Notched and denticulated tools

Various forms of notched and denticulated tools are generally seen as some of the least impressive products of Middle Palaeolithic technology, both visually and in terms of the knapping skills and technology involved in their production (Fig. 4.18). As Bordes has pointed out (1961a: 35,1963: 43), these pieces were not generally recognized as deliberate retouched tool forms until well into the present century and were often either ignored or collected in a highly selective way in the earlier excavations. The fact that these forms can represent the most dominant element in certain Mousterian industries was first

Figure 4.18 Examples of notched and denticulated tools from French Middle Palaeolithic sites. Nos 12-14 ivould be classified by Bordes as 'Clactonian notches' and nos 9-10 as 'Tayac points'. After Bordes 1961a; Girard et al. 1975; Callow 1986a.

clearly recognized in the excavations of Bour-rinet and Darpeix at the Sandougne rock-shelter in 1928 (Darpeix 1936). Over the past 40 years, principally owing to the publications of Fran├žois Bordes, the notion of highly specialized Denticulate variants of the Mousterian has emerged as one of the most enigmatic and challenging aspects of industrial variability in the Middle Palaeolithic (see especially Bordes 1963,1984, and Chapter 10).

As defined in the Bordes typology (1961a) two major forms are involved: simple notch forms characterized by a single major indentation worked on the edge of a flake, and denticulated forms characterized by a series of two or more closely juxtaposed notches located along the same edge. In practice this leaves scope for a wide range of variation in both overall forms and techniques of manufacture. In particular, Bordes and other workers have pointed out that the individual notches on both simple notched forms and more complex denticulated forms can be produced by either a single major blow (generally referred to as 'Clactonian notches') or by a succession of lighter, repeated blows at the same point ('irregular notches'). Similarly, the numbers of individual notches on the edges of denticulated forms can vary from as few as two or three to as many as ten or twelve. Further distinctions can be made according to the position of the notched/ denticulated edges in their relation to the long axis of the flake or to the presence of two or more separately denticulated edges on the same tool (see for example Jaubert 1984, 1990). Certain more complex forms in which two denticulated edges converge towards a thick point were classified separately by Bordes as 'Tayac points' (Fig. 4.18) (Bordes 1961a).

The functional interpretation of notched and denticulated forms has caused much speculation. Bordes was apparently inclined to regard most of these tools as planes or spokeshaves for working wood, but admitted the possibility of other interpretations

(Bordes 1963: 47). Binford initially interpreted denticulates as playing a poorly specified role in the processing of plant materials (Bin-ford & Binford 1966: 256, 259, 1969: 79) but later suggested that at least some tools might have functioned as knives for hacking or slicing strips of meat to assist in drying or preservation processes. Dibble and Rolland are less specific but suggest that both notches and denticulates may have been more appropriate for processing plant or woody materials than for use in butchery or animal processing activities (Dibble & Rolland 1992; Rolland 1981: 26-31,1990: 371-3).

Recent applications of micro-wear analyses have gone some way towards resolving these issues but still allow different functions for individual tools. The most positive results have come from studies of simple 'Clactonian notch' forms. From material from five different Middle Palaeolithic sites, Beyries (1987, 1988a) has claimed that almost all these tools were used essentially as planes or scrapers for shaping wooden stakes or shafts. More complex denticulated forms in the same industries appear to have been used predominantly for similar wood-working activities, although a few pieces showed evidence for use on either skins or meat. Similar results have emerged from the studies of Anderson-Gerfaud (1981, 1990) on several assemblages belonging to the MTA variant in southwestern France. In these assemblages she found that all except one of the denticulates had been used for either scraping, cutting or planing wood. The one exception, a concave-edged denticulate from the later MTA levels at Pech de 1'Aze IV, appeared to have been used in the processing of 'soft plant material'.

The specific functions of notched and denticulated tools, therefore, still remain problematic although the processing of plant, (especially wood), as opposed to animal materials seems to be indicated by the current use-wear data. At the same time the working of wood and plant materials is more likely to produce detectable use-wear traces than softer meat or animal tissue as Ander-son-Gerfaud (1990), Jelinek (1988b: 221), Bey-ries (1990) and others have pointed out. One issue not yet resolved by micro-wear or systematic morphological studies is how far simple notches and more complex denticulate forms can be separated into distinct tool categories. Not surprisingly Dibble and Roll-and (1992) have suggested that most forms of denticulates are repeatedly re-used and re-sharpened notch forms. Whilst this may be plausible for some of the simpler denticulated forms it is more difficult to accept for some of the more elaborate forms characterized by multiple regular and evenly spaced denticulations aligned along a single edge (see Fig. 4.18). What is not in doubt is that both notched and denticulated forms were deliberate tools which evidently played a major economic role in certain Middle Palaeolithic assemblages. As discussed in Chapter 10, the dichotomy between these heavily denticulate-dominated industries and those dominated by various side-scraper or pointed forms presents the greatest challenge of industrial variability in the Middle Palaeolithic.

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment