Vient de paraître (avril 2023)

Dachy T., Guéret C., Green W., Perrin T. (2023) ‒ Rethinking the Capsian: Lithic Variability Among Holocene Maghreb Hunter-Gatherers, African Archaeological Review.

Nota bene : cet article vient clore la publication des travaux réalisés dans le cadre du programme IDEX MeNeMOIA dirigé par Thomas Perrin en 2016 et 2017, préalablement à la mise en place de l’IRN DECAPAN lui-même / this article concludes the publication of the work carried out within the IDEX MeNeMOIA programme led by Thomas Perrin in 2016 and 2017, prior to the setting up of the DECAPAN IRN itself.


The Capsian, comprising the Typical Capsian and Upper Capsian facies, is a prominent North African prehistoric entity dating to the Early Holocene. Hundreds of rammadiyat (snail-shell mound) sites in eastern Algeria and Tunisia were occupied by Capsian hunter-gatherer communities. A significant technological change occurred at these sites during the mid-seventh millennium BCE. Pressure knapping, for producing a blade and trapeze lithic industry, emerged. This technique developed during the Mesolithic throughout the Mediterranean region. Understanding the earlier typological and technological variabilities and the exact timing of the emergence of pressure knapping is crucial in determining the local or foreign origin of this innovation in North Africa. Recent examination of legacy collections excavated in the Oum el Bouaghi area of Algeria during the interwar period fosters new perspectives on Capsian lithic industry variability. Our analyses document a complex lithic landscape for the Early Holocene, including a proposed “Central Early Capsian” facies for the early phases, as well as the persistence of strong regional variabilities in Upper Capsian lithic industries.


Le Capsien, qui englobe les faciès du « Capsien Typique » et du « Capsien Supérieur », représente l’une des principales entités préhistoriques africaines du début de l’Holocène. Des centaines de rammadiyat (amas de cendres et de coquilles d’escargots) situées en Algérie orientale et en Tunisie étaient occupés par des communautés de chasseur-cueilleurs capsiens. Au milieu du 7e millénaire avant notre ère, la culture matérielle associée à ces occupations connaît une mutation drastique avec l’apparition de la technique du débitage par pression utilisée pour produire une industrie lithique à lames et trapèzes. Cette technique se développe durant le Mésolithique dans toute la région Méditerranéenne. La connaissance de la variabilité typo-technologique antérieure ainsi que la détermination du moment exact de l’émergence du débitage par pression constituent des éléments cruciaux dans la quête de l’origine (locale ou importée) de cette innovation. Le réexamen récent d’anciennes collections récoltées dans la région d’Oum el Bouaghi (Algérie) durant l’entre-deux guerre ouvre de nouvelles perspectives sur la variabilité de l’industrie lithique capsienne. Nos analyses documentent un paysage lithique complexe au début de l’Holocène avec d’une part la mise en évidence d’un faciès ancien que nous proposons d’appeler « Capsien ancien central » et d’autre part le constat d’une persistance de fortes variabilités régionale dans les industries lithiques du Capsien supérieur.

Actes de la table ronde de La Laguna “Circulations durant l’Holocène autour du Maghreb (Tenerife, 17-21 février 2020)”

Les actes de la table ronde de La Laguna “Circulations durant l’Holocène autour du Maghreb (Tenerife, 17-21 février 2020)” sont parus en mai 2022 (en libre accès) dans la revue Tabona.


Potential interactions between Mesolithic hunter-gatherers and Neolithic farmers in the Western Mediterranean: The geochronological data revisited

par Thomas Perrin et Claire Manen, Plos One (March 3, 2021)

In the Western Mediterranean, the Neolithic mainly developed and expanded during the sixth millennium BCE. In these early phases, it generally spread through the displacement of human groups, sometimes over long distances, as shown, for example, by the Impressa sites documented on the northern shores. These groups then settled new territories which they gradually appropriated and exploited. The question of their potential interaction with groups of Late Mesolithic hunter-gatherers living in the area prior to their arrival is therefore crucial. Were their encounters based on conflict and resistance or, on the contrary, on exchange and reciprocity? Many hypotheses have been put forward on this matter and many papers written. Before we can consider these potential interactions however, we must first ascertain that these different human groups really did meet—an implicit assumption in all these studies, which is, in reality, much less certain than one might think. The population density of the Late Mesolithic groups varied greatly throughout the Mediterranean, and it is possible that some areas were relatively devoid of human presence. Before any Neolithization scenarios can be considered, we must therefore first determine exactly which human groups were present in a given territory at a given time. The precise mapping of sites and the chronological modeling of their occupation enriches our understanding of the Neolithization process by allowing high-resolution regional models to be developed, which alone can determine the timing of potential interactions between Mesolithic and Neolithic groups. Various international research programs have recently produced several hundred new radiocarbon dates, based on selected samples from controlled contexts. The geochronological modelling of these data at the scale of the Western Mediterranean shows contrasting situations, probably related to different social and environmental processes. These results suggest that we should consider a varied range of Neolithization mechanisms, rather than uniform or even binary models.

