although this is denied by Rust. He called the small Inventory: " Micoquian".

    Stratum 17 contained a small Jabrudian sample.

    Stratum 16 and more upper in the stratigraphy Stratum 13 were used to define the famous "Pre-Aurignacian" sensu Rust. The term should not be used any more, because this ca 270 k.a. old complex has nothing in common with the Upper Paleolithic Aurignacian. For Rusts Cultural Historical approach, this entity indicated a first "Wave" of H. Sapiens populations from the Levant to Europe.

    Anyhow it was already known at Rust's times, that a blade industry from the Late Early Paleolithic existed on the other side of the Antilibanon from the Excavations of D.E.A. Garod at Tabun, where a similar industry was incorporated in Layer E -see 1106

    Together with unmodified blades, the ensemble compromise 73 modified tools in Stratum and about 50 retouched tools in Stratum 13. Blades with marginal retouches, Burins and Borers along with thick (Aurignacian like; Core like) scrapers and endscrapers are common.

    There were some sub pyramidal cores, indicating a non Levallois operational sequence in blade production. No typical Upper Paleolithic cores were found. The broken tip of a handaxe was suggested as derived from an underlying stratum and secondary used as a core.

    Contemporaneous laminar Industries of the Levant at Qesem Cave and interstratified into the Jabrudian at the Tabun E Complex are called "Amudian" since Garrod's times, because they lack similarities to the Aurignacian and mainly consist of naturally backed and / or non retouched blades (see below).

    Stratum 14 is a typical Jabrudian, consisting of ca 100 retouched tools.

    Figure 6
    The relatively large Ensemble of Stratum 12 was called End-Acheulian by Rust and consists of well executed pointed, mainly sub-triangular handaxes and simple scrapers. Strata in higher position at Jabrud Abri 1 show an evolution to a Levantine Levallois-Mousterian.

    I must confess that besides the unacceptable political attitude of Rust, the scientist Rust at Jabrud drew important and lasting conclusions from his work under difficult working conditions.

    In sum and regarding all limitations , mentioned above, Rust showed that:

    • "Pure" Acheulian and Jabrudian strata are interstratified and may have been, for some time, contemporaneous


    • The designation of a "Acheulo-Jabrudian" is justified. There seems to exist a significant Bifacial component in some Jabrudian ensembles; although even Rust already noticed a double patinations of some handaxes in Jabrudian layers, suggestive of a certain mixing of pure Jabrudian and Acheulian strata


    • Rusts observations were also confirmed by the latest excavations by Ronen(2006): At Tabun some strata bear Handaxes which are typically smaller, thicker, less carefully made with more extensive cortical remains than Acheulian Bifaces-see the example shown in this post. In addition "Faustkeilblätter"-similar to those of Central Europe during MIS3 are present.

      Another Handaxe-rich Acheulo-Jabrudian site is Mislija cave on the western slope of Mount Carmel. Beside the Characteristics of Jabrudian Handaxes described above, Zeidner et al. noted a gradual transition from genuine handaxes, through „Unifaces" fully worked on one face only to genuine Jabrudian scrapers.Such ensembles are also observed at Bezez Cave (Lebanon)


    • Jabrud is not the only site of the Jabrudian in Syria. During the last decades a lot of ensembles were found in El Kowm (11 sites notably at Hummal, Nadaouiyeh and Umm el Tlel), and in the Dederiyeh Cave. Unfortunately we still are missing to a certain degree monographs about these localities




    Blade Industries as an Intra Jabrudian Episode: It was early recognized, that in the Levant, the manufacture of blades appeared quite early, not only in the "Preaurignacian" of Jabrud rock-shelter I, but also and the "Amudian" at Tabun and Abri Zumoffen / Adlun; (Garrod and Kirkbride 1961); Zuttiyeh (Gisis and Bar-Yosef 1974) and Maslouk (Skinner 1970) and considered as late Lower Paleolithic.

