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Selecting Small: Microlithic Musings for the Upper Paleolithic and Mesolithic of Western Europe



Very small lithic elements of various shapes and shaped by different techniques occur in widely ranging absolute and relative frequencies in artifact assemblages dating to all the major culture-stratigraphic subdivisions of the Upper Paleolithic, as well as in the Mesolithic of Europe. Their presence implies the existence of hafting systems and, in many cases, projectile function. Microliths (ranging from Dufour and backed bladelets to geometries) were probably often set in series on antler or wooden shafts as the replaceable parts of composite weapons. Tiny, light tip and/or barb elements no doubt served to increase prey bleeding. However, throughout the period between circa 40 and 6 k.y.a., microlith-sagaie combination projectiles alternated in “popularity” with large, unitary stone points (e.g., Gravette, Font-Robert, Solutrean, Teyjat). While we are far from understanding the possible specific functional differences among these various “killing options,” it is probable that much of the variation was not so much functionally distinctive as random or “stylistic” in nature. The lightening of stone artifacts in the period after the Middle Paleolithic is clearly a hallmark of what the Abbé Breuil rightly called the “Leptolithic.”

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