UPPER PALAEOLITHIC BLADE TECHNOLOGIES
40,000 years ago
|Examples of Upper Palaeolithic tools. Top row, from left: Solutrean bifacial leaf point, another Solutrean point, two blades, prismatic blade core. Middle row: two end scrapers, backed point, backed knife. Bottom row: dihedral burin with two burin spalls, perforator.
Credit: Photo by Kathy Schick, courtesy of the Stone Age Institute. All rights reserved.
Beginning about 40,000 years ago, humans in various parts of the world began to systematically produce elongated flakes called blades from specially prepared cores, one of the hallmarks of the Upper Palaeolithic. These blades were made into end scrapers, backed knives, burins (engraving tools) and a range of point types. These blade tools probably represented interchangeable parts, to be hafted to wooden handles or spearshafts. Along with blades, the Upper Palaeolithic also includes beautiful bifacial points and a range of tools points and harpoons in bone, antler, and ivory such as spearpoints, harpoons, hooked spearthrowers (called atlatls), and shaft-straighteners. This is also the time period of the earliest representational art (see the next event). Especially elaborate burials with rich grave goods seen at some sites may be an indication of higher rank in some individuals in the society.
Blades can be produced by a number of techniques, including hard hammer percussion (using a stone hammer), soft hammer percussion (using a softer material like bone, wood, or antler as a hammer), indirect percussion or punch technique (placing a punch of bone or antler on a core and striking the punch with a hammer), and even pressure flaking (driving blades of by increased pressure from a bone or antler punch tool placed on the edge of a core.) Blades produce a tremendous amount of regular cutting edge relative to the mass of the stone used (most blades are made in finer-grained rocks), and blade technologies often have complex patterns of preparing cores and their striking platforms for the regular production of blades.
HOW DO WE KNOW?
We see the emergence of systematic Upper Palaeolithic blade technologies in the Near East, Europe, Africa, and East Asia at sites dating to between between 40,000 and 10,000 years ago. Although sporadic and less standardized blade production can be seen in the Middle Stone Age/Middle Palaeolithic, blades become more common and more widespread after 40,000 years ago. This was during the time of the last Ice Age, with conditions much colder and drier than today, and sea levels as low as 150 feet from the present level.
WHY SHOULD I CARE?
These Upper Palaeolithic people, the principle ancestors of all modern humans, ultimately replaced the Neandertals in Europe and the Near East, presumably with better technologies and more efficient foraging patterns. These technological and adaptive advances may have given these modern humans an evolutionary edge over the Neandertals, giving them greater reproductive success and a higher survivorship rate.
This article is about Neaderthals and early homo sapiens and how they used blade tools.
This is a YouTube video showcasing some beautifully hand crafted stone blades and arrowheads.
This webpage was used as a web resource in Event 51, but there is a section on Upper Paleolithic blades that is worth another look at this webpage.