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2021-11-30 08:33:23   •   ID: 2283

The Role of Blades in the French Mousterian

Figure 1
The small department of Deux-Sèvres is sandwiched between the departments of Charente and Charente Maritime in the south, the department of Vienne in the east and the Loire region in the north and east. All these regions are rich in Paleolithic finds, some with well-preserved stratigraphies.

All the more is it surprising that from Deux-Sèvres only surface finds are known (Courtet 1963). They represent mostly single Quina scrapers and cordiform handaxes, artifacts that even a non-Archaeologist will easily recognize.

It is all the more unfortunate that the only intact Middle Paleolithic site so far of Saint-Maixent-l’École in the Département was destroyed by construction activity in the 1950s, although the authorities were made aware of the rich finds by a local school teacher.

This site would certainly have been all the more significant because it did not contain any Upper Paleolithic admixtures.

This locality, about 50 km South-West from Poitiers, was already introduced into the Blog- see here: 1634 .

Figure 1 shows a broad non-Levallois Middle Paleolithic, 9,5 cm long unretouched Blade from Saint- Maixent. Further Blades, which represent about 15% of all tools from the site are seen in Figure 2. Two of them are retouched, one has a natural back and one example shows a convergent Bohrer-like end.

Figure 2
These Blades are an integral part of an ensemble, following a genuine Quina Chaîne opératoire, characterized by a multitude of Quina scrapers (Figure 3 and 4), with all subtypes, already described by Bordes (1961)- single side- and transversal Scrapers and many convergent Scrapers / Points which were sometimes reworked into convergent denticulated artifacts. Heavy reworking by the “Retouche écailleuse scalariforme” is prevalent.

In Addition even rarer lithics ,such as "Keilmesser" and "Chopping tool" like thick bifacial artifacts, from the same assemblage are known.

Despite the noteworthy frequency of Blades for a classic Quina ensemble, the focus of lithic production was clearly focused on the production of flake-tools and the production of blades was a more rare but nevertheless conscious choice of their makers.

In S/W-France Quina Ensembles date to MIS 4 and early MIS 3. The reason for this chronological position remains unclear.

About the very different Variants of Quina Ensembles in Europe, which does not claim to be complete, please have a look on earlier posts: 1426 , here: 1648 , here: 2405 , here: 1649 , here: 1190 , and here: 2249 .

Blade industries, made by Neanderthals, were more or less ignored for a long time. One example is the the early Middle Palaeolithic industry of Montiers, dated to MIS7 and already discovered by V. Commont at the beginning of the 20th century- see 1306

This ignorance led via circular reasoning to the suggestion, that Neanderthals were considered to be incapable of producing blades. From Boule`s times to the armchair Archeology of Sir Mellars they were perceived as stupid and clumsy comrades who had not managed to follow "modern" Homo Sapiens, this crown of creation.

On the contrary, Middle Paleolithic blades made by Neanderthals are known from the UK and Northern France since MIS8-6, produced either by a non-Levallois mode (e.g at Crayford, UK) or through Levallois débitage (e.g. Biache-Saint-Vaast.)

Figure 3
Even more and large ensembles are known from the last Interglacial (MIS5) and have been found to be common from numerous excavations during the last decennia. They were found in Northern France and adjacent regions in Germany and Belgium, made either by a laminar ("Upper Paleolithic") non-Levallois technology or by a recurrent Levallois approach

Such inventories have been excavated for example in Belgium (Rocourt), Wallertheim D, Tönchesberg 2B (Germany), Germain-des-Vaux, Riencourt-lès-Bapaume, Seclin – D7, Riencourt-lès-Bapaume, Verrières and Vinneuf in France to name just a few. For a more detailed review see: 1522 .

A legacy of the great H. Dibble is the systematic re-evaluation of the classical sites excavated by F. Bordes in the Perigord. This implies both a revision of the stratigraphy, and a reanalysis of lithic production from a techno-typological point of view.

Initial results from Combe Grenal, for example, reveal multiple biases of the excavated material, especially concerning the faunal remains, which ultimately have contributed to some biased hypotheses of the past (e.g.: "Neanderthal man was a scavenger, was unable to structure his home base and build nests").

In the context of a systematic Middle Paleolithic blade production (semi-prismatic, non-Levallois), Combe Grenal is particularly important. Faivre, who focused on stratum 29 and 30, showed, that Neanderthals clearly mastered both the production of Blades and Bladelets.

However, as it can be observed at other Mousterian sites in the Perigord and Charente, this production was infrequent and never as dominant compared with later times in the (Proto) Aurignacian (Faivre 2012).

In the same year in which Vaivre published his results, this phenomenon has been independently described by A. Pastoors for the Micoquian Site Salzgitter-Lebenstedt under the striking title: Blades ? – Thanks , no interest! (Pastoors 2012).

Heading further South and to the lower Rhone Valley Region, it appears that systematic Middle Paleolithic Blade Production was also a constant, but in general rare element of the entire lithic production. This holds true both for the "Neronian" and the "Rhodanian".The first entity is Levallois-based- see 1134 , while the second has affinities to the classic Quina Facies of the greater Aquitaine- see 2245 , 1649 and 1455

If we focus on convergent elongated blanks, the Neronian is indeed characterized by often elongated Levallois-Points with inverse retouches. Of great interest in this context is The Neronian level (ca 50 k.a.) of the Grotte Mandrin with an enormous sample of almost microlithic elongated Levallois points, many of them with impact fractures, suggesting their use as projectiles- see: 1648 .

Figure 4
Situated in the Lower Rhone Valley, the multilayered site of the Abri du Maras, a collapsed cave near the Ardeche River, gave early evidence for a "laminar Levallois industry",although even in strata with this designation only 5-10% of all tools are blades (Moncel 1994).

All in all, the situation in the Abri Maras cannot be compared to the finds in northern France, where the production of blades was in the foreground; rather, the occasional blade production at Maras was embedded in an overall Levallois system.

New results from the site show that advanced analytical techniques provide a much greater gain in knowledge, compared to the data of older excavations.

New excavations from the oldest layers (Unit 5 and 4) dated these strata by ESR and U-Th to c 90 and 40-46 k.a. respectively. A systematic but marginal production of Blades and Bladelets was confirmed.

Moreover, Microtraceology and Residue Analysis showed that Neanderthals used active hunting for a variety of large and small pray but were were also engaged into plant exploitation. Already this observations resulted in a revision of the paradigm, that all Neanderthal groups always hunted big game.

By a lucky coincidence a small piece of cordage was discovered adhearing at a Levallois flake. This is the first direct evidence that Neanderthals produced twisted fibers - a technique that has so far only been demonstrated for Homo Sapiens during the Middle Upper Paleolithic in the Pavlovian Hills in Moravia (Hardy et al. 2013; 2020).

Suggested Reading:

Jean-Philippe Faivre: Organisation techno-économique des systèmes de production dans le Paléolithique moyen récent du Nord-est Aquitain : Combe-Grenal et les Fieux (Thesis 2008)

Debénath, André. Néandertaliens et Cro-Magnons - les temps glaciaires dans le bassin de la Charente. Fundamental Overview about the Paleolithic in the Charente. For cheap money and indisputable the best!

Provenance: P. Favre Collection