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2019-02-17 12:30:00   •   ID: 2077

Going Discoid at Lake Turkana

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This discoidal core is a surface find from the Northern Rift Valley, NW Kenya, Africa, at the confluence of Lake Turkana and the Omo River - further information can be found here 2060 .

The discoid core and the Levallois core are sophisticated prepared technologies of the Old World Paleolithic. The discoid core was classified into two sub-types, namely the unifacial and the bifacial classes.

Discoid exploitation is more often systematically bifacial than unifacial (see Boeda 1993): two fairly similar symmetrical surfaces created by removals were used as striking platforms and flaking surfaces, simultaneously or with alternate series of removals.

Uni-or bifacially flaked discoids appear earlier in the Archeological report, than other prepared core variants. Even during the Neolithic they did not loose their importance.

In Africa, discoid technology has a considerable time depth. The Gona site (Omo Region, Ethiopia), dated to 2,6-2,5 Ma by 40Ar/39Ar and by paleomagnetic stratigraphy, reveals one of the oldest Oldowan ensembles in the world.

The EG10 and EG12 lithics were deposited in fine-grained sediments and excavated within a primary geological context. Discoids are incorporated in the AH-10 unit.

In S-Africa, discoid cores in quartzite have described from the Oldowan of Sterkfontein. At Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania beginning near the base of Bed I, ca. 1,85 Ma, there are "Oldowan" (Mode 1) assemblages characterized by “choppers, polyhedrons, discoids, scrapers, occasional sub- spheroids and burins, together with hammer-stones, utilized cobbles and light-duty utilized flakes” (Leakey, 1971).

Discoid cores persist to play a role during the Acheulian. Examples are known from Melka Konture (Garba IV D, Ethiopia) within a LTC-Early Acheulean at 1,6 Ma.

Discoid cores in variable quantities are omnipresent in the East and South African late Acheulian and Middle Stone Age record, the latter is attested since 500 k.a.

In S-Africa, the Fauresmith industry which combines small refined handaxes with technological components characteristic of the MSA (prepared discoidal and Levallois cores, blades, Levallois points, convex scrapers), maybe as old as 542–435 k.a. (Wonderwerk Cave MU4 , Kathu Pan 1).

In the East African MSA, tools are characterized by points with unifacial and bifacial retouch on non-Levallois and Levallois blanks, partially made from Nubian cores, while Discoid cores are rare. This is the case at Gademotta (ETH-72-8B before 276±4 k.a BP; ETH-72-6 after 183±10 k.a BP) and at Kulkuletti (200–300 k.a BP).

At 250 k.a., at the Koimilot (GnJh-74) MSA site, west of Lake Baringo, in the central Rift Valley of Kenya discoid cores are predominant, but some Levallois cores also appear.

Western Asia: Early human peopling outside Africa is well established in the Near East, including the Caucasus, at 1,8 Ma at Dmanisi, Georgia and 1,0-1,4 Ma at Ubeidiya, Israel.

While only one example of a discoidal core comes from Dmanisi, discoids, spheroids, heavy- duty scrapers; bifaces, including trihedral picks are part of some of the Ubeidiya ensembles.

In South Europe, the unique findings from the Sierra de Atapuerca sites offer a chronological sequence that allows to evaluate the evolution of technology at a local scale during the Early and Middle Pleistocene.

The Mode 1 ensembles Atapuerca occurred at 1.2 Ma, and are represented in level TE9. A second phase is represented by the level TD6, dating to before 800 k.a.

This phase is characterized by by new subsistence and technological strategies, although the lithics are still Mode 1.

After a hiatus of about 300 k.a. the occupations of Galería and TD10 dating between 500 k.a. and 300 k.a., revealed the first discoidal prepared cores associated with H. Heidelbergensis.

Discoid core technology is also linked with the West European Acheulian. A good example is the Acheulean Settlement at the La Noira Site, a 7700 k.a. old Occupation in the Center of France.

In larger parts of Europe, the Middle Pleistocene MIS 9–7 period is considered as a time of shift from the Lower Paleolithic to the Early Middle Paleolithic and therefore defined by a decline of Acheulian bifaces and an increase in the number of prepared core technologies- a technological system which remained stable during MIS 3-5.

Surf the Blog for more information: see here 1424 , here 1705 , and here 1085

2019-02-16 08:39:40   •   ID: 2076

The Ma'ayan Baruch Acheulian Mega Site in N-Israel

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The thick Handaxe of this post was found near the Ma'ayan Baruch Acheulian Mega-site at Banias, North Galilee; Israel.

