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2017-05-20 11:57:43   •   ID: 1603

Down with the Transitional Lithic Industries in Europe!

Figure 1
These are Chatelperronian Points from the Pas-Estret site (Beune) near Les Eyzies excavated during a couple of days (sic!) by Dr. Ampoullanges in 1911.

Very different entities and constructs in Europe are subsumed under this label of a MP-UP transitional industry: Althmühlian, Szeletian, Bohunician, Châtelperronian, Lincombian-Ranisian-Jerzmanovicien (LRJ) and Uluzzian.

It is generally suggested, that  such industries would combine  Middle and the Upper Paleolithic components  both on a typological and technological level.

Due to a better technological understanding of many of these entities, "MP-UP transitional industries" have become a suspect typological construct, as recently shown for the Châtelperronian and the LRJ which are by no means "transitional" at all, but fully Upper Paleolithic. In contrast to older observations of mixed ensembles, the Châtelperronian, as defined from newer excavations from open air sites, seems to be a pure Upper Paleolithic industry without any Mousterian component.

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 was always the focus of lithic production (up to 70% of the retouched artifacts).

"Middle Paleolithic" technological components like Denticules and 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 Châtelperronian blade production differs both from Middle Paleolithic and Aurignacian / Protoaurignacian blade production. The blades are detached by direct percussion with a soft hammer and are relatively standardized in their dimensions and morphology.

Figure 2
Chatelperronian points were made from rather straight and slightly curved blanks, as seen in Figure 2.

At Quinçay, Roussel described "cores with a asymmetrical volume, that were exploited from  two surfaces, one narrow and one wide, with a triangular section. Blades were subsequently removed by independent unipolar series of blades on the narrow and on wide surfaces of the core.

Each surface of a blade core was an independent flaking surface. The goal of the blade production was to obtain blanks, symmetrical or asymmetrical in section for Châtelperron points.

Twenty percent at of the Châtelperron points Quinçay have an asymmetrical section with a natural back, ready for further backing by only minimal retouching

Figure 3
Figure 4
The next two pictures show a 6 cm long Jerzmanowice point from Kleinheppach, Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany. It is almost intact, but a small part of the tip is broken.

It fulfills all characteristics of these pointed blades and was found during the 1930ies by an local Amateur together with classic Aurignacian tools.

Currently the LRJ complex has been identified at 41 Euopean sites, dating to ca 40-35 k.a. uncalibrated BP. 

New C-14 studies at the type site, the Nietoperzowa Cave are based on Bayesian statistical processing of radiocarbon dates and show  that the lower boundary of layer 6 in Nietoperzowa Cave can be statistically located in the range of 44 –42 k.a. cal BP and the upper limit for the Jerzmanowician is estimated to c.31 BP.

Most of these highly characteristic blades are found in Great Britain, while assemblages from continental Europe (Belgium, Netherlands, Middle and Northern Germany, Moravia and Kraków-Częstochowa Upland) are clearly less numerous.

Main Features of the LRJ Lithic Industry are the Jerzmanowice points being the only diagnostic “fossile directeur”. On average, they have a length around 9–10 cm, width of 3 cm, and thickness of 1 cm.

No use-wear study has ever been made on Jerzmanowice points. Nonetheless, these pieces being pointed and symmetric, and likely axially hafted as suggested by the importance of proximal shaping  as well as likely impact fractures (burinlike removals, “spin-off” removals, strongly marked bending fractures).  

In addition to Jerzmanowice points, LRJ assemblages may also contain bifacial Leafpoints. Other tool types are much less common. Maybe the new excavations in Ranis will answer the question if the bifacial items in the assemblage are a genuine part of the LRJ or the result of secondary mixing.

However, pointed blades, retouched blades, end scrapers, and burins (dihedral, on truncation or on break), sometimes made on former Jerzmanowice Points are part of larger ensembles.

The most common knapping method corresponds to bidirectional blade production although unidirectional blade production is sometimes also documented. Blade knapping was usually done with an organic soft hammer, based on the relative thinness of blade platforms and the frequent presence of a lip.