    At Tabun, the Amudian is intercalated within Yabrudian strata, according to recent publications, the blade component is increasing step by step within the Jabrudian sequence, just to disappear and to be replaced again by the Jabrudian, in contrast to Jabrud, where Rust mentioned an abrupt appearance of the Preaurignacian in stratum 16 and its re-appearance in stratum 13.

    Anyhow this sharp demarcation maybe the result of secondary sorting of the material by Rust himself. At the Libanese site of Abri Zumoffen (Adloun I) the Amudian assemblages present a significant flake component of the Jabrudian type.

    Based on extrapolation from TL dates, the Amudian layers at Tabun cave appear to date to the later half of the Middle Pleistocene, between 270 and 330 k.a. BP and therefore broadly contemporaneous with the Preaurignacian at Jabrud.

    Another common feature with the latter entity is the simple mode of core preparation, different from the Upper Paleolithic and the absence of any Mousterian artifacts.

    In Contrast to the Pre-Aurignacian, the Amudian is typologically different. Naturally Backed Knives, Backed knifes and Burins together with some endscrapers are are common, while "Aurignacian-like" characteristics are nearly absent. An interesting observation is that laminar items were generally only lightly retouched, compared to the Preaurignacian at Jabrud.

    The most important Amudian site, excavated by up-to-date methods is Qesem Cave. Here almost all lithic artefacts throughout a stratigraphic sequence of 7.5 meters, within a time-frame between c 200-420 k.a., BP belong to a pure Amudian industry.

    Only one area contemporaneous with an Amudian ensemble belonged to a "pure" Yabroudian (Barkai et al 2009). The excavators interpreted this finding as an indication of an activity-specific mode of resource exploitation and subsistence activities at c 296 k.a. BP.

    In addition only 12 Handaxes were randomly located within the 7,5 stratum. The Flint for their production differed from the raw material of the Amudian and no flakes from a genuine Handaxe production were present at the site.

    Barkai suggested that the Bifaces were not a genuine part of the Amudian, but recycled tools from the Acheulian, which is known from the vicinity of the cave. Anyhow this remains speculative. The imported Bifaces could instead be part of the common “Savoir-faire” of the “Amudians”, which was rarely used.

    The rich material at Qesem allowed a detailed reconstruction of the Chaîne Opératoire of the Amudian from surface quarrying to discard. They interpreted the serial production of blades (mean length about 6 cm) as a sophisticated variant of a prepared core technique over an almost incredible long time at one place, that was repeatedly visited by a specific group of hominins, (presumably archaic H. Sapiens). Most of the blades were used in cutting, butchering and defleshing activities on soft tissues.

    Regarding that blades were present in small quantities at almost all "Acheulo-Jabrudian" sites, the focus of the inhabitants of Qesem seems to belong to the repertoire of the same people, and make an incoming new population to the Levant improbable.

    Insofar the "Acheulo-Jabrudian-Amudian" seems for me to be rather one entity than three independent technocomplexes.

    Surf the Blog:

    Posts about the (Acheulo)-Jabrudian (Yabrudian / Yabroudian) please see here: 1709 , here 1423 , here: 1171 , and here: 1545

    Suggested Reading

    D. A. E. Garrod and D. M. A. Bate (Eds): The Stone Age of Mount Carmel Vol I; 1937

    A. Rust Die Höhlenfunde von Jabrud (Syrien); 1950

    A. Ronen, M Weinstein-Evron (Autor) Modern Humans: The Yabrudian and Micoquian 400-50 K-years Ago; 2000

    Derek A. Roe (Ed): Adlun in the Stone Age: The excavations of D. A. Garrod in the Levanon, 1958-1963; Vol I and II; 1983

    Important for the Amudian!: Ron Shimelmitz: Blade Production in the Middle Pleistocene (Thesis; Tel Aviv University 2009)- pdf via the Net