La Noira Site (Centre, France) and the Technological Behaviours and Skills of the Earliest Acheulean in Western Europe Between 700 and 600 ka

Abstract

New fieldwork and the revision of lithic collections during the past decade have renewed our interpretation of the timing and characteristics of the earliest Acheulean techno-complexes in western Europe. The lower level of the la Noira site is a crucial snapshot for evaluating the technological abilities and strategies of Middle Pleistocene hominins at 700 ka in Europe at the beginning of elaborate biface production and associated behavioural changes. The site of la Noira is located in the central part of France, where climatic conditions may have had a stronger impact on occupations than in southern Europe. New excavations between 2011 and 2018, over a surface of 100 m2, yielded a large corpus of artefacts including cores, flakes, bifaces and a large heavy-duty component. We analysed the lithic corpus composed of almost 1000 artefacts from a taphonomic perspective, identified the chaînes opératoires and all the reduction processes involved at the site, and examined the spatial distribution of the archaeological remains. The results offer a broad overview of the types of lithic management and related cognition and skills of Middle Pleistocene hominins living on a riverbank under cool conditions, at the beginning of a glacial stage. A comparison with penecontemporaneous sites indicates that a technological shift possibly occurred in western Europe between 700 and 600 ka. The technological strategies used indicate (1) common abilities in core technologies including some sporadic independence from stone shape, (2) a diversity of technical solutions and morphological results for biface shaping with evidence of a bifacial or bilateral equilibrium and a preconceived form on some tools, and (3) a large and diversified heavy-duty component. Biases related to activities, raw material types and various traditions are discussed. The chronology of the emergence of new behaviours, such as an early biface shaping ability, seems to have been identical in the northwest and south of Europe.

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Acknowledgements

This study is part of a PremAcheuSept ANR (Agence National pour la Recherche n°2010 BLANC 2006 01). The project and fieldwork and sampling at several sites in the northwest of France and England aim to provide new data on occupations along the Palaeo-Thames, Somme and Loire Rivers before isotopic stage 12. Excavations at la Noira were funded by the Centre Region (Archéa association, France), the Department of Prehistory of the National Museum of Natural History and the French Ministry of Culture. The English manuscript was revised by Louise Byrne, official translator.

The comments made by the two reviewers were useful to help us to enhance the manuscript. Many thanks for their help. We would like also to thank the editor Shannon McPherron for his editing work.

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Moncel, MH., Despriée, J., Courcimaut, G. et al. La Noira Site (Centre, France) and the Technological Behaviours and Skills of the Earliest Acheulean in Western Europe Between 700 and 600 ka. J Paleo Arch 3, 255–301 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s41982-020-00049-2

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Keywords

  • Europe
  • Early Acheulean
  • Technology
  • Bifaces
  • Core technology
  • Heavy-duty component