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2020-11-21 13:30:18   •   ID: 2217

A Precious Artifact: Bifacial Cleaver from Vienne

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Figure 2
Figure 3
Figure 4
This Bifacial Cleaver was made from "Silex Blonde"and was found at Saint Sauveur in the Vienne a small village located in the department of Vienne in the region Poitou-Charentes in Western France.

Saint Sauveur has already introduced into the Blog for its Middle Paleolithic (MTA) findings-see: 2069 .

The Bifacial cleaver is made by soft hammer technique and carefully shaped from both sides (Figures 1 and 2). The distal transversal cutting edge has a threee dimensional sinusoidal design (Figure 2, 3 and 4). The Biface therefore has three working edges: Two on the lateral side for cutting purposes and one on the frontal circumference for chopping movements.

The twisted appearance on the third working edge, does not seem to be a production failure, as the chaine operatoire required the knapping from two sides to get a sinusoidal design. This allowed the use of the implement for screwing actions, maybe of advantage for some specialized tasks.

Cleavers may be produced from large Flakes, a technique common on Africa (Flake Cleavers) or may be formed from a Biface (Bifacial Cleavers). The designation of large Flakes and Bifacial tools as Cleaver results from the presence of a transversal working edge on the distal circumference of the tool.

The tool shown here has reached this goal by combining two principles, both common in the knapping of the transversal edge: Firstly a by Tranchet Blow which was continued secondly through some irregular lamellar removals.

European Acheulian Cleaver axes are much more rare than their African counterparts.

Bifacial Cleavers are rare in Africa and the Levant. Here Flake Cleavers are much more common. One important exception is the Azraq Basin, already introduced in they blog- see 2203

Flake Cleavers on the other hand are rare in Europe but with some exceptions - see 2017 . Anyhow Bifacial Cleavers in European Acheulian ensembles are somewhat exotic, as they make up a maximum of 4% of inventories, not always excavated with up-to-date methods.

They have been found, possible dating to MIS 11 at several locations in the UK (D.A Roe: A Gazetteer of British Lower and Middle Paleolithic Sites (1968).

We miss as ystematic overwiew about Bifacial Cleavers in France. Important examples come from the Middle Loire region. Currently the most important location is the the Noira site-see: 1587 in the in the middle Cher valley. Bifacial Cleavers are present in low quantities both in the older strata (655 ± 55 k.a) and the upper stratum dated to 449 ± 45 k.a.

An evident concentration of heavy Bifacial Cleavers from the same region, mainly made by hard Hammer technique and possibly considerable old, is known from old collections amassed during the late 19th and early 20th century in the Creuse valley- see examples from my own collection here: 1096 and here: 1173

An important site, located in old dunes of the Mediterranean, is Terra Amata (Nice; Southern France) where a multilayered Acheulian was excavated, dating between 400-380 k.a. The non-biased count from the basal strata P4a-P4c revealed a low percentage of Bifacial Cleavers of < 0,1%.

Rare Bifaces and Pics are associated with abundant Chopper / Chopping tools, flakes, which are sometimes covered with irregular retouches, denticulated tools and notches and some rare examples of Tayac points.

Regarding these data, even the 4% prevalence of bifacial Flint cleavers from collections in the UK seems to be the consequence of a sampling bias, while modern excavations show that Bifacial Cleavers in Europe are in reality precious exceptions in the Tool Kit of Homo Heidelbergensis and early Neanderthals.

2020-11-17 12:48:51   •   ID: 2215

Portable Magdalenian Art in Action: A Lizard from the Franco-Cantabria Border

Figure 1
This is a deeply greenish patinated, 6 cm long, Paleolithic three-dimensional tiny carving, (whole-plastic; en ronde-bosse), probably made of reindeer antler.

It was found during the early 1920ies near the Franco-Cantabrian border and was most probably created during the Magdalenien.

It seems to represent a four legged and long tailed animal, although only two legs are carved. Interestingly the animal shows a humped back. Therefore an alternative interpretation seem to be more reasonable in which the “legs” and the "hump" are the feature of a crawling / meandering motion.

The animals snout is best seen on Figure 2 and 3. The lateralized "eyes" of the stylized figurine were most probably used as an eyelet, probably to be attached to a necklace.

Figure 2
Our animal has an oblong head which is clearly separated from the neck. Its head is looking up as if it is attentive to some danger.

The animals neck and parts of the body are covered by criss-cross ornaments (Figure 3 and 4), while the ornaments on the rounded tail show both a crisscross and hatching pattern.

Our pendant has some similarity with a three dimensional carving coming from M. Maurys excavations of the Middle to Upper Magdalenian strata at Laugerie Basse between 1912 - 1920 (Abri des Marseilles). Several Prehistorians supposed this carving might be a Salamander.

The best depiction auf Maurys findings are shown here on page 62: Laugerie

The first Description of Maury is found in Figure 7, (Maurys Figure 2 in the short publication) at the end of the post.

