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2020-01-20 09:01:30   •   ID: 2146

150 years of research at Solutré

Figure 1
This is a 17 cm long Leafpoint from Solutré, near Mâcon (Saône et Loire)- see also here: 1042 , here 1144 , here: 1475 and here: 1231 .

The basal tip is broken during prehistoric times and although the tool is very thin (3-4 mm), the final execution was rather careless performed, without pressure flaking. The patina is typical for the site.

If the point was created by the façonnage technique remains unclear. It could have been made by a long blade also- a technique known from a limited examples from the Solutrean.

Anyhow our point clearly resembles larger lanceolate examples from the site

Europe, between ca. 22 kyr and 20 kyr cal BP, saw the developement of new specialized tool-kits maybe as an adaption to harsh enviromental condition during the LGM.

In the S/W these tools are characterized by a variety of diagnostic projectile points and knives with bifacial retouch designated as Solutrean.

Straus (2005) proposed that Solutrean populations employed more specialized subsistence systems, relative to earlier Upper Paleolithic technocomplexes, to exploit regions rich in game but under harsh climatic conditions.

Figure 2
In the S/E of Europe, hunter-gatherers of the LGM created a technocomplex, called Epigravettian, characterized by shouldered and backed projectile points produced by unifacial retouch, while bifacial elements are rare in these ensembles.

In France, the Solutrean was restricted to climatically favored landscapes like the Aquitaine, the Charente, and the Pointu.

Sites North of the Loire are small isolated geographical pockets like the Grotte Rochefort (Saint-Pierre-sur-Erve, Mayenne, France) and Solutré.

Near the Type-Site, at Volgu, there is only one isolated Solutrean cache known. It consists of at least 15 bifacial Leafpoints found in the late 19th century in Saône-et-Loire near the confluence of the Arroux and Loire Rivers, about 60km west of Solutré.

The Volgu cache may symbolically mark the border of the habitable world during this extraordinary harsh and cold times.

The site of Solutré, near Mâcon (Saône et Loire), was discovered in 1866 and has been excavated over a period of more than 130 years.

The most important excavations were conducted by by Henry de Ferry, Adrien Arcelin and the Abbé Antoine Ducrost (until 1907). Important work, especially about the stratigraphy was performed by Abbé Breuil and F. Arcelin, the son of A. Arcelin (1922 à 1928. Important work continued under the supervision of J. Combier since the 80ies.

Figure 3
The Upper Pasleolithic deposits were found over an area of 2,5 ha. It was during the Magdalenian that it showed the greatest extension, in particular to the north-west and south-east of Crot du Charnier, linked to butchering and butchery activities. Scattered artifacts in the landscape, without any indications for habitation structures speak for repeated short time hunting activities during the middle and upper Magdalenian.

The Solutrean strata, represented a more permanent base camp with habitation structures, traces of fire and the evidence of artisanal and artistic activities. The two habitation structures were located in the southeast corner of Crot du Charnier and in the central sector of Terre-Sève, favored by the slightly inclined terrain.

Unfortunately much of the early excavated and rich the Material was dispersed to at least 7 larger institutions in France, GB and the US. Many artifacts are still in private collections.

The Solutrean is characterized by laurel-leaf points (pointes de Laurier), much of them rather small (median length about 5 cm). Broken and intact large points, like the one shown here, up to 19 cm long, remain the highlights of Museum-collections.

Some of the large points are designated as "grand couteaux a bord paralelles", very similar to the example shown here. Some large points may be preforms, well known from Perigordian sites, and others may have served as knifes (Combier 2016).

We find some tanged pieces and asymmetrical points type Montaud. Broken examples were re-used as endscrapers and becs. There are no Points a face plane or late Solutrean shouldered points.The ensemble entierly belongs to a Middle Solutrean. Figure 4 shows Solutré today after the last excavations (Courteously by Thilo Parg)

Figure 4
During the Solutrean, Solutré was not a simple temporary hunting place, as it was the case at Solutré at other times.

Isolated in the East of France at the outmost margins of the Solutrean world, people at Solutré probability arriving from the West, have survived under hardest climatic stress and successfully practiced high efficiency selective reindeer hunting. Faunal analysis showed that hunting occurred during the winter months and again during Spring (April / May).

Suggested Reading:

Solutré : Jean Combier (Ed). Volume du 150e anniversaire; 2016.

Le Solutréen 40 ans après Smith’66. Tours : Fédération pour l'édition de la Revue archéologique du Centre de la France, 2013. 480 p. (Supplément à la Revue archéologique du centre de la France, 47)

2020-01-15 14:52:43   •   ID: 2145

A Taxonomic Crisis in Prehistoric Research?

Figure 1
Figure 1 and 2: "Acheulean Biface" from the Bergerac area in the Dordogne (ventral and dorsal view). Figure 3 and 4: "Acheulean Biface" from Saint-Même-les-Carrières in the Charente (ventral and dorsal view). Figure 5: "Mousterian Scraper" from the Station Amont de La Quina (Charente).

The designation of stone tools as Handaxes and Scrapers goes back to the 19th century and remained part of a "common speech" among specialists in Paleolithic Archeology. Anyhow there are a lot of inconsistencies in the nomenclature: see for example here 2125 .

Further examples for techno-typological taxonomic pitfalls can be found here: 2143 , here 2135 , and here: 1159 .

