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2019-04-11 08:15:12   •   ID: 2093

Reading the Paleolithic Femal Body

Figure 1
This is a highly stylized, “fork-shaped” female body representation from Dolni Vestonice I with an longitudinal incision in the lower part of the “trunk” indicating a vulva (facsimile, courteously by the Kirchhoff Collection; Göttingen).

In 1924 Absolon began the excavations near the village of Dolní Vestonice, also known by its German name Unter-Wisternitz, located at the foot of the Pavlov Hills in South Moravia in the present Czech Republic.

Previous surface finds in hollow roads cross-cutting the loessic slopes had indicated the presence of Upper Palaeolithic occupation. After a successful first year, the excavations continued in 1925 and ended with the finding of the famous "Venus" of Dolni Vestonice, a ceramic statuette of a nude female figure dated to the Pavlovian.

The artifact, shown in this post, was found at Dolni Vestonice I during the 1935-37 campaigns. It was made of mammoth ivory and perforated at the top, so it may have been worn as a pendant.

Unfortunately we lack of further contextual informations. A similar roughly contemporaneous piece is known from the Predmost Pavlovian.

Stylization and "pars-pro-toto" ivory carvings of the woman’s body are common at Dolní Věstonice I.

Note the external links for the other objects. One of the most famous artifacts from the site is a female representation in the form of the rod with breasts, which on the other hand could also a representation of the male genital, and a set of 8 highly stylized beads showing female breasts of various sizes ( 9 - 32 mm), probably worn as a single necklace.

Despite its reputation for openness to research on sexuality, anthropology as a discipline has only reluctantly supported such work. Anthropological research and theory developed very slowly maybe because sex is the most private of activities and often carries a high emotional charge and therefore it is peculiarly difficult to investigate.

Naive Projections of modern Sexuality to Palaeolithic times prevail since the beginning of Prehistoric research- see here 1418 . Absolon saw the stylized female representations from the Pavlovian Mega- sites just as Playmates or as "diluvial plastic pornography" (Absolon 1949).

When the so called "Hohle Fels Venus", dated to ca. 35 k.a. BP was uncovered 10 years ago at a Swabian cave, the statement of Sir Mellars, an eminent British Prehistorian, was remarkable:

"with an exaggeration of sexual characteristics (large, projecting breasts, a greatly enlarged and explicit vulva, and bloated belly and thighs) that by twenty-first-century standards could be seen as bordering on the pornographic" Mellars 2009).

Such remarks show that the common "scientific" view of the female Paleolithic Body is under-theorized at least, or at worst just the personal view of some influential old white man.

Of course we speak about sexuality when talking about these artifacts (contra Chang and Novel), but not in the naive "biologic" sense of P. Mellars et al.

Sexuality is more than invariable “nature”, instead sexuality includes numerous ways in which sex and gender is enacted, enjoyed, experienced and socially organized and construed in various cultures.

Paleolithic sexuality was certainly constructed very different, even strange for the modern observer, compared with sexuality of the Western World during the beginning of the 21th century.

2019-04-03 10:02:29   •   ID: 2092

Terramare: Tools made from Animal Hard Materials after the Stone Age

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These are tools made from animal hard organic materials from N-Italy (Bologna region) typical for the Bronze-Age Terramare complex.

While the systematic use of animal hard materials began early during the African MSA, it gained more importance during the Upper Paleolithic-see here 1677 , here 1676 , and here 1100 . In many parts of the world the use of animal hard materials persisted until historical times. Terramare vilages show an exceptional preservation of organic materials.

Terramare, Terramara, or Terremare is a prehistoric complex mainly of the central Po valley in Northern Italy dating to the Middle and Late Bronze Age ca. 1,7-1,1 k.a. cal. BC.

While the antiquarians until ca 1850, thought that Terramare were the funeral or sacrificial areas, used by the Romans or Gauls, it was Luigi Pigorini, one of the fathers of the Italian Prehistory, who in 1862 perceived that the settlements were prehistoric.

The settlements in question are villages, generally quadrangular in plan, surrounded by imposing earthworks and wide moats.

Dwellings were often built on raised platforms in a dry, but sometimes wet environment, supported by pilings. There is currently no commonly accepted explanation for the piles.These settlements were usually situated near water courses.

The Terramare, in spite of local differences, is of typical form; each settlement is trapezoidal, with streets arranged in a quadrangular pattern.

The whole is protected by an earthwork strengthened on the inside by buttresses, and encircled by a wide moat supplied with running water.

Water was a critical resource that was carefully managed. Moats that enclosed most of the sites were built to concentrate and redistribute water to the fields through a dense network of irrigation ditches.

The political system of the Terramare groups remains unknown. There are larger towns ("nodes"), which are seen as centers and smaller, more peripheral one.