It shows the typical cordiform appearance and patination of many Ma'ayan Baruch artifacts and a bifacial retouch on both faces and a high degree of symmetry, typical for the site. The base shows limited cortical remnants. The piece has a non-LTC appearance.

Ma'ayan Baruch (Hebrew: מַעְיַן בָּרוּךְ‬, lit. Blessed Spring) is a Kibbutz in northern Israel. It is located near the intersection of the Israeli, Syrian and Lebanese border at a strategic important location in the northern part of the Lake Hula plain.

The exceptionally rich Acheulian deposits at Ma’ayan Baruch were mainly collected by Amnon Assaf (1928–2018) who amassed, with the help of family and friends, during his life some 115,000 artifacts from North Galilee, which later formed the foundation for the Upper Galilee Museum of Prehistory at Kibbutz Ma’ayan Baruch.The Ma'ayan Baruch handaxe sample comprises approximately 6000 Handaxes.

The vertical dispersal of find spots makes it clear that there was significant post-depositional movement of the artifacts however, there is no evidence for high energy transport or abrasion.

Although systematic flint quarrying during the Lower and Middle Paleolithic at "extraction and reduction sites" (Nachal Dishon, Sede Ilan, Mt Achbara) are identified in the region, the source of Ma'ayan Baruch flint is currently unknown.

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The Ma'ayan Baruch collection was described by Stekelis and Gilead in 1966 in detail. The authors suggested that this site might have been the centre of an even larger settlement zone.

The morphology of the handaxe shows a wide spectrum - cordiformes, elongated cordiformes, Micoquian handaxes, lanceolated and Almond-shaped bifaces , ovates and disc like forms. Most items show a high symmetry, comparable with distant collections like Boxgrove / UK and different from GBY and Ubeidiya.

Cleavers are also present, in contrast to the paradigm that GBY is the only site in the region with cleavers. This compromises the common opinion, that cleavers must be always an African signal in the Levantine early Paleolithic.

Non-Levallois Flake tools are rare in the collections, but well executed (mainly convergent scraper), their frequency is certainly underestimated by their lower visibility in the field during during the early collecting operations.

During the 1970ies the thousands of bifaces found there without a stratigraphy seemed to have no equivalent outside of Africa and were, in this respect, comparable with African Mega-sites like the Rift Valley sites Kariandusi or Olorgesailie.

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Anyhow, this popular view also seems a little bit biased towards the "out of Africa" paradigm. The region around El Kowm in Syria and the enormous cluster at St Acheul in the Somme Valley in N-France with ten thousands of Handaxes findings from the 19th century were equally rich.

Flakes and chips in the collected material are rare and Bar-Yosef and Belmaker (2011) have suggested that the actual manufacture of the handaxes may have taken place further north in the Litani valley. Sampling bias could be another important explanation.

How old is the site? It is certainly older than the Acheulo-Yabrudian, and therefore older than 400 k.a. This is also substantiated by the absence of Levallois artifacts. Regarding techno-typological considerations it is younger than GBY at 800k.a. A 500-600 k.a. time slot seems therefore to be reasonable.

Surf the Blog: see here 1176 , here 1171 , here: 1545 , here: 2068 and here 1460

2019-02-14 13:31:02   •   ID: 2075

Lithics from the Far East: The case of Kamchatka

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Figure 1: These are 4 artifacts from the Kamchatka Peninsula in the Russian North-East. Two items (Figure 1; Nr 2 and 3) are made from Obsidian, one is a partially bifacial pointed tool and the other formally a convergent scraper.

The first item is a slightly curved bifacial "knife" (Figure 1; Nr 1) made of calcedony. The last artifact (Figure 1; Nr 4) is a good retouched unifacial double scraper made of Chert.

Kamchatka Peninsula lies in the northeast of the Russian Far East, washed by the Pacific Ocean and Bering Strait to the east and the Sea of Okhotsk to the west. The area of the peninsula itself is approximately 270,000 square kilometers.

The peninsula has mostly mountainous terrain; the Sredinny (“Central”) and Vostochny (“Eastern”) Mountain Ranges stretch across the whole peninsula almost parallel to each other, and the northern part of the peninsula is occupied by the Koryak Mountains.

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Located on the Pacific rim of fire, Kamchatka has 29 active volcanoes, countless geysers, boiling mud cauldrons, steam vents, earthquakes, and other forms of seismic activity (Figure 2: Wikipedia).