Figure 2
Sink Taxonomic Entities ? The well known dilemma about labeling Middle Paleolithic stone tool industries was recently reiterated by S. Shea. Later he generalized his critique to the question if we should not abandon any systematization.

Shea argued that:“ Labeling an assemblage "Mousterian", tells one little about its antiquity. Mousterian occurrences are spread out over all of Europe, western Asia, the Arabian Peninsula, the Indian Subcontinent and North Africa between 30-200 k.a.

It tells one nothing about the palaeoenvironmental context in which the assemblage was deposited. Mousterian assemblages occur in deserts, grasslands, temperate woodlands, boreal forests, and alpine steppe. Classifying an assemblage as Mousterian does not help one pin down the biological identity of its authors. We currently lack any method deduced from contrasts in hominin fossil morphology for differentiating Mousterian tools made by Neanderthals from ones made by H. sapiens or other hominins

Undoubtedly Shea is right, but doesn't he expect too much from a simple classification? His questions could only be answered by an ideal Paleolithic Pompei and not by the scattered Archeological record known at the moment.
Figure 3

Natasha Reynolds and Felix Riede discussed similar reservations about the taxonomic status of European Upper Paleolithic industries more carefully without iconoclastic attitudes (2019).

The basis of Archaeology, and indeed every science remains the classification of Objects. Classification is the operation of distributing objects into classes or groups which are, in general, less numerous than them.

Classification has a long history that has developed during several periods: (a) Antiquity, where its lineaments may be found in the writings of Plato and Aristotles; (b) The Age of Enlightenment with natural scientists from Linnaeus to Lavoisier; (c) The 19th century, with the growth of chemistry, Sociology and evolutionary theory; and (4) the 20th century, with the arrival of mathematical models and computer science.

Figure 4
The Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus is regarded as the founder of the current system of taxonomy, as he developed a system known as Linnaean taxonomy for categorizing organisms and binomial nomenclature for naming organisms.

With the advent of such fields of study as phylogenetics, cladistics, and systematics, the Linnaean system has progressed to a system of modern biological classification based on the evolutionary relationships between organisms, both living and extinct.

Classifying artifacts from remote times can be done in a number of ways:

  • Morphologically: For example the class of Handaxes can be clearly defined by its 3-dimensional morphologies and the same holds true for the class of scrapers- examples are displayed in this post
  • Functionally: For example Projectiles, Cutting tools, scraping tools...
  • every conceivable form of classification

The Taxonomic Crisis is not the crisis of using classification systems per se, but a crisis of not unified classificatory systems and a crisis of biased data, published according the regional research traditions.

A unified nomenclature, the spirit of primary data-sharing for meta-analysis is already common in many disciplines since years (including my own discipline: Medicine) and is the prerequisite of handling Big-data. Handling Archeological data in this way will result in a better Archaeology.

Other issues are equally important but subordinated. Importantly the reconstruction of the past will only be valid if these "secondary" issues are resolved.

  • The construction of Entities coupled with strong either inductive or deductive middle-ranged theories
  • the involvement of other disciplines like Cultural Anthropology, Genetics, Linguistics, and Sociology
  • Interdisciplinary building up new syntheses has to be done very careful and is a late process during analytical work.

    Importantly we should avoid any apodictic attitudes, such as Gordon Willey's and Philip Phillips (1958) stance that “archaeology is anthropology or it is nothing,”

2020-01-13 11:42:01   •   ID: 2143

Micoquian Bifacial Point from the Dnjestr Valley

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This is a thick, 7cm long, bifacial non Levallois Point from the Dnjestr Valley, found within a surface scatter together with other artifacts, made from high quality flint, compatible to the definition of an Eastern Micoquian-see here: 2135

Such uni- or bifacial thick points are different from the Central/West European Micoquian ensembles, but sometimes resemble the "Faustkeilblätter" described by Bosinski and others. Anyhow, Middle European Faustkeilblätter tend to be more asymmetrical and flat.

They have no affinities to genuine Mousterian Points.

The Late Middle Paleolithic of the East European Plain and the Crimea shows a rather high degree of variability oscillating between Levallois- Mousterian and Micoquian ensembles.

Levallois-Mousterian sites are reported for Transcarpathia, the Dnjestr area, Polessye, the Dnieper area, Donbass, and Crimea.

Bifacial industries, most common in Crimea, are also known, but apparently rarer in other regions.

The use of the term: "Keilmessergruppen" seems not to be an adequate designation for bifacial ensembles, because typical Keilmesser, according the Central European nomenclature are rare over the east European plain.

There is no comparative work, that takes into account the Bifacial inventories of Central Europe and the cis- and trans-Carpartian areas.

During the Late Middle Paleolithic, the most densely occupied areas seemed to be the Dnjestr Valley region and the Crimea; the latter additionally saw the most continuous occupation from MIS5- late MIS3.

Bifacial points, like the one shown here can be found especially at Kiik-Koba (Crimean Peninsula), at Prolom I and Prolom II (Krimean Penisula).