Although the Bronze age is a period of increasing mobility, most inhabitants of the Terramare communities, did not move more than 50 km during their lifetime, as indicated by strontium-87 (87Sr) and strontium-86 (86 analysis.

This hold true for males in special, while women moved farer, indicating exogamy within the a broader hinterland radius (Cavazutti et al 2019).

Ceramic and excellent metal products are abundantly are represented in the Archeological records, lithic industries are poor with minor variation but the objects made from animal hard materials (bone, teeth and antler) show by their number and quality, that they played an important role in the activities of daily life.

A large subgroup of this production are the pointed artifacts: They are subdivided into three sub-groups: the first is composed of large tools made either from antler or long bones (mostly split metapodials and the ulnae of deer and cattle): functionally they are often seen as "daggers" (Figure 5 courteously by Werner Hernus).

The second includes small pointed objects, rather common since the late Paleolithic in Europe (needles, awls, double points as seen in Figure 1 and 2).

The third sub-group includes the projectile points which were very common since the early Terramare and quite varied from simple pyramidal, to arrowheads with 2, 3 or even 4 barbs.

An simple stemmed projectile point is displayed in Figures 3 and 4. These weapons are often made of antler (Provenzano 2001).

After 1,1, k.a. BC the Terramare settlemnts were completely abandoned within a short time, and the region remained uninhabited for several Hundred of years.

It is suggested that a period of dry climate affected an environment already stressed by over-exploitation of natural resources by a large demographic increase as convincingly argued by Cremaschi (Cremaschi et al. 2006).

"The present research confirms a multi-causal explanation for the terramare disappearance, in which the climatic component, after the recent discovery in Santa Rosa, appears likely to have played a role. Nevertheless, the main factor still remains the environmental stress induced by anthropogenic over-exploitation of resources and uncontrolled demographic pressure. This interpretation is further supported by the fact that in the areas surrounding the terramare, which were marginal during the apogee, the civilization (specifically the Apennine and the Veneto plain), there was no break in occupation and the local cultures of the Final Bronze age overcame the crisis which was fatal to the terramare". (Cremaschi et al. 2006)

2019-03-31 12:05:22   •   ID: 2091

Lithic Caches during the Paleo- and Neolithic

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Figure 2
A Cache is a collection of similar items and/or ecofacts that are deliberately set aside for future use, as opposed to discareded, abandoned, or lost.

Figure 1 and 2 show a "Neolithic" cache of scrapers (ca 4 k.a. BP), found in Ténéré / Niger concentrated in isolation in the desert, during the 1960ies by a mining- engineer.

The pieces are made from a very fine and homogeneous quarztite, commonly used for such artifacts over wide areas in the Sahara.

The pieces are up to 10 cm long and show a flat unifacial invasive retouche and a high degree of standardisation.

Additionally they do not show any use traces or reworking or other evidence of specific function (the designation as scrapes remains dubious).

Caches during the Paleolithic and Neolithic could related for several several strategies:

  • provisioning places in anticipation of predictable needs. This includes the provision of specialized tool-kits

  • their purposefully position in the landscape with a symbolic intention or as a territorial marker

  • their use as trade and / or exchange comedies

  • their use as ritual offerings

Here I report some examples of caching, a behavior that seems to get more and more important over time and finally unaccountable since the Bronze age of the old World.

ESA: The beginnings of caches could be very old. In East and North Africa, especially in the Sahara, large Handaxe scatters over vast surfaces may be explained by provisioning places with tools ready usable at repeated kill-sites-see 2076

While this remains an assumption, a cache consisting of 29 Handaxes were reported by Garrod from Tabun D (Mt Carmel).

Barkai er al. detected two caches with 13 artifacts each, among them Levallois cores and Handaxes at Mt. Pua, an early quarry site in N- Israel.

MSA: A very interesting ensemble of stone balls was found in the Amudian layers at Qesem Cave in Israel (Barkai et al. 2016). Here stone balls were found mostly concentrated in depot like locations in the south-western part of the cave in the lower part of the stratigraphic sequence. Anyhow, the activities that took place here remain enigmatic.

A depot of approximately 60 spheroidal stone balls which formed a regular cone 75 cm high and 1,50 m in diameter was recovered from a fossil spring at the site of El-Guettar in Tunesia.

Mixed in with it were a large number of retouched flint tools and manufacturing waste together with many teeth, splinters and pounded fragments of bone. They had diameters ranging between 4·5 and 18·0 cm.

The smaller and more regular were at the top while the stone heap base, larger, were only roughly spherical. Most of these spheroids were natural, and only a few had been regularized by picking.