Blade production is volumetric, involving preparation of the cores by different crests. What is independent from any archaeological discourse is the question, who made these industries. It remains odd that even intelligent researchers often mix this question with the description of "transitional entities" to prove or disprove their personal views about the Neanderthal / H.. Sapiens interaction.

Elongated Levallois point like blades were the desired end product of the Bohunician / Emiran technology. The reduction strategy of these entities may be, according to P. Skrdla reconstructed as follows: “the core was shaped as a typical upper Paleolithic prismatic core with a frontal crest and two opposed platforms were created. Consequently a series of blades was removed from both opposed platforms in order to form the frontal face of the core into a shape (triangular, elongated) which allows Levallois point production” Although the end product (Levallois point) has affinities to the older Middle Paleolithic Levallois technologies, the volumetric concept is fully Upper Paleolithic and not a “transitional” industry!

Figure 5
The Bohunician / Emiran (Figure 5) dates roughly between 45-32 k.a. BP in Europe. This technology was first independently described at Boker Tachtit 1 and at Brno Bohunice in Moravia in the 1970ies.

Ensembles similar to Boker-Tachtit were found not only in the Levant (Üçağızlı and Ksar-Akil), but also in Bulgaria (Temnata  TD2/6,  Bacho Kiro 11), near Brno (Bohunician at Brno Bohunice, Stránská skála Ss-IIIa-4, Brno Líšeň , Tvarožná, and Želeč), in Moravia (Rataje, Ondratice, Mohelno) in eastern Slovakia (Nižný Hrabovec), in the Ukraine,at Obi-Rakhmat Grotto, situated 100 km northeast of Tashkent in the  Republic of Uzbekistan and in the Altai (Kara Bom).

The Uluzzian is a flake-dominated industry that brings together a set of technological innovations. Blanks are detached using an unipolar method, with a single striking platform by direct percussion, and from a bipolar knapping on an anvil, which produces splintered pieces used mainly as wedges on medium-hard material.

The principal objective was the production of average-thickness flakes and laminar flakes, sometimes naturally backed.

Several tool-types are identified as part of the technocomplex: various end-scraper types, side-scrapers, few burins, denticulates, retouched blades and bladelets.

The geometric crescent-shaped backed piece, normally referred to as "lunate" is the fossile directeur of the industry; an innovation sometimes of microlithic dimensions.

Bone industry, shell ornaments and pigments were found along with the distinct lithics and microlithics and give the industry along with the lunates a special Upper Paleolithic character.

The Uluzzian arrived in Italy and Greece shortly before 45 k.a. years ago and its final stages are placed at 39 k.a years ago, its end is synchronous with the Campanian Ignimbrite eruption.

While the Châtelperronian Bohunician, Uluzzian and Lincombian-Ranisian-Jerzmanovicien are clearly Upper Paleolithic industries, the Althmühlian, is a late middle Paleolithic entity.

Figure 6
The Mauern-Zone 4 assemblage became the reference phenomenon of the so-called “Altmühlgruppe”, characterized by large, perfectly shaped leafpoints.

So far the published Zone 4 inventory comprises 43 of these tools. Some of them are very large and thin, due to the high quality of the local raw material, consisting of Jurassic Flintstone slabs. It has been emphasized, however, that both assemblages, namely Zone 5 (classified as Micoquian) and Zone 4 (classified as “Althmühlian”) display inventories of an essentially identical type, standard Middle Palaeolithic tools (many Quina scrapers) prevailing along with some bifacial tools of Micoquian character, such as Faustkeilblätter and Keilmesser.

Therefore when we a talking about the Althmühlian and its local roots, we are talking about a specialized Micoquian. In turn, fragments of perfect Leafpoints are known from some pure Micoquian ensembles in S/W-Germany. (Figure 6: non published Leafpoint from Mauern; Höhle A (1)) Leafpoint- Industies will discussed in another post.

Proveniance: 1: Dr. Ampoullanges (Family Collection); 2: Perseke Collection; 3, 4: Reinhard Family Collection; 5: Bachmaier Collection; 6: Bohmers Collection, later stepwise sold by the excavator after WW II.