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2018-07-04 05:49:53   •   ID: 2003

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

Figure 1- ventral view

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2018-06-23 10:49:52   •   ID: 2002

MSA from the Edeyen Ubari

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

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

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

Figure 2
Recent research showed that perennial lakes, interconnected with water bearing paleo-rivers were abundant in the Sahara during these African Humid Periods (AHP). They are contested from the early Holocene and from the Middle Pleistocene. This hold true for MIS5e at 130-120 k.a. One event is dated around 170 k.a. and another at 330 k.a. Even during drier times there were certainly many econiches where animals and Homo sp. could survive. One example is the MIS4 (TL and OSL) occupation at Uan Afuda and Uan Tabu (Lybia, MSA / Aterian).
Figure 3
artifacts shown here were found at Edeyen Ubari more than 40 yrs. ago and represent parts of one cluster. From left to right: Nr. 1 is an unifacial elongated point, Nr. 2 is a "Mousterian" point with extremely fine retouches and a facetted base, Nr. 3 (Fig.2) is an unifacial scraper, Nr.4 and 5 are small bifacial foliates, Nr. 6 is a heavily reworked bifacial Bi-pointe (Fig.3)

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

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

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

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

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

2018-06-18 13:42:22   •   ID: 1751

MSA from Murzuq in Southwest Libya

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Suggested Reading:

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

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

Resources and images in full resolution:

2018-03-22 21:01:01   •   ID: 1749

Core-axes in the North African Paleolithic context

Fig. 1
These are 3 Core axes (Fig 1) from a surface scatter in the Omo Valley, near Omo- Kibish. These implements were also present on the stratified Kibish locality.

Core-axes are defined as bifacial tools produced by hard hammer technique, with one or two retouched blunted distal end. J. Desmond Clark (Kalambo Falls Prehistoric Site: Volume 3, The Earlier Cultures: Middle and Earlier Stone Age), divided them into several sub-classes : Convergent, Convergent Accuminate, Irregular, Divergent and Parallel- Sided. They may have only one working edge or two core-axe ends on opposite sides edges. Normally they  have  a biconvex shape and are often heavenly reworked from blanks with a thick cross section.

Philip Van Peer already pointed out that some of them (Like No3 in Fig. 1) have a scalariform appearance of the bifacial retouch on the lateral sides of the artifact. The greater refinement of many core-axes suggests they may have functioned as hafted tools for sub-surface exploitation, which could be demonstrated by microtraceology at Sai 8-B-11 (Sudan).

Both technically and morphometrically core-axes are very different from handaxes, and in Africa are usually seen within the Sangoan - Lupemban complex. Anyhow, the biased collection of the Omo palimpsest scatter gives no indication for a Sangoan / Lupemban. Core axes are pretty  common artifacts over large parts of the African continent combined with other technocomplexes than a "pure" Sangoan.

Fig. 2
N/E Africa: The only stratified site with some LCTs made from Levallois flakes in combination with core axes and remains of Homo Sapiens in Ethiopia is the the Herto assemblage, dated to ca 150 k.a. More "typical" Sangoan technology is found at Middle Nile Valley sites such as Khor Abu Anga, Sai 8-B-11, and Arkin 8, and further to the south at Abu Hagar. These sites have been coarsely dated to MIS7.

In Van Peers view "the Sangoan material culture is the consequence of a subsistence system with an emphasis on sub-surface exploitation of resources, both foodstuffs and mineral materials. During the period of MIS 6 it changes into a Lupemban facies, with the addition of lanceolate foliates and volumetric blade production"......"Throughout the late Middle Pleistocene technological change occurs leading to the establishment of the Nubian Complex by the onset of the Upper Pleistocene. After a period of significant population expansion during the Last Interglacial, the arid conditions of Stage 4 have forced technological adaptation and contraction of population groups into the Nile Valley. In this context, the initial Upper Paleolithic emerges".