Notably, the excavator did not find such pebbles in the immediate vicinity of the deposit. It is suggested that the pile could indicate some ritual / symbolic behavior.

Upper Paleolithic: Surveys at the Ikh Tulberiin Gol River valley (southern tributary of the Selenga River, Northern Mongolia) near the well known Tolbor sites revealed a late Pleistocene Paleolithic (non-dated) cache of 57 unused large fakes, not associated with a habitation or logistic activity site.

The authors stated that: Based on the context of the discovery as an isolated nd and technical-typological features of the artifacts, the assemblage is interpreted as a cache of tool blanks that was purposefully and symbolically positioned on the landscape relative to the primary mountain pass by Upper Paleolithic hunter-gatherers (Tabarev et al. 2013).

An unique Solutrean Cache, was found during the late 19th century at Volgu in the Saône-et-Loire . The site is situated near the confluence of the Arroux and Loire Rivers, about 60 km west Le Solutre.

The cache was discovered while digging a canal from Digoin to Gueugnon. Chabas (1874), an engineer working on the canal, reported 12 artifacts buried side by side on edge, and aligned roughly North-South about 1m deep in sandy clay alluvium.

Thirty years later, it was reported that as many as 17 artifacts had been discovered, with four disappearing before authorities were notified. Currently, 15 are known to exist at different museums.

The 15 extant artifacts of Volgu are very fine specimens of typical Solutrean laurel leaf bifacial points that combine unusually large overall size with unusual thinness.

The origin of the lithic raw material has been tentatively identified as four varieties of flint from the Turonian chalk sources near Gien, France about 150 km away.

Complete laurel leaf bifaces from Volgu range from 23, 4 to 34,3 cm in length, and from only 0.6–1.2 cm in thickness. A ritual / symbolic context seems to be possible, especially because the points are to fragile to have been served as utilitarian tools.

Levantine Epipaleolithic: P.C Edwards reported that "sickle, 21 flint lunates for tipping spears and evidence of the hunted quarry – gazelle bones – lay together by the wall of a Natufian building.

The author deduces that these objects were contained in a bag and constituted the versatile working equipment of a hunter-gatherer
" (Edwards 2007.

Neolithic: Excavations at Motza near Jerusalem revealed a large Neolithic site that was continuously inhabited from the Early PPNB until the Pottery Neolithic period. A unique blade cache containing 58 highly sophisticated bipolar blades was excavated.

Similar examples of long- blade caches is known from the European Neolithic. One example comes from a funary context at Varna / Bulgaria.

The most famous mass production of extraordinary long blades, which were used to produce Neolithic daggers in Europe, is known from the Grand Pressigny area, dating to the mid 3th millennium cal. BC.

In 1970, a cache of 134 to 138 fresh blades was discovered at “La Creusette” and carefully excavated. In general the PPNB and Grand Pressigny caches are interpreted as trade depots maybe of highly prestigious tools.

Paleoindian / Clovis Caches: Currently about 25 Clovis caches have been published, and there are surly more, not reported but being part of private collections. During Folsom times there is a sharp decline in the number of caches.

Cached Clovis artifacts often show a high degree of skills and sophistication of their makers, especially in the mastery of large thin fluted points.

Bifaces, Blades and bone rods are another aspect of some caches. Furthermore, exotic raw materials are often present and several caches are associated with red ocher.

Some Paleoindian caches are found in strategic points of the landscape (cliffs, rock-shelters, river bends, etc.).

A ritual background is often suggested, when a cache is found in isolation, while other caches are part of larger residential areas and may have been rather part of exchange and trade systems.

A nice overview about Paleoindian caches is found in the last external link.

2019-03-28 07:45:18   •   ID: 2090

Carinated Tool from Laussel / Dordogne

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Figure 1 -3 : This is a classic carinated tool from the famous Laussel Rock shelter near Les Eyzies.

Similar Examples can be found in the classic publication: Lalanne, J., Bouyssonie J., 1946: Le gisement paléolithique de Laussel. Fouilles du Dr Lalanne, L'Anthropologie, t. 50, pp 1-163 (Figure 5 and 6).

The Aurignacian is defined by specific and specialized operational sequences that were responsible for the production of bladelets with different forms of what we normally classify as cores.

Sonneville-Bordes and Perrot in the early 50’s (Sonneville-Bordes and Perrot 1954-1956) defined a carinated scraper as an “... end-scraper made on a thick flake having the profile of an inverted keel; the scraper front is made by lamellar retouch which may be wide and short or narrow and long".

Some are “carinated scrapers” or “nosed scrapers” on thick flakes served for bladelet production, as evidenced by refitting analyses. The bladelets from Laussel have not survived, probably a consequence of the low-quality excavations.