We personally suggest that the animal of this post displayes a Reptile, most probably a Lizard; perhaps a sand Lizard (Lacerta agilis; in German: Zauneidechse) or Lacerta Vivipara (Common Lizard; Deutsch: Waldeidechse)- anyhow this issue remains open for any serious discussion.

Figure 3
Lacerta agilis is a robust looking, lively and pretty lizard, currently common in the North of Europe. It is a cold-tolerant species which was probably able to survive even in non-Mediterranian glacial refuges like central France (Joger et al. 2010). Today relicts of this species are living in south of Sweden (Berglind 2005).

Essential for the reproduction of sand lizards are the hours of sunshine because they are important for hatching their eggs. It is assumed, that in late Glacial France, the hours of sunshine were longer than today in Sweden.

Lacerta Vivipara (Figure 6) on the other hand is a 'viviparous lizard'- unusual among reptiles as it incubates its eggs inside its body and „gives birth“ to live young rather than laying eggs.

This lizard is nowadays the most common and widespread reptile in Europe and found from the UK over South and Central Europe over the East European plain and even in Siberia. It is cold resistant and found across many habitats, including heathland, moorland, woodland and grassland, where it can be seen basking in sunny spots.

Figure 4
The Magdalenian cave art proves that people thoughtfully and precisely watched their environment and the wild living animals.

Magdalenian cave drawings always show the characteristics of specific species. The same holds true for depictions of Animals of Magdalenian portable art, although partially or complete stylized items are also known.

Our Lizard is not completely sculpted after nature. We suggest, in analogy to other known Paleolithic examples, that the engravings along the animal's body have their own symbolic meaning or were only made for aesthetic reason. About the symbolic significance of geometric patterns during the European Palaeolithic- see: 2046 . We also recommend the Thesis and Book of G Petzinger, published las year.

The deep emotional connection between humans and animals has already been discussed in an earlier post- see: 2194 . Many recent Hunter-gatherers groups conceive animals as “non-human persons” or “other-than-human-persons”. Humans were able to exchange form and identity with Animals and vice-versa.

Anyhow, Reptilians in portable Paleolithic Art are rare and selectively known from the Magdalenian.

According to Bahn we know two tortoises from St Cirq near Les Eyzies in the Dordogne and a Turtle from Mas-d’Azil (Ariège).

Although rare, the Lizards seems to have played a Symbolic and even Cosmological role in the Holocene Rock art in North and East Africa, Australia and the Americans (see attached files).

Figure 5
Social and cultural interactions in southwestern France and northern Spain during the Magdalenian are a well-known feature.

Despite the Aquitaine, Cantabria and the Pyrenees share an overall resemblance in parietal and portable art, the patterns of interconnection are most similar during the Upper Magdalenian, perhaps rising temperatures in the latter period led to a cultural homogenization between the two regions (Rivero and Sauvet 2014).

We will not discuss the Ethnological literature further, because an Ethnological approach in Pleistocene art opens the door to completely subjective and even esoteric interpretations. Anyhow we can be sure that the lizard of this post does not represent a Shaman! A good introduction about tis nasty theme is a Paper: The Tyranny of the Ethnographic record revisited.

We are used to seeing lizards as warmth-loving animals that experienced a hard time under glacial conditions and would have probably not survived. Anyhow, research clearly contradicts to this simple assumption.

Prehistoric Lizards in South Europe are known even during the coldest Phases of the last Glaciation. It is remarkable that Wall lizards in an experimental setting can tolerate cooling to a body temperature of -2,2 to -6,5 degrees Celsius (Claussen et al.2006).

Figure 6
Genetic evidence proved a post-glacial re-colonization of cold adapted Lizards from Southern European refuges to the rest of Europe towards the end of the Ice age (Salvi et al 2013).

Several categories of freeze responsive genes have been identified encoding proteins involved in iron binding, enzymes of antioxidant defense, and serine protease inhibitors (Storey 2005).

These genetic background allowed Lizards to colonize many parts of Prehistoric Europe during the last glaciation and they obviously became a rare, but highly valued object in Pleistocene art.

Text and Figures Figure 1-4 ,7 and Text: Johannes Meller (Archaeology) and Christina Federmann Doebber (Biology).

Figure 5: Wikipedia Commons by Friedrich Böhringer; Barbeitet von Lucas Löffler.

Figure 6: Wikipedia GNU Free Documentation License

Suggested Readings:

Collective: L'Art préhistorique des Pyrénées; 1996: A "must have "- hundred pictures of mail Paleolithic portable art in the Pyrénées!

M Geneste et al.: Grands sites d`art magdalénien: Laugerie-Basse; 2014

P. Paillet: L'art des objets de la préhistoire - Laugerie-Basse et la collection du marquis Paul de Vibraye au Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle; 2014

Figure 7
P Bahn and J Vertut: Journey Through the Ice Age; 2017

A Lawson: Painted Caves: Palaeolithic Rock Art in Western Europe ; 2012

Delluc, Bet al.; (Connaître la préhistoire en Périgord; 1990

Maury, J. and Edmunds E: Laugerie Basse The Excavations of M.J.-A. Le Bel; 1925

The Doors - The Celebration of The Lizard; A live experiment from 1969 with Jim Morrison as the Lizard King!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ashTaoGrR2o




Resources and images in full resolution:

2020-11-17 09:46:54   •   ID: 2214

Who made the Aurignacian?: Aurignacian Blade from Chez les Rois (Charente)

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Figure 2
Figure 1 and 2: This is a typical Aurignacian steeply retouched bilateral 9 cm long thick blade, a surface finding found during the 1950 at Chez les Rois.

