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2016-08-30 18:27:30   •   ID: 1492

The Châtelperronian: a fully developed Leptholithic Industry

The common paradigm: "The Châtelperronian industry (Châtelperronian or Castelperronien in French) is considered to be the very last behavioral testimony of Neanderthals in France and northern Spain.

For a few millennia, Neanderthals switched to systematic blade production, focused on stone knives that could also be used as projectile points, and in some instances produced domestic bone tools and used black and red pigments as well as personal ornaments" (Soressi and Roussel 2010)

These are three Châtelperronian points, between 6,3 and 3,5 cm long. They were found before Pradel`s important excavations in 1968 at the famous cave Les Cottés. This cave opens on the left bank of the Gartempe, one kilometer north of the village of Saint-Pierre-de-Maille (Vienne, France).

Figure 1
Discovered in the late 19th century, the cave was the subject of numerous excavations throughout the 20th century. The cave " Prés-Rouïs " was discovered in 1878 by A. Jamin and  first exploration trenches were opened in 1880 and 1881 by R. Rochebrune with the permission of the landowner R. Fontenioux. Rochebrune found two archaeological layers: a Mousterian and Aurignacian. At the same time the grotto was renamed „Grotte des Cottés"

Thereafter, until 1910, the site was explored by O. Rochebrune, son of R. Rochebrune. The Grotte des Cottés was classified a historical monument in 1931 and further excavations were stopped until 1951 when Louis Pradel made a survey near the entrance of the cave.

In 1968, he opened a new trench in front of the cave and found a succession of Châtelperronian, followed by Protoaurignacian (“lentille correzienne”)-Aurignacian I and a Gravettian level (Pradel, 1967).

Figure 2
This stratigraphy was confirmed in 1982 by F. Lévêque, who in addition provided the first C-14 dates. 

Six archaeological layers were individualized, numbered 1 to 6 from the ground surface.

The Châtelperronian layer had a thickness of 30 cm and was separated from other archaeological remains by the sterile strata H and I under- and upper-lying  the Châtelperronian with a thickness of 35 and 15 cm respectively.

We should notice that the C–14 Data were from bulk–sampies, no pretreatment, no AMS, no Post–processing.

  • Layer 6 (I):  Mousterian between 32 and 28 k.a. BP

  • Layer 5 / (G):  Châtelperronian; (“Périgordien II“) between 32-34 k.a. BP

  • Layer and 3+4 (E): (Aurignacian I; (“Aurignacien ancien évolué “) about 30 k.a. BP

  • Layer 2 (C): Gravettian; (“Périgordien IVa”):  about 32 k.a. BP

The data seemed, Even at their time, pretty ". young“. Like many other C-14 age determinations of  the Châtelperronian they remain  highly problematic.

Renewed excavations were therefore conducted by Soressi et al. since 2006 and aimed to redate the sequence with the help of different advances methods, document the site formation processes and aspects of the Chatelperronian, Protoaurignacian and Early Aurignacian behavioral repertoire at a single location.

Talamo et al. published calibrated C-14 Dates for the site and used a Bayesian model for age calculation : Mousterian between 46-44, Chatelperronian around 42-40, Protoaurignacian: a short episode around 39 and early Aurignacian around 39-36 k.a. BP roughly coincident with the onset of the strong cold phase Heinrich 4. These new data fit perfectly into the  “long chronology” of the Upper Paleolithic and are consistent with the redating of other sites (Grotte du Renne, Grotte des Fées). 

Figure 3
They  confirm that Châtelperronian and Protoaurignacian do exist in the southern margins of the Parisian Basin, away from their geographical core area (the Pyrenees and the periphery of the Mediterranean) and that the  Chatelperronian is considerably older than the early C-14 data suggest, with only minimal temporal overlap between the Chatelperronian and the Protoaurignacian /Aurignacian.

Claimed interstratifications between the Chatelperronian and Aurignacian   have been falsified during the last years  (Piage, Roc de Combe, Chatelperron-Grotte des Fées).

Stratigraphically  the  Chatelperronian is always to be found below the Protoaurignacian and Aurignacian. Châtelperronian points show a high degree of variation. The length of such points is reported to be between 3,5 and 12 cm (mean length of 107 undamaged Châtelperronian points at   Quinçay: 5,2 cm).

Most items  are classified arched backed points with regular abrupt retouching on one side. Sometimes the retouches are confined to the distal half of the blade, especially in small items (Fig.4). In some cases the tip shows bilateral retouches or even inverse retouches on one margin.

Several of these points are very similar to Azilian points.  Some of them would labeled as "Gravettes" in a Gravettian context, because of their regular and straight back as shown by the first example of this post (“Les Cottes point” according to Pradel). Sometimes the back of the curved examples is relatively thick and the retouches tend to be irregular as demonstrated by the second point, displayed here. 

Microtraceology of  Châtelperronian points from Grotte du Renne revealed that they were used as knives and also as projectile tips, which seems also to be very probable for the different sized points shown here.

At Les Cottes the larger specimens were often made from Turonian flint, while local brown flint was used for the smaller ones.

In contrast to older observations, the Châtelperronian is a pure Leptolithic industry without a Mousterian component, consisting of blades from asymmetric blade cores aimed mainly to produce blanks for  Châtelperronian points and bladelets from separate cores, made from small blocks. Although the end product of bladelet production during the Châtelperronian resembles the bladelets of the Protoaurignacian, the system of their production is different.

