Blanc SHS 3 - Sciences humaines et sociales : Cultures, arts, civilisations

Emergence of Acheulian in north-western Europe: an interdisciplinary study – PremAcheuSept

Emergence of Acheulean in North-West Europe: chronology, environment, technologies

The main goal of this project was to establish a regional model in dating precisely the earliest evidence of Acheulean according to an interdisciplinary approach and in describing the technological behaviors on sites in France and Great-Britain and new excavations and fieldworks. Results contribute to the debate regarding the migration routes and the diffusion modalities of assemblages with bifaces in North-Western Europe (France and Great-Britain).

Modalities of onset of Acheulean in France and Great-Britain by an interdisciplinary research

The PremAcheuSept project focused on the modalities of emergence of Acheulean in Northern Europe in France (Loire and Somme basins including the Abbeville sector) and in Great-Britain (Paleo-Bytham and Solent Rivers). Some sites yield evidence of an early onset of this tradition beyond the 45e parallel. They attest to a fast diffusion of hominins being able to manufacture bifaces in Western Europe, whatever the explanation (new arrivals, change of skills, local origin).

The project implied several interdisciplinary teams (Department of Prehistory of the National Museum of Natural History, laboratoire de Géographie physique de Meudon, Universities of Lille and Bordeaux III, British Museum, Royal Holloway University, London). It also implied common actions of geologists, geophysicians, spécialist of geochronology developping new methodologies (OSL, ESR) on more than 40 sites , biochronologists in large mamamls and biomarkers, and prehistorians (including technologists, taphonomists, micro-wear specialists, specialists of morphometry).
Fieldworks also occured on key-sites such as Abbeville (Léon and Carpentier quarries), paleo-Bytham and Solent Rivers (Great-Britain), Cher Valley on alluvial formations dated to de 700-600 000 years in order to work on Cromerian sections (for instance Marnes Blanches) and sample, or on archaeological levels (site of la Noira with remains of workshops dated to 680 000 years).

The assemblages with large bifacial tools are diverse and well present in North-West Europe before the MIS 13 (450 000 years). The overview on the lithic assemblages obliges us talking about »Acheuleans » and allows us discussing on the variability over time (waves of arrivals in England in function of accessibility of the island, evolution in situ over time, role of the activities and types of sites). This new tradition exists as soon as 680 000 years and no proof of a relationships with the earliest occupations is attested in this geographical aera. It has to be defined in relation to what is observed at the Levant and in Africa.

Analyses have provided many new results on these Early Acheuleans in North-West Europe du Nord-Ouest and opened to unexpected questions.
The early onset of assemblages with bifaces en Europe indicate: 1) an early northern settlement without link with fire, 2) modalities of onset related to temperate climates and potential pathways, 3) routes of diffusion related to waves of hominin groupes from a southern ssink-source.
An international conference took place at the MNHN, Paris, end of 2014, «European Acheuleans« organised by M-H. Moncel and D. Schreve. Publications in special issues at Journal of Quaternary Science and Quaternary International.

-Despriée J., et aL., 2011. Lower and Middle Pleistocene human settlements recorded in fluvial deposits of the middle Loire River Basin, Centre Region, France, Quaternary Science Reviews, 30, 1474-1485.
-M-H.Moncel, et al., 2013, Early evidence of Acheulean settlement in north-western Europe - la Noira site, a 700 000 year-old occupation in the Center of France, Plos One. 8 (12), e82394.
-J.Despriée et al. 2012 - Le site acheuléen de « La Noira » à Brinay (Cher), in Turq A. et al., Musée National de Préhistoire, Les Eyzies, 141-144.
-Antoine, P. , et al.. - in press - Dating the earliest human occupation of Western Europe: new evidences from the fluvial terraces system of the Somme basin (Northern France), Quaternary International.
-M-H Moncel, N Ashton, et al., North-west Europe early Acheulian, Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, soumis

Quelques exemples d'articles en préparation:
- P Antoine, M-H Moncel, et al - Dating the Earliest human occupation of Western Europe: new evidence from the fluvial terraces system of the Somme basin (Northern France): Abbeville ”Carrière Carpentier”, Quaternary Sciences Reviews.
-M-H. Moncel et al., Technological behaviors at the lower and upper levels at la Noira (700-550 ka).
- Voinchet et al., Journal of Quaternary Sciences,nouvelles datations
-A. Hurel et al., Moulin Quignon, L’Anthropologie, Journal of Human Evolution.
-B. Hardy et al., Traceology and residus of the LCTs and flakes at la Noira, Journal of Human Evolution.
-R. Iovita et al., Morphometrical analysis of the LCTS of la Noira in relation to the technological features and the types of occupations, Journal of Human Evolution.
-M-H. Moncel, J. Despriée et al., Acheulean technological strategies at la Noira between the lower and upper units (680 and 550 ka): as shift or an evolution in situ, Journal of Human Evolution.
-M-H. Moncel et al., What about the Abbevillian, Journal of Human Evolution.

The PremAcheuSept project focuses on the first evidence of Acheulian in Northern Europe. While assemblages with handaxes are well attested in Asia at 800 ka, it was assumed that these assemblages appeared later in Europe, first around 600 ka in Southern Europe, then at 500 ka in Northern Europe. Recent discoveries in the Centre of France and in Great-Britain yield evidence of an earlier appearance of assemblages with handaxes, between 700 and 500 ka, in areas located beyond the 45th northern parallel. These discoveries attest a rapid diffusion of this technical tradition, either associated with the arrival of new human groups and/or new behaviours, or resulting from a local behavioural convergence. The aim of this project is to build a regional model by accurate dating of the ancient occurrences of Acheulian based on a multidisciplinary approach of French and English sites. This study will help to precise the chronological, biostratigraphical and behavioural framework of these populations through fieldworks and various types of analyses (dating based on the development of new methodologies, palaeontology, palynology, technology). The Acheulian human occupations will be considered within the Eurasian context providing further data to the issues on migration paths or on modes of appearance of this new technical behaviour in Europe.
Three main research team are associated in the project: department of Prehistory of the Natioanl Museum of Natural History, the "laboratoire de géographie physique de Meudon" and the Royal Holloway University of London (Great-Britain).

Project coordination


The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.



Help of the ANR 180,000 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: - 36 Months

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