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2016-07-05 18:38:54   •   ID: 1455

Neanderthals in the Upper Loire River Valley

Figure 1
This is a convergent scraper (7x2,5x0,7 cm) made of local flint with a facetted platform indicating to a Levallois production system, reworked by Quina retouches. Such a combination of technological traits is occasionally found in the Mousterian sites near the Rhone valley.

Figure 2
La Champ Grand is located in the eastern Massif Central, 5 km upstream from Roanne in the Loire river valley. It is one of several open-air Palaeolithic sites at in the Villerest district. Other important sites nearby are Le Roche de la Caille, la Goutte-Roffat (a Magdalenian with 182 engraved schist plaquettes) the Vigne Brun site (early Gravettian) and the nearby Carriere Chaumette with a Mousterian ensemble.

Initiated in 1979, the systematic excavation of large portions of the site was organized as a salvage operation aimed at collecting as much material and contextual information as possible before the site was submerged due to the construction of the Villerest dam in 1983.

The Champ Grand lithic production is characterized by discoidal and Levallois flake reduction strategies, reworked and modified by Quina retouches. The local Quina Mousterian is therefore somewhat different from the Quina production in S/W-France and called" Rhodanian" in the newer Literature.

In addition a well defined, albeit marginal prismatic core blade and bladelet productions is known to exist at Champ Grand. The blade and bladelet component is particularly interesting as prismatic blade production has long been considered a defining criterion of Upper Paleolithic lithic industries.

According to Slimak, the comparison of the general dimensions of the blades and bladelets suggests that those two components were manufactured following two distinct production sequences.

Production of bladelets during the Middle Paleolithic has been securely identified in some French Mousterian assemblages, e.g. at Combe Grenal (layers 30–29 and layers 16 and 14), Champ Grand and Grotte Mandrin, in Spain at sites such as El Castillo and Cueva Morin and at the MIS3 Salzgitter Lebenstaedt site in Northern Germany.

All these assemblages belong to the final Mousterian, with the exception of Combe Grenal and Grotte Mandrin. At the latter site, a layer with blades, bladelets and microlithic points was overlain by five layers with flake-based Mousterian assemblages.

Combe Grenal layers 29–30 have an estimated age of late MIS 4, i.e. around 60 ka. Bladelets and bladelet cores are not abundant (5% of the assemblage), yet they show that Neanderthals, like late MSA humans and the makers of the Protoaurignacian, mastered the technology of bladelet production.

The Champ Grand features ten raw materials (1% of the assemblage, but numbering 568 artifacts) that were found to originate from sources >80km distant in several different directions (Slimak and Giraud 2007). The estimated distances include 180-200 km northwards from the site, and c. 240 km southwards, the latter actually a minimum value due to straight-line crossing of mountains and high plateaus.

Anyhow, during the Middle Paleolithic  transfers >200 km are rare, and more frequent in Central Europe, which may be linked to a more extreme topography and increased continentality in terms of environmental conditions.

Suggested Reading:

Slimak L. D. 2008 – Artisanats et territoires des chasseurs moustériens de Champ Grand. Aix-en-Provence

Provenance: P. Vabre (FR)

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