2019-12-19 17:09:08   •   ID: 2141

Lower Paleolithic from Valley of Miñor (Val Miñor), Galicia, Spain

Figure 1
This is an impressive heavy (2,6 kg) Quartzite"Chopper / Core" (ca 16 cm diameter) from Val Miñor, found during the 1950ies by the Writer and Archaeologist Pedro Diaz Alvarez, together with other Chopper / Chopping tools and simple flakes. Pedro Diaz Alvarez mainly worked in Galicia during the 1950ies.

Figure 2
At his time "archaic tools" in the North-West of the Iberian Peninsula came from open-air sites at the terraces of the Miño river, Val Miñor and in the littoral high terraces.

Nevertheless, records were not always homogeneous and did not came from stratigraphic context. Anyhow eminent reserchers such as Breuil were convinced, that these artifacts were from lower Pleistocene.

Wil Roebroeks and Thijs van Kolfschoten, during the 1990ies pleaded for a stringent and critical assessment of suggested early Pleistocene sites in Europe and concluded, that there was no evidence for a settlement of Europe by Humans prior to 500 k.a.

Figure 3
During the coming decades, this paradigm faded away, mainly because in South Europe (Italia, Iberian Peninsula) in-situ ensembles with Early to Early Middle Pleistocene Archaeological materials were detected.

One of the most important Early Paleolithic ensembles in central Span are documented at Sima del Elefante-one of the archaeo-palaeontological sites of Sierra de Atapuerca (Burgos, Spain).

Figure 4
The importance of the Atapuerca complex in the context of the Early and Middle Pleistocene human occupation of Europe can hardly be overestimated.

The lower levels of at Sima del Elefante (Units TE-TE14) are an essential reference for understanding the early stages of the colonization of Europe. The TE9c level has provided stone tools (Mode 1), faunal remains, and human fossils dated to 1, 22 Ma.

Levels TD6 in the Gran Dolina cave at Atapuerca, on the other hand, represent a remarkable intense occupation, with features of a base camp, including human remains of "H. antecessor" dated dated by biostratigraphy, paleomagnetism and ESR to an age of 0,8-0,9 Ma.

Figure 5
In Fuente Nueva 3 and Barranco León 5 (Granada) faunal remains and lithic Mode-1 artifacts with a chronology of 1,3 million were subsequently described.

It is probable, that the relationship between the Early and Middle Pleistocene human settlements was discontinous with marked technological and behavioral differences.

We don't know not a single in-situ early Pleistocene or even early middle Pleistocene site in N/W- Spain, despite intensive field work that has been performed during the last 15 years (see attached files).

In Galicia, for example in the Monforte Basin and Chopping Tools are mostly associated with Handaxes and the use of Quartzite is common. If Mode 1 artifacts are part of the initial settlement of N/W-Iberia or are simply part of an Acheulian remains unclear.

In so far the Archaeological record in this region did not change since Pedro Diaz Alvarez times. Absolute dates are still missing and Mode-1 artifacts could be either 1,2My old or even considerably younger perhaps -300 k.a. old.

Importantly the artifact, shown in this post has no similarity to the local Holocene "Asturian" see here: 1309 , but resembles the heavy duty component of the Middle and High Terraces of the Garonne and Tarn valley and last but not least resembles the Pebble tools from Terra Amata (Nice; France) and may indeed be very old.

2019-12-17 10:30:49   •   ID: 2140

Late Neolithic Knob- Hammer axe (Knaufhammeraxt)

Figure 1
Figure 2
Figure 3

Figure 1-3: This is Hammer Axe from a middle to late European Neolithic context. It is an intact item made of amphibolite.

European Neolithic Knob-Hammer Axes show a vertical and horizontal Symmetry. The body of the axes is usually straight. The neck is cylindrical with a fully formed, clearly separated round knob (Figure 3).

The example, shown here has almost no use wear and the cutting edge seems to be too blunt for a practical use.

Therefore this axe may be part of a Funeral / Ritual context or a Prestige object. As a single surface find it may come from a disturbed grave.

In Central and North Europe such „ Knaufhämmeräxte“ are hallmarks of the middle to late Neolithic and were usually detected within a Michelsberg , TBK and Mondsee context.

They appear during a time interval between 4,4 and 2,8 k.a. BC. Some isolated findings are also known from Eastern Europe, but their dating and context remains unclear.

Suggested Reading:

Ulrike Weller: Äxte und Beile. Erkennen – Bestimmen – Beschreiben Hrsg. von der Landesstelle für die nichtstaatlichen Museen in Bayern, LVR-LandesMuseum Bonn, Archäologisches Museum Hamburg, Landesamt für Archäologie Sachsen. 2014

2019-12-14 07:13:06   •   ID: 2138

Federmesser: A continuous Background during the Allerød Oscillation

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Figure 4
These are delicate thin and microlithic backed tools from Federmesser scatters in the Haderslev and Hotrup region of Southern Denmark.

We notice straight, curved, lunate-like points and examples with a short tang. Backing may be classic "invasive" or more marginal with very fine continuous retouches.

The project of dating the relative age of Federmesser ensembles by seriation of their morphological composition was not very successful in Germany, with a high density of sites, and was therfore never undertaken for Scandinavia with comperable less stratified material.

