2022-02-14 12:43:51 • ID: 2307
News about the Neronian in South East France
In South-East France, along the Middle Rhône valley and the Ardeche river, there is a cluster of Palaeolithic sites caused by a large number of karst caves and abris.
One important site, shown in Figure 1, is the Grotte Mandrin, a half cave near the small French town of Malataverne near Montélimar in the Drôme department.
It is an archaeological site with exceptionally numerous and well-preserved Archaeological material with oldest finds from from MIS5e (Figure 1 with permission by Tilo Parg).
The Middle Paleolithic Record of South-East France differs from the classic sites in the Aquitaine. Besides the Rhodanian, which has similarities with the Quina system in South-West France, there is an entity called Neronian by several prehistorians.
The Type station for the Neronian is La Grotte de Neron, discovered by the Vicomte Lepic and Mr. Jules de Lubac as early as 1870- see: 1134
In 1955, Jean Combier defined Levallois points with inverse retouches, found in the Mousterian deposits at Néron, as "Pointe de Soyons".
The illustrations in this post show a classic elongated example of this "Fosil Directeur", with a continuous inverse retouch in Figure 3 and a classic facetted base, seen in Figure 5.
It was early clear that the Mousterian with Soyon Points in the middle Rhone area was a rather late phenomenon, but it became clear that not the last Middle Paleolithic in the area.
Subsequently the “Neronian”, was defined as a specific technocomplex of Mediterranean France, an idea first suggested by Combier and later mainly promoted by Slimak during the early 2000ies.
According to these authors, the Neronian is characterized by the production by points and Micro Points of Levallois Morphology but also of blades and bladelets, inversely retouched into retouched artifacts. I have already reported about Micro-Levallois Points of similar appearance in the Levant- see here: 1283 .
Beside, La Grotte Mandrin the Neronian is defined only by only four other sites, which unfortunately were excavated long time ago with, from today's point of view, suboptimal methods. They comprise Néron, Figuier, Moula, and Maras in the middle Rhône Valley (Slimak et al. 2021).
Referring to the Grotte Mandrin, Slimak (2004, 2008), stated: "that these (Neronian) assemblages are structured around the systematic production of standardized weapons, with very small modules (Metz, 2015).
These microlithic and standardized points were only able to function in the context of mechanical propulsion, bow or spear thrower. This is a particularly sophisticated technical solution that lies at the heart of the articulations between the Middle and Upper Paleolithic".
Slimak's statements are derived from many years of painstaking excavations of the Mandrin cave. About the micro-points, which were found here in the Neronian Level in large quantities and their possible function, Laure Metz has written a thesis, which is unfortunately not available to me.
What other informations about the Neronian” can be derived from four other sites, mentioned above, before I shortly report the most interesting results about the Neronian at Grotte Mandrin.
Le Figuier is a cave site characterized by a large chamber (15x10m) and a 35 m long gallery including an important archaeological deposit and parietal art. It is located in the commune of Saint-Martin-d'Ardèche (Ardèche).
The vast cave, excavated from 1878 onwards, has yielded occupations from the Middle Paleolithic (Rhodanian Facies, based on a discoid chaine operatoire and of over 2 m thickness followed by a "Neronian", an Aurignacian II, finally followed by an Early and Middle Solutrean and Upper Magdalenian.
Parietal art the burial of a five-year-old child, covered with ochre and accompanied by a shell pierced with Glycymeris, was discovered in a gallery. It was reported to be Magdalenian. However, it is striking that the Neronian at this site is mentioned repeatedly in the literature but has not been adequately published.
Moula-Guercy is a Rockshelter, detected during the 19th century. Renewed excavations took place since the 1990ies. Middle Paleolithic Material was described from Layers IV, VIII, XIV and XV. Layer VI is dated by a volcanic tephra to ca 70 k.a. with large standard deviations around 10 k.a.
The lowest layer XV, represents the last Interglacial optimum (MIS 5e), while the overlying strata showed an increasingly climatic deterioration. The upper Middle Paleolithic strata are dated to MIS4.
The chaine operatoire during the Middle Paleolithic was mainly characterized by different Levallois modes (Defleur et al 2009). I have no access to the lithic data and therefore are unable, to report, why some of them are qualified as Neronian.
Several skeletal remains of early Neanderthals were present in layer XV (Richards et al. 2021). Analysis of bones of 6 Neanderthal individuals seems to suggest cannibalism was practiced here. Cut-marks are concentrated in places expected in the case of butchery. Additionally the treatment of the bones was similar to that of roe deer bones, assumed to be food remains, found in the same shelter- see 1468
Grotte de Neron: The Baume Néron is carved in the eastern flank of the Serre de Guercy. It is a vast cavity composed of a chamber 30 m long and 10 m wide.
The deposit was discovered and excavated by the Viscount Lepic and Jules de Lubac around 1870. It is only in 1950 that M. Veyrier, Ed. Beaux and J. Combler published the first scientific results, following a survey carried out one year before. Then the deposits were forgotten and plundered about the next 40 years.
New drillings carried out in 1990 and 1991 made it possible to recognize two intact sectors, a major result since the site was considered to be exhausted. Overall the results of the 1950ies campaign, which described 4 strata, could be confirmed.
