A Levallois Point Embedded in the Vertebra of a Wild Ass (Equus Africanus): Hafting, Projectiles and Mousterian Hunting Weapons

Article excerpt

The El Kowm basin of Central Syria lies between Palmyra and the Euphrates River [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 1 OMITTED]. It is a valley 25 km wide and 80 km long, dominated to the East by the Jabal Bishri (rising to 850 m) and to the South by the Jabal Minshar (879 m) and the Jabal Mqaibara (1110 m). Running down the centre of this natural basin is an elongated plateau, the Qdeir, which was carved out by quaternary erosion. During surveys in 1978, directed by Fujimoto (1979) and Cauvin (Cauvin et al. 1979) as part of the El Kowm research expedition, numerous sites were discovered in the backdirt of several ancient wells situated on the periphery of this plateau, or on the surfaces of many tells.

One Middle Palaeolithic site, Umm el Tlel [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 1 OMITTED], has been the subject of detailed research. This is an open-air site located on the northern slope of the Qdeir plateau (Boeda & Muhesen 1993; Molist et al. 1987-88). Previous studies have demonstrated its significant archaeological potential, including a continuous stratigraphic sequence from the Acheulean to the Neolithic. Excavations of the Palaeolithic sequence (Boeda & Muhesen 1993), carried out from 1991 to 1998, have resulted in the recognition of 89 layers extending over 6 m in depth: 29 levels are attributed to the Upper Palaeolithic (Levantine Aurignacian and undetermined); 3 to an intermediate Palaeolithic (possibly Ahmarian and transitional phases), and 57 to the Middle Palaeolithic. One of these Middle Palaeolithic levels, IV 3b'1, has yielded a mesial fragment of a Levallois point embedded in the 3rd cervical vertebra of a wild ass (Equus african us) [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 2A, B, C & 3 OMITTED].

The tool industry of this level has been assigned to the Mousterian. Preliminary thermoluminescence (Mercier et al. 1995) measurements yield an age in excess of 50,000 years for this industry. This level, which is rich in osseous material (12,000 objects), belongs to the sedimentary group VI3, corresponding to a lacustrian sedimentation (M.A. Courty pers. comm.). The entire assemblage of lithic and osseous material is remarkably well preserved.

Analysis of the lithic point fragment

The artefact in question is a mesial fragment of a triangular shaped flake classified as a Levallois point [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 4 OMITTED]. It is 1.4 cm long and has a trapezoidal morphology. The two extremities of this fragment exhibit scars that indicate simple, bending (flexion) fractures. The distal break is 1-85 cm wide and 4.6 mm thick. The proximal break is 2.5 cm wide and 6 mm thick. This fragment corresponds to the mesial part of a Levallois point.

The Levallois point is characteristic of the Levantine Mousterian (Meignen & Bar Yosef 1992). This tool type is particularly well represented in the archaeological level VI 3b'1, where it appears to have been one of the most desired products of the flintknappers. It is obtained by the recurrent, bipolar Levallois debitage method (Boeda 1994; 1995), which allows for the production of a great number of Levallois points with very diverse morphological, technical and metric characteristics. This diversity of Levallois points is specific to this archaeological level. In other Mousterian levels at Umm el Tlel the technical characteristics of Levallois points are more standardized, and they are thus much more similar to each other.

This disparity, from one archaeological level to another, in the treatment of objects of the same morphological type, can be attributed to different functional intentions. Indeed, the morpho-technical diversity of Levallois points from level VI 3b'1 is due to the fact that this type of object can be associated with several different functions, as well as manners and contexts of function (fonctionnement). The first microwear analysis results obtained by H. Plisson (CNRS) attest to a cutting function associated with various materials. …