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2018-03-22 21:01:01   •   ID: 1749

Core-axes in the North African Paleolithic context

Fig. 1
These are 3 Core axes (Fig 1) from a surface scatter in the Omo Valley, near Omo- Kibish. These implements were also present on the stratified Kibish locality.

Core-axes are defined as bifacial tools produced by hard hammer technique, with one or two retouched blunted distal end. J. Desmond Clark (Kalambo Falls Prehistoric Site: Volume 3, The Earlier Cultures: Middle and Earlier Stone Age), divided them into several sub-classes : Convergent, Convergent Accuminate, Irregular, Divergent and Parallel- Sided. They may have only one working edge or two core-axe ends on opposite sides edges. Normally they  have  a biconvex shape and are often heavenly reworked from blanks with a thick cross section.

Philip Van Peer already pointed out that some of them (Like No3 in Fig. 1) have a scalariform appearance of the bifacial retouch on the lateral sides of the artifact. The greater refinement of many core-axes suggests they may have functioned as hafted tools for sub-surface exploitation, which could be demonstrated by microtraceology at Sai 8-B-11 (Sudan).

Both technically and morphometrically core-axes are very different from handaxes, and in Africa are usually seen within the Sangoan - Lupemban complex. Anyhow, the biased collection of the Omo palimpsest scatter gives no indication for a Sangoan / Lupemban. Core axes are pretty  common artifacts over large parts of the African continent combined with other technocomplexes than a "pure" Sangoan.

Fig. 2
N/E Africa: The only stratified site with some LCTs made from Levallois flakes in combination with core axes and remains of Homo Sapiens in Ethiopia is the the Herto assemblage, dated to ca 150 k.a. More "typical" Sangoan technology is found at Middle Nile Valley sites such as Khor Abu Anga, Sai 8-B-11, and Arkin 8, and further to the south at Abu Hagar. These sites have been coarsely dated to MIS7.

In Van Peers view "the Sangoan material culture is the consequence of a subsistence system with an emphasis on sub-surface exploitation of resources, both foodstuffs and mineral materials. During the period of MIS 6 it changes into a Lupemban facies, with the addition of lanceolate foliates and volumetric blade production"......"Throughout the late Middle Pleistocene technological change occurs leading to the establishment of the Nubian Complex by the onset of the Upper Pleistocene. After a period of significant population expansion during the Last Interglacial, the arid conditions of Stage 4 have forced technological adaptation and contraction of population groups into the Nile Valley. In this context, the initial Upper Paleolithic emerges".

Fig. 3
Van Peers suggests  that ensembles with core-axes indicate the beginning of the early MSA in the region and show the arrival of new populations from sub-Saharan Africa. This hypothesis is worrisome, because other MSA sites in East Africa are considerably older than Sai 8-B-11 pointing to a more mosaic-like pattern of the Archaeological record and it is heavily focused on the core axe as a fossil directeur. Furthermore, it is the old dilemma of prehistory, that new tools and concepts are not necessarily connected with specific hominins. Very little is known about the context of core-axes in the Maghreb and the Western Sahara. Anyhow, Shab Al Ghar, in Morocco  and several sites, excavated by the late J.D. Clark at Adrar Bous (Niger) give a first impression that Sangoan like assemblages are not absent in these regions. There is more to detect than the simple Aterian / MSA dichotomy  in this area!

Fig. 3: Three Core axes from a surface scatter in the Omo Valley, near Omo- Kibish. Fig. 2: A delicate scraper on a Levallois blade from the Omo Valley near Omo Kibish Fig. 3: Two thick bifacial scrapers with Quina like appearance from the Omo Valley near Omo Kibish

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