Fig. 3
Van Peers suggests  that ensembles with core-axes indicate the beginning of the early MSA in the region and show the arrival of new populations from sub-Saharan Africa. This hypothesis is worrisome, because other MSA sites in East Africa are considerably older than Sai 8-B-11 pointing to a more mosaic-like pattern of the Archaeological record and it is heavily focused on the core axe as a fossil directeur. Furthermore, it is the old dilemma of prehistory, that new tools and concepts are not necessarily connected with specific hominins. Very little is known about the context of core-axes in the Maghreb and the Western Sahara. Anyhow, Shab Al Ghar, in Morocco  and several sites, excavated by the late J.D. Clark at Adrar Bous (Niger) give a first impression that Sangoan like assemblages are not absent in these regions. There is more to detect than the simple Aterian / MSA dichotomy  in this area!

Fig. 3: Three Core axes from a surface scatter in the Omo Valley, near Omo- Kibish. Fig. 2: A delicate scraper on a Levallois blade from the Omo Valley near Omo Kibish Fig. 3: Two thick bifacial scrapers with Quina like appearance from the Omo Valley near Omo Kibish

Resources and images in full resolution:

2018-03-22 21:01:01   •   ID: 1733

LBK Quartzite Blades during the Linear Pottery culture in Northern Hessen

These are some Quartzite Artifacts from Lenderscheid in Northern Hesse, produced during the early and middle Neolithic (Linearbandkeramik; LBK).

Although Northern Hesse was only marginally involved into the formation of the LBK, a dense settlement pattern is present from the older phases of Linear Pottery culture onwards.

The fine grained quartzite from Lenderscheid was used in larger quantities in nearby LBK-settlements such as Homberg-Wernsweg,Bad Zwesten-Niederurff and Immenhausen and Gudensberg-Maden. Of course, good quality flint is also always present at these sites in varying quantities.

At the Gudensberg-Maden site for example, flint from Rijckholt in the Maas region, about 400 km in the west of Gudensberg, was used to produce retouched blades found as funerary objects. No systematic studies about the Lenderscheid raw material exploitation, distribution and preference for quartzite at specific sites are available up to now.

Some blades at the Lenderscheid site show the technique of “fractures volontaires”. Here short blades are produced by intentionally percussion induced fractures from a longer blade.

During the Neolithic such short blade segments were important for the production of sickles.

Resources and images in full resolution:

2018-03-02 20:22:57   •   ID: 1743

(Pre)-Neanderthal Technology: What remained and what was lost in the Record

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 1 shows convergent elongated "points" or scrapers from Le Moustier and Fig. 2 large scrapers from different French sites coming from a 19th century collection. Some years ago these artifacts would have been an anchor-point in the suggestion that  the Neanderthals and their immediate ancestors in Eurasia were Dimwitted, Dull, Crude, Stupid Subhumans- an evolutionary failure.

Scrapers and Points made from stone were a signature of stasis- the repetitions of the unvarying same. But how could these hominins survive 250000 years or more in the harshest climates experienced by humans anywhere? Was Neanderthal technology really as simple as that? Fig.3 shows a normal sized Cordiform Handaxe and a minuscule cordiform from the same site (Saint-Julien de Liège) suggesting that Neanderthals were able to produce small and delicate instruments that could, without knowing their specific context, easily be taken as Neolithic arrowheads.

Fig. 3
Such delicate Mousterian artifacts have already been discussed in this blog. Technological studies of the last 25 yrs. have demonstrated, beyond the typological monotony, a remarkable diversification of Neanderthal lithic technologies since MIS8/7 (Levallois, Laminar, Quina, Discoid,Bifacial) well adapted to specific situations and tasks. Anyhow, one gets the impression that Neanderthal culture did not show the same acceleration of innovative trends that characterized Homo Sapiens. Maybe Neanderthals suggested their stable lithic system just as  “good enough” without looking for new solutions.

Until the 1980 we did not know much about non lithic artifacts before the Advent of Homo Sapiens, but these artifacts were remarkable enough.

At 400,000 years old, the yew-wood (Taxus baccata) Clacton "spear"-fragment* is the earliest known worked wooden artifact and has appeared in academic articles ever since its discovery in 1911 by Samuel Hazzledine Warren. It is a tipped and broken fragment of a larger artifact, and when found was 38,7 cm long, with a diameter of 3,9 cm and straight. But drying out during the first decades of storage it shrank to 36,7 cm by 3,7 cm and warped slightly into a curve.

