This quartzite Nubian Levallois core is from Egypt. The Levallois method refers to a specific way the core was flaked to create a Levallois flake, which was then used as a tool. The method was practiced from ca. 30,000-300,000 BP, and its technical sophistication implies a significant advancement in hominin cognitive capabilities from the preceding Acheulean hominin stoneworkers. This core reflects the ‘Nubian’ approach to making a Levallois flake.
This Nubian Levallois core, made from quartzite, clearly shows the prominent arris at the distal end, created by burin-like blows down either site. The triangular Levallois flake was struck down this prominent arris. After this, the reverse side of the core was flaked again, using the scars from the burin-like blows as the platform surfaces. Flaking was also done at the opposite end of the core, towards the same face as the triangular flake scar. The purpose of this additional flaking is unknown, but it may have been to begin readjusting the core volumes for additional Levallois flake removals which never eventuated.
Nubian Levallois cores are characteristic of the ‘Nubian Complex’, a technocomplex best represented in the Middle Stone Age of the Nile Valley and neighbouring regions, ca. 50,000-240,000 BP. Nubian or Nubian-like Levallois cores have been discovered across much of Africa, the Levant, Arabia, and India, prompting some archaeologists to correlate the technology with the early migration of Homo sapiens out of Africa. Other archaeologists argue that Nubian Levallois cores are variants of a generalised Levallois approach that was independently invented in various regions and perhaps by different species within genus Homo. These archaeologists question whether the Nubian Complex can be correlated with hominin species, or even whether it meets the criteria of a discrete technological entity.
The Levallois reduction method emerged by about 300,000 BP from the preceding Acheulean, handaxe-focused technologies. The shift was significant in human evolution, as it marks the emergence of advanced levels of strategic planning in stone-flaking, which in turn implies cognitive capabilities that required enhanced working memory. These are hallmarks of high-level cognition like that seen in Homo sapiens, although the Levallois method was also applied by Homo neanderthalensis and other Homo species that lived during this period. In the Levallois method, the core is flaked by hard-hammer percussion to deliberately produce a flake of a specific shape; the flake shape is ‘predetermined’ by the way the core is set up. Levallois cores are bifacial—flaked on two faces—with one face carefully domed to create the high mass that will be removed in striking off the Levallois flake. The opposite face is flaked non-invasively to create platforms for striking off the ‘doming’ flakes from the core face. In this sense, there is a ‘hierarchical’ conception of the core, where one face is only used to prepare platforms, and the opposite face is only used to create the desired Levallois flakes. In technical parlance, this doming process involved manipulating the ‘convexity’ (the degree of doming) of the core face; lateral convexities are created by flaking along the sides of the core, and distal convexity is created by flaking the end of the core. Once the domed core face is set up, a platform is carefully prepared at the end of the dome, and the dome is struck off as the Levallois flake. The core may then be reworked, and another Levallois flake struck off, and so on. A variety of Levallois approaches have been defined by archaeologists.
Two types of Nubian Levallois cores have been identified by archaeologists. For Type 1 cores, the distal convexity was created by removing two burn-like flakes down the two edges of the core at the distal end. This creates a prominent ridge on the face of the core, which subsequently guides the distal termination of the Levallois flake struck from it. The high mass defined in this way is roughly triangular in shape, and so is the core. The flake struck from the high mass is also triangular in shape. Preparing the core in this way may have resulted in a flatter flake with a thicker distal end, increasing the robustness of the tool. For Type 2 cores, the distal convexity was created by a mixture of the two burin-like flakes, seen in Type 1, with flakes struck from the lateral core edges. These cores are also roughly triangular in shape, and so too are the flakes struck from them. Radially- (or centripetally-) prepared Levallois cores are also found alongside Nubian Levallois cores; these tend to be more oval or round in shape, and they lack the two burin-like flake removals: the distal convexity was created entirely by removals from around the core edges. One study demonstrated that these three types are all part of one reduction scheme that varied as flintknappers tactically moved back and forth between the various alternatives to remove the desired Levallois flake. It also suggests that a triangular flake shape was not a necessary part of the reduction method—other flake shapes were equally useful.