Hence, it seems that the aim of the artisans was to obtain short, curved and twisted bladelets, which in part were later retouched to become the Dufour bladelets of different subtypes.

At the same time there were also regular carinated and nosed scrapers, where the front is shaped through flaking of shorter mini-flakes.

Microtraceology is currently the only method to proof their use as genuine scraping tools.

The Laussel Rockshelter is a huge rock shelter, 115 m long and 15-25 m deep is situated 7, 5 km east and slightly north of Les Eyzies, on the right side of the Beune River 500 m upstream from the Chateau de Laussel.

First small excavations began during the last years of the 19th century (E. Rivière in 1894, H. Breuil L. Capitan et E. Peyrony in 1903).

Finally the site was completely excavated during large scale exploitations which were executed during 1908-1914 by the workmen of Dr. Jean-Gaston Lalanne. After the death Dr. Lalanne, the site was published by J Bouyssonie. In this publication with wonderful drawings of the artifacts a exceptional long stratigraphy is described:

  • Mousterian with Bifaces
  • Mousterian without Bifaces: several strata
  • Mousterian with Bifaces
  • Châtelperronien: Figure 4
  • Aurignacian: Figure 5 and 6
  • Gravettian
  • Solutrean

Figure 4
Figure 5
Figure 6
Figure 7
The diggings were of low quality but the publication is wonderfully illustrated (Figure 4-6).

The lower Mousterian exhibits a Mousterian with cordiform, elongated cordiform and amygdaloid Bifaces, many of them are heavily reworked.

The same holds true for the scrapers (single, double, dejete) often with Quina retouche. Levallois products are absent.

If this ensemble really comes from one stratum it is certainly not a typical MTA. The many reworked pieces may indicate that the Rock-shelter was a base / aggregation camp.

The younger Mousterian strata seem to represent a homogeneous industry, characterized by scrapers (75% of the ensemble). These scrapers are single, transversal, double, limaces and dejete. Quina retoche and reworking is common. The discoidal technique is attested, while Levallois products are missing.

This is followed by several Mousterian strata, one with many denticulated pieces and a Mousterian at the top of the sequence with typical MTA Bifaces.

The Châtelperronian is classic with a high diversity of points, some of them have rather the appearance of large lunates, others could be confused with Gravettian points (Figure 4; the mixing of Chatelperonnian points with typical Aurignacian tools gives you an opportunity to consider the quality of the diggings).

The Aurignacian is a typical early Aurignacian with carinated pieces, large retouched blades, large strangulated blades and simple endscrapers with lateral retouches.

The Laussel Rock shelter was one of the sites near Eyzies, that were visited on 15.04.1908 by H. Breuil, E. Cartailhac, F. Delage, A. Fayolle, M. Loving, D. Peyrony and P. Raymond, to resolve the stratigraphic position of the Aurignacian during the famous “Aurignacian Battle” contra the adherents of G. Mortillet

The Gravettian is a Mixture of Flechettes, (Micro)-Gravettes (more than 1000 examples), Font-Robert-Points and Noailles Burins. The famous sculptures were discovered in this «level» during 1911. More about the "Venus" issue at Laussel see here 1418 . Certainly, the lithic material represents an early Gravettian but also later stages (for example a “Noaillian”).

The Solutrean is also mixed with early points a face plane, and younger forms, especially points a cran.

If Laussel would have been protected like Abri Pataud and properly excavated - we certainly would know a lot more about the Paleolithic at Les Eyzies. The diggings were "successful"-the Rock-shelter was left completely emptied (Figure 7)

2019-03-27 17:28:56   •   ID: 2089

The Long Prehistory of Quarrying and Mining

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This is a Neolithic bifacial axe from Haute Silly, near Spiennes (Belgium), which is one of the largest Neolithic mining areas in the world, now registered in the UNESCO List. More information about the site can be found here: 1738

Interestingly this artifact is not made of the typical local Upper Cretaceous (Maastrichtian) flint from the "Craie de Spiennes" formation.

Vermeersch et al. has distinguished several types of raw material procurement during the Paleo- and Neolithic:

  • Incidental collecting of raw materials suitable for knapping.

  • Intensive collecting of abundantly available raw materials without specific organized extraction strategies. These sites can be identified by the presence of huge amounts of waste materials (tested nodules, cores, rough outs, tools, blanks and knapped lithic waste material).

  • Systematic quarrying of an area where raw material is abundantly present in a primary or secondary position. These sites can be identified by well delimited open-air features which were dug to quarry the raw materials.

  • Underground mining resulting in the creation of subterranean structures intended for raw material extraction.

The oldest systematic quarrying sites are known from the Acheulean in India and Israel. The Isampur Quarry (ca 1.2 Ma) is located in the Hunsgi-Baichbal Valley in the centre of India. Thousands of artifacts witness an entire manufacturing sequence, from extraction of the bedrock to the creation of finished handaxes and cleavers.

