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2022-11-06 07:54:00   •   ID: 2356

Acheulian at the Pas de Calais

Figure 1
This is thick and elongated Biface from Dury in the Pas de Calais. According to Debenath and Dibble thick Handaxes may be classified into: Lanceolates, Amygdaloids (with a cordiform aspect) and those pointed at both sides (fusiform Biface).

The aspect of the 17 cm long example in this post resembles a subgroup of the Lanceolate group with a concave edge-called Micoquian Bifaces. Regarding the possibility of multiple re-working and re-sharping actions, this typology has only a descriptive, but no explanatory power.

Intact Acheulean "living floors" were multi-activity places and included different classes of tools with all possible transitions in typology resulting from the manufacturing practice and strategies of use.

Handaxes of the quality seen in this post need optimal raw material resources, accessible during the Middle Pleistocene in Europe. This was the case in Northern France and central West-France, while the aspect of Acheulian Handaxes from S/W-France was rather characterized by a lack of traditional morphologies, a triangular faconnage, cortical remnants, backing and an irregular appearance ("Meridional Acheulian")- see 1345

The idea of a "Classical Acheulean" in the North of France and an "Atypical Acheulean" in the South-West (for example in the Bergeracois) has not been confirmed by the excavations of the last decades.

Depending on raw material resources, "classical typologies" were also found in the south-west and "atypical Acheulean" ensembles also occurred in the north as recently demonstrated by the open-air site of Revelles, west to Amiens (Somme).

However, due to the quality of the raw material and the huge selective collections of the past, which resulted in a heavy bias, we are primed to suggest classical ensembles to be more frequent in the north.

Figure 2
The Acheulian of the Pas de Calais: All the sites mentioned below, such as Quievy, Bapaume, Beaumetz-les-Loges, Biache-Saint-Vaast, and Etricourt-Manancourt, are located within a 40 km radius of Dury. For this reason, it is feasible to make comparisons between our single piece and the known series. It has to be mentioned, that there are usually no absolute dates for excavations, that took place during the 1970/80ies, but stratigraphic observations place them into the "Saalian" loess.

There is an enormous variability in these ensembles, that have been excavated with modern methods, regarding the number of bifaces and the presence or absence of the Levallois technique. While the beginnings of the technocomplex remain unknown, the transition to the early Middle Paleolithic occurred around 250 k.a. (MIS 7e).

In the older literature, the undated site of Quievy was the only larger ensemble for comparison. The selective series consists of mainly elongated bifaces, made from large flint nodules by hard hammer technique, (Amygdaloids, Ficrons and Bifaces Miqoquian Bifaces; Tuffreau 1971). Unfortunately Flake tools were not collected.

Flake tools were present in the ensemble from the Vimy brick factory, where an Acheulian of Levalloisian facies was collected decennia ago (Tuffreau 1979). The varied flake tools include a high percentage of natural-backed knives. Bifaces are particularly numerous.

The yellow series from Beaumetz-les-Loges, which come from the "last Saalian" loess is stratigraphically more recent than that of Vimy. Its debitage is only weakly Levallois and Levallois flakes not transformed into tools are quite rare. The bifaces are of Acheulean type.

Tuffreau described several Upper Acheulean localities poor in bifaces, the most interesting remains the series from the Osiers deposit in Bapaume. Here a very advanced Levallois technique has been oberserved and includes, in addition to numerous Levallois flakes a group with varied scrapers and well-touched Mousterian points. Notches and and denticulates are common and clearly dominate the Upper Paleolithic type tools. The 1972 excavation series has only one biface of the amygdaloid type. Another Acheulean series poor in bifaces is known at Etaples.

Figure 3
The excavations of the multilayered open-air site of Etricourt-Manancourt finally offer a clear evidence for the end of the Acheulean complex in north-western Europe. Five in situ Palaeolithic occupations dating from 330 to 70 k.a. were excavated.

The Lithic industry of the archaeological layer HUD, dated to MIS 9a – ca 288 k.a. is characterized by elongated Handaxes and a Clactonian method of flake production. Anyhow a Levallois chaine operatoire is also present. The next two layers already belong to the Early Middle Palaeolithic, between 190 and 240 k.a. (Herrison et al. 2016).

The early Middle Paleolithic at the Pas de Calais begann early during MIS7. MIS 7 was a long and complex interglacial phase (spanning more than 50,000 years). In Northern and Central continental Europe we observe the rise of the Levallois technology, although this technique was present in Europe for the first time around the OIS9/8 boundary.

The most famous site from this period is Biache-Saint-Vaast (Pas-de- Calais), where two Neanderthal skulls were unearthed. We should not forget very similar material from the excavations of V. Commont at Montiers at the Somme at the beginning of the last century.

The Biache-Saint-Vaast deposit, discovered in 1976, did not yield any bifaces associated with the series archaeologically preserved in place. The varied flake tools include scrapers in medium percentage, beautiful Mousterian points, and natural-backed knives in high percentage. (Tuffreau 1977).

In Summary: The Handaxe shown here fits well in the development of the final Lower Paleolithic in the Pas de Calais and is most probably around 300 k.a. old.


Kühnel Collection (GER)

Suggested Reading:

Mark J. White: A Global History of The Earlier Palaeolithic- Assembling the Acheulean World; 2022.