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Technological divergence at the crossroads? Middle Paleolithic technology in the Armenian volcanic highlands and Central Anatolia, implications for hominin population dynamics
Phil Glauberman  1, *@  , Boris Gasparyan  1@  , Steven Kuhn  2@  , Ellery Frahm  3@  , Keith Wilkinson  4@  , Bo Li  5@  , Yannick Raczynski-Henk  6@  , Hayk Haydosyan  1@  , Dmitri Arakelyan  7@  , Daniel Adler  8@  
1 : Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography, National Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Armenia
2 : University of Arizona
3 : Yale University
4 : University of Winchester
5 : University of Wollongong
6 : University of Leiden
7 : Institute of Geosciences, National Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Armenia
8 : University of Connecticut
* : Auteur correspondant

A prominent question in Paleolithic research is how to trace and explain regionally distinct material cultural evolutionary trajectories among synchronous and geographically separated hominin populations. Here, we present a comparative case study that suggests broadly contemporaneous Middle Paleolithic (MP) technological divergence in two neighboring areas at the geographic nexus of Africa and Eurasia. The Armenian volcanic highlands and the Central Anatolian volcanic province (CAVP) are similar in geomorphology, but are separated by topography and ~ 800 km. MP artifacts in both areas were produced almost exclusively on obsidian raw materials. The influence of raw material properties on core reduction techniques is absent in our comparison, therefore any patterns in reduction techniques highlight variation in learned and transmitted technical behaviors.

We compared data on core reduction strategies from the site of Barozh 12 in Armenia, and numerous surface artifact assemblages in the Göllü Dağ area of the CAVP [1]. We also conducted raw material sourcing using pXRF on a sample of artifacts from Barozh 12 to assess the potential extent of MP hominin mobility in the Armenian volcanic highlands.

At Barozh 12, surface and excavated alluvial deposits yielded exceptionally high artifact densities. Age estimates indicate a range of ~ 61 – 32 ka BP OSL for the excavated sequence. Other MP sites in Armenia with chronometric ages date to ~ 104 – 30 [2]. At Göllü Dağ, tephrochronology from the sites of Körkuyu and Kaletepe Deresi 3 suggests a maximum age range for MP surface material in the CAVP of ~ 160 – ~ 70 – 20 ka [3]. These dates provide overlapping age ranges for the assemblages we studied in the two areas, and both samples are representative of other MP assemblages in each region. This chronological framework serves as a starting point for assessing long-term technological trends.

Results of our analysis demonstrate significant differences in core reduction strategies between the study areas. At Barozh 12, unidirectional-convergent Levallois core reduction for the production of points dominates, as it does in much of the documented MP in Armenia. In the CAVP, preferential, unidirectional, and centripetal Levallois reduction strategies are pervasive, but the production of points utilizing systematic unidirectional-convergent Levallois core reduction is essentially absent. Obsidian artifact transports to Barozh 12 overlap with those observed at other MP sites in the Armenian volcanic highlands, and as a whole describe a confined area of diachronic hominin mobility that extends into eastern Anatolia.

Taken together, our results suggest long-term technological divergence based on a Levallois ‘platform', and long standing artifact manufacture techniques among geographically separate hominin populations. Regionalized technological divergence may signify a cultural evolutionary outcome of sub-population isolation, an important aspect of metapopulation models of MP hominin population structure and dynamics [e.g. 4]. Hominin population dynamics in our study area were complex and may have involved long periods of demographic and behavioral continuity in relatively small and confined geographic areas. In order to test this scenario, future research in this part of southwest Asia needs to refine archaeological chronologies and paleo-environmental records.


[1] Kuhn, S. L., Dinçer, B., Balkan-Atlı, N., Erturaç, M. K., 2015. Paleolithic occupations of the Göllü Dağ, Central Anatolia, Turkey. Journal of Field Archaeology 40, 581-602.

[2] Egeland, C.P., Gasparian, B., Fadem, C.M., Nahapetyan, S., Arakelyan, D., Nicholson, C.M. 2016. Bagratashen 1, a stratified open-air Middle Paleolithic site in the Debed river valley of northeastern Armenia: A preliminary report. Archaeological Research in Asia 8, 1-20.

 [3] Tryon C.A., Logan, M.A.V., Mouralis, D., Kuhn, S., Slimak, L., Balkan-Atlı, N., 2009. Building a tephrostratigraphic framework for the Paleolithic of Central Anatolia, Turkey. Journal of Archaeological Science 36, 637-652.

[4] Hopkinson, T., 2011. The transmission of technological skills in the Paleolithic: insights from metapopulation ecology. In B.W. Roberts and M. Vander Linden (Eds.) Investigating Archaeological Cultures: Material Culture, Variability, and Transmission. Springer Science+Business Media: New York.

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