A complex Late Acheulian-Early Mousterian quarry landscape was discovered in the central Dishon Valley, Northern Israel. At Mt Pua, ca 1500 quarry debris heaps, each covered with flint nodules and prehistoric artifacts were detected. These activities show an unexpected high level of cognitive organization and behavioral complexity of early hominids during the Lower Paleolithic.

In the meantime, further prehistoric quaries have detected in Northern Israel. The excavators speak about an “industrial strip” and of its extraction and reduction complexes (Nahal Dishon, Mt. Achbara, and Sede Ilan), demonstrating that these production areas were used mainly for the manufacture of large‐volume items such as Lower Palaeolithic hand axes, Middle Palaeolithic Levallois cores, and Neolithic/Chalcolithic axes/adzes (Ben Yosef et al. 2019).

In addition a low concentration of the cosmogenic beryllium isotope 10 Be in artifacts of Tabun E and Qesem Cave gave strong evidence that the raw material during the Levantine Acheulo-Yabroudian was obtained rather from shallow mining, than from surface collection.

Underground mining is first documented during the Late Middle and Early Upper Paleolithic (OIS5-3) in the Nile Valley, related to the exploitation of chert in the form of cobbles (Nazlet Khater, Nazlet Safaha, Taramsa-1).

These findings evidence an advanced degree of planning and anticipation and of task subdivision and maintenance. Underground mining of flints, cherts, hornstones, radiolarites, and obsidian was a common activity during the Neolithic and continued into the beginnings of the Iron Age in Europe.

Mining during the European Neolithic was clearly triggered by a high demand for flint axe-heads and long blades (sickle blades, daggers).

Within certain networks, both utilitarian and non-utilitarian (prestige)-artifacts were transported over long distances.

In the Spiennes-Area, during the Neolithic, around one hundred hectares 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.

2019-03-22 18:00:33   •   ID: 2088

Humans and Cats: The Prehistory of a Special Relationship

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A large genetic Study revealed five clusters, or lineages, of wildcats (Felis silvestris). Four of these lineages corresponded exactly with four of the known subspecies of wildcats.

The fifth lineage, however, included not only the fifth known subspecies of wildcat-Felis silvestris lybica, the Levantino-African subspecies-but also the hundreds of domestic cats that were sampled from the U.S., the U.K. and Japan (Driscoll et al. 2007, Geigl and Grange 2018).

The wild ancestor of all domestic cats is therefore Felis silvestris lybica (Figure 1; GNU Free Documentation License; Wikipedia)

Wildcats are largely nocturnal and solitary, except during the breeding period and when females have young. The size of home ranges of females and males varies according to terrain, the availability of food, habitat quality, and the age structure of the population.

Wildcats are solitary, territorial hunters and lack a hierarchical social structure, features that make them poor candidates for domestication.

Indeed, zooarchaeological evidence points to a commensal relationship between cats and humans lasting thousands of years before humans exerted substantial influence on their breeding.

Throughout this period of commensal interaction, tamed and domestic cats became feral and/or intermixed with wild. F. s. lybica or other wild subspecies as is common today
” (Ottoni 2017).

Ottoni et al have published a pretty clear picture on the early Genetics and the worldwide spread of the cat:” Both the Near Eastern and Egyptian populations of Felis silvestris lybica contributed to the gene pool of the domestic cat at different historical times.

While the cat’s worldwide conquest began during the Neolithic period in the Near East, its dispersal gained momentum during the Classical period (- during historic times about 1000 BC-), when the Egyptian cat successfully spread throughout the Old World.

The expansion patterns and ranges suggest dispersal along human maritime and terrestrial routes of trade and connectivity
” (Ottoni et al. 2017).

Compared with the complicated domestication of cats, the domestication of the dogs, a tight companion of humans, occurred much earlier, due to their specific social structures and because dogs were extremely helpful within a hunting Society.

Paleogenetic data suggests that European wolves became dogs somewhere around 19 to 32 k.a. BP.

At least some Late Pleistocene humans regarded dogs not only as a companion for the hunt, but may have developed emotional and caring bonds for them, as evidenced by famous late Paleolithic dog from Bonn-Oberkassel (Janssens et al. 2018).

10 k.a. ago, permanent human settlements, the beginnings of agriculture and increasing storage of grains created stimuli and opportunities for cats to hunt house mice.

It is suggested that F. s. lybica is hardly afraid of humans, compared to other wild cats, and that people were hardly afraid by these small charming animals, which presented themselves as "optimal" new members of the household. Self-domestication may have played an important role in this process.