The Federmesser technocomplex arrived in Denmark during the the Allerød Oscillation (12-10,8 k.a. cal BC) and is one of the most Northern manifestations of the process of the late Paleolithic “Azilianization”, which began in Southern Europe- further information can be found here: 1695 , here 1397 , here: 1690 , here: 1693 , and here: 1421

Federmesser ensembles follow the rare traces of late Hamburgian hunters in Denmark. Beside the diagnostic backed Points, small thumbnail scrapers made from flakes, blade-scrapers, and tanged scrapers (so-called Wehlen scrapers) characterize such assemblages.

C-14 calibrated AMS data show that the Federmesser complex precedes the Bromme complex in Southern Scandinavia, and that the transition from Federmesser to Bromme happened some time around 10.9 k.a. cal BC.

Despite many surface scatters, stratified Federmesser sites are rare in Denmark and and their relationship to the slightly later Bromme culture (see: 1010 ) remains unclear.

Riede recently reviewed the co-occurence of Arch-backed points, tanged scrapers and large tanged points at several sites.

Archaeological circumstances suggest, that these associations are not the result of secondary mixing and that functional requirements may have trigeredd the formations of such tool-kits:

"Widening the geographic perspective, this particular combination of tool types also occurs at many localities of the Feder- messer culture outside Denmark.

The majority of the sites at which the slender arch- backed points occur together with the bulkier large tanged points extend along the periphery of late Glacial human settlement, from England in the west to Poland and possibly as far as Lithuania, the Ukraine and Belarus in the east.

It is likely that such a co-occurrence reflects the parallel use of two distinct hunting weapons, the bow and arrow (tipped with arch-backed points) and the dart and spear thrower (tipped with large tanged points)
" (Riede 2011).

Suggested Reading:

E.M. Ikinger: Der endeiszeitliche Rückenspitzen-Kreis Mitteleuropas 1998

H Schwabedissen: Die Federmesser-Gruppen des nordwesteuropäischen Flachlandes 1954

2019-12-05 15:13:25   •   ID: 2137

The many Questions about the Aurignacian of the East European Plain

Figure 1
The artifacts shown in Figure 1-4 consist of a carinated burin (core), an end scraper, both with lateral retouches, suggestive for hafting, and a biconvex Leafpoint from the Early Upper Paleolithic of the Western Ukraine, found during Soviet times.

The surface ensemble is comparable to other Aurignacian assemblages in the the East-Carpathian area (Western Ukraine, North-East Romania and Moldova), allthough leaf-points are very rare in these ensembles. Anyhow the Burin-Core and the thick, lateraly retouched, scraper are most probably diagnostic tools for an evolved Aurignacian.

Please compare the endscraper of this post with a delicate thin "Pavlov-Point" from the same area-see here: 2131 . This artifact shows a completely different design.

The East European Plain is a vast interior plain extending east of the North/Central European Plain, and comprising several plateaus stretching roughly from 25 degrees longitude eastward.

During an earlier post I have already described an Early Upper Paleolithic (EUP) with characteristic triangular bifacial elements from this area (Streletskian, “Eastern Szeletian”)- see 2053 .

Figure 2
In contrast to the upper Paleolithic bifacial tradition, and the EUP in the Carpathian Basin- see here: 1703 , the Aurignacian of the East European plain is rather rare and patchy. While the Kostenki group of sites provides evidence both for the northeast and most ancient manifestation of the Aurignacian, the Aurignacian ensembles in the East-Carpathian area are reliable dated 10 k.a. later.

Excavations of the last decade of the lowermost cultural layer (IVb) at Kostenki 14, under the CI tephra (~39.6 k.a. cal BP), provided evidence for an assemblage without typical "Aurignacian ancien" and "Streletskian" elements.

Renewed Archeological work and C-14 / geochronological dating programs in the Kostenki-Borshchevo region indeed confirmed the appearance of an Industry, resembling the Proto-Aurignacian of the western Mediterranean, the Fumanian of North Italy, and the Middle East early Ahmarian.

Such ensembles, present at ca 41 k.a. cal BP at Kostënki 17, Kostënki 14 and Kostënki 1, may represent a “pioneering” Upper Paleolithic wave, realized both as migrations and/or as cultural transmission.

Figure 3
It has to be mentioned, that a classic Aurignacian is is also present at Kostenki- locus 1/Stratum III at ca 30 k.a.

Compared with the Proto-Aurignacian at Kostënki, the eastern Carpartian Aurignacian is dated late (30-27 k.a. cal BP) and may even overlap with the earliest Gavettian in the Region, a hypothesis that is also of importance for the Aurignacian / Gravettian succession in Middle Europe.

It is characterized by "Classic" Aurignacian“ ensembles, not very different from the evolved Aurignacian in the West.

A Multidisciplinary team from Belgium is currently reevaluating the techno-typological characteristics of this complex at several sites including Molodova V and Korman IV in the Ukraine, in Romania (including Mitoc-Malu Galben) and Moldova.

Up to now, Siuren 1 is the only known Aurignacian site in Crimea.

Figure 4
It has nine different Aurignacian occupational layers in primary positions, which are attributed to the early/Protoaurignacian (units H and G; Dufour bladelets subtype Dufour; Krems-Points, St. Yves Points) and the late Aurignacian (unit F; Bladelets of subtype Roc-de-Combe ) due to techno-typological reasons.

Within all Aurignacian horizons, the assemblages are characterized mainly by bladelets.

In general Siuren 1 looks like a replication of the West and Middle European evolution: a „Protoaurignacian“ is followed by an evolved Aurignacian, but according to the C-14 data the site is only 30 k.a. old.

