NEANDERTHAL MOUSTERIAN HAND AX CHERT
Outstanding Middle Paleolithic ( Paleolithic ) stone artifact of
the Homo Neanderthalensis - the Neanderthal (Neandertal ) men from the
Mousterian phase about 40.000 - 60.000 years ago. Most likely a hand ax or a
side edged scraper!
The Mousterian industry appeared around 200,000 years ago and persisted until
about 40,000 years ago, in much the same areas of Europe, the Near East and
Africa where Acheulean tools appear. In Europe these tools are most closely
associated with Homo neanderthalensis, but elsewhere were made by both
Neanderthals and early Homo sapiens. Mousterian tools required a preliminary
shaping of the stone core from which the actual blade is struck off. The
toolmakers either shaped a rock into a rounded surface before striking off the
raised area as a wedge shaped flake, or they shaped the core as a long prism of
stone before striking off triangular flakes from its length, like slices from a
Because Mousterian tools were conceived as refinements on a few
distinct core shapes, the whole process of making tools had standardized into
explicit stages (basic core stone, rough blank, refined final tool). Variations
in tool shapes could be produced by changes in the procedures at any stage. A
consistent manufacturing goal was to increase as much as possible the cutting
area on each blade. Though this made the toolmaking process more labor
intensive, it also meant the edges of the tools could be reshaped or sharpened
as they dulled, so that each tool lasted longer. The whole toolmaking industry
had adapted to get the maximum utility from the labor invested at each step.
Tool forms in the Mousterian industry display a wide range of
specialized shapes. Cutting tools include notched flakes, denticulate (serrated)
flakes, and flake blades similar to Upper Paleolithic tools. Points appear that
seem designed for use in spears or lances, some including a tang or stub at the
base that allowed the point to be tied into the notched end of a stick. Scrapers
appear for the dressing of animal hides, which were probably used for shoes,
clothing, bedding, shelter, and carrying sacks. These accumulating material
possessions imply a level of social organization and stability comparable to
primitive humans today.
Because tools were combined with other components (handles,
spear shafts) and used in wider applications (dressing hides, shaping wood
tools, hunting large game), Mousterian technology was the keystone for many
interrelated manufacturing activities in other materials: specialized tools
created specialized labor. As these activities evolved and standardized, the
efficient and flexible Mousterian toolmaking procedures made possible the
accumulation of physical comforts on which wealth and social status are based.
Homo sapiens neanderthalensis is the species name given to a homo specimens that
inhabited Europe and the Middle East. In 1856 Johann Karl Fuhlrott, a teacher
and amateur naturalist, first recognized the fossil called “Neanderthal man”,
discovered in Neanderthal a valley near Mettmann in what is now North
Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. Homo Neanderthalensis is a distinctive form of
archaic Homo sapiens, with a long, flat, braincase (capacity 1200–1750 ccm), a
retreating frontal, heavy brow ridge, and a projecting face with a large nose.
Contrary to early reconstructions, Neanderthals were fully upright, but had
stocky, muscular body build. Fossil evidence indicates Neanderthal characters
evolved slowly from the Homo Heidelbergensis about 500.000 years ago, but the
full set of features only occur after 100.000 years ago as a result of
adaptations to a cold climate.
There is a particular concentration of finds in W Europe, where Neanderthals
disappear ca. 33.000 years ago with the arrival of anatomically modern humans
(H. sapiens sapiens); in SW Asia the two subspecies coexisted for c.60 000 years
(100 000–40 000 years ago).
This material this artifact is made of is a kind of flint named platy
chert ( tabular chert, "crusted hornstone") material (geologic): Upper Jurassic
(Tithonian/Malm ?) chert.
The occurrence of the material under discussion here is limited to one of the
Upper Jurassic basins in the southern Franconian Alb The most important type of
chert is without a doubt the tabular to platy chert of the Baiersdorf-type.
This material occurs in tablets with a thickness of up to a few
centimetres, but most typically the plates used in prehistory are about 1 cm
thick. The colour varies between light gray, gray, olive gray, brown to reddish
brown, but brownish gray to grayish brown hues are most typical. Partly
covered with a thicker and smoother chalky cortex.
Knapping notes: The material knaps very nicely. The thicker tablets are a bit
coarser, giving quite straight fractures without pronounced bulbs of percussion.
Preparation is hardly necessary as the edges with cortex always give good ridges
for blades and elongated flakes to follow. The thinner tablets are a lot finer
and are easily worked too, but I find them too thin to used them as cores. They
are ideal for making bifaces and can be retouched very nicely by pressure
flaking, and that is why the material was very popular during the Late
The use of the typical tabular chert starts in the Middle Paleolithic, as a few
specimens in the nearby Sesselfelsgrotte show. In the Upper Paleolithic it
becomes a very popular material, with for example the whole Gravettian in the
Sesselfelsgrotte being characterized by the working of tabular Jurassic chert (Weißmuller
1995b). With the beginning of the Neolithic, the material becomes more and more
popular in the region, like in one of the few excavated settlements in the
region, Hienheim. On this well-published site, 10 to 20 % of the raw material in
the Linear Pottery Culture could be identified as tabular chert from the
Paintener Wanne. In the Middle Neolithic the share of this type of silex in the
lithic industry rises to over 50% (de Grooth 1994). Its highest popularity and
Widest distribution is nevertheless reached in the Late Neolithic, as the
manufacture of bifacial tools becomes more widespread.
Around the middle of the 4th millennium cal. BC the typical
knives and sickles made from thin plates can be found in the area sketched
above. Most material is found in association with the Michelsberg and Altheim
Cultures, with the specimens from the east coming from TRB (Funnel Beaker)
context as long distance imports. The distribution in later periods is somewhat
unclear, and seems a lot more restricted, but locally the material will probably
have been used well into the Bronze Age.