Influenced by its latitude and long oceanic coastline, wetlands, stony barrens, volcanic lava, coastal sands, and tundra dominate the subarctic landscape.

Indigenous people, living in acephalous societies, relied on fresh water fishing and large sea mammal hunting at the coast and reindeer herding in the interior of the peninsula, before they were "discovered" by Russian explorers after 1639.

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This provoked the usual consequences-you certainly know the famous quote of Georg C. Lichtenberg - "The American who first discovered Columbus made a bad discovery".

There are only a few reports about early indigenous life- the most readable comes from Georg Wilhelm Steller (Beschreibung von dem Lande Kamtschatka. Frankfurt und Leipzig. 1774).

Earliest settlement: The famous Ushki Lake sites were extensively excavated by Dikov between 1964 and 1990. They represent large Paleolithic camps - the earliest in the northern Far East.

Site Nr. 1 and 5 revealed a stratified late Paleolithic. The Level VII at Site 5 was re-dated in 2003-before the advent of strict pretreatment protocols and statistic modeling- to 13 k.a. cal BP.

It was characterized by a core and flake industry with small bifacial leave- and stemmed- points, bifacial "knives", and good side- and endscrapers.

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In layer VII Dikow discovered traces of hearths and dwelling structures and a burial. The burial pit was filled with charcoal and abundant lumps of red ochre. On its bottom amber beads and biconically drilled pendants were detected.

The advent of Micro Blades: Some researchers think that first traces of microblade production on Kamchatka are already known from the earliest level (Level VII) of the Ushki Lake sites. This issue seems to be controversial. I personally noted only a marginal lamellar component but no typical cores in the published literature.

Wedge-shaped Microblade cores in abundance appear in the next higher level (VI) and were dated between 12-11 k.a. More about pressure flaking and Microblades -see here 1517 .

It is not surprising that the discussions about the interpretation of the Ushki Lake succession, the Change from a bifacial to a micro-blade technique are far from being closed.

Researchers supporting cultural historic approaches, which are still well established in the local scientific community, prefer an ethnical replacement model, while others prefer multiple functional and ecological explanations)- these are late Echos of the Binford-Bordes debate....

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It is important that well developed leave -shaped projectile points are also part of Stratum VI but morphologically they differ from the stemmed points in Layer VII.

The lithic traditions during the Pleistocene to Holocene transition and the Holocene, called within the local scientific tradition "Neolithic" (ca. 6–1,5 k.a.BP), saw renewed changes in lithic production, especially by the introduction of micro- prismatic techniques into the established wedge-shaped microblade core system.

Microblades seem to have been parts of multicomponent hunting devices, their development could have been triggered by activities oriented towards seasonal salmon fishing, which began during the late Paleolithic with an increase during the Early Holocene.

Obsidian Sourcing: First results revealed the distance of obsidian movement during the late Upper Paleolithic, (Ushki 1,2,5), was 200–300km and remained high (90km - 470km) during the "Neolithic".

Finally, during the "Palaeometal" (postneolithic) period, long distant transport with distances up to 450-560km was evidenced.

In Sum the artifacts shown here could be 13000- or only a few 100 years old. They demonstrate the great beauty and variability of Kamchatka lithic artifacts and the use of very different materials with different knapping properties.

2019-02-12 10:37:42   •   ID: 2074

Human Interaction during the Iberomaurusian

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These are several Epipaleolithic artifacts from an isolated Algerian surface scatter, found in the 1940ies, dating between 25 and 8 BP. The could part of either an "Iberomaurusian" or "Capsian" scatter. Both industries are characterized by backed implements. see here 1316 , here 1050 , here: 1372 , and here 1517

The Iberomaurusian is an fully Upper Paleolithic industry found largely focused on the coastal zone of Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia. It is also known from a single major site in Libya, the Haua Fteah, where the industry is called the "Eastern Oranian". Pallary (1909) originally described the industry based on material found at the site of l'Abri Mouillah.

It is characterized by abundant backed bladelets, very few burins, rather banal, simple endscrapers, a few geometric segments, and, among other things, a peculiar piece/piquant "Mouillah point" , made by the micro-burin technique.

The Iberomaurusian seems to have appeared around the time of the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM), somewhere between c. 25 and 22 BP or during the following Heinrich Event I 19-14.6 BP and would have lasted until the late Pleistocene c. 11 k.a. cal BP.