Lithic industries and plant processing in the Epipalaeolithic Maghreb: Evidence from use-wear analyses

GASSIN B., GUÉRET C., DACHY T., GIBAJA J.F., LUBELL D., PERRIN T. (2020) ‒ Lithic industries and plant processing in the Epipalaeolithic Maghreb: Evidence from use-wear analyses, Quaternary International,

Abstract: The Holocene hunter-gatherers of the Maghreb are characterized by extensive use of wild plant resources; for food and for making containers, weapons and tools, ropes and fabrics. Some of the harvesting and processing operations of these materials can be performed with stone tools that leave traces on the tools. It is therefore possible to get information about the nature of the harvested and processed plants, the technical operations carried out with the tools and the design of the tools themselves. This information has a technological, economic and cultural scope, and is essential for thinking about the links between environmental changes and lithic industry variability. We present here the first data from technological and use-wear studies carried out on collections from Epipalaeolithic sites in Algeria and Tunisia, focusing on unretouched blades and bladelets from the Columnatian, blades and backed blades from the Typical Capsian, and notched blades and bladelets from the Upper Capsian.

Pressure knapping and the timing of innovation: new chrono-cultural data on prehistoric groups of the early Holocene in the Maghreb, northwest Africa

ABSTRACT. The early Holocene in North Africa remains a poorly known period, documented unequally by region. Eastern Algeria and Tunisia have the greatest number of deposits, but most were excavated decades ago without the controls and recording required for modern interpretation. The chronological framework is based on radiocarbon (14C) dates that are also old, for the most part. Recent work on Mesolithic lithic industries of Western Europe has enabled us to revive the hypothesis of the existence of contacts between the northern and southern shores of the western Mediterranean at least by the 6th millennium cal BC. A collective research program was conducted in 2016–2017 to test this hypothesis with a particular focus on documenting the technological traditions in the lithic industry and situating them precisely in time. We have 46 new radiocarbon dates that were recently carried out on previously excavated Algerian sites, some of which contain several levels, allowing the construction of Bayesian models. These new measures reinforce the hypothesis of contacts between Europe and Africa by demonstrating the contemporaneity of similar technological processes. Above all, they make it possible to accurately refine the chronology of the main cultural entities of the Maghreb at the beginning of the Holocene.

Saint-Trivier/Chabet el Houidga (Mascara, Algérie) : nouvel éclairage sur un faciès méconnu du début de l’Holocène

DACHY Tiphaine, GUÉRET Colas, CAMPMAS Émilie, SIMONNET Robert, BON François, PERRIN Thomas (2018) ‒ Saint-Trivier/Chabet el Houidga (Mascara, Algérie) : nouvel éclairage sur un faciès méconnu du début de l’Holocène : le Columnatien, Bulletin de la Société préhistorique française, 115, 2, p. 215‑251.

Résumé : C’est à la fin des années 1950, durant la guerre d’indépendance algérienne, que Georges Simonnet entreprit plusieurs sondages, sous forme de tranchées, sur le gisement de Saint-Trivier, à Mascara (Algérie). Le site se présente sous la forme d’une accumulation de vestiges d’occupations préhistoriques plus ou moins cendreux et de niveaux coquillers, en bordure d’un ravin abrupt l’ayant partiellement entaillé. Les sondages réalisés ont livré de nombreux vestiges de silex taillés, d’ossements animaux et de gastéropodes, ainsi que plusieurs aménagements, fosses et foyers. Issues d’une zone géographique à l’écart de l’essentiel des gisements algériens connus pour le début de l’Holocène, ces données s’avèrent particulièrement précieuses. La restitution du déroulé des opérations de terrain, des choix méthodologiques et l’examen des documents photographiques permettent de replacer les vestiges archéologiques au sein d’une stratigraphie de plus d’un mètre, scandée de plusieurs occupations distinctes. Adossée à plusieurs datations radiocarbone, l’analyse de l’évolution des industries lithiques et osseuses suggère que l’occupation principale se rapporte à un faciès particulier de l’Épipaléolithique méditerranéen d’Afrique du Nord : le Columnatien. Individualisé dans les années 1970, celui-ci n’était pour l’heure documenté que par deux gisements : Columnata et le site du Cubitus. Ces nouvelles données permettent d’apporter un éclairage inédit sur ce faciès particulier, daté du 8e millénaire avant notre ère, en Algérie occidentale.

