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2018-12-11 08:55:55   •   ID: 2057

The Middle Paleolithic of the Krakow area (S-Poland)

Figure 1
Poland has a rich Middle Paleolithic record, evaluated since the 19th century.

The two traditional institutions of Palaeolithic research in Poland were always Kraków and Warsaw, with Warsaw emerging later, while other archaeological centers focused more on later epochs.

The Krakow area is incredible rich of Middle and Upper Paleolithic findings: multilayered cave sites and open-air sites are common. The whole spectrum from short hunting stays, sites of repeated hunt to large residental camps is present. Most favourable conditions were present during MIS5 and 3 with an overhelming artifact density at MIS3 sites compared to earler times.

Anyhow, even results from the early 1990ies are outdated, due to the development of new stratigraphic methods and dating approaches.

Scientific Research since 2000 aimed to clarify the:

  • site integrity of already excavated and new sites

  • techno-functional traits of ensembles beyond a Culture-historical archaeological approach

  • dating the sites not only by geomorphology, but by independent radiometric methods and ESR and TL

The Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology, Polish Academy of Sciences published in 2016 the Monograph "The Past Societies" ( Vol 1: Paleolithic and Mesolithic).

This book provides updated informations from experts in their scientific field and is an important addition to the last synthesis, written in France, by Kozlowski and Kozlowski 20 years ago.

Here I focus on the most interesting sites in the Krakow area. The ensembles can show the characteristics of:

  • the KMG, often combined with the tranchet blow technique; see here 1631

  • the Levallois-Mousterian s.l., including Microlithic ("Taubachian") ensembles; see here 1629

  • other technologies; for example: Middle Paleolithic Laminar technology

Figures 1 and 3 show bifacial artifacts, maybe part of a larger „Pradnik“ ensemble from an 19th century collection from Małopolskie. This region in S-Poland near the Slovakian and Czech borders consists mainly of uplands and mountains.

Other elevated features are the Krakowsko-Częstochowska Upland, the Carpathian Foothills, the West Beskid Mountains and the Middle Beskids, and the Podhale, which includes the Pieniny Mountains.

Figure 2
Of great interest is the Karstic topography of the Ojców National Park park, which in addition to two river valleys (the Pradnik and Saspówka ) contains numerous limestone cliffs, ravines, and over 400 caves (Figure 2: Creative Commons / Wikipedia).

At Ciemna Cave re-excavations in the hitherto-unexplored main chamber were performed after 2007. Ciemna is the type-site with both typical bifacial knifes (KMGs) and many examples of the Pradnik technique (tranchet blow technique)

Three ensembles have been documented and dated: “Mousterian”, “Taubachian” (MIS5), and "Micoquian" (MIS4—MIS3).

The Wylotne Rock shelter is one of the most important and richest Middle Paleolithic assemblages from Poland.

Several inventories from layers 8/7, 6 and 5 have been described, but unfortunately, they show heavily post-depositional disturbances, and refitting over several layers. Probably all material belongs to MIS3. The most important result of recent excavations seems to be that the lithics are not datable and that any stratigraphic trends are artificial, too.

The assemblage contains very large (up to 20 cm long) bifaces (ovates, cordiform, triangular, lageniform), different classes of bifacial knifes, unifacial knifes with cortical backs and virtually every scraper class, known from the Bordes-typology.

Groszak / coin-like Micoquian scrapers are common. There are a lot of rough-outs and preforms. The Levallois technique is virtually absent.

Figure 3
The complex of Palaeolithic open air sites at Piekary is situated on the northern slope of the Vistula River Valley 12 km upstream from Krakow.

The famous Piekary III site with its characteristic KMG- material, typologically shows similarities to the Bockstein findings in S/W-Germany, is lithostratigaphically dated somewhere between MIS5-3- but such dating-problems are known from other regions, also.

Up to date excavations in the Krakow area have been performed at Piekary II and Księcia Józefa.

These excavations at Piekary IIa showed a succession of five Middle and three Upper Palaeolithic assemblages. Several lines of evidence pointed to an MIS3 deposition of all strata (AMS, TL, OSL).

At Piekary IIa an early non- Levallois blade production was accompanied by Middle Palaeolithic technologies (layers 7c, 7b, 7a) and followed by local Early Upper Palaeolithic (layer 6) during a time interval of ca 60 – 32/26 k.a. Laminar blanks were used for production of notches, scrapers, truncations and burins.

The blade ensemble of Layer 6 at Piekary IIa was without any trend to to the developement towards other Upper Paleolithic entities (Aurignacian, Gravettian). Similar results were recorded for the Księcia Józefa site, Layer 3.

It remains unclear how to interpret these findings: a local independent evolution from a Middle to Upper Paleolithic?; maybe an impulse for the development of the Bohunician in the Brno area?; Incomplete recording of a larger area?-

Anyhow a blade industry during large parts of MIS3 remains remarkable, again pointing to flexible solutions of Neanderthal societies under changing environmental conditions.

Suggested Reading:

Wylotne and Zwierzyniec, Paleolithic Sites in Southern Poland, edited by Stefan K. Kozlowski, The Polish Academy of Arts and Sciences, Warsaw University, Krakow 2006.

Kozlowski Janusz k. et Stefan K. Le Paléolithique en Pologne: 1996 (still available!-see external link)