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2021-12-28 16:20:08   •   ID: 2292

Keilmesser of the Klausennische and Balve Type from the Creuse Valley / Central France

Figure 1 ; Copyright: User:Ls67- and is licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license
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Figure 1 shows the Klausennische a rock shelter in the Altmühl Valley (Bavaria; Germany), where Birkner excavated in 1912/13 the so called Middle Paleolithic "Klausennischen - Kultur", later recognized as a subgroup of the Central European Micoquian.

However the two Keilmesser of this post were found in the Gravels of the Creuse Valley (France) immediately south of Abilly, in the Indre et Loire region in France and about 1000 km West from the Altmühl Valley.

The first item on Figure 2-5 shows a characteristic Keilmesser type, called "Klausennischen - Messer", first recognized from the basal layers of the Klausennische (Bosinski 1967).

A similar Keilmesser, called "Balver - Keilmesser" in the German Research Tradition is from the same find spot and displayed in Figures 6-8. Both pieces may be from the last Glacial, but also considerably older and part of the local Acheulian in the Creuse area, known from old collections and already introduced into the Blog- here: 1096

Note that elongated flakes and backed bifaces are also part of the middle Pleistocene Acheulian from the „Grand Vallee“ site in the Creuse Valley at ca 500 k.a.

In the Central European Research Tradition, asymmetric bifacial backed knifes are generally called "Keilmesser" defined by a natural and/or retouched back opposite a bifacially retouched cutting edge (Bosinski 1967, Chmielewski 1969, Kozlowski 1989, Ruebens 2012, Soressi 2002).

The term "Micoquian" has acquired an almost inflationary meaning in recent decades. This is shown, for example, in the detailed description of its research history by Frick- See: Reflections on the term Micoquian .

In my blog, I have always tried to define the Micoquian phenomenon as a Central and Eastern European technocomplex, essentially limited to MIS5-3. In doing so, I often use the term Keilmesser complex (KMG) to avoid confusion with the Late North French Acheulian (Micoquian sensu Breuil and Bordes) in the Paris Basin around ca 100-90 k.a. -see 1532 and with the La Micoque site, which has an unresolved status-See: 2272 .

KMG-assemblages carry a variable amount of bifacial Middle Paleolithic artifacts alongside with unifacial tools which mostly outnumber the bifacial ones. It is suggested that the production of bifacial pieces, was one way to expand the Paleolithic toolbox by the production of reliable, versatile, reshapeable, robust, and very durable pieces.

J. Richter has shown the reality of this view convincingly on the basis of the finely stratified Sesselfels G-complex. Here, the bifacial pieces have been described as a site and situation-dependent possibility in Middle Paleolithic contexts, as a part of a common Neanderthal savor-faire.

Fokusing on Keilmesser, they are characterized by their:

  • plano-convex cross section


  • asymmetric bifacial appearance


  • straight, slightly convex or even concave cutting edge


  • convex, straight, or angled blunted back


The various combinations of the back and the cutting edge and their different ratio to each other result in a large number of subtypes, traditionally named after specific Type-sites (Bockstein, Königsaue, Volgograd, Buhlen, Ciemna, Prodnik, Lichtenberg, Klausennische, Tata....).

Re-sharpening by removal of tranchet blows is a technique , already known from the European Acheulian. This reshaping technique in an KMG-kontext is known as Prądnik technique.

Keilmesser subtypes are sometimes just snapshots of a reduction process, modifying the original tool design, as first noted by Dibble for Middle Paleolithic scrapers. In other cases the original design was preserved until the end of the reduction and transformation process.

The back of the first piece, which is shown here, is formed by a basal part running almost parallel to the contralateral cutting edge. Near the middle of the back, the back changes its orientation towards the slightly rounded tip at an angle of approximately 30 °.

The Back of the second piece has rather a triangular form and resembles another Keilmesser class- called "Balver Keilmesser" according to a German Cave-site in Westphalia- see here: 2221

Overall, the retouch is most carefully worked on the dorsal face of the tip section, while the base has been only sparsely modified. The bifacial cutting edges were somewhat crudely prepared over the entire length during the last reworking steps, before the discard of the artifacts (Figure 2,3 and 4).

The focus of several earlier posts was the Central European Micoquian / KMG-Komplex. More detailed information is to be found here: 2135 , here: 1735 , here: 1270 , here: 1726 , and here: 1631 .