The Aurignacian site of Chez les Rois is located in the town of Mouthiers-sur-Boëme, about fifteen kilometers south of Angoulême (Charente)).

It remains still a reference site of the Aurignacian in the Charente and one of the rare European Aurignacian sites that yielded human remains in place.

After first Excavated in 1930 by an Amateur, Mouton and Joffrey excavated the deposit outside the cave between 1948 and 1952 by at a remarkable high level for their time despite minimal resources in a country that was gradually pillaged by the Germans during WW II.

The described a finely made multilayered ( n=3) Aurignacian with a succession very similar to that of La Ferrassie in the Perigord. The Aurignacian yielded numerous pierced teeth, mainly from arctic fox (around forty), wolf, bovid, and reindeer.

A page of the fine monographs of the site is shown in Figure 4. Their principal observations and results were confirmed during a sondage in 2005.

The site is important for several reasons:

  • It is a multilayered Aurignacian site with an Aurignacian Ancien (Aurignacien I) at the base and a more involved Aurignacian (Aurignacien II) at the top of the sequence, the latter with la lozenge-shaped spear points (Type Mladec).

    No older nor younger entities are present and therefore the problem of contamination is minimized. Human remains derive from two Aurignacian layers were dated to 28-30 k.a.
  • This age is certainly too recent and may be caused by contamination.

  • A juvenile mandible with cut-marks revealed some Neanderthal features, whereas another mandible is attributed to AHMs. It remains unclear if AHMs used Neanderthal remains for symbolic reasons or that both hominids lived side-by -side and probably both Species created the Aurignacian tools


  • Who made the Aurignacian in Continental Europe? This issue remains an important question. The Archeological evidence is still scare: Beside Les Rois, an association of an indisputable Aurignacian with skeletal remains of AHMs have been observed only from Mladec and dated to uncalibrated 31-30 k.a. as well as from some specimens from Isturitz.

    On the other hand other very early European AHMs ( Peştera cu Oase) lack any archaeological association while the oldest AHM of Europe found till now is associated with the Earliest Upper Paleolithic in Europe at Bacho-Kiro (the Bachokirian- dated to 45,820–43,650 cal BP )- see: 2180


Suggested Reading:

Figure 4
Mouton P. et Joffroy: Le gisement aurignacien des rois a Mouthiers (Charente). 9 me supplement a "Gallia". Paris, CNRS, 1958.

Debénath, André. Néandertaliens et Cro-Magnons - les temps glaciaires dans le bassin de la Charente; 2006: A wonderful compendium about the Charente during the ice Age with stations that are rarely known, even to Paleolithic specialists- and a low priced ebook!

Michel, A., d’Errico, F.et al. Nouvelles fouilles sur le site aurignacien chez les Rois (Mouthiers-sur-Boëme, Charentes). In: Jaubert, et al. Les sociétés du paléolithique dans un Grand Sud-Ouest de la France : nouveaux gisements, nouveaux résultats, nouvelles méthodes. Société préhistorique française: the Book is also free-see last external link!

2020-11-07 15:26:21   •   ID: 2212

The incasing Value of Surface Lithic scatters

Figure 1
Figure 1 -5 show Paleolithic artifacts, found decennia ago during field walks or by chance by people, who knew their meaning, which is the rule rather than the exception of inhabitants of the Perigord.

Figure 1 shows some robust burins, found around 1910 by a Physician near Cap Blanc near Les Eyzies.

Figure 2 shows implements from the nearby Tursac area ( "Abri de Foret"). Figure 3 is part of a larger Scatter from Reignac near La Madeleine in the Vezere Valley in the vincinity of a published Magdalenian station.

The last Picture shows some small Bifaces and a Quina-like scraper from a large, mostly surface scatter at St Brice in the Orne Valley / Normandie, known since the 19th century.

Overall these ensembles carry no scientific informations and are worthless in this respect. Collectors usually like these small blessings and their aura- see: 2106

It was once a paradigm of Paleolithic Archeology that surface findings are without any value-but statements of Specialists have changed, mainly due the development of preventive Archeological programs.

Figure 2
According to INRAP (see first external link) "The purpose of preventive archaeology is to detect and undertake the scientific study of archaeological remains (on land and under water) that might otherwise be destroyed by land development work.

Following a decision made by the State, archaeologists from Inrap intervene on a site in order to safeguard its archaeological heritage
".

Usually many sites are first recognized by surface scatters, before scientific excavations take place. It is of some importance that:

  • Surface scatters may indicate that nearby subsurface findings, still in-situ, may be excavated. St Brice may be a good example: The site of Saint-Brice-sous-Rânes, la "Bruyère" (Orne) belongs to a cluster of middle Paleolithic production sites for bifacial tools covering about the area of 200 hectares.

