This flake was struck from a flint bifacial core—probably a handaxe—from Ballastière de Couze in southern France. This tool likely dates to the Mousterian (Middle Palaeolithic) period, ca. 50,000-70,000 BP.
The Couze river is a small tributary of the Dordogne in the Perigord region of southern France. The Couze valley was continuously occupied through the Paleolithic. Lower and Middle Palaeolithic sites are open-air or in slope deposits, and Upper Palaeolithic occupation is found in rockshelters and caves. The famous Middle Palaeolithic site of Combe-Capelle is in the Couze valley, as is the rockshelter site of La Gravette. The rich assemblages in the Couze valley were central to the definition of the Middle and Upper Palaeolithic stone artefact assemblages in Europe.
The antiquarian label on this artefact indicates that it was recovered from Ballastière de Couze on 13 August, 1938. A ballastière is a quarry to provide gravel for road ballast and construction. A notice in the Bulletin de la Société Préhistorique Française (23 June 1938) announced that the famous archaeologists Denis Peyrony and Fernand Lacorre were to lead and excursion to Ballastiere de la Couze and the rockshelter site La Gravette at the close of the 62nd Congress of the French Association for Advancement of the Sciences, in September 1938. The timing suggests that the artefact was collected by these archaeologists, who were actively pursuing research at Ballastière de Couze during these months.
The artefact is a flake struck by hard-hammer percussion from the margin of a bifacial tool, initiated by a blow delivered well-in from the edge. The flake propagated laterally and lopped off the end of the bifacial core in a tranchet-like blow. The age of the artefact is not known, although the context of the find in a gravel quarry, and the ‘porcelain patina’—typical of artefacts from the Mousterian of Acheulean tradition in the Couze valley—may indicate that the flake was struck from a Mousterian handaxe.
See the annotations for technological details about this stone tool.
The Acheulean period ended by about 300,000 BP in Europe, replaced by technologies focussed on prepared cores and made by Neanderthals and modern humans like us, but bifacial handaxes remained a persistent element of later European toolkits. Notable among these are the well-made bifacial handaxes of the ‘Mousterian of Acheulean Tradition’, dating to ca. 50,000-70,000 BP and associated with the Neanderthal occupation of Europe. These handaxes are relatively small, well-made, and are triangular, sub-triangular, or cordate (almond- or heart-shaped).