The name of the Iberomaurusian means "of Iberia and Mauritania". Pallary (1909) coined this term to describe assemblages from the site of La Mouillah in the belief that the industry extended over the strait of Gibraltar into the Iberian peninsula.

This theory was subsequently discredited, because an Iberian-African connection has not been proven, but the name remained. To avoid such confusion, this entity is now described as “Late Upper Paleolithic” of Northwest African facies (Barton et al.).

In Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya, but not in Morocco, the industry is succeeded by the Capsian industry, whose origins are unclear. The Capsian is believed either to have spread into North-Africa from the Epipaleolithic Near East, or have evolved from the Iberomaurusian. Genetic evidence supports the latter posibility.

While we know numerous sites from the Iberomaurusian and Capsian, industries from an earlier Upper Paleolithic in N-Africa are rare.

The period between the Middle Paleolithic (a Levallois-Mousterian with or without pedunculated pieces) which begins during OIS6 and ends at ca 40 k.a. BP) and the onset of the precisely dated Late Upper Paleolithic (the Iberomaurusian) is one of the most enigmatic phases in the Maghreb and Northern Africa.

An Early Upper Paleolithic between 26-20 k.a. BP seems to exist, but there are only a handful of sites with poor material. Common features in all these assemblages are the absence of Levallois technique, a tendency toward production of blades or laminar flakes, and the notable appearance of backed pieces.

Such inventories are known from Kehf el Hammar in the Western Rif and from the Grotte de Pigeons at Taforalt.

At sites like Ras el Wadi or Shakshuk in Lybia, Early Upper Paleolithic inventories with blade technology were excavated. There are AMS dates from Shakshuk of ca. 30 k.a. for the early upper Paleolithic and 16 k.a. for the Iberomaurusian.

Where did the people of the Earlier Upper Paleolithic in the Maghreb come from? Regarding the discontinuity between the "Aterian" and the Upper Paleolithic, it is speculatedthat they probably came from the east (via the Nil valley? via the Levant?).

Loosdrecht et al. (2018) analyzed genome-wide data from seven ancient individuals from the Iberomaurusian Grotte des Pigeons site near Taforalt in eastern Morocco. They found a genetic affinity with early Holocene Near Easterners, best represented by Levantine Natufians, suggesting a pre-agricultural connection between Africa and the Near East.

We do not find evidence for gene flow from Paleolithic Europeans to Late Pleistocene North Africans. The Taforalt individuals derive one-third of their ancestry from sub-Saharan Africans, best approximated by a mixture of genetic components preserved in present-day West and East Africans.

Thus, we provide direct evidence for genetic interactions between modern humans across Africa and Eurasia in the Pleistocene.

This is a first important step in the understanding of population genetics of the Iberomaurusian interaction sphere. The Maghreb during the late Paleolithic was not a "cul de sac" and human interaction was more intensive, than suggested before..

2019-02-08 16:31:48   •   ID: 2071

Stellenbosch and the Beginnings of Prehistoric Archaeology in South Africa

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This is an early, 17,6 cm long, Acheulian finding from the Stellenbosch area/ South Africa made from Quartzite.

Most Acheulian findings of the Stellenbosch area are made from this material or large slabs of Sandstone. They may be at least 500 k.a. old.

The artifact was once part of the famous Robert Stephen Murray Collection. Mr Murray (1950-2005) of Caithness, Scotland was a passionate collector of prehistoric artifacts.

The small University town of Stellenbosch is situated in the Western Cape province of South Africa, about 50 kilometers east of Cape Town, along the banks of the Eerste River at the foot of the Stellenbosch Mountain.

Today the picturesque hilly countryside of Stellenbosch is the heart of the South African wine industry.

The gravels of the Eerste River, which flows through Stellenbosch and south to the border of the Helderberg Municipality, contain Early Stone Age (ESA) material which was already identified and accepted as Paleolithic as early as 1866.

Dr Louis Péringuey, at this time Director of the Cape Town Museum, began in 1899 with systematic excavations at the Bosman's Crossing site and subsequently described ESA material in 1911.

Later Bosman's Crossing became the type-site for the Acheulian in S-Africa. An exemple of the findings is displayed in the last external link of this Post.

In the Cape Province– especially at Stellenbosch, Handaxes and cleavers, the most characteristic large cutting tools of the ESA, are found in the plough zone of many vineyards and in the valleys of the Eerste, Berg and Breede Rivers in the south-western Cape. Goodwin and Van Riet Lowe gave a pretty good description of their Large Flake character in 1929.