    Surveys and limited excavations were performed in 1998 and 1999 and showed some material in situ, undisturbed by periglacial phenomena.

    Further Excavations were also carried out between 1999 and 2010. TL -data provided for the first time secure dates for an older series, characterized by the Levallois technique (MIS 6) and an abundant younger series dated around 40 k.a. BP


  • The recording of surface scatters may be another key component in recording the settlement history of a region


  • The artifactual spectrum of a nearby excavated and dated site may be increased by surface findings and taken into account for a final publication


  • Figure 3
    Lithic scatters are often revealed through modern plowing, which disturb subsurface deposits transporting them to the ground surface.

    Plowing is especially probematic since subsurface features associated with these sites are all too often destroyed.

    In General surface scatters are treated nowadays very similar to stratified findings. This includes for example:

  • The computer assisted archaeological record of every single artifact including its orientation


  • Computer assisted storage of the artifacts


  • Geomorphological evaluation of the underground at the site including non-invasive techniques in the determination of the sites boundaries


  • Figure 4
    The evaluation of surface scatter is not a dead issue-The development of modern Techniques, including use- and micro-wear analysis, refitting strategies, trace element analysis ,thermoluminece (TL) Electron spin Resonance (ESR) dating, and residue analysis, have the potential to provide information that is not available from simple lithic classification schemes alone.

    Although these analyses are often costly and require trained professionals to conduct these analyses, the information gained by these studies can provide invaluable information.

    Ideal situations are refitable small scatters of lithics indicating a short hunting stay, without the problems, that are well known from palimpsest in Caves and lager open air sites....

    2020-11-05 17:13:18   •   ID: 2211

    Back to the Gargano Again- A Handaxe from the Carpino Countryside

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    Figure 2
    This is a 12 cm long, white patinated Acheulian Biface, made on Flint from the Carpino vicinity. It was made by soft hammer technique, is thin and symmetric and not made of Limestone, which seems by far the most important raw material for the production of handaxes in South Italy.

    Of all Italian regions, Apulia is perhaps one of the most well-known for the variety of its environments and demographic intensity as far as the prehistoric populations are concerned.

    The oldest lithic complexes in the region belong to the Lower Paleolithic and are mostly concentrated in the Gargano area- see here: 1683 , here: 1596 , and here: 1684 .

    Carpino (Pugliese: Carpìne) is a coastal town and comune of the Italian region of Apulia, lying on the Gargano peninsula.

    Basically, the Gargano offers a lot of Acheulian scatters of unknown age. Beside the findings in the lower strata at Paglicci, suggested to come from the MIS 7, there is not a single undisturbed stratified site. Maybe new findings, reexcavation of Paglicci and new scientific methods may settle some of these problems.

    Currently Italian researchers use techno-typological classifications, also used in other parts of the Old Word; namely they suggest that:

    • Flat, thin, symmetric Handaxes are later than irregular, rough and trihedral handaxes


    • Early ensembles are often characterized by opportunistic cores, choppers and chopping tools


    • Handaxes, made by Hammer Techniques are earlier than Handaxes and the use of a Soft Hammer


    • The advent of the Levallois technique in Acheulian ensembles is late


    I personally think that One shouldn't give too much to that...

    Typological seriation of Handaxe ensembles have proven to be unreliable, and the synthesis of dating the Gargano Acheulian by Typology has failed.

    Arturo Palma di Cesnola (1928-2019), the great excavator of Paglicci and other South Italian Paleolithic sites was the last who tried, as a child of his time, to organize the Acheulian Material of the Gargano including the Umbra Forest and in other locations in the provinces of Foggia and Bari to different diachronic trends.

    According to him our Handaxe fits into the definition of the "Macchito Acheulian ", characterized by refined, mostly cordiform and elongated Bifaces and a flake industry, based on Levallois technique.

    Similar examples are known from Paglicci Strata 3/4

    Because the wider use of true Levallois operational sequences in W-Europe is to be found not before MIS8- this Handaxe may be rather late in the overall Acheulian record (maybe MIS 8/7).

    Surf the Blog for Post-Acheulian Complexes in the Gargano:

    See here: 1467 , here: 1394 and here 1256 , here: 1190 , and here: 1417

    Suggested Reading:

    Arturo Palma di Cesnola: paléolithique inférieur et moyen en Italie (1996)

    Paleolithic Italy: Advanced studies on early human adaptations in the Apennine peninsula Edited by Valentina Borgia & Emanuela Cristiani ; 2018

    2020-11-03 06:55:19   •   ID: 2209

    Celebrating the 10th anniversary of Aggsbachs Blog: A MTA Handaxe from the Creysse Area

    Figure 1
    Figure 1 and 2: For a modern observer this is a beautiful MTA Biface, found in the Creysse Area in 1923 about 1 km S/W of the famous Barbas site, excavated during the last decennia.