Taxus is a genus of small coniferous trees or shrubs in the yew family Taxaceae. They are relatively slow-growing and can be very long-lived and reach heights of 2,5-20 m, with trunk girth averaging 5 m. They have reddish bark, lanceolate, flat, dark-green leaves 10-40 mm. Yew wood is reddish brown (with whiter sapwood), and is very springy and relatively soft (but not too soft) according to the Janka hardness test. These qualities have promoted its use in the production of bows and spears in prehistoric and historic times. One famous example is the unfinished bow made of yew wood from the Chalcolithic Tyrolean ice-man ("Ötzi").

First suggestions of its purpose included a digging stick, part of a trap, or a weapon for warding off other scavengers. This mirrored perceptions that early hominins were scavengers and not hunters. With changing paradigms and regarding the considerable effort expended in sharpening the tool, removing bark and smoothing the nodes, it became more probable that the Clacton fragment was indeed part of a thrusting or throwing spear. McNabb (2007) demonstrated that  that the most efficient tool from the associated Clactonian ensemble, for creating the Clacton spear is the Clactonian notch.

The underlying operational sequence for the Clacton spear fragment speaks for the presence of a considerable advanced cognitive level of its maker (presumable H. heidelbergensis). The recovery of a MIS5e yew wood spear associated with the carcass of a forest elephant (Palaeoloxodon antiquus) at Lehringen (Lower Saxony) together with 27 Levallois flakes was made as early as 1948, but introduced into the international discussion only several decades later. This artifact is a strong argument for active hunting by Neanderthals

Thieme and Veil  (1988) showed that this yew stem had been carefully barked, the smaller branches were removed and that the tips are not exactly in the middle of the axis, but slightly to the side. Presumably, this technical detail is due to the fact, that the makers did not want to have the weak point of the medullary ray at the top, because this structure is the most vulnerable to damage during impact. Whether humans actually hunted the animal or just killed it when it was already trapped in the swamp, remains open to discussion. It was certainly butchered, as is equally attested for an elephant skeleton found at Gröbern, again at a lake-side, and again along with 27 Levallois artefacts.

The finds from Schöningen Lower Saxony) are of central importance and have completely redefined the discourse on Lower Paleolithic subsistence. In 1994, Thieme’s  team recovered eight spears in direct association with the bones of over a dozen horses in deposits dating to ca. 300k.a. (MIS9). This discovery led to a change in paradigms, namely that Homo before Homo sapiens was a poorly equipped scavenger, the hunted, but not the hunter.

Schöningen shows a Middle to Late Pleistocene sedimentary succession, locally up to 45 m thick, which has been preserved in an Elsterian tunnel valley. After deglaciation, the tunnel valley was re-filled during the Holsteinian (MIS9) interglacial. There was a long-lived interglacial lake which provided at its shores attractive site for animals and humans. The evaluation of these nearly in-situ embedded Paleo-landscapes at different sites and under various climatic conditions continues to be conducted by a large international team.

The immense area of 9400 m2 has been excavated until now making Schöningen one of the key sites for Lower Paleolithic archaeology in central Europe. My interest in this post is focused on two horizons: Schöningen 12 II-1 is situated in the deepest and warmest period of the sedimentary sequence at the shores of a Paleolake. Excavators recovered flint artifacts and numerous pieces of wood.

Thieme identified several wood artifacts, which he interpreted as hafting shafts (Thieme, 2007). The importance of hafting and the early use of adhesives has been discussed elsewhere in this blog (here and there).  Numerous carcasses with anthropogenic cut-marks from large animals were found, noteworthy among them the parts of a water buffalo (Bubalus murrensis) indicating to  climatic conditions warmer than today in Central Europe. Schöningen 13 II-4 represents Thieme's original "Spear Horizon"  dating to MIS9 with the Horse Butchery Site. Of the eight spears, seven are made of spruce (Picea sp.) And one of pine (Pinus sylvestris).