As well as 20 Acheulian sites are distributed over the landscape at Stellenbosch. Unfortunately no absolute dates are available for the Stellenbosch Acheulian.

Almost all Acheulian assemblages in southern Africa come from disturbed open-air contexts, see- 1715 . Of special interest are therefore securely dated Early Acheulian sites, reported from the sites of Sterkfontein, Swartkrans and Kromdraai, all in Gauteng’s Cradle of Humankind and the the Acheulian of the Vaal river.

Member 5 of Sterkfontein is the largest and most prominent collection at Gauteng dates to ca 1.7-1.4 Ma. At Swartkrans, a few bifaces are said to derive from Member 2, which is thought to be around 1.5 Ma based on fauna.

The fluvial gravels of the river Vaal in South Africa have long been known as a source for Earlier Stone Age artifacts. Most were discovered through the open cast mining for diamonds that has left very little in situ fluvial sediment remaining today.

New programmed excavations at Canteen Koppie a sucession of Acheulian, including an ensemble with Victoria-West technique topped by Fauresmith materials will hopefully help to establish a geochronological framework and secure absolute dates for this important site.

2019-01-31 15:25:47   •   ID: 2070

The Paleolithic of Somalia: An Acheulian Pic

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This is a trihedral Acheulian Pic from Somalia- the first artifact from the area introduced in this Blog

The Federal Republic of Somalia is located in the Horn of Africa.

It is bordered by Ethiopia to the west, Djibouti to the northwest, the Gulf of Aden to the north, the Guarhdafui Channel and Indian Ocean to the east, and Kenya to the southwest.

Somalia has the longest coastline on Africa's mainland, and its terrain consists mainly of undulating plains, plateaus and highlands.

Somalia is drained, on the one hand, by rivers to the Indian Ocean but also by others flowing to large internal lake basins, the greatest of which is Lake Victoria.

Somalia was an important commercial centre during the Early Islamic Times until the 16-17th century exporting Gold, Slaves, Ambra, Ivory, Incense, and hide furs.

Later in times of the European Expansion and during the 19th century, Colonialism and Imperialialism (Britain and Italy) disrupted the connection between the Horn of Africa and Arabia, S/E-Asia and other Parts of the African continent and left an impoverished society.

After the 1980ies continuous wars and a desastrous civil-war made Archaeological projects virtually impossible- in a country with very rich and untouched MSA and ESA- sites.

For sure Desmond Clarke, the great Africanist, was the last who had the opportunity for saving a considerable variety of Archeological materials during WWII operations in this country.

His synthesis of the Stone Age of the Horn of Africa described already known surface collections, new surface collections from his 1940 campaign and some limited statified ensembles- both MSA and LSA.

After WWII some rare notes about the local MSA and LSA were published, for example by Brand who made in 1982 limited excavations at the important MSA site of Midhishi 2, which had some affinities to the Porc Epic materials in Ethiopia.

After the mid Eighties, Archeological news from Somalia got sparse- but they never stoped completely-especially on the issue of the “Hargeisian” sensu Clark- a late Pleistocene (MIS 3) lithic industry with both LSA and MSA- affinities (the association of Levallois, laminar, and microlithic technologies), recently reintroduced after modern excavations at shelter 7 of Laas Geel, Somaliland.

Interestingly, similar combinations of typically MSA (e.g., points) and LSA (e.g., backed pieces) artifacts are found during the much later, mid-Holocene strata at Goda Buticha in Ethiopia- see 1637 .

The trihedral Acheulian pic of this post was found most probably during 1896 by Seton-Karr and later in the large collection of Dr Hugh Alderson Fawcett (1891-1982).

Heyward Walter Seton-Karr (1859–1938) was of Scottish descent, educated at Eaton, big-game hunter and adventure traveller, associated with the Royal Geographical Society. He made four expeditions to Somalia in the 1890ies.

He was also a enthusiastic collector of stone artifacts all over the British Empire (Predynastic and Dynastic Egypt, Somalia, India).

Much of his collections are now dispersed over several large Museums (British Museum, Le musée des antiquités nationales, Saint-Germain-en-Laye, the Smithsonian). In Cairo, the Egyptian Museum possesses hundreds of objects from Upper Egypt and the Fayum donated by Seton-Carr.

