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2022-12-18 13:15:44   •   ID: 2361

The Final Acheulian of the Saoura Valley (Algeria)

Figure 2
These are seven Handaxes from an isolated surface scatter in the Saoura Valley in southwestern Algeria. They are 6-12 cm long and show a high grade of refinement. The most common raw material in this sample is fine grained Quartzite and red Ironstone. All Handaxes are made by soft hammer techniques.

Today the Oued Saoura (Arabic: ساورة) is a river in the western Algerian Sahara whose valley forms the western border of the Western Great Erg. It is the river system penetrating furthest south into the Sahara from the Atlas Mountains. In its valley there are a number of oases. The river gave the name to the whole western part of the Algerian Sahara as the name of a province until it was divided into the provinces of Adrar, Bechar and Tindouf.

The axis of the Saoura testifies an important activity at various times of the Quaternary. The Saoura was, therefore, a privileged place for prehistoric man. This also is true for some small wadis that dissect the Ougarta Mountains and for those that flowed on its foothills.

The Saoura region belongs to the relief known as the "Monts d'Ougarta" and characterized by important sedimentary deposits of fluvio-lacustrine and eolian origin from the Lower Pleistocene to the Holocene. These deposits contain exceptionally rich archaeological sites attesting to a very ancient human presence in this part of the Sahara.

Figure 3
These remains were identified mainly in the sites of Meksem ed Douar, the Gara Taourirt in Béni Abbes, Anchal , Oued Fares and Kheneg-et-Tlaïa in the Monts d'Ougarta (Alimen 1978).

However, it is in Tabelbala that the archeological potential is considerable with many sites that have made the region world famous and of which the best known are Hassi Tachenghit on the edge of the Erg er Raoui -the type station for the Tabelbala-Tachenghit" technique -see here: 1003 (Tixier, 1965).

The region is particularly important for the understanding of successive Paleolithic cultures, especially with regard to the Lower Paleolithic (ESA)-Middle Paleolithic (MSA)- transition and the diffusion of technological traditions.

Geologically it is possible to characterize deposits of the Villafranchian, with two pluvial-arid cycles (Aïdien and Mazzérien) ; the middle Quaternary, with two cycles (Taourirtien and Ougartien); and the late Quaternary, with a main cycle (Saourien) followed by a secondary cycle (Guirien). Sites with ESA and MSA tools are incorporated in the geological deposits. The absolute age of the deposits is still unknown, but to my knowledge work is in progress....

After a dynamic period in the 1950s and 1960s, research on the Saharan Palaeolithic in the region was long neglected. French researchers during the 1950ies and 1960ies found stratified sites in Early to Middle Pleistocene deposits in-situ, and described the local development of the Acheulian into 7 stages (I-VII).

Figure 4
The excavation results and their interpretation were in my eyes ahead of their time and dealt for example with taphonomic and technical problems and with the question of the use of the individual sites. Finally, they also practiced landscape archaeology, long before the discipline of prehistory made a corresponding "turn" (Alimen 1978)

During the last years renewed studies were undertaken by the Centre National de Recherches Préhistoriques Anthropologiques et Historiques (CNRPAH) whose objective is to revise the stratigraphy of the Paleolithic sites of the Saoura, to estimate their archaeological potential and to implement a radiometric dating program.

The handaxes of this post are highly characteristic for the late Acheulian ("Acheuleen VII") during the second (late) phase of the "final Ougartian" geological formation. Bifaces are characterized by circumscribed single layer sites near ancient springs and point by their composition to the action of a small group of individuals or even single persons (Alimen 1978).

Climatologically the 2nd phase of the final Ougartian is characterized by more humid conditions with the consequence of of the formation of shallow ephemeral lakes where sites near the shores were subsequently rapidly buried and remained intact.

According to these conditions the the pieces of the 2nd phase of the Final Ugartian are generally fresh and only a minority of pieces is rolled. Alimen studied seven stations in total and found considerable variations regarding a different ratio of the percentages of bifaces and choppers, and in the distributions of the lengths and morphological indices.

Handaxes are characterized by the increased use of the soft percussion tools, with all the consequences especially implying: an increase in the number of bifaces with straight edges and increase in the number of flat bifaces, complex striking patterns, made on flakes from Kombewa cores etc. These bifaces have been mainly described as lanceolate and cordiform, as also seen in our examples.

Compared to earlier Acheulian stages, in Stage VII ,Spheroids play only a negligible or no role. The cores are very few (less than 4% of the total number of pieces). As for the asymmetrical pieces, Alimen noted that the proportion of asymmetrical pieces becomes very low and that the proportion of pieces produced by soft hammer increased significantly. The proportion of flat bifaces increased up to 50%, except in one station. As for the shape, the Amygdaloids remained dominant only in one station, while Cordiformes and Lanceolates were the most common specimens.

Provenance: Collection Bachmayer (AUT).

Suggested Readings:

MH Alimen and MS Steve (Eds): Vorgeschichte (= Fischer Weltgeschichte. Bd. 1). Fischer-Taschenbuch-Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1966.

MH Alimen and J Zuate y Zuber: L’évolution de l’Acheuléen au Sahara nord-occidental. 2 Vol. Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Meudon 1978.

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