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2020-06-28 11:13:55   •   ID: 2186

The last Pre- Leptolithic industries in N-Africa

Figure 1
Figure 1: These are three tanged Points from the Murzuq Sand Sea in southwest Libya, already introduced in this Blog- see here: 1030 , here: 2032 and here 1751 .

While the first point on the left (Figure 1 and 2) is certainly a typical elongated Aterian Point made from a thick blade, the last point on the right (Figure 1 and 4) is an Epipaleolithic Onounian Point with a characteristic design.

The central Point (Figure 1 and 3)is a sophisticated convergent blade-tanged point from the "Aterian". Such a suggestive seriation of surface findings could easily taken as an indicator of continuity in the settlement of the Murzuq if there were not good reasons to reject such an assumption.

The most important arguments against such an outdated typological evolution are the temporal distance between Aterian and Ounanian points of at least 15 k.a. and the hyper-arid conditions during the late Pleistocene, making continuous settlement in the Murzuq nearly impossible.

Tanged MSA-Points in the Murzuq sometimes showed a bifacial retouche (Figure 4) or were associated with triangular points without any tang, similar to European Mousterian points and East African unifacial points (Figure 5).

Figure 2
The Motto of this post comes from Edouard Piette (1827- 1906). He was an eminent French Prehistorian, who published the influential paper: Hiatus et Lacune. Vestiges de la période de transition dans la grotte du Mas d'Azil, 1894.

During Piette's time, it was suggested by many influential Prehistorians, that the last "Magdalenians" left Western Europe, following the reindeer herds to the Nord- East. Europe would have been depopulated after the Pleistocene and only repopulated during the Neolithic.

Figure 3
Piette at Mas d Azil and others, who worked on the stratigraphical position of microlithic industries (for example at Fère-en-Tardenois, excavated by E. Tarte in 1885) subsequently proved, that on the contrary, local populations of Western Europe adapted to the new environments instead of emigrating from the Continent- in other words a Hiatus (a gap) in the Archeological record did not exist.

The Azilian and Mesolithic became the technocomplexes who filled the Gap.

The question of continuity / discontinuity of human settlement after marked ecological or sociological changes is debated even today for certain regions, especially North Africa and the adjacent Sahara.

Is there any evidence that the late MSA in N-Africa evolved continuously to Upper Paleolithic and Epipaleolithic industries, maybe triggered by a major stimulus from other regions- or -on the contrary- are there indications for a marked discontinuity in settlement, because N-Africa was inhabitable during this time?

Historically the MSA (“Mousterian” for Researchers adhering the French traditions) in N-Africa has been split into several entities, those boundaries are less clear, than usually suggested (Mousterian, MSA, Nubian Complex, Aterian, Denticulated Mousterian, Mousterian with Bifaces....).

Figure 4
It has to be mentioned that the socio-economic significance of these Industries“ remains largely unclear.

Here I focus on late -MIS4/3 (69-29 k.a.) late MSA and earliest Post-MSA ensembles of the Maghreb , Lybia and the Western and Central Sahara.

Irrespectively their historical designation MSA "entities" are characterized by:

  • The use of prepared core technique (Different modes of Levallois Production, Discoid and Blade orientated techniques


  • Differences in secondary blank modifications (Scrapers, Notches, Denticulates, Crescents, Unifacial Points


  • The occasional focus on Bifacial Techniques, such as Bifacial Foliates, Cordiform Handaxes


  • The Presence / Absence of Tangs


After the Flourishing of MSA / Aterian industries during MIS 5, during MIS4 the days of the “Green Sahara” were definitively over - but isolated habitable ecological niches remained, probably sustained by the continued presence of fresh water via underground aquifers.

At Uan Tabu in Libya, Aterian sites with a strong Levallois component and blade production were dated to the End of MIS4.

At Haua Fteah, a large karstic cave located in the Cyrenaica in northeastern Libya a Levalloiso-Mousterian has been dated ( TL, ESR) between 73 and 65 k.a. at the 95.4% confidence level, within MIS4.

However, during MIS 3 occupation associated with MSA material was again evident across all areas of the Maghreb and some adjacent areas.

Figure 3
What were the last Pre- Leptolithic industries in N-Africa?

Aterian sites, reliable dated in the Jebel Gharbi may have lasted from c 70-30k.a. and are among the youngest MSA sites known- at a timeframe, the Taramsan evolved in the Nil Valley and the IUP was already present in the Levant.

Just a few dated late Middle Paleolithic / MSA Sites are known from N- Africa: Wadi Noun in southern Morocco, was dated to ~31 k.a. Some uncertainties exist with a Middle Paleolithic, dating to c 26 k.a. at Sidi Saïd in Tunisia.

Barton et al. recently show that an MSA non- Levallois flake industry ( in my opinion Quina-like) was present until 24.5 k.a. Cal BP at Taforalt Cave, Morocco. This occupation was followed by a gap (which was followed by a Iberomaurusian industry from at least 21,1 k.a. Cal BP.

Overall there is currently no evidence for a typo-technological continuity between the MSA and Early Upper (leptolithic) Industries.

Figure 4
The first Initial Upper Paleolithic of N-Africa is known from the famous Haua Fteah cave in the Cyrenaica.

This Industry is the Dabban industry which dates to ca. 43–40 k.a. BP, below the Campanian Ignimbrite tephra which has occurred ca. 39 k.a. BP. The Dabban has some similarities to the Emiran of the Levant and may be more part of the Levantine interaction sphere than part of the N-African world.

The Iberomaurusian is the first widespread fully Upper Paleolithic (Blade and Bladelet) industry found on the coastal zone of Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia.

The Iberomaurusian seems to have appeared around the time of the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM), somewhere between c. 25 and 22 k.a.cal BP or during the following Heinrich Event I 19-14.6 k.a.cal BP and would have lasted until c. 11 k.a. cal BP.

The mosaic like lithic traditions in N-Africa, all made by H. Sapiens are impressive and contradictory to a simple linear thinking in Paleolithic Prehistory- see 1637

Suggested Reading

Far the Best about the theme: Africa from MIS 6-2: Population Dynamics and Paleoenvironments (Vertebrate Paleobiology and Paleoanthropology) | Sacha C. Jones, Brian A. Stewart, 2016

Aumassip, Ginette. Préhistoire du Sahara et de ses abords . Editions L'Harmattan-Tome 1 et 2; 2019