Radiocarbon Chronology for the Early Gravettian of Northern Europe: New AMS Determinations for Maisieres-Canal, Belgium

By Jacobi, R. M.; Higham, T. F. G. et al. | Antiquity, March 2010 | Go to article overview
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Radiocarbon Chronology for the Early Gravettian of Northern Europe: New AMS Determinations for Maisieres-Canal, Belgium


Jacobi, R. M., Higham, T. F. G., Haesaerts, P., Jadin, I., Basell, L. S., Antiquity


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Introduction

The site of Maisieres-Canal is situated on the course of the Canal du Centre, built along the northern edge of the alluvial plain of the Haine. This forms the boundary of the Communes of Maisieres and Obourg, just to the north of Mons in southern Belgium (Figure 1). Excavations, following the discovery of Palaeolithic artefacts by G. Bois d'Enghien in 1966, have taken place at two locations--the Champ de Fouilles which now lies beneath the Canal du Centre, and a much smaller area, the Atelier de Taille which is in the north-eastern bank of the canal. The site of the Champ de Fouilles is preserved 5m below the surface of the present day alluvial plain of the Haine River, underneath a thick cover of upper pleniglacial sediments. Excavations by J. de Heinzelin and E Haesaerts in 1966-1967 revealed Early Gravettian occupations in both areas (de Heinzelin 1971, 1973; Haesaerts & de Heinzelin 1979), while subsequent excavation in the area of the Atelier de Taille de la Berge Nord-Est in 2000-2002 bas documented evidence for an earlier Aurignacian presence (Millet et al. 2004). Here we report ten new radiocarbon determinations from the Champ de Fouilles which support the age previously suspected for the Gravettian at this site. These dates were obtained as part ofa wider investigation into the chronology of the Earlier Upper Palaeolithic of Western Europe funded by the Natural Environment Research Council of the British Isles (NERC), with all sample measurements taking place at the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit (ORAU).

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

The flint material recovered in 1966-1967 is exceptionally rich with almost 35 000 artefacts, of which 932 can be classed as retouched tools (Otte 1976, 1979a, 1979b: 527-61). Most distinctive amongst the latter are slightly asymmetric tanged (pedunculate) points, often with flat (covering) flaking of their distal ends and with tips frequently finished by removal of a longitudinal or oblique dorsal sharpening flake (Figure 2). Where dysfunctional, these tanged pieces have sometimes been adapted as scrapers or burins. Numerically as common as the tanged points are unifacial points (pointes d retouches plates), sometimes termed 'pointes de Maisieres" (Otte 1979b: 268-70), shaped by retouch, which can extend over much or even all of the dorsal face. Like the tanged points their pointed ends have frequently been completed by removal of a longitudinal or oblique dorsal sharpening flake (Figure 2). The commonest tools are burins, of which a majority are dihedral, and there are also end-scrapers, side-scrapers, piercers or becs and truncated blades. There are only four pieces modified by abrupt retouch (pieces d dos). Blades were principally obtained from cotes with opposed striking platforms and this observation has been used to link the material from Maisieres-Canal to Gravettian collections from Belgium and further afield (Flas 2001 : 176), as well as to the earlier technology known as the Lincombian-Ranisian-Jerzmanowician (Desbrosse & Kozlowski 1988: 34-8). The flint used at Maisieres-Canal was mainly local, "le silex d'Obourg' (de Heinzelen 1973; Miller 2004), and it is clear from the quantities of debitage that a great deal of flint knapping had taken place on the site. That hearths, for warmth or cooking, had existed is apparent from the large number of fragments of charred mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius) bone which had been used as fuel. There is also smashed mammoth bone and cut-marks identify the butchery, and perhaps hunting, of Arctic hare (Lepus timidus), (brown) bear (Ursus cf. arctos) and reindeer (Rangifer tarandus). A carpal bone of mammoth, dated as a part of this project (OxA-18009), has clearly been gnawed by spotted hyenas (Crocuta crocuta).

[FIGURE 2 OMITTED]

A Gravettian attribution for the archaeological material from the Champ de Fouilles was first ruade by de Heinzelin (1973: 54-5) who described it as representing a 'Perigordien hennuyer'--the term Perigordien then being used for collections from south-western France, many of which would now generally be called Gravettian.

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