Like the Lehringen spear, the tips of the Schöningen spears are not exactly in the middle of the axis, but slightly to the side. Nine of them are interpreted as throwing spears (javelins) and one as a thrusting spear (lance). This interpretation was suggested from the comparison to ethnographic examples and the notion that even modern javelins compare very well to the characteristics of the Paleo-spers. In addition, a probable throwing stick and other unspecified wooden artifacts, nearly 1500 flints and bone tools were found. Numerous remains of horses , and the remains of at least 10 other species of large mammals complete the extraordinary findings. Other MIS9 sites at Schöningen are rather low density scatters, sometimes also with enlightening  observations: several sites with only a few artifacts, associated with bones showing impact scars and cut marks and a nearly complete aurochs (Bos primigenius) skeleton, associated (?) one flint flake showing use-wear traces.

Very recently Aranguren et al.  reported a set of wooden artifacts from a 170 k.a.-old Middle Paleolithic occupation at at Poggetti Vecchi  in southern Tuscany (Italy). Similar to Lehringen the artifacts were preserved in a calcareous mudstone deposited along a lake margin. Alongside with a Palaeoloxodon antiquus- fauna, the scientists found associated stone tools and anthropogenic modified wooden artifacts made of Boxwood, which  is among the hardiest and heaviest of European timbers. About 40  sticks, all fragmentary, some over 1 m long, rounded at one end and pointed at the other, were found. They provide the use of fire by Neanderthals in their fabrication. The excavators interpreted these sticks as digging sticks- but extended excavations and more material may change this interpretation.

The continuous use of wood during the timespan of MIS5-3 has recently reiterated by the finding of a beveled pointed wooden tool, interpreted as digging stick from the Aranbaltza III site in Spain.

2018-03-01 15:01:23   •   ID: 1742

Spotlight on the Iberian Mousterian

Fig. 1
This is a convergent and small ( 3,5 cm long) scraper from the Jarama VI site in Central Spain and the first Iberian Middle Paleolithic lithic artefact displayed within the blog. Unfortunately, the wealth of Middle Paleolithic sites in Iberia is not accompanied by a solid chronostratigraphic framework.

Anyhow, Atapuerca TD 10.1. was dated to ca. 350 k.a. and could represent the earliest evidence of Middle Paleolithic technology in the peninsula, comparable to the age of other Early Middle Paleolithic industries in Europe. Its large lithic and fossil assemblage shares some elements of continuity with the Acheulean (e.g., handaxes), but cores and retouched flakes indicate more diversified knapping systems typical of the Mousterian. A more complete cultural succession from the latter part of the Middle Pleistocene is that from Bolomor, in eastern Spain. Here, radiometric dates bracket between OIS 9 and OIS 5e more than a dozen archaeological units in which denticulate and sidescraper-rich layers alternate and no handaxes are recorded.

The earliest levels of Bolomor (XVII–XV) are positioned between 347 and 242 k.a. and are considered as early Middle Paleolithic, which is in agreement with the Atapuerca TD During the last glaciation, using Bordesian description, Denticulate Mousterian, Charentian, Typical Mousterian, MTA, and a Mousterian with cleavers (the last two entities only in the north) have described.

Technological the Quina, Levallois and Discoid system were present but without any clear diachronic trends. The “transition” between the Middle and Upper Paleolithic was for a long time within the focus of research. Since the early 1990s, it has been widely acknowledged that the region south of the Ebro River and Cantabrian Cordillera in Iberia provided a refugium for the final Neanderthals.

In this view, the Mousterian persisted south of the Ebro until ca 32 k.a., while the earliest stages of the (Proto) Aurignacian, tentatively linked with an AMH authorship, were absent from Southern Iberia. This “Ebro Frontier” model was not really questioned until recently. In contrast, in northern Iberia the Aurignacian appeared around 42 ka calBP, shortly after the disappearance of the Mousterian, a Middle Paleolithic industry usually associated with Neanderthals. It has to be remembered, that two-thirds of C-14 dates from the south are “old” conventional radiocarbon dates, and sampling and pretreatment protocols do not meet modern requirements.