Here I give a short overview of the few Western European MIS5-3 ensembles, which predominantly show typical Keilmesser outside Central-and East Europe.

It is hardly convincing that Keilmesser found in regions outside the KMG-Corelands represent a convergence phenomenon. Their design is just too specific in this respect. This is especially valid if they additionally exhibit a "coup de tranchet". It remains unclear how the savior-faire of Keilmesser spread to W-Europe during the last Glacial.

Early examples of Keilmesser, modified by a burin spall technique have been found in an Acheulan Context at Dakhleh Oasis (Egypt; [OIS7 or 9] and in an early Mousterian at la Cotte St. Brelade (Jersey) [OIS7/6 ]. Microware analysis revealed that such tools were most often used for butchery and that the tranchet blow technique was used for renovation of bifacial artifacts.

Personally, I would prefer a "Frog Leap" model of knowledge transfer, even over long distances. Migration movements of the Neanderthal populations could also play a role. However, one must consider the limited radius of such migrations in a diameter of usually 30-50 km - but we are talking here about long periods of time....

Ensembles which are different from the classic definition of F. Bordes for France and Ensembles that just don't fit the Central European Mousterian / KMG-Group Dichotomy like the Charentien à influence micoquienne, Mousterian with bifacial tools, Mousterian with Bifacial retouches, Mousterian of Micoquian influence and others will not discussed here, because they show, despite considerable scientific efforts in recent years, that it is still impossible to account for the great diversity of the European Middle Paleolithic.

Basically, one could give each ensemble its own name, regarding that the Middle Paleolithic is, contrary to earlier assumptions, almost as diverse as the Upper Paleolithic....

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Vinneuf N1 (Yonne, France), dated to MIS5d represents a late Last Interglacial “KMG” lithic assemblage. The assemblage of Vinneuf N1 is characterized by bifaces (n=27) and different other tools (n=148), which have clear affinities to the KMG, among them Faustkeilblätter and a classic Klausennischen - Messer.

The Abri du Musée at Les Eyzies (Dordogne, France) is characterized by an ensemble both showing typical Keilmesser with or without the tranchet blows. It was noted "that the Keilmesser with tranchet blow, were manufactured exclusively on products (like flakes), regardless of whether they were worked unifacially or bifacially." (Frick 2020)- a trait that has already noted for some Middle European KMG-Ensembles. It is hard to imagine that the Abri du Musée-site should be qualified as an independent complex with no connection with the Central European Micoquian.

The same hold true to the Keilmesser-Ensemble of the Mont de Beuvry à Béthune/ Pas de Calais) which has many affines to the Central European ensembles. The archaeological material comes from the collection of I. Dharvent and was collected at an open air site during the 19th century in the vicinity of Bethune, located in the northern lowland part of France in the Pas-De-Calais department. A techno-typological analysis was recently published by Mikołaj Urbanowski (see attached files).

The pieces are made on flakes or very flat blocks, of local flint. The retouch is covering and bifacial. The asymmetry is marked between straight or slightly concave cutting edges opposed to natural or abraded backs.

The cross section is usually plano-convex with the flat side shaped by large invasive removals, the convex side more finely retouched. The distal end is thinned, often by invasive retouch or modified by a coup de tranchet. The natural base is usually roughly trimmed. Overall both the production process and the Keilmesser resemble the pieces of Buhlen (Northern Hessen; Germany).

The Grotte de la Verpillière I and II in Southern Burgundy remain the best references for genuine KMG- sites outside the core area and were intensively re-evaluated and excavated by a German/French team during the last years.

Verpillière II showed a "prevalent Levallois reduction, Groszaki, a wide range of bifacial objects (including Keilmesser), and tranchet-blow modification of the assemblage of GH 3 at VP II which is very likely situated in the context of the early OIS 3" (Frick 2016).

Interestingly lithic studies of museum and private collections from the Côte chalonnaise (the area around Chalon-sur-Saône, Burgundy) show that patterns detected in the stratified layers of Verpillière I and II are present in other examples in the surrounding area (Herkert et al. 2015).

The results of this research show that perhaps individual Keilmesser clusters in France, identified so far, are embedded in wider contextual areas and are by no means as isolated as they appear at first sight.

This may of course also true for the seemingly isolated Keilmesser presented in this post and it seems probable that with more intensive re-evaluation of local old collections and new stratified finds in the Creuse Valley, an intact KMG site may one day be discovered.

Provenance-Ph. Cabey, Vienne




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