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2016-09-19 04:20:07   •   ID: 1509

A Twisted Obsidian Handaxe and Bifacial Cleaver from Melka Kunture (Gombore II)

Figure 1
Figure 2
This are a twisted handaxe(10 cm long) and a twisted small cleaver (7 cm long), made of Obsidian from the 800 k.a. old, early middle Pleistocene, Gombore II site.

Melka Kunture is a valley site, which extends for almost 6 km in both Awash River banks in Etiopia, with superimposed terraces whose remains are preserved to a maximum of 100 m of sediments. Melka Kunture is located 50 km south of Addis Abeba and part of the East African Rift Valley.  The handaxe shown here is heavily patinated, but the non hydrated raw material is clearly exposed by small chips at the edges.

Twisted Acheulian Handaxes (usually Ovates and Cordiforms) at Gombore II have a very particular pattern. They often have a symmetrical and rounded butt and a twisted shape if viewed from the side, usually in the form of a backward S shape. At Gomore II, they seem to be mainly produced from Kombewa flakes.

East Africa is one of the few African areas with abundant Obsidian sources. Apart from Ethiopia, most of the other sources are located in Kenya, close to the Lake Naivasha basin and Mount Eburru.

Relatively minor sources of volcanic glass are present in the northern portions of Kenya, east of Lake Turkana and in the southern end of the Suguta Valley.

The southern Kenyan rift zone and northern Tanzania near Mount Kilimanjaro may also have been a significant source of obsidian.

In East Africa, Obsidian was frequently used only since the Middle Stone Age and is generally dominant in Late Stone Age lithic assemblages in the region. In this framework, the earliest assemblages of Melka Kunture document the only known example of obsidian use during the Oldowan.

During the Acheulian, the intense exploitation of obsidian has only been documented at Melka Kunture and at the Kenyan site of Kariandusi (around 700-900 k.a.). 

Twisted handaxes and Cleaver are present in all the excavation sectors of the Gombore II site at Melka Kuture. They are a unique not only within the archaeological sequence at Melka Kunture but also in a pan-African context, although some twisted bifaces, made of Quarztit are known from surface scatters in the Sahara and made from obsidian at non stratified sites in Etiopia.

In Europe, twisted bifaces are known from the upper loam at Swanscombe, dated to the Hoxnian. Other assemblages with concentrations of twisted ovates in Britain appear to demonstrate a strong chronological correlation toward late MIS11. Twisted ovates are virtually absent from sites of a pre-Hoxnian age, such as High Lodge, Boxgrove or Warren Hill. They also do not appear to occur in significant numbers in assemblages younger than MIS 11/10, such as those recovered from Purfleet, Wolvercote and Furze Platt, but they are known from OIS 9 and 8 from Northern French Acheulian sites.

Mousterian industries from OIS 5-3 in the Normandie and Bretagne show many examples of twisted  bifaces: especially at Saint-Brice-sous-Rânes in the Orne Valley.

For Melka Kunture, Gallotti et al. recently demonstrated, that the  conceptual scheme of the twisted bifaces is indeed different from that of the classical ones. Anyhow, there are many unresolved questions about the rare occurence of twisted handaxes during the old world Paleolithic:

  • Are twisted bifaces the result from reduction strategies of classical bifaces?

  • Are Kombewa flakes a prerequisite for producing such handaxes?

  • Is the use oftwisted bifaces related to a specific function?

  • If so, does a functional difference exist between a sinusoidal edge and a rectilinear one?

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