Recently advanced C-14 AMS techniques combined with rigorous pretreatment protocols were for the first time used in the evaluation the reliability of chronologies of eleven Southern Iberian Middle and early Upper Paleolithic sites, including the Mousterian from Jarama VI and Zafarraya. Using improved pretreatment protocols, the existing Paleolithic chronologies at sites such as Fumane, Italy, Abri Pataud, France, and Geissenklösterle, Germany have lengthened by several millennia.

It therefore is not surprising that this advanced technique now puts the Mousterian from Jarama VI and Zafarraya to a pre-42 k.a. date. It seems that the demise of the last Neanderthals in Iberia happened before Homo sapiens reached larger parts of the Iberian Peninsula. The Upper Jarama Valley is located on the southern slope of the eastern part of the Spanish Central Ridge. Here, the rock shelter of Jarama VI is located on the left bank of the Jarama River. First controlled excavations were carried out between 1989 and 1993 and revealed the presence of three archeological units.

The industry in level 1 has been identified as Mousterian, as have the assemblages in levels 2.1, 2.2 and 3. A human metatarsal (H. sapiens?, H. Neanderthalensis?) was recovered from level 2.2. The Jarama VI site contains evidences of settlement during OIS 3 and the last OIS 4. The lithic industry is not described anywhere, but according to what I have seen, mainly non-Levallois techniques were used for the production of scraper rich ensembles. Most artifacts are heavily reworked by intensive retouches indicating a considerable length of stay of their makers at the site.

Fig. 2
Fig. 2: A view to the Jarama Valley. Note the carstic environment in the background The Battle of Jarama (February 1937) was an attempt by General Francisco Franco's Nationalists to dislodge the Republican lines along the river Jarama, just east of Madrid, during the Spanish Civil War. Elite Spanish Legionnaires and Moroccan Regulares from the Army of Africa forced back the Republican Army of the Centre, including the International Brigades, but after days of fierce fighting no breakthrough was achieved. Republican counterattacks along the captured ground likewise failed, resulting in heavy casualties to both sides (source: Wikipedia).

2018-02-27 07:20:32   •   ID: 1740

Popular Paleolithic II: Is there anything new for the interested German speaking public?

Fig. 1
Fig. 1: This is a bifacial tool from the KMG-Groups in S/W-Germany

Books about Prehistory written in German for an interested non-professional public are notorious rare. Some days ago, one important overview about Paleolithic Archaeology (mainly of Middle Europe) was published, that is recommended to everyone interested in this issue.

Jürgen Richter Altsteinzeit: Der Weg der frühen Menschen von Afrika bis in die Mitte Europas

After six caves holding the oldest figurative artworks made by humans in the Swabian Alp region have declared a UNESCO World Heritage site there are some excellent publications about the Palaeolithic of this region, published by the Conard Group:

Eiszeitarchäologie auf der Schwäbischen Alb: Die Fundstellen im Ach- und Lonetal und in ihrer Umgebung (Tübingen Publications in Prehistory

And for advanced Readers:

Harald Meller (Herausgeber),‎ Dietrich Mania et al. Bilzingsleben VII: Homo erectus – seine Kultur und Umwelt: Befund und Silexartefakte der mittelpleistozänen Fundstelle (Veröffentlichungen des Landesamtes  für Vorgeschichte Sachsen-Anhalt)

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2018-02-26 16:45:59   •   ID: 1738

A Mining Pic from Spiennes

Fig. 1
This is a typical, 25 cm long neolithic "Pic de mineur" from Spiennes (Belgium). Spiennes is situated in the west of what is today Middle Belgium, on the southern edge of the Mons Basin, in the Hainaut Province. The region was a privileged area for the procurement of good flint since the Acheulean and the  early Middle Palaeolithic. 10 km to the North, we find the famous open-air early middle upper Paleolithic site of Maisières-Canal  which has been dated to 28 k.a. BP ( 33 k.a. cal BP).

