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From Keilmesser to Bout coupé handaxes: macro-regional variability among Western European Late Middle Paleolithic bifacial tools

From Keilmesser to Bout coupé handaxes: macro-regional variability among Western European Late Middle Paleolithic bifacial tools
From Keilmesser to Bout coupé handaxes: macro-regional variability among Western European Late Middle Paleolithic bifacial tools
Neanderthals in Western Europe are associated with a plethora of stone tool assemblages and their internal variation has been linked to different causal factors and behavioural interpretations. This thesis presents a new contribution to the study of Middle Palaeolithic variability by focusing specifically on the Late Middle Palaeolithic period (MIS 5d-3) and the typo-technological, spatial and temporal differences amongst bifacially worked tools.

Currently, in Western Europe distinct types of Late Middle Palaeolithic bifacial tools are associated with two macro-regional entities, the Mousterian of Acheulean Tradition (MTA) and the Keilmessergruppe (KMG). These two entities, centred in Southwestern France and Germany, also link to two different research traditions which use a variety of competing terms, typologies and definitions. This study uses a new classificatory approach to overcome these epistemological issues and facilitates for the first time wider-scale comparisons, incorporating the regions located in between the MTA and KMG core areas.

Bifacial tools from 14 key assemblages were analysed through an extensive attribute analysis, creating a database with primary data for 1,303 bifacial tools. This data was then incorporated with other published site information allowing for a detailed assessment of both the typo-technological characteristics of the bifacial tools and their variability.

Firstly, the results indicate that genuine differences exist among Late Middle Palaeolithic bifacial tool assemblages regardless of the classificatory framework. Secondly, exploration of the data using three different scales of analysis allowed for the recognition of different variation patterns and interpretations. At a micro-scale, it is clear that a large amount of typo-technological variability exists among Late Middle Palaeolithic bifacial tools, which can mainly be attributed to differences in local conditions, such as raw material and function.

At a macro-scale the MTA/KMG dichotomy was confirmed by a distinct divide between classic handaxes and backed bifacial tools west and east of the Rhine. Additionally, a third entity, the Mousterian with bifacial tools (MBT), is located in between the MTA and KMG core areas and contains a wide variety of bifacial tools, including MTA and KMG types. At a meso-scale, several previously identified regional entities were merged into the MTA and MBT, but specific spatio-temporal units do exist, e.g. bout coupé handaxes in MIS3 Britain.

At both this meso-and macro-scale the observed patterns cannot be explained merely by referring to differences in local settings, but require an additional sphere of interpretation, argued here to be culture. The MTA and KMG can be seen as two distinct cultural traditions, reflecting different lines of learned behavior, as expressed by different ways of making bifacial tools. The sporadic spread of KMG elements across Western Europe is indicative of Neanderthal population dynamics and the MBT is interpreted as the results of MTA-KMG interactions in an overlap zone where foreign influences were more easily absorbed. Finally, the distinct presence and absence of certain bifacial tool types in specific regions allow to argue for the presence of a collective cultural capacity among Neanderthals.
Reubens, Karen
8d1efd0f-53e4-412f-b6ce-15c25d0b3aa7
Reubens, Karen
8d1efd0f-53e4-412f-b6ce-15c25d0b3aa7
Mcnabb, John
59e818b1-3196-4991-93eb-75ed9c898e71
Davies, Simon
5042ec27-3fcd-4ddb-bc0c-8c5578a0e50b

Reubens, Karen (2012) From Keilmesser to Bout coupé handaxes: macro-regional variability among Western European Late Middle Paleolithic bifacial tools. University of Southampton, Faculty of Humanities, Doctoral Thesis, 403pp.

Record type: Thesis (Doctoral)

Abstract

Neanderthals in Western Europe are associated with a plethora of stone tool assemblages and their internal variation has been linked to different causal factors and behavioural interpretations. This thesis presents a new contribution to the study of Middle Palaeolithic variability by focusing specifically on the Late Middle Palaeolithic period (MIS 5d-3) and the typo-technological, spatial and temporal differences amongst bifacially worked tools.

Currently, in Western Europe distinct types of Late Middle Palaeolithic bifacial tools are associated with two macro-regional entities, the Mousterian of Acheulean Tradition (MTA) and the Keilmessergruppe (KMG). These two entities, centred in Southwestern France and Germany, also link to two different research traditions which use a variety of competing terms, typologies and definitions. This study uses a new classificatory approach to overcome these epistemological issues and facilitates for the first time wider-scale comparisons, incorporating the regions located in between the MTA and KMG core areas.

Bifacial tools from 14 key assemblages were analysed through an extensive attribute analysis, creating a database with primary data for 1,303 bifacial tools. This data was then incorporated with other published site information allowing for a detailed assessment of both the typo-technological characteristics of the bifacial tools and their variability.

Firstly, the results indicate that genuine differences exist among Late Middle Palaeolithic bifacial tool assemblages regardless of the classificatory framework. Secondly, exploration of the data using three different scales of analysis allowed for the recognition of different variation patterns and interpretations. At a micro-scale, it is clear that a large amount of typo-technological variability exists among Late Middle Palaeolithic bifacial tools, which can mainly be attributed to differences in local conditions, such as raw material and function.

At a macro-scale the MTA/KMG dichotomy was confirmed by a distinct divide between classic handaxes and backed bifacial tools west and east of the Rhine. Additionally, a third entity, the Mousterian with bifacial tools (MBT), is located in between the MTA and KMG core areas and contains a wide variety of bifacial tools, including MTA and KMG types. At a meso-scale, several previously identified regional entities were merged into the MTA and MBT, but specific spatio-temporal units do exist, e.g. bout coupé handaxes in MIS3 Britain.

At both this meso-and macro-scale the observed patterns cannot be explained merely by referring to differences in local settings, but require an additional sphere of interpretation, argued here to be culture. The MTA and KMG can be seen as two distinct cultural traditions, reflecting different lines of learned behavior, as expressed by different ways of making bifacial tools. The sporadic spread of KMG elements across Western Europe is indicative of Neanderthal population dynamics and the MBT is interpreted as the results of MTA-KMG interactions in an overlap zone where foreign influences were more easily absorbed. Finally, the distinct presence and absence of certain bifacial tool types in specific regions allow to argue for the presence of a collective cultural capacity among Neanderthals.

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Published date: November 2012
Organisations: University of Southampton, Archaeology

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Local EPrints ID: 367133
URI: https://eprints.soton.ac.uk/id/eprint/367133
PURE UUID: 90f25c61-090b-4ff6-9266-2e4d0bbce65d

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Date deposited: 15 Aug 2014 13:57
Last modified: 18 Jul 2017 02:03

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