It is unclear if osteometric parameter allow a separation between wild and domesticated cats, therefore Archaeological context becomes more important.

Indeed, Archaeologists have focused on interactions between man and cats that go beyond utilitarianism and mayindicate a special symbolic relationship.

Figure 2
On the Cypriot pre-pottery sites of Shillourokambos and Khirokitia (Figure 2), animal burials as well as faunal remains deposited in human burials have been discovered.

At Shillourokambos the remains of an 8-month-old cat buried with its presumed human owner was excavated evidencing emotional relationship between people and cats around 9300 years ago.

Linseele et al. described a Predynastic cat burial from Hierakonpolis, dating to ca 3,7 k.a. BC. The left humerus and right femur of the cat show healed fractures indicating that the animal May have had been held in captivity for at least 4-6 weeks prior to its burial. This features may indicate an early taming event.

While these findings may be ambiguous, paintings from the Egyptian New Kingdom, which began nearly 3,600 years ago provide the oldest known unmistakable depictions of full domestication.

These paintings show in abundance that cats had become full members of Egyptian households by this time.

2019-03-22 13:14:12   •   ID: 2087

The Early Stone Age at Fayum

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This is a 13 cm long and 3 cm thick Acheulian Flint Handaxe from the Fayum (Faiyum) Depression, a rare early 20th century finding, made by a Viennese Archeologist.

There are smaller bifacial and flat butted tools (called "flaked axes" by Caton-Thompson) from the Fayum Neolithic-but they have a complete different appearance and can not be confused with ESA Bifaces.

The inland delta of the Fayum Depression is a semi-oasis located 60 km southwest of Cairo, feeded with Nile water by the Bahr Youssef Canal.

The depression is similar to other depressions in the Western Desert, yet it differs from them by its connection with the Nile River.

Through this connection with the Nile, Fayum is always looked upon as a part of the Nile valley and not as an genuine oasis.

The depression covers an area of 12,000 km2, with a general slope to the northwest where Lake Qarun (see below) is situated. The depression is carved in Upper Eocene and Oligocene beds.

Figure 2
Before the Pleistocene it had a huge salt-water lake at its centre, but this eventually became linked to the river Nile by the Bahr Yusef canal, thus transforming it into the fresh-water Lake Moeris.

Lake Moeris had an estimated area between 1270 and 1700 km². It persists today as a smaller saltwater lake called Birket Qarun. This lake's surface is 43 m below sea-level, and covers about 202 km².

Basalt, probably of Oligocene age, caps the northern scarp, while Oligocene, Lower Miocene, and Pliocene gravel terraces are found on different scarps and partly in the depression.

Quaternary deposits are present within the depression floor at different elevations, ranging from 40 m above sea level to 2 m below sea level (Caton-Thompson and Gardner 1929).

As in most of the Western Desert depressions, the north wall is a steep, nearly vertical cliff, while the southern and western escarpments are relatively low. The northern scarp rises 300 m above the floor of the depression, whereas the southern scarp rises only 80 m.

The eastern part of the depression, facing the Nile, is a flat area where the Fayum Depression opens into the floodplain of the river. Through this wide gap the Bahr Youssef Canal enters the depression.

The canal joins the Nile at Dairut, 60 km north of Assiut, and flows for about 200 km more or less in parallel to the Nile.

Figure 2
In the depression, Bahr Youssef feeds many blind ended canals - none of them reach Lake Qarun.

Early inhabitants of Faiyum preferred to settle on freshwater lake shore. During the Epipaleolithic, site clusters are also found in the Wadis, indicating short stays.

ESA / MSA at Fayum: Arkell and Sandford described some isolated Handaxes like the one shown here. They recorded ESA material in a secondary position in the high terraces of the Nil Valley.

At Fayum there are also some MSA scatters attesting a Levallois system combined with bifacial foliates and thick scrapers- similar to the MSA in Nubia.

The Epipaleolithic at Faiyum "Fayum B or Qarunian" is well attested at a number of sites. It is dated to ca 7,5-6 k.a. BC. The stone industry is characterized by backed microlithic tools. Geometric forms are rare. A number of classic Ounanian Points and Ounanian-Harifian Point may refer to a possible link to the Levant and N-Africa.

However there are some types common to the following "Neolithic Faiyum A"( the hollow based arrowheads), suggestive of connections between them. Alternatively they may be a later contamination of Epipaleolithic ensembles.

Figure 4
Denticulates and scrapers are common. There is no pottery. People must have lived from fishing, hunting and food gathering. The sites are small and were most likely only seasonal and perhaps short-lived

About "Faiyum A" ("Neolithic") Ensembles see here: 1225 and here: 1427 . Caton-Thompson, Gertrude and Gardener, Elinor 1934. The desert Fayum. London: The Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland.

