Variations in sidescraper forms

Even if we accept that most side-scraper forms were produced from the outset as retouched tools, this still leaves much variation to be explained within the overall side-scraper range - i.e. the contrast between lateral and transverse types, single versus double-edged forms, variations in the shapes and treatment of the retouched edges (Figs 4.1, 4.2). What significance can be attached to this variation, either in terms of deliberate design norms in the initial production of the tools or in terms of subsequent use and resharpening?

Debates on the significance of varying frequencies of transverse versus lateral racloir forms in different Middle Palaeolithic industries provide a classic illustration of the kind of issues generated not only by studies of side-scraper forms but by studies of Middle Palaeolithic tool morphology in general. The distinction between these two forms rests strictly on the location of the retouched edge in relation to the main flaking axis of the tools - i.e. essentially parallel to the flaking axis in the case of lateral racloirs and at right angles to this axis in the case of transverse forms (Bordes 1961a). As Bordes (1961b, 1968a,

1984) and others have pointed out, the relative frequencies of these two forms show some striking variations between different industrial variants of the Mousterian. In particular, very high frequencies of transverse racloirs seem to be especially characteristic of th^ classic Quina-type industries in western Europe (Fig. 6.12), and of the Yabrudian industries in the Middle East (Bordes 1955b, 1984). In most other industries typically transverse forms are relatively rare and normally account for only about 5-10 percent of racloir forms in general.

Most workers in the past (including Bordes) have assumed that the production of transverse as opposed to lateral racloirs represented a deliberate decision on the part of the flint workers controlled largely by the forms of the original flake blanks selected. Where available flakes were relatively long in relation to their breadth (as for example in many Levallois industries) the longest working edges on the tool could usually be obtained along the main, longitudinal flaking axis of the original flake (Bordes 1961b: 806, 1968a: 101, 1977: 38, 1981: 78-9, 1984: 164; Bordes & de Sonneville-Bordes 1970: 61; Turq 1989b; Mellars 1967, 1992a). By contrast, where the original flake blanks were relatively broad in relation to their length (for example in most of the Quina-type flaking strategies discussed in the preceding chapter) then it was more often possible to obtain the maximum length of working edge by retouching the flakes on the transverse margin, directly opposite the striking platform. The distinction between lateral and transverse racloirs represented a simple technological decision dictated by the form of flakes immediately available for tool manufacture (see Fig. 4.7).

A sharply conflicting interpretation of the transverse/lateral racloir distinction has been put forward by Dibble in the context of his general tool-reduction models in the Mousterian (Dibble 1984a,b, 1987a,b,c; Dibble & Rolland 1992 etc.). His hypothesis is that

Figure 4.7 Relationship between the relative frequencies of transverse versus lateral racloirs, and the variable utilization of Levallois flaking techniques (as reflected in the Levallois Index) recorded in Ferrassie and Quina Mousterian industries in southwestern France. The data suggest strongly that the production of transverse as opposed to lateral racloir forms was dictated mainly by the shapes of the original flake blanks produced by the different flaking strategies. From Mellars 1992a: Fig. 2.2, with additions.

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Levallois index

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Levallois index

Figure 4.7 Relationship between the relative frequencies of transverse versus lateral racloirs, and the variable utilization of Levallois flaking techniques (as reflected in the Levallois Index) recorded in Ferrassie and Quina Mousterian industries in southwestern France. The data suggest strongly that the production of transverse as opposed to lateral racloir forms was dictated mainly by the shapes of the original flake blanks produced by the different flaking strategies. From Mellars 1992a: Fig. 2.2, with additions.

most, if not all, transverse racloirs started life initially as more elongated lateral racloir forms (either with or without deliberate retouching of the utilized edges) and were only transformed gradually into typical transverse forms as a result of repeated resharpening of the worked edges as they became progressively damaged or blunted by use. According to this model, the orientation of the worked edges shifted progressively from a lateral to a transverse orientation during successive phases of reworking and reduction. Dibble's own representation of this transformation is illustrated in Fig. 4.8.

In support of this hypothesis Dibble advances a number of observations on the metrical features and retouch characteristics of lateral and transverse racloir forms drawn from sites in both southwestern France (La Quina, Combe Grenal, Pech de 1' Aze) and the Middle East (Bisitun) (Dibble 1987a,b,c). He argues that transverse racloirs tend to show larger striking platforms than those on most lateral racloirs together with higher ratios of flake-

thickness to total tool-area and generally heavier retouch along the worked edges (Fig. 4.9) (Dibble 1987a: Fig. 1, Table 1). He argues that these features are consistent with the idea that transverse racloirs were initially much larger in their original form than in their final, discarded, form and appear to show direct evidence for this heavy reduction of the tools in the invasive character of the retouch along the worked edges.

As in the more general racloir-reduction arguments discussed above there may well be an element of truth in Dibble's arguments. There is no doubt that many typical specimens of transverse racloirs do show evidence of apparently heavy and perhaps repeated resharpening of the worked edges (e.g. Lenoir 1986; Meignen 1988) and it may well be that in progressive resharpening some racloirs were occasionally transformed from lateral to transverse forms. The question, again, is the scale on which this technological transition occurred. Does this transformation account for almost all documented trans-

Figure 4.8 Dibble's hypothetical reconstruction of the transformation from lateral to transverse racloir forms, in the course of successive episodes of resharpening the edges of the tools. Note how the overall length of the tool reduces progressively in the course of this transformation. From Dibble 1987a.

verse racloir forms, as Dibble apparently verse racloir forms in most Middle Palaeo-

implies, or was it a relatively rare and atypi- lithic assemblages? The relevant issues are as cal occurrence which accounts for only a follows: small percentage of the documented trans-

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