    Indeed, for a contemporary observer, this Biface has a special appeal by its careful design.

    But was the creation of a thin, symmetric artifact really the intention of the Neandethal who made this artifact?

    Anyhow, actualistic studies in living AHMs showed that most people prefer symmetrical to asymmetrical handaxes, in particular young females (see external link).

    Who manufactured Handaxes during the Paleolithic? Acheulean handaxes are thought to have been produced by different extinct hominin species, Homo erectus sensu lato (or Homo Rudolphensis in Africa and Homo Erectus in Asia) and Homo heidelbergensis sensu lato (Homo Rhodensis in Africa and Homo Heidelbergensis in Europe). MTA Handaxes in Europe were exclusively made by Neanderthals.

    It is highly possible that archaic Homo sapiens and other Archaic Middle Pleistocene Hominides in Africa and Asia also used the Handaxe concept. The Paleolithic hand axe is thus the tool with the longest history in mankind.

    The Transmission of Handaxe Making: One important issue regarding the conservatism of Acheulean handaxes is the question if handaxes are a cultural object, transmitted by learning from one generation to another or the consequence of genetic based transmission. There is evidence for and against these hypotheses as described by Corbey et al. (2016), who in depth introduces into the pros and cons for both positions.

    Evolutionary Background of Symmetry:

    Figure 2
    Symmetry is an eye-catching feature both of plant and of animal design, but its causes and evolutionary meaning are not well understood.

    According to theoretical considerations Symmetry should imply an Evolutionary advantage.

    There are Genetic prerequisites for a symmetrical design of an animal, that have been described during the last years: the so-called gene regulatory networks.

    They determine which protein-coding gene will be transcribed, and when, in which cells and how much protein will be produced. The transcription of protein-coding genes is directed by regulatory sequences of the DNA.

    The different types of regulatory regions (for example, enhancers, promoters, silencers, insulators and so on; e.g.) are activated by the binding of specific proteins called transcription factors (TFs).

    The binding of a proper combination of the given TFs to the regulatory regions can either activate, modulate or inhibit the transcription of the target gene. I propose that the animal genome, as such, is capable of expressing both radial and bilateral symmetries, and deploys them according to the functional requirements which must be satisfied by both the anatomical structure and body as a whole
    . (Hollo 2016).

    In a later paper Holo argued that Symmetry is the product of the interplay between gene regulatory networks but also a response to mechanical forces (Holo 2017).

    From an evolutionary perspective many important environmental elements are symmetrical and sensitivity to symmetry may have evolved because it is important for discriminating living organisms from inanimate objects. This issue was already discussed here: 1373

    Sensitivity to symmetry is a fundamental element of mammalian visual perception, controlled by neuronal network mainly residing in the medial occipital gyrus.

    Became Symmetry the Aim of Handaxe production over time ?

    It is debatable if Symmetry increased over time, an issue that was already addressed in this Blog here: 2030 . Currently in 2020 it seems that the much quoted belief that handaxes become more refined and symmetrical over time has no substantial body of data to support it.

    Was Symmetry the Aim of Handaxe production?

    In an experimental setting Bachin evaluated if a set of morphological variables, including symmetry, influenced the effectiveness of handaxes for butchery.

    From her experiments Machin et al. concluded: while frontal symmetry may explain a small amount of variance in the effectiveness of handaxes for butchery, a large percentage of variance remains unexplained by symmetry or any of the other morphological variables under consideration a large percentage of variance remains unexplained by symmetry or any of the other morphological variables under consideration (Machin et al. 2006).

    This study adds evidence to an increasing corpus of data, published during the last years, that showed that Symmetry per se was not a requirement of success in the Handaxes functionality.

    These experimental results let us suggest that the careful creation of symmetrical handaxes may have rewarded its maker by a social, and on a more generalized level, a symbolic surplus- in other words: " Symmetry is its own reward" Neurophysiological via the Dopaminerge reward system (White et al. 2018).

    By the way: These post was Nr. 700 during the 10th anniversary of Aggsbachs Blog

    2020-10-20 10:12:48   •   ID: 2208

    Late Neanderthals in N/W-France: Redundancy in Action

    Figure 1
    Figure 1: This is a small collection coming from hundred of Cordiform Bifaces found at Lommoye, today a French commune with 671 inhabitants in the Yvelines department in the Île-de-France region. It belongs to the arrondissement of Mantes-la-Jolie and the canton of Bonnières-sur-Seine.

    This surface scatter is an outpost of the "Mousterian with bifacial tools", mostly known from the Armorican Massif, a geologic massif that covers a large area in the northwest of France, including Brittany, the western part of Normandy and the Pays de la Loire.

    About the Bifacial Mousterian in N/W-France see for example here: 1179 , 1501 , here 1665 , here: 1250 , 1585 , 1178 and here: 1077

    Figure 2 shows some Bifaces from from Le Bois-l'Abbé at Saint-Julien de la Liègue, a site that comprises many thousands of Handaxes, often reduced to tiny implements of 3-6 cm long- see 1163

    After the sinking of the "Human Revolution” paradigm and the "Inferior Neanderthal" discourse, it is time to ask for the function of high level Redundancy of the Bifacial Mousterian in N/W-France, especially of the large workshop sites mentioned above.