Although the Faiyum gained a degree of importance in the Middle Kingdom (c.2040–1640 BC), the surviving remains are dominated by Greco-Roman towns such as Bacchias (Kom el-Atl), Karanis (Kom Aushim) and Tebtunis (Tell Umm el-Breigat).

Suggested Reading:

Caton-Thompson, G. & Gardner, E.W.. 1934. The Desert Fayum. London: The Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland.

F. Wendorf and R. Schild: Prehistory of the Nile Valley. New York and London: Academic Press, 1976.

Shirai, N. 2010. The archaeology of the first farmer-herders in Egypt: new insights into the Fayum Epipalaeolithic and Neolithic. Leiden: Leiden University Press.

Resources and images in full resolution:

2019-03-22 13:12:40   •   ID: 2086

A classic Handaxe from Meung Sur Loire:

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This is a classic elongated cordiform handaxe from Meung-sur-Loire. The Château de Meung-sur-Loire is a former castle and episcopal palace in the commune of Meung-sur-Loire in the Loiret département of France.

The extraordinary light weighted Biface is extremely dehydrated, maybe by heat treatment, not necessarily intentionally induced by Hominins.

The piece is made by classic faconnage technique and refined use of a soft hammer. It has many affinities to the advanced Acheulian of the Nièvre area see: 1087 and the Late Acheulian around Châteauneuf-sur-Loire see: 1174

Overall the handaxe could be ca 300 k.a. old.

Even earlier Core and Flake (Mode I) Industries around 1,1 Ma were found in adjacent areas further south to the Middle Loire for example at Pont-de-Lavaud (France, Vallée de la Creuse), Lunery (France, Cher valley)- but are such early ensembles also attested in the Middle Loire Valley?

It has to be remembered that such in-situ Industries are rare and that several lines of evidence (taphonomy, Refittings, ESR and TL dates, isotope methods, geomagnetism) should give a coherent picture of a possible Palaeolithic site.

Saint-Hilaire-la-Gravelle «le Pont-de-la-Hulauderie », introduced in the discussion during the 1980ies, could be such an ensemble.

Unfortunately the ensemble is small and insufficiently dated -only by its incorporation into the 55m terrace. Maybe renewed work at the site with modern techniques could answer the question of its artifactual character...

2019-03-19 09:17:15   •   ID: 2085

Slowly Filling Gaps in the ESA and MSA of East Africa

Figure 1
These are two handaxes (the larger one, made from degraded sandstone is 12,3 cm long), a gift from one of my postgraduates from Eritrea.

The artifacts were found on the surface near the upper course of the Barka river, which flows from the Eritrean Highlands to the plains of Sudan.

Eritrea is located on the coast on the Red Sea. It is north of the Bab-el-Mandeb and the Horn of Africa. Eritrea has borders with the countries of Sudan, Ethiopia, and Djibouti.

Until recently the Paleolithic (ESA and MSA) of Eritrea and adjacent regions of the Sudan were only poorly known.

The story started with the description of the prehistoric cultural sequence of the Khartoum Province by A. J. Arkell (1949) in Khor Abu Anga in Omdurman.

In 1964-45 R.L. Carson started renewed excavations at Khor Abu Anga and Magendohli- published as late as 2015 after his retirement as a researcher and embedded within the current research results

Due to erosion and mining activities, many artifacts were found on the surface of the site. The excavations, showed that no real "living floors" have survived, and unfortunately the sequence could not been dated by OSL / ESR at the time of their excavation-anyhow both excavations (Arkell and Carson) revealed a consistent picture:

Figure 2
The stratigraphic sequence begins with a late, carefully retouched Acheulian followed by a Sangoan and Lupemban.

While the local Sangoan differs in some aspects from other African sites, the Lupemban is clearly attested by a multitude of bifacial foliates, bifacial points and some stemmed artifacts, indicating the presence of hafting.

Interestingly stemmed MSA lithics were the primary finding at an ancient workshop site at Magendohli. Stemmed points and scrapers found within assemblages of predominantly Levallois technology fit perfectly into an "Aterian" context.

In Sudanese Nubia, Acheulian artifacts have been found concentrated on inselbergs which provided good raw material for the manufacture of tools in the form of ferruginous limestone (Arkin 8, Sai Island, Khor Abu Anga and Sites at Wadi Halfa).

Some typological studies on the Wadi Halfa material ( by the Guichards in the 1960ies ) suggest that there is an early, middle and late Acheulian represented at some of these sites, but assumptions based solely on typology are as ambiguous as elsewhere.

Figure 3
At the best an early phase without Levallois technique can be differentiated from a later one with Levallois technique. At the Wadi Halfa sites some unusual handaxe-types were present like “Hyper-Micoquoid-like“ and “Shark tooth” forms, which are partially explicable by the raw material at these sites.

