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2016-07-09 14:14:23   •   ID: 1469

The Quina Mousterian in the Charente: How to explain Mousterian Variability

Figure 1
These artefacts are from a single site in the Charente, showing characteristic traits of the Quina-Mousterian of the region. In 1953 François Bordes published an Essay of the classification of “industries moustériennes”, in which he proposed a typology for the different tool assemblages frequently associated with Neanderthals of Western Europe.

These tool assemblages were highly variable both between and within archaeological sites. Bordes’ typology was at its time a revolution in the description and classification of Mousterian tools, offering a seemingly objective and systematic framework for analysis.

Bordes continued to refine his typology over the next decade, eventually offering an interpretation of the variability as the reflection of the activities of four distinct cultural groups or traditions, or in his word “civilizations”. By the early 1960s Bordes’ typology was widely accepted as was his identification of Mousterian cultural groups as the final cause of interassemblage variability.

Then, in 1966, Lewis Binford published an article with his then wife Sally, in which he proposed a complete interpretive revision of Bordes’ typology. In a preliminary analysis of functional variability of the Levantine Levallois-Mousterian, the Binfords rejected Bordes’ interpretation of distinct Mousterian cultures as the basis for the variability, arguing instead that the variability was a reflection not of cultural differences but rather of functional origin.

In  her 2009 thesis M Wargo showed convincingly, that the debate may be “best understood as an emblem of a mid-century intellectual narrative constructed around stereotypical notions of a young, progressive, empirical, new (i.e., uniquely American) approach to understanding the deep past and a limited, outdated and, perhaps more importantly, descriptive approach to prehistory typical of Old World (particularly French) archaeologists”.

Nowadays 50 years after the debatte for many researchers F. Bordes is finally outdated and they are convinced, that his cultural historic approach failed. But the same could be stated for Binford‘s approach.  For the interpretation of middle paleolithic variability at one site, one can now chose between numerous possible answers.

Dynamic reduction sequences, ad-hoc innovations, adaptations to the environment, access to certain raw material resources, duration of stay at the site, function of the site and group mobility all contribute to the final appearance of an ensemble. But are, from an Epistemologal approach, such "middle range" interpretations really sufficient for our understanding?

Why is the classic Quina Mousterian sensu Boeda in France during OIS4/3 mainly restricted to the Charente and the Aquitaine? In the Charente, there is merely no other “Mousterian”.

Furthermore it seems that the Quina strategy occurred widely indepently of raw material supply, duration of stay, the function of the sites in the Charente and the mobility patters of Middle Paleolithic groups in this region.

The stability of the Quina-system over several thousand years in a restricted region is hardly understandable without any cultural transmission of techniques from one generation to another.

There are several other middle paleolithic and MSA technocomplexes that in my view can also only explained by taking the influence of “traditions” into consideration.

The Aterian of Northern Africa shows that a system, producing very specific artifacts, which never have been described outside this region, lasted for at least, more or less for 60-100 k.a., without great modifications. Similar long standing trends are also known from central Europe during the so called Central European Micoquian or Keilmesser Groups.