    Figure 1
    In technological systems, redundancy means providing more time, information, and/or resources than is strictly necessary for a system's successful functioning.

    It is allowing a bit extra or the duplication of component parts of a system or a subsystem as a backup regarding safe provision to increase reliability (Compton and Harwood 2007).

    How can this statement applied to the Bifacial late Mousterian in France?

    • Redundancy plays a critical role in buffering the group’s informational resources. Larger groups store information in more heads than smaller ones.

      Information can easily drift out of a small group, through unlucky accidents to those with rare skills (Sterelny 2011).

      Small dispersed Neanderthal groups were in need of a high redundancy system, especially during the rapid changing ecological condition during MIS3. The permanent learning of replication of a versatile multifunctional tool like a Cordiform handaxe, that could also easily used for the production of sharp expedient flakes was a prerequisite in surviving


    • According to the work of Rice and Peck, Flexibility and Redundancy are the two most prominent principles describing the Resilience of a system. Therefore a stable socially system may not optimally work without improvements of its redundant components or innovations.

      Resilience will only increase by the Visibility and the Acceptance of adaptive innovations by other members of a given group. Indeed the rate of innovation has steadily increased after the rise of Homo sapiens compared to the innovation rate of Neanderthals, whatever the cause may be


    • Standardization and formal redundancy are essential properties of the survival of any society. Anyhow, it may be suggested, that Neanderthals, being basically cognitive equal to AHMs, were on one hand highly resilient and successful in survival over hundred of thousand years by their Redundancy, but suffered in the long term from poor visibility and diffusion of technical innovations. Maybe their conservatism was finally one cause for their demision from the Paleontologic record


    Surf the Blog: see here 2205 , and here 1238 .

    2020-10-20 10:12:48   •   ID: 1162

    The Archaeology of Curiosity

    Figure 1
    This is a fossilized shark tooth from the Gravettian strata of the Abri Pataud at Les Eyzies in the French Dordogne. Sharks have been living on earth for about 400 million years.

    When a shark dies and its cartilage dissolves, the teeth fall to the bottom of the ocean and get covered with sandy sediment and fossilizes. 

    Non-utilitarian items, collected by early humans comprise:

    Pigments were in use since the MSA in Africa. The evidence for ocher use even extends back to the beginnings of the MSA, for example in the Kapthurin Formation, Kenya, dated to >240 k.a, at Twin Rivers, Zambia dated roughly to the same time interval.

    Excavations at Sai 8-B-11 in northern Sudan show yellow and red pigment lumps associated with grinding tools with traces of pigments and vegetal materials. The associated Sangoan core axe lithic ensemble is dated to 200 k.a BP.

     In addition ca 40 Mousterian sites in Europe, especially Pech de l’Aze I (Dordogne, France), have provided series of coloring materials (hematite, ocher, manganese), whose physical and chemical properties do not appear useful for daily life.

  • Collection of Quartz Crystals by early hominids is first observed during the Lower Paleolithic.

    For example, in India, the Singi Talav in Rajasthan (dated to 800 k.a.) is located a few kilometers from the occupation site where they were discovered. In the Near East, the site of Gesher Benot Ya’aqov (dated to 800 k.a.) also contains unmodified quartz crystals. In China, at Zhoukoudian (dated to 400 k.a.), unmodified quartz crystals were discovered in the Lower Paleolithic strata.


  • Fossils are items which frequently suggest some sense of non-utilitarian activity among early prehistoric populations, or at the very least, an interest in strange or unusual objects.

    Studies indicate that these fossils could not have been brought to the sites by natural processes alone. Some items are already known from the Acheulian (Gesher Benot Ya’aqov) and many more are known from the European Middle and Upper Paleolithic.

    They are rarely modified like the famous fossil, silicified nummulite, from the late OIS5 Micoquian of Tata, Hungary. This partially translucent disc is dissected by a natural fracture, the second one was engraved on both sides at right angles to the fracture.


  • What the motivation was for collecting extraordinary non-utilitarian items from the natural world is impossible to assess in early hominids, and even in modern humans.

    Picking up sich an item and bringing it back to a base camp may be related to various individual or collective concerns like play, aesthetic feeling, emotion, symbolic communication or magical religious practice, among others.

    Apart from that, an overarching explanation may be that such a behavior is a strong indicator for

    Curiosity, as a basic characteristic of all primates. Without curiosity, our ancestors would not have been invented culture and would not have succeeded in niche broadening, which finally, on the long term, led to the conquest of the earth by our species. 

    Curiosity is the impetus to explore the world beyond the existing knowledge.  Curiosity is the desire to learn about what is unknown.Curiosity is a cornerstone of human cognition that has the potential to lead to innovations and increase the behavioral repertoire of individuals.

