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Earliest Humans (Part 3: Anatomically Modern Man)

by J L Putman & M Soenen

Following on from the Middle Palaeolithic, a series of flint artefacts reveal a demographic scenario change in which emerged a new human type, anatomically modern humans (Homo sapiens - modern man).

These new arrivals had a more varied arsenal of tools in comparison with Neanderthals, and soon came to outnumber them. The latter survived for several more millennia, however (into the Late Palaeolithic which lasted between about 40-35,000 BC to 9,000 BC), in the midst of a generally enduring nomadic way of life.

In contrast with the frequent occupations of caves (as in nearby Wallonia), finds - which can be traced back to an open-air site of the Aurignacian culture (see 'Related History Files Links', below) - are rather surprising in the especially harsh climate conditions during the last half of the Weichsel ice age.

However, it also appears that short, frequent alternations of warm and cold periods occurred which allowed life to continue in spurts.

Artistic representation emerged in Europe during this period. The Chauvet cave at Vallon-Pont-d'Arc, Ardèche, in southern France, is home to about a thousand paintings and engravings, including 447 representations of animals of fourteen different species.

Artistic expression from Chauvet Cave, Vallon-Pont-d'Arc
Photo © Claude Valette - CC BY-SA 4.0

A wonderful example of artistic expression which includes horses from the Chauvet cave, Vallon-Pont-d'Arc in France.

Anatomical differences between Neanderthal and modern man
Photo © Encyclopaedia Britannica*

Anatomical differences between a Neanderthal and a modern human.

Typical tools of the Aurignacian culture include scrapers, which also involve sub-types which are commonly known as nosed and carinated scrapers, along with Aurignacian blades and burins such as 'burins busqué'. Burins are associated with antler working, such as notching and planing.

They all occur on the Kemmelberg. Below are some examples.

The photos of a burin busqué, below, show two small arc-shaped, blade-shaped removals which provide a robust V-shaped notching part.

*By courtesy of Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc, copyright 2014, used with permission.

Top view of a burin busque
Photo © M Verstraete

Top view of a burin busqué (maximum 4.3cm in length), Kemmelberg: stroke direction shown by blue arrows, notching part by red lines.

Ventral side of the same burin busque
Photo © M Verstraete

Ventral side of the same burin busqué, with stroke direction shown by blue arrow, and notching part by red lines.

Drawn side views, dorsal, and ventral sides of the same burin busque
Photo © H Bauwens & S Gobijn

Drawn side views, dorsal, and ventral sides of the same burin busqué.

The photo below shows a burin with a piece of antler where some splinters have already been cut out, from which needles were made.

Kemmelberg burin
Photo © H Maertens

Kemmelberg burin (7cm long) in black silex, a piece of antler, and a replica of a finished needle.

On a detailed photo of the top of the same black burin, below, the burin blow is visible. This is the removal which creates the notching part, which appears here to be worn.

Showing the direction of the burin blow
Photo © M Verstraete

Detailed photo of the top, with the direction of the burin blow, shown by the blue arrow.

Sharpened Aurignac blade and a smaller borer
Photo © L Verhetsel VISO

Sharpened Aurignac blade of 6.5cm length with typical steep retouch (left), next to a smaller borer (right), Kemmelberg.

Only in a more favourable climate and with better environmental conditions, during the last stages of the ice age around 14,000 BC onwards, could a repopulation take place in the Kemmelberg zone, with the emergence of materials from the Federmesser groups (FMG hunter-gatherers - see links below).

The name 'Federmesser' (German for 'quill pen knife') is derived from the characteristic small flint blades which had a dull edge.

It seems that the FMG hunter-gatherers were the first re-colonisers of the Scheldt basin following the fading of the Late Glacial Maximum. Recovered artefacts from this period are very scarce.

Continued in Part 4.



Text copyright © Archeo Kemmelberg. An original feature for the History Files: Kemmelberg.