Because it is highly impossible that the Krimean Upper Paleolithic lagged behind the general lithic trend for ten thousand years after the (Proto)-Aurignacian started in West and Middle Europe, it is consequent to reject all C-14 data from this site. this great Site needs rigorous chronological reevaluation.,

Suggested Reading:

Hahn J: Aurignacien. Das ältere Jungpaläolithikum in Mittel- und Osteuropa. Böhlau, Köln u. a. 1977 (Fundamenta. Reihe A, Bd. 9).

Noiret P: Le Paléolithique supérieur de Moldavie - Eraul n° 121; 2009.

2019-11-28 08:49:29   •   ID: 2136

Maglemose Now!

Figure 1
The first investigation of the early Mesolithic was at Mullerup in western Zealand (Sarauw, 1903).

The name of the bog, ‘Maglemosen’, later gave its name to the early Mesolithic of southern Scandinavia: the Maglemose culture (c. 11,6–8,4 k.a. cal BP).

Figure 2
The broken "barbed point", shown here is characteristic for this early period and is named after the Mullerup main-type.

Many of these short, broad points were found, without Archaeological context during Interwar Denmark when digging peat. Often there are 2 or 3 barbs, more rarely there are 4 or 5.

The characteristic microlith flint technology and big game forest hunting distinguishs the early Mesolithic from the preceding late Palaeolithic of the northern European plain.

During the 20th century material from Danish bog excavations defined and described the Maglemosian and became a stable reference for the early Mesolithic in Northern Europe.

This post is focused on advances of Maglemose chronology.

The chronological framework of the early Mesolithic in N-Europe is based on:

  • Pollen analysis: Detailed profiles were established on a regional and a more geographical extensive scale, demonstrating the delay of certains regions to the ice-core results.

    For example the transition to deciduous forest occurred earlier in the south-east part of Southern Scandinavia and Northern Germany compared to the north-west.

    " The start of rapid Holocene warming at 11,7 k.a.(c. 11, BP) initiated a complex series of climatic responses in northern Europe with associated responses in biological systems and their ecology.

    The late Glacial succession of vegetational immigration has been well described in northern Europe over many years. These studies were mostly based on pollen analyses and much of the biostratigraphic zonation was determined from southern Scandinavian sites.

    They also detected hitherto undocumented rapid climatic changes during the early Holocene (c. 11,653 cal BP. These events, recorded in correlated relative chronologies, have since been shown in many paleoclimatic indicators from the northern hemisphere within absolute chronologies.

    The events, which are often suggested to be associated with meltwater pulses into the North Atlantic Ocean, were part of an early Holocene dynamic climate with rapidly changing temperatures and precipitation regimes, possibly impacting the developing landscapes and the large scale migrations of the associated flora and fauna. Disentangling this complex mixture of responses to early Holocene climatic change with all their associated time delays can be aided by sites with secure stratigraphic contexts and the integration of different scientific disciplines
    (Jessen et al. 2015).

  • Lithic analysis: Microliths and lithic blade technology are the most important issues for a relative chronology. Microliths and their frequencies, suggested a division into six phases (Petersen 1973). More recently, a study of the Maglemose culture lithic blade technologies defined seven different concepts (Sørensen 2006)

  • Modern C-14 AMS dating, especially AMS technology, pretreatment protocols and Bayesian modeling revolutionized absolute dating during the last years with a high precession.

I will not go into further details here-The Monographies about Star Carr, reports about the Reevaluation of Hohen Viecheln and Friesack are full of exciting Stories—just read the attached external links!

Please also note the wonderful compilation in Dons Map!

Suggested Reading:

Figure 2
Millner et al. Star Carr Volume 1: a persistent place in a changing World 2018

Milner, N et al. 2018. Star Carr Volume 2: Studies in Technology, Subsistence and Environment 2018

Groß et al. Working at the sharp end at Hohen Viecheln: from bone and antler to Early Mesolithic life in Northern Europe (Untersuchungen und Materialien zur Steinzeit in Schleswig-Holstein) 2019- free download!-see last external link.

Schuldt, E. Hohen Viecheln. Ein mittelsteinzeitlicher Wohnplatz in Mecklenburg 1961

Holst, D Subsistenz und Landschaftsnutzung im Frühmesolithikum: Nussröstplätze am Duvensee (Monographien Des Romisch-Germanischen Zentralmuseums, Band 120)

2019-11-26 15:25:45   •   ID: 2135

Keilmesser from the Dnjestr Valley

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Figure 1 and 2: At first glance this crescent like, 13 cm long, bifacial Artifact looks like a sickle, well known from the Dnjestr Valley and adjacent areas (see for example here: 1012 ).

Remarkably the Biface is heavily rolled and considerably thicker than its Endneolithic local counterparts.

Neolithic Flint sickles were usually non patinated, knapped by pressure retouch and very thin which is not the case in the artifact of this post.

In my view the artifact shown here is a classic Keilmesser with a concave cutting edge and with a tranchet blow (shown in Figure 3).

Anyhow, it has to be mentioned, that classical tranchet blows are generally rare in the Eastern Micoquian.

