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2024-05-31 07:33:15   •   ID: 2382

Blattspitzen in Central Europe –Sink the Fossille Directeur concept!

Plate 1
Plate 1: Bifacial Foliate from Lake Turkana (MIS 7-3); Figure 1: Bifacial Foliate from Thebes Nord (MIS 5-3); Figure 2: Uni- and Bifacial Points from Namibia (MIS 5-3); Figure 3: flat bifacial Tool ("Faustkeilblatt") from Lichtenberg , Lower Saxony (early MIS 3); Figure 4: "Blattspitze" (Leafpoint) from Lenderscheid probably MIS 3; Figure 5: "Blattspitze (Leafpoint) from Moravany Dlah (late MIS3).

Figure 1
While in Africa the Presence of Bifacial Foliates in the MSA was recognized since the 1930s (Aterian, East and South African MSA), in Central Europe, Blattspitzen were for a long time seen as Ispecific Markers of the Solutrean (Obermaier 1912, Goodwin and van Riet Lowe 1929, Leakey 1936).

For Central Europe, it were Prošek (1953) and Freund (1952) who, in the 1950s, attempted a systematic survey of the „Blattspitzen Culture“. They were able to prove that this technocomplex was older than the Solutrean of W-Europe. Subsequently these ensembles were dated to an interstadial of the last glaciation (MIS 3).

The examples in Figures 2 & 3 show, that the „bifacial option“ was always present not only during the MSA but also during the European Middle Paleolithic since OIS 9-7.

A variety of influences had an impact on whether this option was used or not. I would really appreciate the introduction of multivariate analyses in the evaluation of good excavated sites in order to quantitatively evaluate how these influences affected individual layers of a site. Prehistory has a lot to learn from medical statistics!

Figure 2
G. de Mortillet in the 1870s, as well as Francois Bordes in the 1960s, assumed that a certain artifact was actually an intentionally produced end product, but these hypotheses have been completely deconstructed in the last 80 years, especially by Harold Dibble.

For example, the series of MSA points in Figure 3 shows that the blanks were produced from rather thick flakes that were first transformed into unifacial points and in some cases subsequently into bifacial points. The series therefore only shows the transformation process at the time of detection.

The phenomenon was described in detail by M. Kot on the basis of findings in Weimar Ehrigsdorf (MIS7) (Kot 2017).

What we call leaf points were functionally very different instruments, that could be used as spear points or as knives, which have some similarities with other tools from the Keilmesser /Middle European Micoquian entity (Rots et al. 2022; Kot and Richter 2012).

All of these stories show that prehistorians believed that a single artifact - in this case the leaf point - was sufficient to define an entire “culture” and a particular period in glacial chronology. Behind all this, explicit or not, was the influential concept of the “Fossille Directeur".

Figure 3
Fossile directeurs (en: Index fossils), are used by geologists to define and identify geological periods (or faunal stages). Index fossils must have a short vertical range, a wide geographical distribution and rapid evolutionary trends.

The principle was introduced by William Smith at the beginning of the 19th century, who described the chronostratigraphic sequence of geological units by their faunal succession for the United Kingdom in 1815 (Harries 2015).

Gabriel de Mortillet during the 1860s developed the idea to define time-periods by their typical stone tools which acted like the fossile directeurs of the geologists and seemingly the idea is still present in the minds of Prehistorians (Nemergut et al. 2019).

However, Mortillet did two important things. Firstly, he standardized the typological approach, a concept that was borrowed from Classical Archaeology, and Secondly, he linked typology with the chronological informations that were available at his time.

Figure 4
In this tradition, researchers assumed a linear and global evolution of artifacts from the simple to the sophisticated and suggested, that one can safely deduce the absolute age of a tool by its appearance, if the geological and relative age of a similar tool in a dateable context had already been established.

Dating methods of course are much further ahead today, and as result of a better chronological control the concept of Fossile Diecteurs, can only be used to a very limited extent although prehistorians sometimes seem to forget this fact.

A positive example of the validity of the concept is, for example, the Noailles Burin, which is rarely found outside the “Gravettian“.

However, in the case of handaxes, these iconographic artifacts that were once used to define the early and middle Pleistocene „Acheulean“, are now known from the early Pleistocene into the Holocene from a global perspective.
Figure 5

If a Fossile directeur is a tool that can be tracked within defined temporal and spatial boundaries, then bifacial foliates/ Blattspitzen / Leaf points are not an example of proof of such a concept.

In central Europe almost identical tools can be found from OIS 7 (Ehringsdorf), MIS 4 (Hohle Fels), early MIS3 (Sesselfels Grotto, Mauern, Ranis), late MIS 3 (Moravany-Dlhah), MIS2 (upper strata of Szeleta, Trenčianske Bohuslavice).

Leafpoints were part of very different cultural entities like the Middle European Micoquian / KMG-Group, the Lincombian-Ranisian-Jerzmanowician (LRJ), the so called early and late Szeletian, which by the way the may not represent the same cultural tradition and technocompexes of a Gravettian / post- Pavlovian age- mainly in Western Slovakia and Hungary.

A look at South East Europe (for example Muselievo and Samuilitsa MIS4) and Africa shows the same phenomenon but probably with a greater temporal depth.

In this respect, it would be time to finally abandon the concept of the „Blattspitzengruppen“ and recognize that this term is rather an artefact of research tradition than a phenomenon of real prehistoric life.

Sugested Readings:

Goodwin, AJH; van Riet Lowe, C (1929): "The Stone Age cultures of South Africa". Ann. S. Afr. Mus. 27: 1–289.

Leakey, LSB (1936): Stone Age Africa - An Outline of Prehistory; Oxford University Press.

Nemergut, A et al. (eds.; 1919) 16th SKAM Lithic Workshop “Fossil directeur” - A phenomenon over time and space 21–23 of October 2019, Nitra, Slovak Republic.

Małgorzata Anna Kot (2013): The Earliest Middle Palaeolithic Bifacial Leafpoints in Central and Southern Europe. Technological Approach, PhD Thesis, Warsaw.