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2022-02-17 10:53:20   •   ID: 2309

The Late Epigravettien at Balzi Rossi

Figure 1 Courteously by Thio Parg
The Upper Paleolithic at Balzi Rossi: The Balzi Rossi, (Baoussé Roussé, Grimaldi, Rochers Rouges) on the Mediterranean coast, are the names given to the Upper Jurassic limestone cliffs at the border of Menton and Ventimiglia, on Italian territory.

Figure 2
In the many spectacular caves and abris, there is evidence of an almost continuous late Pleistocene occupation in a climatically favorable place shaped by carstic environment, beginning with MIS5 and continuing throughout the last glacial (Figure 1). A more extensive overview about the History and the Paleolithic at Balzi Rossi is to be found here: Technocomplexes in Balzi Rossi

The Late Epigravettian: The Artifacts in Figure 1-5 come from an ancient collection, found around 1900 at Balzi Rossi, either from the Grotta del Caviglion or from Barma Grande, while an origin from Abri Mochi-which was detected in 1938, and also has an Epigravettian occupation, is improbable.

The artifacts were originally marked with "Mentone" and glued to a solid cardboard, perhaps indicating a defined site or stratum.

We recognize predominantly short endscrapers (Thumbnail Scrapers)- see: 1445 , some non retouched bladelets and burin spalls, one microlithic implement, in the absence of geometrics, and two curved and backed points (Figure 1).

One backed implement is a Bipoint made from a small 3,5 cm long blade while the other was manufactured by a tiny curved Burin spall, a technique of backing, known over large parts of Western Europe both during the Epigravettian and the contemporaneous Magdalenian (Figure 3, 4 and 5).

The late Epigravettian comprise parts of the Late Glacial and the Bølling-Allerød interstadial (17-13,5k.a. CalBP and is the period of pronounced climatic transformations.

During this timespan we notice, that the great Adriatic Plain was flooded step by step and the connections between the Italian Peninsula and the Balkans underwent profound changes (Cancellieri 2008).

Figure 3
The retreat of the mountain glaciers made it possible to move settlement areas further north. A good example is Riparo Tagliente (Tagliente Rock-shelter, Stallavena di Grezzana, Verona, Italy), an Upper Pleistocene key-site located in northern Italy which has become of great importance for the reconstruction of re-occupation dynamics in the southern slope of the Alps after the Last Glacial Maximum (Fontana 2009).

Anyhow, Genomic data from a human mandible from Riparo Tagliente indicate that this movement occurred as early as 16,5 k.a. CalBP, before the Bølling/Allerød warming and was linked to Populations of the Balkans and in Anatolia, questioning a solely climatic determinism (Bortolini et al. 2020).

The general evolutionary trend especially during the final Pleistocene was the microlithization of the lithic industry. Shouldered and foliated points, common during the early (Ligurian) Epigravettian-see: 1642 , became almost absent and the Late Epigravettian toolkit encompasses microliths, Microgravettes and in abundance short endscrapers.

While the morphology of small endscrapers remained unchanged during the Italian Epigravettian, the backed implements and their Chaîne opératoire revealed several changes, as recently noted in the excellent experimental work of Fasser et al. (Fasser et al. 2022).

"The shift from narrow, thin and standardized backed points to thicker, wider and more variable backed points coincides with the beginning of the so-called “azilianization” process attested throughout a large part of Europe and characterized by the diffusion of specific traits in lithic technology and other cultural aspects. This phenomenon probably also affected the variability of Late Epigravettian backed points." (Fasser et al. 2022).

The Bipoint of this post is indisputable an early Azilian point. For the discussion about the "azilianization process" I refer to the somewhat outdated but still very readable dissertation by Jan Kegler (2007) in the attachments.

Although the lithic inventory was constantly changing during the Epigravettian, other traditions already known from the Gravettian and before the LGM of Balzi Rossi continued in an almost identical manner in Liguria: This holds true for example for the funeral rites.

Burials: The Epigravettian yielded a remarkable series of single and double burials accompanied by grave goods. Apart from Italy Epigravettian burial sites are reported from the Southern France and Balkans. A comparative study of assemblages of Middle and Eastern Europe which are regarded as Epigravettian with the Mediterranean Epigravettian is still a Disertate (Giacobini 2007)

Figure 4
Beyond the Gravettian and Epigravettian graves of Balzi Rossi, the most famous ensemble of graves during the Gravettian and Late Epigravettian are known from Arene Candide (Liguria, Italy), -a cave at a distance of about 100 km along the coast east of Balzi Rossi.

The earliest of these, nicknamed ‘Il Principe’ (i.e. "the Prince"), has dated to 23,4 k.a. BP (non-calibrated; Cardini 1942; Pettitt et al. 2003). It is the richest Gravettian burial so far discovered in Western Europe.

During the Late Epigravettian, the cave includes several single and double burials of richly ornamented adults, adolescents and children and disarticulated accumulations of bones.

Two funeral time points from the end of the Pleistocene could be identified by C-14 AMS measurements, which are about 1000 years apart (Pettitt et al. 2005).

“Art”: Discoveries of art objects are worth to mention. While the few examples of Parietal art in Italy have not definitively dated yet, there are geometric engravings and abstract paintings on pebbles, many of them resemble those of the French Azilian known from a fairly secure stratigraphic context (Couraud 1985).

"Azilian" pebbles have been discovered at sites from Liguria to the Eastern Alps to Levanzo in Sicily and are mainly from the final Pleistocene such as at Grotta delle Arene Candide.

Another group of finds from the late Epigravettian represents abstracted humans and animals. Among them prevailed engraved and painted pebbles and blocks, but there are also several depictures of humans and animals on cave walls as well.

A wealth of ochre painted stones have been excavated from from the Dalmeri Rock-shelter (Trento) in an Alpine environment. They are dated at about 13,2 k.a. CalBP and belong to the most ancient occupation of the site.

Figure 5
In 2007 a number of 229 stones painted with red ochre were already reported,which is the largest collection of such objects so far.

The restoration of these paintings yielded different types of figures: zoomorphic, signs, anthropomorphic, hands, composite figures on both sides and diverse types of stones with red pigment traces.

The dimensional analysis of the stones revealed a certain standardisation in the choice of the calcareous supports used. The spatial distribution of the painted stones highlighted a preferential belt of concentration orientated on an east-west axis inside the most ancient settlement level (US65/15a).

The present data suggests that an area had been marked off in this most ancient settlement level of the rockshelter where ritual activities took place. Even though the complexity of the rituals is not clear to us, the data available at this time suggests a spatial organization, which will become more evident after further excavation (Dalmeri et al. 2007)

The richness of the Italian Epigravettian, especially in its late phase is sometimes ignored compared to the French Late Paleolithic evidence.

Key issues for future research:

- The connections with the Balkans, both around the LGM over the Adriatic Plain and and their strategic reorientation during the Late Glacial Interstadials.

- the chronology and scale of colonization of Northern Italy and Alpine habitats

- Differences between the North and South of the Peninsula and their various origins

-and the detection of submerged sites near the Ligurian and Adrian coast with the possibility of the preservation of organic remains

Provenance: Collection Bigot