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2017-08-27 14:20:30   •   ID: 1642

Shouldered Pieces: Signature of interactions over the great Adriatic plain during the Epigravettian?

Figure 1
Figure 1: This is a shouldered piece, 10 cm long, from the early Epigravettian in Arezzo.; (ex Charterhouse School Museum)

It is not necessary a shouldered point, because during the Epigravettian of Italia, shouldering was applied to several classes of artifacts.

Figure 2 shows the backing of this massive piece. Shouldered Points are usually seen as a "fossil directeur" of the Early Epigravettian in Italy. According to Gamble (1976) “useful type fossils are those which have a short and well-defined chronological existence within the wider development of culture“.

Glacial conditions, especially during and after the LGM, led to the shrinking of the Adriatic Sea, opening a large land bridge, known as the Great Adriatic Plain, between Italy and the Balkans.

According to Sestini (Sestini 1999)"at the last glacial maximum, the northern half of the Adriatic sea floor formed a wide plain crossed by rivers, as well as swamps and bogs (the "palaeo-Po river system") .The rivers originated from the glaciers of the Swiss, Austrian, and Dinaric Alps, and from the northern Apennines

The coastline ran E-W and was located roughly across the middle of the Adriatic, where Pescara is now located . As sea levels rose, the shore moved gradually to the north, as can be seen in 17 submarine platforms and fossil beach lines. Van Andel and Shackleton report that pollen data indicate that during the period between ca. 22 and 15 k.a. BP the Adriatic region had a steppe vegetation, and that the mean annual temperature was about 6°C below that of the present day and the climate was dry (Van Andel 1982).

There is also evidence that large herds of animals (equids and deer) inhabited the plain, which probably provided "the largest and most accessible food resource of the region" (Shackleton et al. 1984)"

Mussi (2001) once described the plain as a cold, windswept flatland impoverished in game and inhabitable for mobile foraging groups until the end of the Pleistocene.

But even during harsh conditions, while the sea level was c 130 m below present day, the Adriatic plain served as a refugium for migrating animals and their hunters.

During the late Glacial, several ungulate species were exploited by Paleolithic hunters throughout the region, like red deer, horse, aurochs/bison, and reindeer- species which occur in large numbers, high density, have a large body size and high reproduction rates, and are known to migrate on a seasonal basis in some cases.

Scientific work of the last 15 years showed that Mussis prediction can partially be falsified. In contrast to her paradigm, the northern Adriatic Plain was a zone of high resource productivity.

Figure 2
A zone rich in game, water, and other resources, and hence a focus for settlement by Epigravettian groups. The northern Adriatic basin around 24 k.a and 21 k.a. calBP is now perceived as an area where logistically highly mobile  human groups, sharing a single cultural identity.

It is suggested, but rather speculative, that this newly gained territory and the worsening of environmental conditions forshadowing the LGM might have pushed movements of human populations from the Middle Danube Basin, where well-established early Gravettian communities are known (e.g., at Willendorf II, Pavlovian sites), to the areas of southern Europe, with certain parts of the Balkans and Italy, and in particular the Great Adriatic Plain.

The lithic signature of such population movement may be the spread of distinct techno- morphological traits in lithic types characteristic of the central and east European late Gravettian traditions (Willendorf 1-Nord, Willendorf 2/9, Spadiza, Moravany, Trencin, Nitra, Molodova, Mitoc)-the so called “Shouldered Point Horizon” .

Shouldered pieces during the LGM in Italy and the Balkans are most frequently points (pointes à cran), but other tool morphologies (e.g., burins, endscrapers) are also found with retouched bases. Importantly, the production of  shouldered points is very probably linked with the introduction of new more efficient hunting tactics and projectiles.

Such shouldered projectiles, used either with bows or spear-throwers, may have allowed for the targeting of prey at larger distances. In northern Italy, industries with à cran pieces have been found at Grotta delle Arene Candide and Grotta dei Fanciulli in Liguria and at Grotta Paina in Venetia.

In the south-eastern part of the peninsula the key sequence is the site of Grotta Paglicci in Puglia, which has yielded the most complete Epigravettian stratigraphic sequence for the wider Adriatic region.

At Paglicci, shouldered pieces are found in Early Epigravettian layers (from layer 18 to 10). The presence of shouldered pieces is also attested in the caves of Taurisano, Mura and Cipolliane in Salento, Grotta Niscemi and in Sicily, and Riparo del Romito in Calabria.

This widespread distribution suggests that shouldered pieces are well established in all southern regions of Italy. Early Epigravettian cave settlements are also known also in the Apennine Mountains, in Marche and Abruzzo regions. In Italy the shouldered Points have always suggested as a marker of an early Epigravettian, but there is an increasing data base that seem to demonstrate their persistence until the late Epigravettian (Vukosavljević et al. 2017).

At the Balkans and in Greek a similar Epigravettian technocomplex has been dated to 21-15 k.a. BP at Sandalja, Kadar, Orphel, Kastrisa and Klisoura.

Some of the earliest sites with shouldered points in the Northern Balkans were recently found in Istria, and Croatia and in western Greece (at 19 k.a. BP), but new excavations have pushed the occurrence of this tool typ in the Balkans to even earlier times.

Vrbicka cave located in western Montenegro is currently under excavation. One shouldered point was found and AMS-dated to 23.k.a.

Two shouldered pieces have also be found in western Serbia and are said to date to the same period  but the actual dates from this site have not been published yet.

Please note, that a recently published critical review of the Taphonomy and older C-14 data from the Eastern Adriatic came to the conclusion that, similar to Italy, there is no short term "Shouldered Point Horizon" in the Balkans, too:

in the eastern Adriatic and its hinterland shouldered points in this area can not considered to be fossil directeur of Early Epigravettian any more.

"Using old and new data, and pointing to shortcomings in the literature, we aim to prove that shouldered points are not a reliable chronological indicator of Early Epigravettian in the eastern Adriatic because they can be found in a timespan of approximately 10 000 years
" (Vukosavljević and Karavanić 2017).

Therefore whether the shouldered point in the Balkans should be considered as a short time "fossil directeur" only for the early or for the whole Epigravettian remains open for further discoveries and discussion.

An interesting field for a better understanding of the Adriatic Plain around the LGM is the evolving Underwater Archeology of Paleolithic sites, especially in Croatia.

Along the long coast of Croatia, the chronological range of prehistoric underwater finds extends from the Middle Paleolithic period through to the Late Iron Age (see last external link). Despite Middle Paleolithic findings, Upper Paleolithic sites are not reported so far, but this may only be a matter of time.

Suggested Reading: The late glacial 'great adriatic plain': Garden of eden'or 'no man's land' during the epipalaeolithic A view from Istria (Croatia)

Provenance: Charterhouse School Museum