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2021-05-27 19:35:16   •   ID: 2250

Raw material is not everything: An example from Erg Chech - An understudied Region in the Algerian Sahara

Figure 1
Figure 2
Figure 3
The Erg Chech in South Western Algeria (Fig. 1: Wikipedia Commons) is nowadays an almost uninhabited part of the greater Sahara Desert, an inhospitable region with long, extremely hot summers and short, very warm winters.

Wet episodes, during the Middle / Upper Pleistocene and early Holocene allowed Homo sp. to enter the landscapes as contested by small scatters of ESA and MSA artifacts. The flora and fauna of this phases is characterized by a mixture of tropical and temperate species of Mediterranean type.

The literature about Prehistoric find spots at Erg Chech is extremely scare and to my knowledge no systematic expeditions have been taken place during the last century. Regarding the Inaccessibility of the Erg Chech it may be useful to use neighboring and better explored regions (Grand Erg Oriental, Ahaggar, Tassili-N-Ajjar) for a comparison about the chronology and techno-typology during the ESA.

I found no publications about the ESA of Erg Chech- neither in French nor English.

Lhote (1944) described an exceptional large Aterian Point from the area and compared it to other Aterian pieces found in Algeria, known at his time.

Neolithic Material is more common and has been shortly described in this blog. See: 2067

Figure 2 and 3 show a very large Handaxe (28 cm long), made from tabular basalt, which is easy to split and can be be used for tool production without major modification of the blank.

Basaltic raw material is not uncommon in the Central Sahara and was mainly used during the ESA. The Handaxe of the post has been produced from a large flake and can be classified as a LCT.

Such "Gigantism" of Bifaces was occasionally found in the Sahara-for example at Tihodaine northeast of the Ahaggar area bordering the Tassili n’Ajjer plateau in Algeria: see: 1447

Beside the flat Handaxe of this post, there are occasionally Palaeolithic tools examples that prove a strong influence of the raw material on the final shaping of artifacts - think for example of the Central European Keilmesser group of the Swabian Jura, where flat plate horn stone played an important role in the tool design.

Anyhow, this is rather the exception of a rule. The Makers of the „Moustérien à petits bifaces dominants” from the Normandie and Britany produced, irrespectively from the available raw material, identical bifaces from Jasper, Chert, Quartzite and Quarz.

Figure 4 shows another example: a perfect Levallois point, from Northern Hessen, made from Quartzite. The artifact is even finer (extremely thin, symmetric) made than the better known examples, typically made from high quality Flint, in Northern France and the Levant- especially from the El Kowm area or the Mt. Carmel Caves.

Figure 4
Sharon used a large corpus of LCTs from Africa, the Levant and India, to study among other things, the influence of raw material on the shape of Cleavers and Hand Axes in his heavyweighted and influential thesis:

He found: "that in large flake based Acheulian, raw material constraints did not significantly affect either the blank production process or large cutting tool shape and size variability. The Acheulian large cutting toolmakers used the rock types available in the vicinity of their site in a sophisticated reduction sequence aimed to produce large cutting tools that are surprisingly similar regardless of the original shape, size and type of raw material from which they were produced" (Sharon 2008).

Eren et al. used an experimental approach and Multivariat Analysis in experimental produced Paleolithic Handaxes and came to concordant conclusions:

"The MANOVA of all 29 size-adjusted variables, using two different tests, showed no statistically significant differences in overall shape patterns between the three groups of raw material.

In sum, our results show that assuming the primacy of raw material differences as the predominant explanatory factor in stone tool morphology, or variations between assemblages, is unwarranted"
(Eren et al. 2014).

Our ancestors seem to have early emancipated themselves from the naturally given shapes by raw material supply after the Olduvan at about 1,8 k.a. BP.

Provenance: Collection Wagner GER)