    Curiosity  compensates for the shortomings of the human condition, that men is an „incomplete being“ (that means: a non-specialized, developable and adaptive social being), an idea that has been put forward by the German philosopher Herder (1744-1803). Curiosity in this way is a creative act: The vast majority of innovations come about through curiosity.

    Extrinsic motivated curiosity arouses not by an internal state in the individual, but rather by a novel external stimulus. It refers to the fact, that experiences that are novel and complex create a sensation of uncertainty in the brain, a sensation perceived to be unpleasant. Curiosity acts as a means in which to dispel this uncertainty.

    By exhibiting curious and exploratory behavior, organisms are able to learn more about the novel stimulus and thus reduce the state of uncertainty in the brain. However, this model does not account for the observation that organisms display curiosity even in the absence of exciting and new stimuli.

    Intrinsic motivated curiosity refers to behavior that is driven by internal rewards. Intrinsic motivated curiosity in humans, different from many animals, is the intrinsic desire of humans to know and understand.

    Such intrinsic motivation mechanisms are observed during the whole life, from infants spontaneous exploration of their body and external objects to adults that are still eager about new information of the world.

    Experimental work has indeed demonstrated that acquisition of knowledge is emotionally pleasing. The satisfaction of curiosity through acquiring knowledge brings pleasure and reward. This confirms the hypothesis that curiosity or need for knowledge is a fundamental and  on a par with other Basic needs, such as sex or food.

    The act of wanting new information involves mesolimbic Dopamine activation, which assigns an intrinsic value to that new information that the brain then interprets as a reward. This is the neurobiology that motivates exploratory behavior.

    In addition, Opioid activity in the nucleus accumbens evaluates stimuli and attaches an immediate value to the novel object, a sensation known as "liking". This liking stimulates pleasure. The chemical processes of both wanting and liking play a role in activating the reward system of the brain, and perhaps in curiosity as well.

    The roots of our peculiar curiosity can be linked to a trait of the human species called Neoteny. This term means the “retention of juvenile characteristics”.  It means that as a species we are more child-like than other mammals.

    Our lifelong curiosity and playfulness is a behavioral characteristic of neoteny. Whereas in most animal species , the curiosity behavior disappears at puberty, it usually persists for a lifetime in humans.

    Our lifelong capacity to learn is the reason why neoteny has worked so well during the evolution of humans. Our extended childhood means we can absorb so much more from our environment compared to our primate cousins, including our shared culture. Even in adulthood we can pick up new ways doing things and new ways of thinking, allowing us to better adapt to new circumstances. Think on that:  "I have no special talents , I am only passionately curious " (Albert Einstein)




    Resources and images in full resolution:

    2020-09-24 12:33:44   •   ID: 2204

    Lithic Diversity of Central Europe during the LGM

    Figure 1
    This is a small collection from a surface scatter, found in the Kamp Valley in Lower Austria, during the 1930ies.

    It assembles a carinated core, a small bladelet with marginal retouche, a partially retouched flake and a small backed bladelet.

    The small ensemble has affinities both to the Aurignacian and Gravettian, but is very different from the nearby stations like Krems, Willendorf and Aggsbach, that can either assigned to a genuine Aurignacian or Gravettian. A post-Gravettian age for our small ensemble is most probable.

    The diversity of techno-typological concepts during and early after the LGM in Central Europe is astonishing and much more diverse, that I have formerly described in this Blog- see 1675 . It may be prudent to avoid terms like: Epi-Gravettian or Epi-Aurignacian, because characteristics of both entities are often mixed.

    The Last Glacial Maximum around 24 k.a. CalBP played a more important role in cultural adaptation than it was expected previously. During this time period, the western part of central Europe appeared as an area of remarkable demographic decrease.

    Anyhow a regular network of sites is recorded in the eastern part of central Europe, namely in the Carpathian Basin, Moravia, Slovakia and parts of Lower Austria, which seemed to have functioned as habitable climatic European refugia.

    Petr Škrdla et al. recently tried do give an account about the current knowledge of different Paleolithic Industries around the LGM in Central Europe. According to him our small ensemble is part of the “Plevovce” tradition.

    Phase “SS-IV” (22.5–21.0 ky cal BP)
Stránská skála IV (CZ), Grubgraben (A), Kašov I (upper layer) (SK), Ságvár (HU), Mittlere Klause, Kastelhöhle-Nord and Wiesbaden-Igstadt (D), Kraków-Spadzista C2 and Deszczowa cave (PL)(?) The lithic industries at these sites include steeply retouched artefacts and microlithic tools. While the lithic assemblages from Stránská skála IV and Kašov are distinctly rich in blades, those from Grubgraben and Ságvár feature flake technologies

    Phase “Plevovce” (20–19.5 ky cal BP)
Mohelno-Plevovce (KSA), Esztergom-Gyurgyalag, Szeged-Öthalom (HU), Rosenburg, Grubgraben (upper layer) (?) (A). The lithic assemblages are characterized by variable microlithic components – microliths on carenoidal blanks removed from carinated endscrapers are present in Mohelno.

