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2017-11-01 08:45:11   •   ID: 1675

During the Great Cold: The Epigravettien in Austria and the Grubgraben site

Figure 1
This is a short (3,5 cm long) and rather thick endscraper or core from the Grubgraben site in Lower Austria, found at the beginning of the last century, dated to the Late Glacial Maximum (LGM)- see: 2204 .

To my knowledge most the older Grubgraben material is stored at the Krahuletz Museum in Eggenburg, where I saw an exhibition about this site some years ago.

The open-air site of Kammern-Grubgraben is a rare example of a detailed view on Ice-Age hunter-gatherer lifestyles during the LGM.

The most extensive Archaeological excavations were conducted between 1985 and 1990 (A. Montet-White/F. Brandtner) and from 1993 to 1994 (F. Brandtner/B. Klíma).

Unfortunately the documentation of earlier excavations and the lithic inventory, seem to be in a lamentable condition.

A joint project between the Institute for Oriental and European Archaeology of the Austrian Academy of Sciences  and the University of Cologne will hopefully reevaluate the potential of this unique site in the Middle European context. The Last Glacial Maximum played a more important role in cultural adaptation than it was expected previously. First Publications became available very recently (Marc Händel et al. 2020).

The excavators detected five Archaeological horizons. Layers 2 and 3 revealed dwelling structures, similar to those that were known from older excavations. C14 dates range between 18-19 k.a. BP (about 24 k.a.Cal BP / LGM).

During this time period, the western part of central Europe appeared as an area of remarkable demographic decrease.

A more regular network of sites is recorded in the eastern part of central Europe, namely in the Carpathian Basin and parts of Lower Austria, which seemed to have functioned as one of the European refugia.

Industries from Middle Danube region dated to the LGM or shortly after -Grubgraben, Rosenburg, Langmannersdorf, Saladorf, Stránská skála, Szágvár, Arka, Kasov upper layer, Lipa) have some common features and have been described as “Epigravettian”.

Alberndorf, once dated to the LGM and classified as "Epiaurignacian", has now securely dated to a late Aurignacian at 28 k.a. BP (AMS).

In terms of raw material exploitation and economy, there was more emphasis on local sources, although long distance lithic provisioning is documented  in small quantities at some sites (for example Obsidian from Slovakia and Hungary in lower Austria at Grubgraben and Rosenburg).

Some sites were located directly in the vicinity of the outcrops and display the character of primary workshops (Arka, Lipa).

Other sites may represent short hunting camps / kill sites (Stranska Skála; Saladorf) of  horse and reindeer.

Grubgraben seems to have been a major aggregation site with repeated settlement and a diversified lithic industry. Montet White reported that  raw material (chert and radiolarite) was imported over long distances from the Brno Basin and the Vah-valley to the Grubgraben site.

Contrary to the Gravettian based predominantly on lithic imports and producing long blades from the classical crested, and prismatic cores, the Epigravettian blanks (flakes, shorter blades, microblades) are usually produced from short and cubical cores as well as from elongated blade cores.

Typologically, the groups of short endscrapers and burins predominate, but their quantitative relationship may be flexible at the individual sites. Both types are usually made on short blanks. Some of them are thick and some are polyhedric, thus recalling “Aurignacian” forms, but the quantity of these types is low.

The backed implements, previously used as the key argument for continuity of the Gravettian tradition, are also present but are in fact less frequent than expected within an industry, that is called “Epigravettian”.

Indeed there are great differences to the Epigravettian industries at the Balkans and in Italy, but we lack of comparative data about this issue.

The bone-and-antler industry, whenever preserved (mainly at Grubgraben) shows parallels to the Magdalenian but also to the preceding Gravettian at Krems Wachtberg, Willendorf, Dolni Vestonice and the Swabian caves (“bâtons de commandement” at Grubgraben, and Ságvár, "spatulas", eyed needles, the fragment of a spear thrower and a flute made from the tibia of a reindeer.

Figure 2
At Grubgraben, artifacts made of different raw materials were found. Fine-grained flints resembled in their mineralogical composition the raw material of Stránská skála.

The radiolarites had in part parallels with those from the Váh basin. 2-5% of the artifacts  were made of quartz. Endscrapers were the most frequent tool type, followed by burins, backed bladelets, Raclettes and multiple percoirs.

Obermaier (1908) and Brandtner (1989) described  thick (“Aurignacoid”) endscrapers on flakes, (“Mousteroid”) sidescrapers and multiple fine borers-similar to that of the contemporaneous Badegoulian in France and the Mezinian.

Figure 2 comes from Obermaiers publication (1908): "Die am Wagramdurchbruch des Kamp gelegenen niederösterreichischen Quartärfundplätze: Ein Beitrag zur Kenntnis des älteren Jungpaläolithikum in Mitteleuropa".

At this time Kammern-Grubgraben was classified as "Aurignacien moyen" and compared to the near Hundssteig site at Krems. A nice example of a misleading typological approach..

Suggested Reading:

A. Montet-White (ed.), The Epigravettian Site of Grubgraben, Lower Austria: The 1986 and 1987 Excavations, ERAUL – Etudes et recherches archéologiques de l’Université de Liège 40, Liège 1990.