He discovered his first lithics at Jalelo, roughly mid-way between the port of Berbera and the inland town of Hargeisa, to the north-west, in Somalia.

Seton-Karr found hundred of ESA artifacts on the slopes of a hill near the Issutugan River, situated in the same region, but never in original context .

We also know of rich MSA findings with Levallois signatures from his expeditions in Somalia, now housed in the Australian Museum / Sydney.

Bifaces of his collection are mostly made of Quartzite and display different forms: "Classic Ovates and Pointed Handaxes" but also rough outs and delicate, more archaic trihedral pics, like the specimen shown here. This trihedral could be about 1 My old.

Seton-Karr was educated enough to notice that his findings were Paleolithic and resembled to the already famous UK- and French specimens from Hoxne and Abeville / Saint Acheul.

As a Victorian Gentlemen and reputable amateur Archaeologist he had access to the small scientific network in his home-county and when he showed his findings to the eminent archaeologist John Evans, they agreed, that these handaxes could be well the first-ever found in Africa, south of Egypt.

Anyhow, Evans strictly asked for stratified findings of these ESA artifacts.

Seton-Karr’s tools from Somalia were exhibited at the Royal Archaeological Society at their meeting in London in 1897. For his contributions to Archaeology, he was awarded the Galileo Gold Medal by the University of Florence.

Maybe Seton-Karr, would have had the luck to find lithics in situ, but he died tragically at the age of 61 when the ocean-liner he was on, the RMS Empress of Ireland, sank on 29 May 1914 in the gulf of the St. Lawrence River in Canada after a collision (Zeni, 1998).

I am sure, that renewed surveys and excavation could give us new insights in the Pleistocene Prehistory of the Horn of Africa.

Multidisciplinary efforts from Oman and Saudi Arabia during the last 10 years have produced a wealth of high quality ESA and MSA data in such quasi "untouched" regions.

Suggested Reading:

J. Grahame D. Clark: Prehistoric Cultures of the Horn of Africa, an Analysis of the Stone Age Cultural and Climatic Succession in the Somaliland and Eastern Parts of Abyssinia. 1954

2019-01-29 07:38:50   •   ID: 2069

Handaxe from Saint Sauveur (Vienne)

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The Mousterian of Acheulian tradition (MTA) describes a group of industries characterized by usually small and finely retouched bifaces, first recognized by Peyrony in 1920.

Different regional variants of the MTA have been distinguished according to the presence of bifaces with a peculiar morphology (MTA with triangular bifaces within northern France, MTA with bout-coupé form unique to Britain, MTA with cordiform bifaces in the south-west of France).

The MTA is an excellent example to demonstrate the ongoing use of the concept of “fossil directeurs” (index fossils) in the Prehistoric archaeology.

Here I display a triangular Handaxe from Saint Sauveur (Vienne). It is made of a very compact and homogeneous Turonian (“Grand Pressigny”) flint, not only found at Saint-Sauveur but also occasionally in the Creuse valley, south of Abilly, and in the valley to the Claise at Chaumussay.

Nicholas Steno established the theoretical basis for stratigraphy when he reintroduced the law of superposition and introduced the principle of original horizontality and the principle of lateral continuity in a 1669 work on the fossilization of organic remains in layers of sediment.

The first practical large-scale application of stratigraphy was by William Smith in the 1790s and early 19th century.

Smith created the first geologic map of England and first recognized the significance of strata or rock layering and the importance of index fossils for correlating strata.

An other influential application of stratigraphy in the early 19th century was a study by Georges Cuvier and Alexandre Brongniart of the geology of the region around Paris.

Soon after the establishment of human antiquity during the 1850ies, John Lubbock (1834–1913) provided his colleagues with a useful chronological tool.

He divided the prehistoric Stone Age into two Periods: the Palaeolithic period or Old Stone Age (which he initially called the “Archaeolithic”), characterized by chipped stone tools; and the Neolithic period or New Stone Age, when polished axes and domestic animals appeared .

Without stratigraphy, Paleolithic prehistory as a scientific discipline would not have been emerged during the second half of the 19th century, as stratigraphy was the only established approach of relative dating Paleolithic complexes.

It was not by chance that a geologist, Gabriel de Mortillet (1873), supplied a further refinement of Lubbock’s Palaeolithic period with his stone tool epochs, each named after a typical locality (Chellean, Mousterian, Solutrean, Magdalenian, etc.) and defined by typical tool-forms which acted like the type-fossils (fossil- directeurs”) of geologists.

