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Showing posts from August, 2013

Adventures in Silcrete: "It's flint Jim, but not as you know it!"

Something that everyone who works in the archaeology of deep prehistory has to get to grips with is the technology of stone tools, or lithics. This includes thinking about the ways in which people made their tools, which techniques they chose to use, etc. It also means that Palaeolithic archaeologists, alongside needing to know stuff about climatology, palaeontology, and ecology, need to delve into the science of geology. People in prehistory might not have understood the origins of different kinds of rocks, but they certainly appreciated the diversity in stone qualities, not only between very different rock types but also within geological/mineral categories.


These two Neandertal tools that I studied for my PhD, called handaxes, are both very finely worked, but made from completely different rocks. The one on the left (Castle Lane, Bournemouth) is made from Cretaceous flint found in the south and east of Britain, and the one on the right (Coygan Cave) from rhyolite, a volcanic stone…

Neandertals, Handaxe Traditions, Social Landscapes

Just a quick post as my good friend and colleague Karen Ruebens has been hitting the headlines with the publication of her PhD research, which I've mentioned in previous blog-posts. Amazingly the Daily Mail has managed to cover her work with some very restrained and mostly accurate reporting (bar a strange map that says Middle Pleistocene instead of Middle Palaeolithic, and spelling Karen's surname wrong).

Her paper, in the Journal of Human Evolution (not open access), covers the main results of her thesis, which attempted to examine the apparent divide between West and Central/East Europe in the types of handaxes, or bifaces (tools worked on two sides, with sharp cutting edges extending around the perimeter), made by Neandertals. Karen's work is excellent and thorough, and does support what the different research traditions in Europe had previously suggested: Neandertals had clear regional diversity in the way they produced handaxes, which were major parts of their toolk…

Photographing doors in Le Puy-en-Velay

It was a long time ago that I discovered the beauty of traditional French architecture, especially in small towns, and photographing it has been a pursuit most times I've visited. I've got a special fetish for old doors and their furniture, there's something about the way each one is unique and has acquired locks, knockers, letter boxes and a patina over time. During the few hours I've had to explore our local town, Le Puy-en-Velay, there's been ample opportunity to indulge in taking some photos. Here's the results!

Geological Road Trip: Volcanic landscapes of the Massif Central

Geology and geography are fundamental to archaeologists in understanding the landscape contexts that people of the past lived within. While climate and environments have drastically altered over the time span of the Palaeolithic, the topography often, on a broad scale, remains relatively similar. Erosion can be extensive, river systems can change course (the Thames used to flow much further north than it now does for example), and the great depth of sediment accumulation in some areas changed local situations. But the big stuff made of rock like plateaux, mountains and watersheds have remained relatively static over the time hominins have been around. There are exceptions to this however, primarily in the form of volcanism and tectonic action, and the region I'm working in is a textbook example. Here in the Massif Central, there is a long history of volcanic action of many types, the most recent of which occurred less than 5000 years ago- well within the history of human settleme…