Several the open-air Magdalenian sites of are known from the Hainaut area which may have mainly occupied in the warm season. These places would be repeatedly visited specifically for their abundant, high quality flint. Some scientists already called these sites "quarry-workshops" (Straus and Otte 1998). During the Neolithic around one hundred hectares in the Spiennes-Area were to be exploited for good quality flint with thousands of deep shafts; some of them were dug down to a depth of 15-16 m. They were narrow, at most 1-1.5 m wide. The area of underground exploitation is estimated to have been 40-50 m2.

The flint extracted by the Neolithic miners comes from the Spiennes Chalk Formation which belongs to the Late Cretaceous period. The Spiennes Formation is rich in large flint nodules of 10 to 60 cm thick, either black or black to grey-brown.

By the second half of the 5th millenium BCE, many flint mines dedicated to the mass production of polished axeheads appear in North-West Europe, Spiennes among them, at a time when those tools become common in settlement sites. The populations who exploited the mines in Spiennes belonged to the farming communities who settled the Mons Basin at the end of the 5th millennium BCE, namely the Michelsberg groups and their successors. Faunal and  Palynological data indicate the presence of cultivated fields and cattle grazing areas in the immediate vicinity  of the flint mines- a unique point compared to most European mining sites, which are usually separated from the living sites.

The characteristics of the end products of the knapping workshops of Spiennes are very specific: they consist essentially in large axeheads (up to 28 cm long) and long and robust blades (15 to 20 cm long). They present a high degree of standardization. Rough-outs were exchanged over a wide area, about 150 kilometers, and were often polished only at their destination. Polishing strengthens the final product, making the axe- or adze-head last longer. The smooth surface also aids the cutting action by lowering friction with the wood.

During the Middle Neolithic an enclosed settlement was installed on the Petit-Spiennes plateau which suggests a close control of the mines during the Michelsberg period by the local population. However, it remains open to discussion how flint mining influenced the lifestyle of the village inhabitants. What is certain is that mining activities, as well as the production of the specific highly standardised tools linked to the mines, certainly necessitated a real know-how that could have concentrated in the hands of the local population.

It is not very probable that  mining activities led to an internal social stratification of the community, rather there is some evidence pointing to a seasonal organisation of mining activities, probable during the winter month. Spiennes is not the only European mining site where seasonality is considered likely, as G. Roth came to the same conclusions for the Arnhofen mines in Germany (Roth 2008).

2018-02-26 16:43:49   •   ID: 1737

Neolithic Sickle

Fig. 1
  This is a superb crescent-shaped finely serrated and thin bladed bifacial Danish Neolithic flint sickle dating to the later 3rd. millennium B.C. The final Debitage of such tools is virtually indistinguishable from the late-stage reduction of contemporary daggers.

Unfortunately many of these sickles have been found “to early” (during the 19th and early 20th century) and therefore the context of most of these findings is not known. If they were used inserted in curved handles or attached to a proximal handle remains an open question.

While the late Neolithic / Early Bronze Age Daggers of Northern Europe have been gained much scientific attention, there is no published systematic literature about the context, trace ware studies and geographic distribution of these sickles. Sickle blades become visible in the archaeological record during the late Kebaran and Natufian of the Levant. Most of them are simple backed blade segments and are additionally identified by a characteristic sickle gloss which shows, that these implements have been used to cut out the silica rich stems of cereals.

Note that there are unquestionable sickles without any gloss, and that gloss can also be formed under other conditions, for example when using these artifacts as threshing sledge inserts. Levantine Epipaleolithic and Neolithic sickles were usually hafted along their backs, parallel to the working edge, and not Dagger like with a proximal handle.

The handle was made from organic material (usually wood and bone). A good example is the sickle found at the Early Natufian site of Wadi Hammeh 27: A complete sickle from the Fayum Neolithic is shown at:

Wooden sickle handles are known from the site of La Draga, an early Cardial Neolithic village, located on the eastern shore of the Estany de Banyoles (Lake Banyoles) in Catalonia. This site dates from the end of the 6th millennium BC. At La Draga the blades were inserted into one side of the tool, at right angles to the handle.