It remains unclear if these strata were in situ and unmixed.The 1950ies publication depicts both Rhodanian ("Quina Oriental" scrapers and Soyons Points. Of Interest is the relatively high percentage of Blades and Bladelets in a Middle Paleolithic context, most probably on non-Levallois origin (Slimak 1999)
Grotte Mandrin: The stratigraphy of Neron is of overall importance for several reasons:
1. By extensive dating by C-14 of a succession of rich and well individualized strata: A Ferrassie Mousterian (LEVEL G; 79-62,6cal BP; 95% probability in Bayesian analysis) followed by a Quina Mousterian (LEVEL F; 69-56cal BP; 95% probability); a Neronian (LEVEL E; 57-51cal BP; 95% probability), followed by several Post -Neronian Levels (55-44 cal BP ; 95% probability) and finally an Protoaurignacian (44- 41,5 BP; 95% probability)
2. Teeth were recovered from most of the layers and compared with reference specimens using advanced morphometric and statistical methods.
Specimens from F, D, and C. were classified as Neanderthals, with high precession, while a male specimen from layer E (Neronian)was unequivocally classified as an Upper Pleistocene AHM. It seems therefore a well founded hypotheses that the Neronian Episode was linked with AHMs
3. Interestingly, the Micro-(smaller than 3 cm) and Nano-Points (smaller than 1cm) have the appearance of Levallois pointed blades/bladelets but were made by a non-Levallois chaine operatoire, which started by cresting.
While in the Western European sites, points with a Levallois-appearance rarely reach a number of more than 5% of artifacts at a specific site, those of Mandrin E Mandrin Cave make up nearly 40%. A microtraceological study by Metz revealed that about 15% of all Points with a Levallois appearance show signs of impact (Metz 2015). Anyhow, although their use as projectiles seems to be proven, their use as Arrow-Heads remains unclear and remains a little bit speculative.
Lithological analysis from Mandrin E indicated the search for very homogeneous raw materials at distances up to 90 km. (Slimak et al. 2022).
In Sum, the excavations at Mandrin suggest, that the inventory of Mandrin E was made by H. Sapiens-during a short visit. It is the oldest example of AHMs known in Europe at the moment.
Slimak suggests a direct connection between the techno-typological repertoire of H. sapiens at Mandrin E and sites belonging to the IUP in the Levant, especially at Ksar Akil XXV-XX and Boker Tachtit. Although there may some similarities between Mandrin E points and similar pieces from the IUP of the Levant, I think it is much too early to make such a statement.
The quality of the statements made by Slimak have to be assessed against the detailed refittings and further investigations carried out by A. Marks at Boker Tachtit and by P. Skrdla who compared extensively the Bohunician and Boker Tachtit. But Slimak is still far away from that. I would like to touch on a few points of discussion here:
1. Is the Neronian really a taphonomic valid tradition? it remains unclear whether the few sites in S/E-France with significantly larger Neronian points (the one shown here is 5 cm long) are in fact techno-typologically identical to the Mandrin E lithic inventory.
2. Slimak et al. (2022) see clear conformities between the Points of Mandrin E with those from the IUP of Ksar Akil and described some items from both sites, that superficially are similar on a morphological level.
The exact age of layers XXV-XX of the Lebanese site, most probably made by H. Sapiens, is roughly estimated to be 45 k.a. at most, clearly more recent than Mandrin E.
Although Slimak considers the Chaine operatoire of the IUP at Ksar Akil to be identical with Mandrin E, it must be noted that the excavation techniques at Ksar Akil, 70 years ago, provide only a rudimentarily picture about the operational sequences used, mainly because most non-retouched lithics were thrown away and only a minority of non retouched pieces survived from the Libanese site.
3. A comparison with the findings of Boker Tachtit is flawed, too. The Emireh points and elongated Levallois points from Boker Tachtit, made by a Levallois technique in Layer 1, that switched over 4 k.a. to a fully Upper Paleolithic in Layer 4, which is also younger than Mandrin E (The lowest stratum at Boker Tachtit has an age of 50 k.a. Cal BP) are not really comparable with Mandrin E points, neither by their dimensions nor by their morphology.
What can be learned from the results of Mandrin E? On his repetitive migrations to Europe via different routes (the Danube corridor, along the Mediterranean coasts and certainly along other routes), H. Sapiens developed from a substratum that included both the IUP and EUP of the Levant, a number of individual technical solutions, both in terms of the production process and its final product: improved projectile points.
One specific technical solution was discovered in Mandrin E - others in Bacho Kiro and another in Moravia (the Bohunician), to name just a few sites.
It seems that the developments always started from a Levallois chaine operatoire that evolved in different ways towards a Volumetric Concept and ended with a Full fledged Upper Paleolithic. -See here: 2237 , here: 1494 , here: 1150 , here: 2149 , and here 1646
Provenance: Levenstein Collection (ISR)
Resources and images in full resolution:
- Extern Link: www.science.org…sciadv.abj9496
- Extern Link: onlinelibrary.wiley.com…ajpa.24256
- Extern Link: pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov…
- Extern Link: www.sciencedirect.com…S0003552115000278?via%3Dihub
- Extern Link: www.researchgate.net…248579460_The_Neronian_and_the_historical_structure_of_cultural_shifts_from_Middle_to_Upper_Palaeolithic_in_Mediterranean_France
- Extern Link: www.persee.fr…bspf_0249-7638_1998_num_95_1_10731?q=Moula-Guercy+mousterien