Keilmesser subtypes, comparable with the piece shown here, are especially well documented on the Krim Peninsula and were called: "Backed biface type Starosele" or, if non backed: "Sub-crescent uni- or bifacial scraper" (Marks and Monigal),

These Keilmesser are interpreted as one possibel step of tool rejuvenation of bifacial tools (Marks and Chabaï 1998 pp 160). An example from Staroselje is shown in the first external link- Figure 8.

Morphologically „Bifaces type Starosele“ resemble Micoquian tools from other Crimean sites like the "Hook like" scrapers at Kabazi 5 (Marks and Chabaï 1998 pp 305).

Well executed concave cutting edges, which are rare in Western and Central Europe, are well known on scrapers and points from Kiik-Koba ensembles (sub-crescent points)- see 1727 and Demidenko 2018.

In Comparison to other "Facies" of the Micoquian in the Krim (Ak-Kaya and Kiik-Koba) " Staroselje the Micoquian layers are characterized by bifacial points and side scrapers as well as bifaces. Bifacial points and side scrapers have an average share of 15 % of all tools. Unifacial convergent side scrapers and points have an average share of up to 45 % of all tools.

Backed knives (Keilmesser) are in contrast to the Ak-Kaya facie underrepresented (up to 10 % of all tools). The average tool sizes are smaller than in Ak-Kaya assemblages, probably due to a more pronounced state of reduction.

Figure 4
Concerning the tool sizes, Starosele lies in between Ak-Kaya assemblages with biggest average tool sizes and Kiik-Koba inventories with smallest sizes, what is possible due to different stages of reduction
" (Forschungsstelle Altsteinzeit (FAST).

Figure 5
Beside being the product of a specific reduction process, the concave cutting edge may have a specific functional meaning, consequence of a special tool concept. Anyhow this has not been evaluated till now.

The last Pictures (Figure 4 and Figure 5) show a Keilmesser from the Buhlen site in N- Hessen / Germany in comparison to our example (Figure 6).

Figure 6
With a more or less concave cutting edge they are almost identical with the item from the Ukraine, shown in this post. They represent only snapshots of a wide continuum from convex, straight to concave cutting edges, found on richer KMG-sites over Europe- for example at Wylotne / Poland and Sukhaya Mechetka (Stalingradskaya) in the Middle Volga region.

Berin Cep recently displayed "Halbkeile" and Bifaces from the Bocksteinschmiede in the Swabian Jura with concave cutting edges (last external link Figure 2).

This indicates that the Keilmesser Concept inevitably produced similar results, despite a distance of 2500 km between the sites–over an enormous Middle Paleolithic interaction sphere ...

Suggested Reading:

G Bosinski, Wetzel R (1969) Die Bocksteinschmiede im Lonetal. (Veröffentlichungen des Staatlichen Amtes für Denkmalpflege Stuttgart, H. 15.)

G Bosinski (1967) Die mittelpaläolithischen Funde im westlichen Mitteleuropa. Dissertation. Universität Köln 1963.

Marks A.E. and Chabaï V.P. dir. (1998): The Middle Paleolithic of Western Crimea, vol. 1

Marks A.E. and Monigal K. dir. (1999): The Middle Paleolithic of Western Crimea, vol. 2

Kozlowski S (2006) Wylotne and Zwierzyniec: Paleolithic Sites in Southern Poland

2019-11-07 12:57:35   •   ID: 2133

Pleistocene Human- Cave-bear Interactions

Figure 1
This is a Anthro–Zoomorph or even Theriomorph , 5 cm long, figurine representing a bear in upright position. It is a rare finding from the Tarya "Neolithic" (4,0-2,5 k.a. BP) of the Kamchatka Peninsula made from now patinated Obsidian.

A bear standing on its hind legs is normally not aggressive but highly attentive. It is just standing upright to survey the surroundings and to catch airborne scent, but always ready to become agressive if it feels threatened.

"The bear is a large and dangerous carnivore. However, fear alone does not account for the rich and varied traditions linking bears and humans. Not infrequently, people have felt a kind of kinship with bears, for humans and bears share many characteristics.

They live in the same regions and eat the same fish, roots, and berries. Unlike other animals, bears can stand on their hind legs as humans do and they can use their fore paws as humans use their hands.

A bear’s skinned body looks human, and several bear bones resemble human bones, which lends credence to the view that the animal is really a man in disguise
" (Germonpré 2007).

According to Joachim Hahn, who worked on similar, but much more older Pleistocene animal figurines, they could have been created as a Symbol of physical power and agression- maybe as a humans "Alter Ego".

The motive of a bear, shown as a mighty beast in a human–like upright two legged position, is known since the Paleolithic.

The most important item in this context is an 5,5 cm long erect anthropomorphic Bear from the Aurignacian layers of the Geissenklösterle Cave in the Swabian Alb which was reconstructed from 11 pieces of ivory.

Its head is raised and the snout slightly opened, a quite realistic depiction, compared with the stylized Kamtschatka counterparts: .

At Cap Blanc (Dordogne) a contour of a attentive bear (3,3 cm long) was created of flint stone, conceptionally near the zoomorph statuette, shown in this post.

Figure 2
The Tarya Complex was concentrated in Central and Southern Kamchatka. Subsidence was based on Hunting and Fishing. While hunting is evidenced by Projectiles, fishing may be indicated by the abundance of sink-pebbles.

