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2022-04-25 15:57:12   •   ID: 2325

Why waste too much energy in the production of a flechette?

Figure 1 Photo: Père Igor; Permission: Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.
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The artifact of this post is a typical Upper Palaeolithic Flechette (4 x 1,6 x 0,15 cm) from the Gravettian layers of the Fourneau du Diable site, already introduced in the Blog - see: 2308

Another post has already published about the wider history of Flechettes and the integrity of the “Bayacian” level at the Type Site at La Gravette - see: 1618

At La Gravette, Flechettes, made by a specific Chaîne opératoire, were present within a first early Gravettian level, called Bayacian“. Here Flechettes were reported to be the only projectiles- an unique „anomaly“ in the structure of the Gravettian.

This level is quite different from the two following strata of a rich early Gravettian with Gravette points of all sizes, without Flechettes.

The regularity of the preforms „supports“) of Flechettes implies the application of a highly sophisticated operating procedure and a standardization of the production processes.

The Supports already show the final design of the finished tool, as demonstrated by Pesesse (2008). Such a Support, also made from Bergeracois Flint and found at the Abri Pataud site in Les Eyzies is shown in Figure 6 and 7.

In contrast to La Gravette, at Vigne Brun, another important Gravettian site, where Flechettes and Gravettian points were found in the same stratum- see: 1718 , the production of Flechettes was carried out in a technical and functional continuum between laminar debitage whose supports were intended for the tooling of a "fond commune", followed by the debitage of small blades and bladelets, finally transformed into extremely fine armatures (Pesesse 2008).

The strategy of establishing a final artifact design already during the core preparation, allowing that the final artifact requires only minor modifications, was widely used since the MSA / Middle Palaeolithic.

Convincing solutions of this principle are for example Levallois points, El Wad Points from the Levant, or the Willow leaf points of the Eastern European Swiderian -See 1613 , 1304 , 1646

The items shown here are made from typical Bergeracois Flint, which according to my own observations was preferably used for the production of these delicate implements in the Dordogne.

An Upper Paleolithic Flechette is defined as a more or less sublosangular foliated tool made on blade or bladelets.

It is elongated and thin and shaped by a direct or inverse semi-abrupt retouche, often confined to the ends. The finalised Flechette shown here has finely regular bilateral direct retouches, running over ca 1/3 of the apical sides (Figure 3-5) and completely fulfills this definition.

However, another piece from Pataud in my collection: 1618 is somewhat atypical, because the retouching on the left side runs the entire length and is almost backed. Anyhow it still falls into the wider definition of a Flechette. The right side, shows a marginal retouch only at the apical end, as it is typical for flechettes.

It was in 1931 that F. Lacorre described these pieces from his excavations at La Gravette (Couze Valley; Dordogne), under the name of "Armature de Flèche" or "Point de Bayac" (Lacorre, 1934). Figure 1 shows the deportable condition of the Type Site today (Courtiously by Don Hitchcock).

It remains an important dissertation of research to undertake new excavations at this important site.

Figure 2 shows a page from Lacorre’s Gravette-Monograph of 1960. This page gives a nice view on the variability of Flechettes.

In particular, there are quite smooth transitions from Flechettes to Gravette Points, which can be demonstrated on a piece from the Aggsbach site of my collection that, with the preservation of the foliated contour and by the application of abrupt retouches, combines the characteristics of the morphological design of both instruments see: 1374 , an observation already made by Delporte (1972).

H. Delporte (Delporte, 1972) and M. Otte (Otte, 1981) have each devoted a morphological study to this artifact, with 119 whole pieces from La Gravette and 441 pieces from the Aggsbach site (Lower Austria) respectively.

The main difference between the Flechettes at these two sites is the smaller size of the items at Aggsbach. While at La Gravette the length of the is between 4 and 6 cm, at Aggsbach it varies from 1,6 to 4 cm with a maximum of pieces around 3 cm. This difference maybe due to the specific raw material supply at both sites.

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Although these two authors did not exactly use the same criteria for description, it seems, that the frequency of the retouching focused on the apical edges is quite similar. The length of the artifact, shown in the post is within the range, known from the Perigord.

Flechettes during the Gravettian were rare compared with Gravettes. Why was a Flechette design abandoned during the Gravettian in favour to a Gravette design?

Was it easier to produce a Gravette compared to a Flechette?

Was the production of a Flechette wasted effort and time?

An answer to the questions could perhaps be found, by studying the the micro-region around the Vezere valley.

Here, preference for high quality raw material was similar for both artefact classes. From my purely subjective point of view, there was a preference for excellent local flint and raw material from the Bergeracois.

The effort in core preparation and secondary processing of the blanks should have to be clarified in comparison, not to forget to ask for the necessary individual skills and learning curves of experienced Knappers, in their production.

Finally, the efficiency, durability and recycling potential of both Projectile classes would have to be tested experimentally after determining the diversity of the possible hafting methods - Such a project could be planned for example under the overarching concept of the Optimal Foraging Theory.

The thinness of the flechette is quite unique in the Paleolithic. It is remarkable that in archaeological excavations, most flechettes are found as fragments - possibly the fragility of the flechette is a main reason for their rarity. Recycling was probably impossible...

Optimal Foraging Theory (OFT) has its origin in processualistic ideas in 1960s with traces back to the dawn of the archaeological science in the 19th century.

The OFT model is based on the construction of an individual’s food item selection understood as an evolutionary construct that maximizes the net energy gained per unit feeding time
(Malros 2012).

This theory, and the pros and cons for its application in Palaeolithic Archaeology will certainly inspire one of my future posts.

Provenience: Collection Bigot

Suggested Reading:

F. Lacorre: Les armatures de flèches de La Gravette. XVe Congrès International d'Anthropologie et d'Archéologie Préhistorique - Ve Session de l'Institut International d'Anthropologie, Paris, 20-27 septembre 1931

F. Lacorre: La Gravette, Le Gravétien et le Bayacien, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Laval; 1960

M. Otte: Le Gravettien en Europe centrale. Dissertationes Archaeologicae Gandenses, 20; 1985.

M. Otte: Le Gravettien en Europe, L'Antrhropologie, 89: 479-503.

A wonderful site to download free PDFs of Monographs from the "Collection les Mémoires de la SPF"

For this post Monograph 50 is of great interest. Here is the link: À la recherche des identités gravettiennes : Gravettian