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2020-12-03 12:17:56   •   ID: 2221

The Balve Cave: One Highlight of the Central European Middle Paleolithic

Figure 1
Figure 1: These are several Middle Paleolithic steeply and continuously retouched Levallois Blades made of siliceous slate (Kieselschiefer) and a convergent scraper, found in the fields in face of the famous Balver Cave, an important multilayered site with mainly Middle Paleolithic findings in Western Germany in the Hönne Valley.

A ridge known as the "Hohle Stein" overtops the Northwest to the Hönne Valley at the northern edge of the town of Balve.

The Hönne is a left tributary river to the Ruhr, flowing through the northern Sauerland hills in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany.

The Balve Höhle (Cave) in the Hohle Stein is visible from afar and is an important landmark. The enormous entrance of the Balver cave opens around 7 m above the Valley. The cave is about 12m high and 18m wide.

The upper part of the cavity filling, which mainly came from the late Middle and from the Upper Paleolithic through the Mesolithic to the pre-Roman Iron Age, were already destroyed in the 19th century; the sediments containing the finds ended up as fertilizer on the surrounding fields, where our artifacts were found 150 years later.

Thank heaven, at least parts of the Middle Paleolithic cave finds remained untouched after the destruction of the upper Cave layers

Several scientific excavations were made in the cave (1925-1929, 1939 by Bahnschulte and 1959 by Günther). Since 2002 new investigations are underway. At the start of the excavations during the 1920ies the cave was still filled up to 15 m high with sediments.

During WW II, the cave was used as bomb-proof factory hall for the construction of plane parts. This caused massive damage to the inner parts of the cave. Because of this link to the weapon production, the cave was planned to be blown up by British military in early Postwar times. However, this plan was rejected.

In 1997, the cave was made safe for tourists. Today, it is used as a festival hall

Figure 2- Wikipedia
Figure 2 shows a hand-colored Photography of the Cave and the surrounding landscape around 1889. Overall the countryside has not very much changed during the last 130 years.

The hall-like cave vault, which extends over 50 m into the rock is divided into two side arms, each more than 20 m long - the so called "Virchow" and the "Dechen" arm.

The Hönne Valley is the valley with the most caves in Germany. Currently over 110 caves have been recorded so far. About 25 of these cave yielded Archeological findings since the 19th century, often yielding a poor Middle Paleolithic, predominantly made from local raw materials, with Micoquian traits.

It was not an easy task to connect the stratigraphies from different excavations at Balve into a a general succession of the Archeological layers.

The relative Chronology of the Middle Paleolithic at Balve can be summarized as shown below:

Balve I: the lowest stratum with uni- and bifacial artifacts; nowadays interpreted as a poor Micoquian

Balve II: KMG/ Micoquian

Balve IIi: KMG/ Micoquian

Balve IV: Günther designated the lower parts as Balve IVa and demonstrated their clearly KMG/ Micoquian characteristics.

The Upper parts of Stratum IV were without bifacial artifacts and show a Levallois- Mousterian aspect with many scrapers, double scrapers on broad Levallois Blades (Figure 1 and 3) and convergent instruments among them Mousterian Points and so called "Bogenspitzen"

Figure 3
Figure 3 shows two pages from Günther‘s publication, describing artifacts from stratum IVb, similar to the items of this post.

Currently no absolute dates are available for the Balver Cave sequence.

The Interpretation of the sequence mainly depends upon the interpretation of sediment-analyses.

A "long chronology", first proposed by Günther, suggests that Stratum I (layer 1959/6; a clay accumulation) can be correlated with the Eemian Interglacial.

In this model the sterile horizon (layer A/IV/1939), archeologically between Balve II/III, which contains a large amount of frost-debris, was correlated with MIS4 (Günther 1964). Therefore the Micoquian/KMG would have been present before and after MIS4.

Weißmüller (1995) and later Richter (1995) gave a different interpretation of the sedimentological record and preferred a "short chronology" by placing Balve II-IV in toto to MIS3.

The artifacts, shown here clearly come from Layer IVb as demonstrated by their techno-typological appearance and their comparison with the publication of Günter, shown in Figure 3.

It remains unclear if stratum IV as a whole should be called Micoquian/KMG or if Stratum IVb is an archeological reality of a "pure" Levallois Mousterian.

In my view the lithic findings in stratum IVb may regarded as an activity specific accumulation and integral part of the versatile repertoire of late Neanderthals.

Alternatively the construction of a Biface-free Levallois Mousterian, may be a sampling bias- especially because no Middle Palaeolithic MIS3 blade ensemble are known in this part of Europe so far.

Surfing the Blog: About the Middle European Micoquian / KMG: 1631 , here 2016 ,here: 1270 and here: 1726 .

Suggested Reading:

Bosinski, G. Die mittelpaläolithischen Funde im westlichen Mitteleuropa. Fundamenta A/4. Köln & Graz. (1967)

Günter: K. Alt- und mittelsteinzeitliche Fundplätze in Westfalen, Teil 1 + Teil 2.(1986, 1988)

Günther, K. Die altsteinzeitlichen Funde der Balver Höhle. Bodenaltertümer Westfalens 8. Münster. (1964)

Baales M et al. : Westfalen in der Alt- und Mittelsteinzeit (2014)- See last external link for a complete copy! Note that the some artifacts of this post can be found in the book, too.

Freund G: Sesselfelsgrotte I. Grabungsverlauf und Stratigraphie (1998)

Weissmüller W: Sesselfelsgrotte II. Die Silexartefakte der Unteren Schichten der Sesselfelsgrotte. Ein Beitrag zum Problem des Moustérien (1995)

Richter J: Sesselfelsgrotte III. Der G-Schichten-Komplex der Sesselfelsgrotte (1997)