People lived in small sedentary housholds. Ceramics are extremely rare and food was mainly cooked in wooden or birch-bark vessels.

The Tarya lithic tools, some are shown in Figure 5, are mostly bifacial and made from Obsidian

In central Kamchatka the Microblade industry is still very present, but had already disappeared from Southern parts of the Peninsula. Different ground adzes and oil lamps are present for the first time in the Kamchatka Archaeological record.

The Tarya Complex is characterized by retouched stone figurines, first noted by Zamiatnin in 1948. The majority of them were found in the cultural level of the Tar’ia type site. They are made from small blades of obsidian reworked by pressure retouch as highly stylized figurines often with a zoomorphic character.

Figure 3
The Kamchatka brown bear (Ursus arctos beringianus) is a subspecies of the brown bear, native to Circumpolar regions, among them to the Kamchatka Peninsula.

According to the bear population assessment, there are more 20000 species on the peninsula. This is 5% of the bear population on the planet or 15% of all bears in Russia. Most of the bears inhabit the area of Lake Kuril.

According to aviation assessment, up to one thousand bears gather each year in this area during a spectacular salmon spawning.

The literature about the relationship between man and bear is extensive. In the Archaeological context, the Pleistocene cave bear (Ursus spelaeus), which represents one of the most frequently found paleontological remains from the Pleistocene in Europe is most important.

The cave bear was always confined to Europe and was contemporary with the brown bear, Ursus arctos, which still exists today and plays a major role in early Ethnological reports, but also in old and modern Archaeological Myths and in the popular Folklore of the Circumpolar countries.

"Relationships between the cave bear and the two lineages of brown bears defined in Europe, as well as the origins of the two species, remain controversial, mainly due to the wide morphological diversity of the fossil remains, which makes interpretation difficult (Loreille et al. 2001). This complicated issue will not be further discussed in this post.

The cave bear's range stretched across Europe; from Spain and Great Britain in the west, Italy, parts of Germany, Poland, the Balkans, Romania and parts of Russia, including the Caucasus; and northern Iran.

Figure 4
The largest numbers of cave bear remains have been found in Austria, Switzerland, northern Italy, northern Spain, southern France, and Romania, roughly corresponding with the Pyrenees, Alps, and Carpathians.

The huge number of bones found in southern, central and eastern Europe has led some scientists to think Europe may have once had literally herds of cave bears.

Others, however, point out that, though some caves have thousands of bones, they were accumulated over a period of 100k.a. or more, thus requiring only two deaths in a cave per year to account for the large numbers.

The cave bear inhabited low mountainous areas, especially in regions rich in limestone caves. They seem to have avoided open plains, preferring forested or forest-edged terrains.

Even the behaviour of certain family groups and their preferences for specific caves was predictable:

Figure 5
Genetic studies showed that: "Late Pleistocene cave bears and middle Holocene brown bears that each inhabited multiple geographically proximate caves in northern Spain.

In cave bears, we find that, although most caves were occupied simultaneously, each cave almost exclusively contains a unique lineage of closely related haplotypes.

This remarkable pattern suggests extreme fidelity to their birth site in cave bears, best described as homing behaviour, and that cave bears formed stable maternal social groups at least for hibernation.

In contrast, brown bears do not show any strong association of mitochondrial lineage and cave, suggesting that these two closely related species differed in aspects of their behaviour and sociality
" (González Fortes et al. 2016).

The interaction between humans and Pleistocene Bears will be discussed around three important issues:

  • Did Humans successfully hunt Pleistocene Cave Bears in Europe?

  • Was there a Pleistocene "Bear Cult"?

  • Why did the Cave Bear dissapear around the Late Glacial Maximum from Europe?

Figure 6
Figure 6 shows an illustration of a "Bear Hunt" by Zdeněk Michael František Burian (1905-1981), a Czech painter and book illustrator whose work played around the mid 20th century a central role in the development of paleontological reconstruction.

Burian depicts a Hunting scenario between three Anatomical Modern Humans and an erect aggressive Bear in an interglacial / interstadial landscape during Summer or Autumn.

The scenario directly contradicts the Archaeological and Ethnographic record, where Cave Bears were killed in caves and not in the free landscape during hibernation in the Winter and not during Summer (Pacher 2000, 2002).

Indeed there are rare but clear indications, that Humans directly attacked bears in Caves: Münzel described Cave Bear remains from several Upper Paleolithic pre LGM Ach- Valley sites. In the Geissenklösterle cut marks on some skull fragments of cave bear were recognized.

Figure 7
At Hohle Fels human modifications on cave bear bones were even more frequent. A cave vertebra with an embedded fragment of a flint was recovered in the year 2000 in an early Gravettian layer at Hohle Fels (Münzel 2004).

Similar hunting injuries were found at Bear bones at Potočka Zijalka in Slovenia, wher Aurignacian Hunters visied the large Cave and left behind a collection of more than 130 Mladec Points: see here: 1318 .

An Engraving on schist of two humans attacking a bear is shown in Figure 7 (Courteously by Don Hitchcock). It was found early between 1912-1927 at the grotte du Chien à Péchialet, at Groléjac, Dordogne- about other Abris at Groléjac see: 1011 .

Although assigned to a Gravettian by Breuil, who found in 1927 some Noailles burins at the already heavily disturbed site, the style of the figures is close to a similar plaque from Limeuil, found in a late Magdalenian layer.