    Phase “Brno-Vídeňská” (19–17 ky cal BP)
Brno-Vídeňská, Mohelno-Plevovce (AC1&2), and Stadice (CZ), more sites in Poland and Hungary.
The lithic assemblages are characterised by the manufacture of long, narrow, symmetrical blades, often manufactured from bipolar cores. A typologically dominant component are burins with blade endscrapers and microliths represented by backed blades.
    (Skrdla et al. 2020).

    The Kamp Valley is an important axis between the Middle Danube region towards Moravia and certainly understudied despite sites already known at Kammegg, Langenlois or Rosenburg.

    2020-09-15 12:52:47   •   ID: 2203

    Handaxes and Bifacial Cleavers from the Azraq Basin in Jordan

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    Figure 2
    Figure 3
    Figure 4
    Figure 5
    Figure 6
    Figure 1-6 shows a limited surface Collection from the Azraq Basin in Jordan’s Eastern Desert. Regarding techno-typological considerations it may be 400-250 k.a.old.

    You see white patinated Flint Handaxes up to 16 cm long and a large Levallois flake (Figure 5 and 6). The Handaxes are made both by hard and soft hammer technique.

    They are oval, with a tranchet blow (Figures 1 and 2), lanceolated (Figure 3) and cordiform (Figure 4). The Lanceolate is backed - not unknown from other Acheulian sites from the Levant -see 1596 .

    The Handaxes in Figure 1 and 2 resemble Bifacial Cleavers - which define a facies of the late Acheulian in the Azraq region, as emphasized by L. Copeland. Microtraceological studies demonstrated their use as Butchering tools.

    Such tools are techno-typological very different from Flake-Cleavers, made from large Flakes which appeared early early in the African Acheulian-see here: 1216 and here: 1217

    Among the oldest sites with flake cleavers yet found in the Near East are Gesher Benot Ya’aqov (GBY), at 0,78 My and Ubaydiyya at 1,4-1,2 My in the Jordan Valley.

    Under natural conditions, the oasis supported reed and sedge communities restricted to Jordan and Azraq. Until recently, it was a valuable staging area for migrating birds and served as an important water supply for local communities, as well as the main water source for the capital city, Amman.

    After WW II it became clear that unsustainable groundwater extraction led to the almost complete desertification of the oasis, also affecting the integrity of potential in-situ Archaeological sites.

    Although a program for the physical rehabilitation was started, it failed and much Archaeological information was lost for ever.

    Overall the Azraq Basin is known for its abundance of Stone Age occupations, which were associated with the presence of oases, marshes and paleolakes. During the Pleistocene these habitats served as refugia both for large animals and Homo sp.

    Acheulian sites were largely associated with lakeshore environments in areas with East African flora and fauna in grassland savannas over much of the Pleistocene.

    The Azraq basin was certainly connected with other oases and former lacustrine basins in the Syro-Arabian Desert. Lakes and spring-fed marshes existed on the eastern landscape of Jordan, from Mudawwara to the al-Jafr and Azraq basins, and northward to the el- Kowm Basin of Syria. These networks constituted crossroads for movements of Homo sp. between Africa and the Eurasian landmass and vice versa.

    In consequence the archaeological sites in the Azraq Basin are spanning a long timeframe from the Acheulian, Levallois-Mousterian, Epipaleolithic (probably Kebaran or Geometric Kebaran) and the PPNB Neolithic phase - very similar to the El Kowm area in Syria.

    Researchers working in Jordan traditionally described an Early, Middle and Late Acheulian. This classification is mostly based on surface findings and, as far as I am aware, has never explicitly explained. Especially the issue of a "Middle Acheulian" remains obscure.

    In general the definition of older and younger ensembles is based on techno-typological considerations and on the material from the two sites in Israel, mentioned above. However, there is certainly some justification for the following classification, which separated an older from a more recent Acheulian:

    • Flat, thin, symmetric Handaxes are later than irregular, rough and trihedral handaxes


    • Early ensembles are often characterized by opportunistic cores, choppers and chopping tools


    • Handaxes, made by Hammer Techniques are earlier than Handaxes and the use of a Soft Hammer


    • The advent of the Levallois technique in Acheulian ensembles is late


    There are numerous Acheulian sites sites in the Azraq Basin. The most prominent are: Lion Spring, 3-4, C-Spring, Azraq Shishan ("South Azraq"). Unfortunately no concise dating program could be performed during 50 years of research, allthough some sites are multilayered and were only minimally disturbed with a "fresh" appearance of the Acheulian material.

    If fauna was preserved, it did not help to establish more than a Middle Pleistocene age for the industries. The "late" C-Spring Acheulian is of special interest because up to 30% of the Bifaces were Bifacial Cleavers, a higher number than anywhere in the Old World Acheulian, especially in the Levant.

    In summary, despite the many techno-typological studies, that have been published, the ESA of the the Azraq Basin, makes us painfully aware, that without progress in dating stratified sites with preservation of Archaeological structures and fauna remains allows only a very limited understanding of Early Paleolithic land use by our ancestors.

    Acheulian in the Levant: see here: 1171 , here 2076 , here: 1460 , and here: 2068 ,