During the first half of the 20th century, Paleolithic archaeology in France was dominated by influential ecclesiastic “master thinkers” like Henry Breuil.

Breuil and others, notably Denis Peyrony, a renowned excavator in southwestern France, still relied on the concept of type fossils as the basis for their chronologies.

But while Mortillet had used the index-fossils as proof of an unilinear and universal progression of mankind, Breuil and others interpreted them as indicative of unique cultural traditions characterizing “Paleolithic tribes” (for example the “Perigordians”).

As Sackett has noted, this paleontological approach resulted in the assumption that “culture history can be regarded and accounted for in essential organic terms.”

In other words, if specific cultural traditions are associated with only one type of artifact tradition, then artifacts can be understood to ‘behave’ like paleontological phyla.

Francois Bordes in collaboration with Maurice Bourgon introduced simple statistical methods into the research of Middle Paleolithic industries in the late 1940ies.

Basically he first developed a rigorous type-list. This list explicitly used morphological and technological characteristics of the tools in the determination of type.

In addition, he created a cumulative graphical method to display the characteristics of excavated ensembles. By calculating the relative percentages of different tool types within Mousterian assemblages, he finally developed a series of technological indices that was used to characterize assemblages without the use of “fossil directeurs”.

Bordes’ taxonomy was widely recognized for its utility and its emphasis on quantitative data (assumed to be objective in nature) as opposed to qualitative data (assumed to be subjective). In reality, however, Bordes’ approach was not merely a simple quantitative scheme. He routinely used qualitative criteria to refine his taxonomy.

The MTA facies, for example, was defined purely in terms of the presence of the distinctive hand-axe (cordiform, triangular). The use of the hand-axe to define the MTA was made solely on the grounds of the tool as a purported diagnostic type, not because of its relative frequency in the assemblage or its role in any of the technological indices created by Bordes. Here the fossil directeur was re-introduced by the back door again.

Deeply influenced by Peyrony and Breuil, Bordes adhered to a culture historic approach. By the early 1960s, he routinely used the term “tribe” to refer to the different cultural groups he posited as the makers of the different Mousterian tool industries.

Moreover, by that time he had clearly and definitively concluded that the evidence best supported a cultural explanation, stating that “the existence of different cultures within the Mousterian complex appears to be an established fact.”

Although later generations of Archaeologists dismantled the naïve cultural historic concepts and discredited the type fossil approach, one has to ask if the “New Archeology” did not throw out the baby with the bath water.

The question that has to be answered for 150 years has still not resolved: Why did humans in a defined area within a defined timeframe choose to produce triangular handaxes? In Europe such artifacts have never been used before or later again.

The MTA in S/W-France is dated to OIS3 and the MTA with triangular bifaces of N-France has been traditionally dated on geochronological grounds between OIS 5d–5a. In contrast, newer excavations at Saint-Amand-les-Eaux revealed a remarkable ensemble of 80 bifaces (cordiform, triangular) produced and used at the site, preserved in situ and dated to 50 k.a. BP (OIS3).

More information about triangular Bifaces in Europe can be found here: 1536 and 2027 .

Resources and images in full resolution:

2019-01-29 07:38:50   •   ID: 1466

The Middle Neolithic of Northern Hessen

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These are two small middle Neolithic axes from Northern Hessen, found near Kassel.

In controversial hypotheses, there have long been speculations attempting to explain the spread of the farming lifestyle from the Fertile Crescent to Europe: via idea transfer and acculturation, or even through different forms of infiltration by foreign civilizations in central Europe.

Samples of old DNA from a burial ground at the Early Neolithic Derenburg-Meeresstieg II LBK-site in the Middle Elbe-Saale region about 160 km Northeast of Kassel indicate that the “Neolithic package” in central Germany may have been brought by Immigrants from the Levant .

The main finding of the study were the first molecular genetic proof indicating that the genetic profile of the early Neolithic settlers had strong similarity with populations currently living in the Near East. Later studies from the vast LBK interaction sphere followed and confirmed these results.

After establishing the first farming communities during the LBK- and Rössen phase, the Neolithic “cultures” of Northern Hesse are influenced by the Michelsberg culture between 4100 and 3500 BC.

The following Wartberg culture, a regional complex found in northern Hesse and eastern Westphalia with its famous gallery graves has been dated 3700 and 2,800 BC. This regional complex is followed the Corded Ware, which shortly after was confronted with the ideology of the Bell Beaker Culture.