Mots-clés : Columnatien, Ibéromaurusien, Épipaléolithique méditerranéen, Élassolithique, Algérie, industrie lithique, tracéologie, malacologie, datations radiocarbone, modélisation bayésienne, stratigraphie.

Abstract: At the end of the 1950s, during the Algerian War of Independence, Georges Simonnet, a french military officer and archaeologist, excavated several test pits at the site of Saint-Trivier, at Mascara (Algeria). The site was discovered accidentally during the development of a military camp. It consists of an accumulation of remains of more or less ashy prehistoric occupations and shell levels, located at the edge of a steep ravine that partially carves into it. Three main trenches were dug out by G. Simonnet, resulting in the discovery of abundant knapped flints, vertebrate remains and mollusc shells, as well as several pits and hearths.

This site is located in a geographic zone away from most of the early Holocene Algerian sites, and therefore the data are particularly valuable. After the war, the excavator returned to France with his collection, and the latter was left in the family cellar for several decades, before being temporarily handed over to the TRACES laboratory of Toulouse. A first examination of a sample of these remains was carried out as part of the collective programme funded by the IDEX Toulouse project ?€?MeNeMOIA – Du Mésolithique au Néolithique en Méditerranée occidentale : l’impact africain – From the Mesolithic to the Neolithic in the Western Mediterranean: the African impact?€?.

In an initial phase, the examination of the photographs, the slides, the test-pits plans, the two section drawings and rare written notes enabled us to roughly reproduce the field operations. Rigorous methods were applied to the excavations and the sediment was finely sieved. The archaeological remains, mainly made up of flint, bone and shells, were practically all stored in small boxes indicating the excavation units they came from. Based on these data, we could propose a spatial distribution of the diverse categories of remains for each excavation unit. In this way, two, and in some places three large levels of accumulations were identified in a stratigraphy with a thickness of about one metre. They are demarcated by what the excavator referred to as ?€?paving?€?; sub-horizontal piles of (seemingly unburnt) rough blocks. The identification of several clearly different levels, as regards the sediments and the density of the remains, points to the presence of several successive occupations under a superficial reworked level (layer 1).

The examination of the remains confirms this impression. The knapped lithic industry was studied over a test area of one square metre. It was mainly made on small flint pebbles, and shows a clear evolution in the operative debitage schemes and the typological range of tools. In this way, we can distinguish the first occupations at the very base of layer 6, characterized by a debitage oriented towards the production of arched backed bladelets with truncated bases. Above this, a second occupation phase (upper part of layer 6) is rich in trapezes or isosceles triangles, as well as in sharp bladelets with straight retouched backs and retouched bases, which are also present at the base of layer 5. However, this latter layer differs in that it contains a higher number of backed bladelet fragments and microburins. The following levels, from layer 5 to the lower half of the paving of layer 3, make up a coherent complex. They contain more or less elongated scalene triangles, sharp bladelets with rectilinear backs and rounded bases and blades with partially backed edges. Microburins, backed bladelet fragments and bladelets with arched retouched backs are still numerous. Above this complex (the upper half of the paving of layer 3 and layer 2), the levels are very different and are characterized in particular by bladelets with arched tips. Segments of circles are present in all the layers. They comprise hyper-microlithic specimens but also large objects with traces of impacts showing that they were used as cutting armatures. In addition, the taphonomic conditions allowed for the preservation of the original functional marks on blades, resulting in particular from plant working.

The bone industry is represented by pointed tools and tranchets with oblique bevels, although the latter are only present in the main occupation (layers 3 and 4).

Among numerous vertebrate remains, the few that have been identified for now include gazelle, Barbary sheep and hartebeest. The continental malacofauna is abundant and contains various species. A few marine mollusc shells are also present, including at least one shell probably used as an ornament.

Several radiocarbon dates were carried out, mainly on bone apatite, as collagen was not preserved. The Bayesian modelling of the results obtained in the stratigraphic sequence places the first occupations towards 11 ky BC cal., whereas the central occupations date to the second half of the 8th millennium cal. BC. The age of the upper levels is less clear; they probably date to the 6th millennium cal. BC.

In the context of our knowledge of the recent prehistory of North Africa, these diverse observations suggest that the lowest occupations, which have not yet been extensively studied in detail, are probably related to a final Iberomaurusian complex. The main occupations can be compared to a specific Mediterranean Epipalaeolithic facies in North Africa; the Columnatian. This was identified in the 1970s, and up until now has only been recorded at two sites, Columnata and le Cubitus. These new data thus provide an unprecedented insight into this particular complex, dating from the 8th millennium cal. BC, in Western Algeria.

Keywords: Columnatian, Iberomaurusian, Mediterranean Elassolithic, Algeria, lithic industries, use wear analysis, malacology, radiocarbon dates, Bayesian models, stratigraphy.

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