Note that this scene resembles Burian's vision of a Bear Hunt and may have inspired him for his composition.

The Magdalenian of S/W-France is rich in depictions of the bear, made on different materials and by different techniques:

Engravings on bone, like the famous, partial destroyed rondel from Mas-d'Azil, showing a bear paw combined with a man exhibiting an erected penis- another example is the combination of a bear en face with several stylized humans (a hunt?) on an animal long bone from La Vache (Ariege);

Scuptures in bone and stone: remember the sitting bear from Laugerie-Basse today exposed in the MAN;

Last but not least the bear as a common motive of several Contour découpés...

During the Pavlovian (Dolni Vestonice, Pavlov) we know several bear statuettes made of burnt clay- maybe produced by children and possible profane toys without ritual connotations.

Magdalenian parietal art of the Portel, Combarelles, Massat and the Trois-Frères Grottos, shows bears with signs of battle and wounds.

Figure 8
After the end of the first World War, the Swiss paleontologist Emil Bächler excavated the Drachenloch cave in eastern Switzerland, and found some intriguing arrangements of Cave Bear Bones together with Mousterian tools.

He described, that Skull and leg bones had been arranged in “stone boxes”. He subsequently excavated other caves where he discovered burnt cave bear remains, broken bear bones, and skulls on or under rock slabs or in niches.

Bächler’s findings, and similar discoveries in Swiss, Austria and Slovenia, have given rise to a widespread belief in the popular literature of a Neanderthal «cave bear cult».

Figure 8 shows Burians vision of this scientific myth, still popular during the 1950ies.

With the advances in taphonomic research the "Bear Cult Theory" was refuted. It was shown that the enigmatic assortments of bear skulls and long bones in the caves were not due to human activities, but to the flowing water or other transport mediums.

Until now, there is no convincing evidence for a Paleolithic bear cult.

To use of Ethnographic records and other sources, dating back to 1000 years at best, for the construction a "Bear Cult" remain nothing more than nice speculations- especially if the nasty shaman narrative is part of these fairy tales-see 1301 . Ethnographic literature can be found in the external links.

Anyhow some non-disputable facts, which point to a special releationship of Homo Sapiens and Cave Bear remain:

  • "Red ochre traces on several fossil bear remains in Belgian caves were shown to have been applied purposely by prehistoric people and were not the result of contamination with spilt ochre or ochre containing sediment". (Germonpré 2007)

  • At Chauvet Cave- Excellent parietal art maybe from the Aurignacian or Gravettian- which stylistically would fit better to the Gravettian style- at 32-28 k.a. calBP. In the in the "Recess of the Bears" three monochrome red Bears are assembled in a panel and 12 other monochrome (red or black) depictions of a bear detected together with the presence of 55 ancient bear skulls in the Cave, including one carefully placed isolated Bear scull on a fallen rock- undoubtedly an intentional gesture of the people who entered the cave before the LGM.

  • A very special finding from the Middle to Late Magdalenian was discovered in 1923 by the speleologist Norbert Casteret deep in the cave of Montespan (Haute-Garonne, France).

    Here the loosely modelled, near-life size, headless clay model of a bear was found in the Galerie Casteret, 300 m deep in the Cave in the context of stylistically Magdalenian engravings and disturbed further clay models.

    It is said that between his front paws lay the skull of a real bear, maybe once been attached to the figure itself. Unfortunately it got lost or stolen before an independent scientific committee visited the site and we have no Photodocumentation of the site, that could proof its existence.

    In the sculpture 41 circular holes are visible, which are interpreted as punctures of spears or arrows. It is possible that this figure is a ritual object in connection with a hunting ceremony. But this interpretation may be misleading and another modern myth.

Why did the Cave Bear disappear from the Archeological record in Europe around the LGM? As always a combination of climatic events and hunting by Humans is discussed.

The latest paper about this topic took into account Paleogenetic data and Bayesian phylogenetic analysis and assumed a constant decline of the female Cave Bear population after 40 k.a. calBP (Gretzinger et al. 2019). The authors prefer to explain this decline as the consequence of a poor resilient bear Population combined with human Agency.

They stated that: "Our calculated effective female population sizes suggest a drastic cave bear population decline starting around 40,000 years ago at the onset of the Aurignacian, coinciding with the spread of anatomically modern humans in Europe.

While climatic fluctuations during MIS 3 may significantly decreased the population, a new human player with more effective hunting techniques could further decimated the species:

our study supports a potential significant human role in the general extinction and local extirpation of the European cave bear and illuminates the fate of this megafauna species".

But we should remember, that a coincidence is never a proof of causality....

Surf the Blog: 1198 , and here: 1318

Suggested Reading:

L'ours dans l'art préhistorique. MAN 2014 (at your local bookstore); see also: . with 3-D Animated Objects from French Sites!

Burian Z: Menschen der Vorzeit, Artia, 1961

Andre Leroi-Gourhan: Die Religionen der Vorgeschichte, Surkamp 1981

Waers et al.: Bärenkult und Schamanenzauber Rituale früher Jäger, Archäologisches Museum Frankfurt 2015: you can read it as a free pdf in the external link section!

A. Russia: Visiter Cap Blanc, 1999; Edition Sud Oest

Resources and images in full resolution: