01-2022, tome 119, 1, p. 7-35 - Justin Guibert - L'outillage sur galet au Paléolithique ancien en Europe de l'Ouest : étude technicofonctionnelle de l'UA G de la Caune de l'Arago (Tautavel, France)

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01-2022, tome 119, 1, p. 7-35 - Justin Guibert - L'outillage sur galet au Paléolithique ancien en Europe de l'Ouest : étude technicofonctionnelle de l'UA G de la Caune de l'Arago (Tautavel, France)

L'outillage sur galet au Paléolithique ancien en Europe de l'Ouest

Étude technicofonctionnelle de l'UA G de la Caune de l'Arago (Tautavel, France)


Justin Guibert


Résumé : L'étude de la production et de l'utilisation de l'outillage sur galet contribue à une meilleure compréhension de la diversité des systèmes techniques du Paléolithique ancien européen. Le site acheuléen mondialement connu de la Caune de l'Arago (Tautavel, France) a livré une importante quantité de pièces classées comme « galets aménagés » en comparaison avec des assemblages similaires de cette période. L'unité archéostratigraphique G (UA G) datée du SIM 12 et communément appelée « sol G » a livré à elle seule, bon nombre des « galets aménagés » de ce site. Ce terme de « galet aménagé » englobe et masque une diversité technique, puisqu'il recouvre autant des matrices fonctionnelles (outils) que des matrices productionnelles (nucléus). En partant de ce constat, l'objectif de cette étude est de mener une analyse technicofonctionnelle de ces objets afin d'illustrer la variabilité technique, morphologique et fonctionnelle de ces pièces. L'analyse de 402 galets aménagés permet de constituer différents technotypes d'outils par niveaux d'occupations (Gs1, Gm2, Gm3 et Gi4) au sein de l'UA G. Dès lors, ces résultats questionnent la place de ces outils sur galet au sein de l'outillage de la Caune de l'Arago, mais aussi des technocomplexes du Paléolithique ancien en Europe de l'Ouest. Enfin, ce phénomène technique permet également de discuter de l'essence et de ce que l'on attribue bien souvent à l'Acheuléen.


Mots-clés : Galet aménagé, Pléistocène moyen, Acheuléen, analyse technicofonctionnelle, système technique.


Abstract:  The world-renowned Paleolithic site of Caune de l'Arago Cave (Tautavel, France) has yielded large quantities of archaeological and paleontological material in over more than 50 years of excavations that were first undertaken by Professor Henry de Lumley and his team. The sedimentary accumulation, some 15 meters thick (Perrenoud et al., 2016), covers the entire Middle Pleistocene, between 690,000 years BP and 95,000 years BP (de Lumley et al., 1984, 2015; Falguères et al., 2004, 2015). 

This unique stratigraphic sequence provides information not only on the paleoclimatic and paleoenvironmental history of the Tautavel-Vingrau valley but also about the prehistoric populations of the European Lower Paleolithic through its 55 occupation levels. The sedimentary fill is divided into four phases (lower, middle, upper and summit) and excavations are focused on the middle phase which constitutes most of the sequence (9 meters thick). This phase is divided into three sub-phases correlated from bottom to top to marine isotopic stages 15 to 12.

Archaeostratigraphic Unit G (AU G), dated by radiometric methods to about 438 ± 31 kyr (Falguères et al., 2015) and connected to MIS 12, is the spatio-temporal framework of our study. The research aim is to understand the place and technicofunctional variability of lithic industries classified as "galets aménagés" from the archaeological levels of AU G (Gs1, Gm2, Gm3 and Gi4). This macro-tools made from pebbles had been the subject of typo-analytical (Laplace, 1968) and morpho-statistical (de Lumley, 1978; Geleijnse, 1981; Kalli, 1984; Lebel, 1984; Millogo-Kallo, 1984; Gezgin, 1986; Beyene, 1991; Voinchet-Zulli, 1991) studies which concluded that there was little standardisation of the tools and a great variability of chopper "types".

This review is in line with the historical continuity of these works, but since an epistemological and methodological revision, we have apprehended these prehistoric objects using a standardised protocol. This new study has led us to question the originality of these "galets aménagés" while discussing what is hidden behind this appellation.

Firstly, we characterised the raw materials used by the prehistoric knappers by petrographic and morphometric analyses, which indicate that massive ovoid limestone pebbles (> 1000 g) and "light" quadrangular milky quartz pebbles (<500 g) were preferred. This dichotomy is probably due to economic and technical choices as the volumetric criterion is the presence of peripheral convexities adjacent to the natural flat surfaces (cortical). In addition, we evaluated the taphonomic aspect of the objects by qualifying their surface condition in order ascertain the importance of this factor on our technological reading.

We subsequently carried out a techno-typological seriation with the aim of discriminating the potentially functional pieces, i.e. those with a well-identified active cutting part. Four types were proposed as follows:

1/ Pieces discriminated as "core" (N=100; 24.9%) corresponding to artefacts with a production vocation, some of which may have a functional potential.

2/ Other elements were classified as "pebbles" (N=62; 15.4%), which are equivalent to pieces that do not have any production use or functional potential, the majority of which may be fractured/diaclassed pebbles that are very close to geofact/gelifact.

3/ A few pieces have been classified as "manuports" (N=5; 1.2%), because these pebbles have significant percussion marks located on the proximal and distal parts.

4/ Finally, the industries referred to as "shaped objects" (N=235; 58.5%) make up the majority of this lithic series and present a functional potential.

Secondly, the shaped pebbles (N=235) were analysed according to relevant technico-functional criteria.

The methodological protocol we adopted comes from scientific research initiated by É.  Boëda in the early 1990s and formalised by M. Lepot in 1993 using the term "théorie artisanale de l'outil" (Boëda, 1992; Lepot, 1993). This systemic approach to the prehistoric tool breaks it down into at least three sub-systems or Techno-Functional Units (TFU). A Receptive Contact of energy (RC); a Prehensive Contact of the tool (PC); a Transformative Contact with the material to be transformed (TC).

In line with this approach, our observations focused on the position of the cutting edges on the supports and the associations of the different TFUs, particularly with regards to the Prehensive Contact (PC) / Transformative Contact (TC) or cutting part.

The 235 pebbles resulting from a shaping operation and presenting a functional potential were also the subject of a technical biography following the creation of diacritical diagrams (Dauvois, 1976).

Following the application of the technicofunctional criteria, the results are as follows:

1/ The archaeological level Gs1 showed a technical and structural variability of six pebble tool technotypes illustrated by diversified TFU pairs (table 2).

2/ The Gm2 level presents a diverse six technotypes of tool, some of which are similar to Gs1 and the so-called "light" matrices (< 500 g) dominate these two units.

3/ Within the Gm3 level, we have also constituted five technotypes of pebble tool, which illustrate a strong technical, morphological and structural variability. Nevertheless, this unit has matrices with a consequent volumetric excess compared to the industries of the previous levels. The technotypes with massive pebbles (> 1000 g) are more frequent and probably indicate singular functional activities.

4/ Finally, the lower level of AU G offers many similarities with Gm3 both in terms of the morphometric and volumetric criteria of the matrices, as well as in terms of the variety of similar technotypes.

In view of the results obtained for the "galets aménagés" of AU G of Caune de l'Arago Cave, this technicofunctional rereading (TMS) has made it possible to go beyond the simple hylemorphic scheme of previous studies and to reveal the technical, morphological, structural and functional variability of these pebble tool matrices. These variabilities express the sociological, technical and symbolic behaviour of the Lower Palaeolithic populations associated with what is known as the "Acheulean technocomplexe".


Keywords: Pebble tools, Middle Pleistocene, Acheulean, technicofunctional analysis, technical system.