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2017-11-15 16:06:43   •   ID: 1683

At the Shores of Europe: Acheulian in the Gargano

Figure 1
Figure 2
Figure 3
Figure 4
Figure 1 and 2: This is limestone handaxe from the Gargano region in Southern Italy.

This region is not far away from the Venosa sites- see 1104 -in the South, already introduced in this blog.

The Gargano is an almost entirely mountainous headland; it reaches a maximum altitude of 1055 m (Monte Calvo) and extends into the Adriatic Sea for several kilometers.

The inner areas are cut by the deep valley of the Carbonara fault, crossing the promontory from West to East; karst processes shaped the calcareous bedrock, creating wide surfaces carved by dolines, the greatest of which is the huge Dolina Pozzatina, near the town of San Nicandro Garganico.

The eastern coastline of the promontory shows a number of deeply carved Pleistocene fluvial valleys. During the middle Pleistocene these valleys showed temperate open landscapes with small rivers, crowded with a lot of potential prey.  

Figure 3 : To give you an impression about the beauty of the region nowadays, I display a picture taken in 2012 from the cliffed rocky coast near Mattinata.

Early, Middle and Upper Paleolithic sites are well represented in the Gargano. For the Gargano and S/E Italy, the Grotta Paglicci at Rignano Garganico represents undoubtedly one of the reference cave sequences, both for archaeological and palaeoenvironmental implications.

The Paleolithic sequence is about 8 m thick, subdivided into 26 units and begins with a late Acheulian (OIS6/7?) followed by a Quina Mousterian during late OIS 5 and a typical Aurignacian and a wonderful early Gravettian, with the oldest strata dated between 29 and 27 k.a. BP.

Several evolved Gravettian and Epigravettian layers complete the stratigraphy. Numerous (about 800) handaxes of unknown age are reported from surface sites in the Gargano region and some are shown at the charming Archaeological Museum in Lucera (Foggia).

The appearance of limestone handaxes does not differ from other early handaxes made from chert or quartzite and thus the raw material was not the only determinant for their outlines.

It remains unclear if the use of limestone was the consequence of a limited radius of H. Heidelbergensis and the unavailability of other raw materials or if limestone had  characteristics, that made this kind of material attractive for the production of bifaces.

Figure 4: The handaxe shown here has an almost identical pendant, a limestone biface from the Middle Pleistocene levels  at the Grotte de l'Observatoire, Monaco (Figure 4; source unknown; >230 k.a BP). It is obvious, that knapping handaxes from elongated limestone pebbles, produced similar results.

(Siliceous) limestone was rarely used during the Acheulian in Europe, but at some sites limestone was the abundant raw-martial (Terra Amata Site in  present-day Nice, dated to 230-400 k.a. BP.

Similar abundance of this raw material is known from the Acheulian at Torre in Pietra (Latium, Italy dated by 40Ar/39Ar to ca 350 k.a. (MIS10). Some examples come from Venosa.

Two examples from the Middle Pleistocene are known from Germany (Steinheim,  Stuttgart Bad-Cannstatt).Limestone bifaces in abundance were found in India (Hunsgi and Baichbal; maybe 600 k.a. BP) and in North Africa (for example Cap Chatelier / Casablanca).

I have no idea, what made this raw material attractive  for early hominins, but siliceous limestone is not always a "soft" material. The raw material from the Gargano handaxe of this post, for example, resembles homogeneous chert, which seems to hold true for the Grotte de l'Observatoire handaxe, too. Otherwise such implements would not have survived some 100 k.a. in the Archaeological record.