Raw, Pre-Heated or Ready to Use: Discovering Specialist Supply Systems for Flint Industries in Mid-Neolithic (Chassey Culture) Communities in Southern France

By Lea, Vanessa | Antiquity, March 2005 | Go to article overview

Raw, Pre-Heated or Ready to Use: Discovering Specialist Supply Systems for Flint Industries in Mid-Neolithic (Chassey Culture) Communities in Southern France


Lea, Vanessa, Antiquity


Introduction

The research led by Patricia Phillips at the University of Sheffield on the honey-coloured Bedoulien flint industries (silex blond bedoulien) was of fundamental importance for the understanding of Chassey culture societies in southern France (mid fifth-mid fourth millennium BC). She was one of the first scholars in the 1970s to champion the hypothesis of a provenance from the Vaucluse for the silex blond found in abundance on sites of southern France. She was instrumental in carrying out neutron activation analyses, which demonstrated that Vaucluse flint was distributed on sites far removed from its area of production (Aspinall et al. 1976, 1979; Phillips et al. 1977; Phillips 1980). Like Courtin at the CNRS in France with whom she collaborated, she was convinced that the intensive exploitation of the Bedoulien flint sources had been established in the Chassey culture period and not, as was thought by most scholars at the time, at the end of the Neolithic (Phillips 1982: 31). This approach opened up for her a vast area of investigation including Provence, the Drome, the Ardeche, the Languedoc-Roussillon and the Midi-Pyrenees. She was engaged in comparing the dimensions of blades from most Chassey culture settlement sites belonging to this geographical area (Phillips 1970, 1972a) and drew attention to the great differences in the quantities found (Phillips 1982, 1988: 285). Her breadth of interpretation reached to the socio-economic organisation of the Chassey culture, in particular its social structure (Phillips 1972b, 1982), its exchange and social interaction networks (Phillips et al. 1977; Phillips 1980) as well as population models (Phillips 1972b, 1982). Some of her theories would later be taken up by French researchers, making Patricia Phillips' work a point of reference for the southern Chassey culture.

More recently, research on the Chassey culture has benefited from new and different methods of approaching the study of lithics such as technological and use wear analysis (Binder 1991; Binder & Gassin 1988; Briois 1997; Lea 2002, 2003, 2004a). The application of these methods has allowed a better characterisation of flint production, its management and development within different regions. It has revitalised our perceptions of the Chassey culture, including the definition of a cultural chronology based on production of Bedoulien silex blond in Provence (Binder 1991) and in Languedoc (Briois 1997; Lea 2002), and the appreciation of a lithic industry that is much more heterogeneous (Binder 1998; Lea 2002).

Although the study of regional stratigraphies had been necessary for a number of years in order to understand the evolution of the Chassey culture, it resulted in a regional fragmentation of data and a compartmentalisation of research programmes. It therefore appears necessary today to apply our technological tools and trace analyses at an interregional scale, in a spirit closer to that of Patricia Phillips. We are convinced that the phenomenon represented by the distribution of Bedoulien silex blond has to be approached in its entirety. The aim is to characterise the lithic assemblages and their management throughout the distribution networks, from the production sites in the Vaucluse down to the consumer sites most remote from the original source of raw material. The modes of production, of distribution and of consumption of these Bedoulien silex blond industries prove indeed to be a powerful tool in revealing Chassey culture societies.

Characterisation of Chassey culture lithic productions

The area of extraction of Bedoulien flint is located mainly in the Vaucluse, between two tributaries of the left bank of the river Rhone: the Coulon-Cavalon in the south and the Ouveze in the north (Binder 1998a, b) (Figure 1). Nowadays these flints are well characterised, thanks to the use of thin sections which have confirmed the relevance of descriptive norms used during examination under binocular magnifying glasses (Barbier 1995; Binder 1998; Binder et al. …

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