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2014-09-06 04:37:13   •   ID: 1185

The Beginnings of Levallois Technology 500 K.a. ago in Africa ?

Figure 1
The examples of Levallois blades and points, shown here come from different caves (Tabun and Kebara ) at the Mt. Carmel in Israel.

The term “Levallois” was used as early as the 1860s to refer to large and flat flakes discovered at Levallois- Perret, a suburb of Paris, by the geologist Reboux. Gabriel de Mortillet in his “Musée préhistorique” already showed Levallois flakes from the Reboux collection as an integral part of his “Mousterien”. While during the early 20th century the Levallois technique was suggested to be a “culture” of its own right, like the Acheulian or Mousterian (H. Breuil), it is now seen as a special technique of prepared-core flaking, that can be present in several contexts.

The Levallois-technique provides an excellent control over the size and shape of the flake that is desired by the knapper. The final product may be a triangular flake (Levallois Point), a blade or a more oval flake, which can be used immediately as a tool or the blank can be further processed by retouches into  scrapers, points, denticulates and other formal tools.

In Africa, the Levallois tradition begins  in an Acheulian context. In the Kapthurin formation (Kenya), Blades, Levallois debitage, grindstones, and traces of pigment are found at site GnJh-15.  At the Acheulian site of GnJh-03, large Levallois flakes from centripetally cores where produced and sometimes retouched into handaxes or scrapers. Blade tools also co-occur with this industry. LHA/GnJh-03 is dated to 545-509 k.a. , thus preceding anatomical modernity in hominins.

Discovered and tested by Louis and Mary Leakey in the 1940s, Olorgesailie in southern Kenya was excavated by Glynn Isaac as his dissertation research during the 1960s. Research resumed Olorgesailie in the early 1980s, by researchers of the Smithsonian Institution. Using modern methods of excavations, these people did a lot to reconstruct the Paleolithic landscape. Olorgesailie is best known for an abundance of Acheulean handaxes, associated with several episodes of animal butchering dated to ca 950 k.a. ago. 

Recent investigations have recovered fossil hominin remains at the site, including a partial cranium KNM-OL 45500 ( H. erectus), in the same stratigraphic level with two Acheulean handaxes and several flakes, and adjacent to dense deposits of handaxes.

New excavations since 2001 have revealed that Acheulean occupations were followed by a long sequence of Middle Stone Age occupations without handaxes, beginning well before 315 k. a and ending before 64 k.a. Levallois technology was present already in the later Acheulean horizons of Members 11 and 13 of the Olorgesailie formation (between 625 and 550 k.a), which further substantiate the claims for a “long Levallois chronology” in Africa, first evidenced from the Kathu Pan 1 site in S-Africa, well before its appearance in the Middle Eastern or Europe.

New data from stratified Fauresmith sites in S-Africa suggest that this industry, which combines small refined handaxes with technological components characteristic of the MSA (prepared cores, blades, Levallois points, convex scrapers), maybe as old as 542–435 k.a. (Wonderwerk Cave MU4 , Kathu Pan 1). The presence of blade tools and prepared core technology in deposits dated to >400 k.a. at KP-1 is of considerable interest. 

In Africa the Levallois concept remained to be present at several early and late MSA sites until 40 ka. BP. Some scholars suggest a mixing of the Fauresmith strata with older ones. A very polemic, nevertheless serious critique can be found in Bob Gargetts blog ( “they (the authors of the Kathu Pan paper) ignore very basic principles of stratigraphy and geomorphology, to say nothing of informal logic”.

Anyhow, this critique can not reverse the many indication of a long chronology for the Levallois-concept in Africa.

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