Châtelperronian points, endscrapers, especially semi-circular end-scrapers, and some burins on a break and borers/becs are always present, although the production of Châtelperronian points is always the focus of lithic production (up to 70% of the retouched artifacts) .

“Middle Palaeolithic" technological components (denticulated tools, side scrapers), which, by the way, are found in small numbers in many Upper Paleolithic industries, are absent or rare from modern excavations of Châtelperronian layers.

The first results of a technological study of the Grande Roche at Quinçay sequence show that the lithic production associated with level Egc ("Archaic Castelperronian") must be assigned to the Mousterian of Acheulean Tradition. Levels Egf to Ejo both yielded a homogeneous fully developed leptolithic system for the production of Châtelperronian blade blanks and Dufour bladelets.  The chaine operatoire and the end products did not significantly change over time.

At another key-site, Saint-Césaire, the Ejop layer ("Achaic Castelperronian" ) contained two different layers: Ejop INF, and Ejop SUP. Ejop SUP. , with the Neanderthal remans, was recently retrospectively reconstituted to an abundant Mousterian and a dispersed poor Châtelperronian in a heavily disturbed context.

Gravina at al. stated: "Here we present a detailed taphonomic, spatial and typo-technological reassessment of the level (EJOP sup) containing the Neanderthal skeletal material at Saint-Césaire. Our assessment of a new larger sample of lithic artifacts, combined with a systematic refitting program and spatial projections of diagnostic artifacts, produced no reliable evidence for a Neanderthal-Châtelperronian association at the site".

The suggestion, that we can follow several substages (early -evolved-late) of the Châtelperronian  must be abandoned regarding the results of the technological reevaluation at Quinçay .

This also holds true for the early  Châtelperronian at Les Cottes, which was once be regarded as an "evolved Perigordian II" (in contrast to the "Perigordian I" = Châtelperronian  at Ferrassie) on purely typological grounds.

A Paradigm that has to be questioned: But who were the makers of the Châtelperronian-the Neanderthals, the AMHs or both?  In my view, there is no convincing argument to assign this industry to a single species.  

In the Levant at 100 k.a. both species used a similar Mousterian toolkit and there is no reason why the situation should be different during the EUP of South/West France. The Neanderthal remains at St Césaire and from Arcy, as well as the formal similarity between backed knifes during the MTA and Châtelperronian points are not really convincing indications for a production of the Châtelperronian by Neanderthals.

Based on stratigraphic evidence, the cultural continuity from the MTA to the Châtelperronian is weak and the association between Neanderthal remains and Châtelperronian strata at multilayered sites somewhat ambivalent.

Moreover, the presence of an elongated flake core-reduction system in the MTA is not exclusive of this technocomplex and exists in other Final Mousterian industries (Denticulate Mousterian, Neronian)

The manageable "Top 37" Châtelperronian sites in France and Northern Spain:

  1. Abri Bordes-Fitte, Roches d'Abilly, Département Indre-et-Loire; France
  2. Abri du Chasseur, Fontechevade, Charente; France
  3. Bos de Ser, Département  Corrèze;  France
  4. Brassempouy, Département Landes; France
  5. Chapelle-aux-Saints, Département Corrèze; France
  6. Chez-Pourré - Chez-Comte, Département Corrèze; France
  7. Combe Capelle, Département Dordogne; France
  8. Cueva del Pendo , Basque Country; Spain
  9. Cueva Morín, Cantabria; Spain
  10. Ekain, Basque Country; Spain
  11. El Pendo, Cantabria;  Spain
  12. Fontenioux, Département Vienne; France
  13. Gargas, Département Hautes-Pyrenées; France
  14. Aranbaltza II, Bizkaia; Spain)
  15. Gatzarria , Département Pyrénées-Atlantiques; France
  16. Grotte de la Chaise ,Vouthon, Charente; France
  17. Grotte des Fées, Châtelperron, Département Allier; France
  18. Grotte du Renne, Arcy-sur-Cure, Département Yonne; France
  19. Grotte du Trou de la Chèvre, Bourdeilles, Département  Dordogne; France
  20. Isturitz, Département Pyrenées-Atlantiques; France
  21. La Cote , Département Dordogne; France
  22. La Ferrassie (E), Département Dordogne; France
  23. La Quina Aval, Département Charente; France
  24. Labeko Koba , Basque Country; Spain
  25. le Basté, Département Pyrénées-Atlantiques; France
  26. Le Moustier, Département Dordogne; France
  27. Le Piage, Département Lot; France
  28. Le Portel; Loubens; Département Ariège; France
  29. Les  Abeilles, Département Dordogne; France
  30. Les Cottes, Département Vienne; France
  31. Pair-non-Pair, Département Dordogne; France
  32. Quinçay, Département Vienne; France
  33. Roc de Combe, Département Lot; France
  34. Roche-au-Loup, Merry-sur-Yonne,  Département Yonne; France
  35. Saint-Césaire, Département Charente-Maritime; France
  36. Vieille-Grange;  Mérigny, Département Indre; France
  37. Les Bossats (Ormesson); Departement Seine et-Marne; France)

  38. Provenance: Collection Heyermann (GER)