These two small axes (7 and 11 cm) shown here, found 10 km most probably come from a Michelsberg context or are from the very late Neolithic.

Such items are neither known from the LBK- and Rössen phase nor from the Wartberg phase.

Note that this post was written before the Anatolian / Levantine migration of first European farmers was finally proven on larger DNA samples.

Resources and images in full resolution:

2019-01-25 15:06:04   •   ID: 2068

A Handaxe from Be’er Scheva / Israel

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We have almost no valid Archaeological data for the Lower Paleolithic of the Negev. This is a 17 cm long, non-LCT flat handaxes from Be’er Scheva at the fringes of the Negev. It may come frome a late Acheulian and dated to 500 k.a.

The Late Acheulian chronology in Israel is under debate. Post-GBY industries comprising flint handaxes with no cleavers, such as Ma’ayan Barukh, are c 500 k.a. old. The assignation to a late Acheulian of the Be’er Scheva item is based on typology, the use of good quality flint, and the absence of a LCT design or a trifacial / pic-like concept

In our modern world, innovation is high ranked. Success or Failure in Western Modern Societies are decided by the ability of being innovative and make products better than before.

The „Diffusion of Innovation Theory“, was developed by E.M. Rogers in 1962 and tried to explain how, over time, an idea or product gains momentum and spreads through a specific population or social system.

The end result of this diffusion is that people, as part of a social system, adopt a new idea, behavior, or product. The key to adoption is that the person must perceive the idea, behavior, or product as new or innovative. It is through this that diffusion is possible.

In Prehistoric Anthropology, the „Diffusion of Innovation Theory“, has also become popular and successfully was applied during the last 20 years.

In this context, the stable persistence of Handaxes in the Archeological record, from 1,75my- c 200 k.a. BP, is often described with negative connotations as a non-innovative system of stasis.

Anyhow, it remains unclear what was the significance of "innovation" in archaic societies. A theory, that was developed to describe successful behavioral strategies in western Capitalism can not easily imposed on these people, with their unknown mechanisms of decision making and risk-management. New behaviors are not always an evolutionary advantage, and the change of a lithic system can be risky.

Beyond that, the focused view on Handaxes is certainly biased, because the Acheulian saw other fields of innovation, probably more important for survival than the development of new lithic artifact subtypes.

  • The habitual use of fire, for example at at GBY at 800 k.a. BP

  • the development of new hunting strategies

  • the development of Niche broadening strategies with consecutive Human dispersals

In this context I would agree with Finkel et al (see attached external links), who stated : We suggest that the technological persistence of the Acheulean handaxe played an adaptive role that was based on a preferred cultural conservatism and led to the successful survival of Lower Paleolithic populations over hundreds of thousands of years in the Old World.

2019-01-24 16:30:13   •   ID: 2067

Small but Beautiful: Neolithic Arrow-Point from Erg Chech

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This is a translucent yellow Neolithic, 3,1 cm long bifacial point, found more than 40 years ago in the Erg Chech / Algeria.

The Algerian sand seas (Ergs) today are an almost uninhabited part of the greater Sahara Desert, an inhospitable desert region with long, extremely hot summers and short, very warm winters.

The Erg Chech is a vast sandy expanse including compound and complex linear and star dunes. The mean elevation of the Erg Chech is just above 300 m, slightly lower than the neighboring Erg Iguidi stretching to the north. The barren plain of the Tanezrouft is located to the southeast. The sand seas border Algeria, Mali, and Niger.

Much progress has been made in the evaluation of early and middle Holocene cultural and subsistence changes in the Maghreb, pointing to a specific North African pathway to a more sedentary lifestyle, including an active role of Epipaleolithic groups to a mixed economy based on pastoralism, the consumption of wild animals and plants, with no evidence for agriculture using domesticates, a lifestyle fully developed at 7,5 k.a. cal BP (Mulazzani et al. 2017).

On the other hand, excavations in the deep Sahara stoped during the late 1970ies. Geological research showed, that the Algerian Sahara enjoyed a warm, humid climate at 8,5 k.a.. The fertile Sahel region stretched much further north. As the eastern part slowly dried out some 5,3 k.a.

Therefore incoming populations had a window of opportunity of settling the Holocene "Green Sahara". Artifacts, pot sherds and other remains are common on the Saharan surface, but the "when", "why" and "how" of the settlement systems remains unknown, after older cultural historical approaches have been discredited.