The surface scatters of Acheulian artifacts at Sai Island were first described by A. J. Arkell in 1949. At site 8-B-11 a stratified Acheulian has recently described .

Here the lowest stratified layer is a late Acheulian which features large lanceolate handaxes, which are very fresh, and have a maximum age of 223 k.a.+/-19k.a. BP (OSL dating).

At Site 8-B-11, Acheulian and MSA (Sangoan with core axes) assemblages were actually contemporary, the differences being more behavioral than chronological.

About the rich Nubian MSA see here: 1135 and 1363

The El-Ga’ab depression is one of the largest Paleo-lake in the western desert and was subject of multiple surveys during the last years. Lanceolate Handaxes and Bifacial / Lanceolate Foliates together with several stemmed points were found without stratigraphic context and hopefully stratified sites may be detected to better classify these interesting ensembles.

Figure 4
It was the work of Amanuel Beyin who widened the horizons to the ESA and MSA of Eritrea near the read sea cost during the last years.

A very interesting MSA including, Nubian cores, Levallois cores, uni- and bifacial points and perforators was detected at Asfet located on the southwestern edge of the Gulf of Zula (ca 800 m from the present coastline). Putatively dated to MIS5, this ensemble fits into human movements over the Bab-el-Mandeb.

Further North, the western periphery of the Red Sea (WPRS) was recently surveyed by a multidisciplinary team. This survey detected multiple handaxe localities, pointing that hominins exploited diverse landscapes and habitats. Anyhow, the material was not datable.

At site HY01 site for example a homogeneous set of handaxes, and (trihedral )picks made from diverse raw materials (rhyolite, trachyte, massive igneous rock, banded gneiss) was detected.

A considerable time depth may well be possible. Beyin et al. compared their new surface findings with the very similar Acheulian at Buia, located in the Danakil Depression, ca. 35 km from the Red Sea coast. One important finding there were human remains attributed to Homo erectus, dated to ca. 1,0 Ma.

2019-03-15 12:01:37   •   ID: 2084

A Flèche de Montclus from the Languedoc

Figure 1
This is a trapezoid with unilateral facial retouch (1,6 cm long), a surface find from the Languedoc, known as “Flèche de Montclus”, named after the Montclus rock-shelter, 20 km NW of Bagnols-sur-Ceze, Gard.

Excavated mainly during the 1950ies, this abri remains a key site for the Mesolithic and Neolithic and Mesolithic-Neolithic transition in S-France.

Unfortunately there are diverse stratigraphical and chronological problems encountered with the old excavations at the site and we will never know for sure if the “Epi-Castelnovian” strata (Microliths and indications for pottery), where these projectile points were found, represent the Meso-Neolithic transition or just a mix between late Mesolithic and Neolithic strata.

Old excavations and disturbed contexts led to a vivid discussion if the Flèche de Montclus is a "fossile directeur” for the late Mesolithic in Southern France France or in contrast highly characteristic for early Neolithic communities in this area. On the basis of available data the latter proposal has gained ground during the last years.

The beginnings of Neolithic lifeways in the western Mediterranean region date back to 5700 cal BC. It is believed that this development is a consequence of an expansion of early Neolithic groups from northern Italy to southern France.

Existence of these scarcely documented Impressa groups is dated between 5700 and 5600 cal BC.

Sometime later, about 5400 cal BC, a new archaeological culture appeared: the Cardial culture, which is thus far the best-documented early Neolithic culture in the western Mediterranean region.

Figure 2
The Cardial culture had a well-developed production economy that included foraging (cattle, sheep/goat, and pig) and farming (mainly emmer and einkorn wheat). The impressed decoration executed before firing the vessels obtained with the edge of a Cardium shell and the applied cordons are the most characteristic elements of this culture, which is attested from the Southern Alps to Iberian Peninsula.

At about the same time, Neolithic lifeways spread to the hinterland. This continental Neolithisation is mainly related to cultures other than the Cardial culture.

Another interesting model is based on the similarity of Flèches de Montclus and the so called Armatures du Châtelet (5600-5200 BC), trapezoids with a bilateral facial retouch, known from the final Mesolithic (Retzien) of the Loire-Atlantique and Vendée.

Figure 3
Here the use of facial retouch on trapezoids could indicate the early influence of already established Neolithic societies in the South on Mesolithic communities more in the North-West.

The last photo comes from an excursion guide from 1976, in part identical with the corresponding parts of the “ La Préhistoire française”. Here the Flèches de Montclus were displayed as a part of the “Epi-Castelnovian” culture at the Baume de Montclus Rockshelter.