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2022-05-22 09:39:10   •   ID: 2334

On the Move: The Early Upper Paleolithic in Europe -Part II

Plate 1: Partial Topography of Europe from ESA; Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 IGO license
Figure 1
On the Move: The patchy Archeological record of the Initial and Early Upper Palaeolithic in Continental Europe, shown by its lithic signatures is the theme of the post.

Archeology: Between 50-40 k.a. BP, new Palaeolithic Industries appeared, with no forerunners during the European Middle Paleolithic.

In this post, inventories comparable to the Near Eastern Emirian are referred to as IUP. Figure 1 shows a typical Bohunician Blade from Ondratice in Moravia. It has the characteristic Y- Pattern, a facetted base and was produced from volumetric (fully Upper Paleolithic) cores of this entity.

Inventories of the European "Proto-Aurignacian," are understood here as a continuation of the Ahmarian from the Northern Levant while the Early Aurignacian, in the strict sense, was most probably rooted in Europe. Both Entities are referred to as EUP. However the distinction between Proto-Aurignacian and Aurignacian as separate Entities is debatable (see below).

Figure 2 displays the strong similarity between straight Bladelets / Lamelles of the Levantine Ahmarian (Figure 2a from Kebara / Mt. Camel in Israel) and the (Proto)-Aurignacian (Figure 2b from Les Cottes / Vienne; France).

The sudden emergence of new Paleolithic industries in Europe is most parsimoniously explained by the arrival of Modern Humans.

Archeologically; the common lithic denominator of the earliest Upper Paleolithic remains a technique that relied on both Blade and Bladelet technologies in the production of innovative (multicomponent) hunting projectiles. In particular, the production of bladelets can be very variable. In principle, however, they occur with varying frequency in all industries, but they differ in their chaîne opératoire.

Figure 2 a and b
This post is the Continuation of the last one about the European Middle to Upper Palaeolithic transition - See: 2332 and addresses regions and routes that modern Humans probably took, when settling Europe during climatically unstable times of OIS 3, roughly between ca. 50-40 k.a. - evidenced either via direct finds of H. Sapiens remains in situ and / or by IUP / EUP inventories sensu lato.

Statistic methods make it possible defining fossil H. Sapiens remains on the basis of morphological characteristics and distinguish them from other Species. They can be also used to define the probability of the presence of archaic traits on a fossil using morphometric techniques, based on an always increasing sample of Hominins.

Molecules and Genes: At best, the extraction and sequencing of ancient DNA can help to classify a paleontological find within the human phylogenetic tree. This was the case at Oase (Romania) and Bacho Kiro (Bulgaria), (Jones et al. 2015, Hublin et al. 2020).

Palaeoproteomics is a rapidly growing field in which proteomics-based sequencing technology is being used to identify species and evolutionary relationships of extinct taxa.

Proteins exhibit single amino acid polymorphisms (SAPs) between hominin taxa. These SAPs result from nucleotide substitutions in protein-coding genes and lead to variations in the protein sequence of amino acids, so that these amino acid variations facilitate phylogenetic analysis.

This approach has been used, for example, to identify Denisovian and Neanderthal remains by identifying different SAPs in bone protein. An overview can be found here: proteomics

Absolute Chronology: Despite recent advances in Molecular Archaeology, reliable absolute and relative dating methods remain still the backbone of any good Paleolithic Archeological research.

The Radiocarbon method (AMS; Pretreatment; Calibration; Baysian statistics) up to 50 k.a. still remains the most important technique for the Middle / Upper Paleolithic transition. However the application of Radiocarbon still becomes increasingly delicate beyond 40 k.a.- more information-See here: 1717

Figure 3
Optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) is a process in which a pre-irradiated (exposed to ionizing radiation) material (usually quartz sediment) when subjected to an appropriate optical stimulation, emits a light signal proportional to the absorbed dose.

The measured dose in the Lab comes from the natural radioactive isotopes in the soil in which the quartz crystals were embedded, namely Potassium-40 and Uranium and Thorium isotopes with their subsequent radioactive decay products.

Before incorporated into the soil, quartz crystals eventually remained on the earth's surface for a certain time and were exposed to sunlight. These Sun bleached crystals were zeroed of any previous luminescence signal before their re-embedding into newly formed sediments.

The light signal of the re-embedded crystals under optical stimulation in the Lab is proportional to the time that elapsed after re-embedding. If the dose-Rate of the sediments is constant, adequately measured and known, the accumulated dose is a function of time.

During the last years the OSL Methodology has left behind many difficulties at the beginning, but remains charged with some uncertainties.

Furthermore, the technique does not allow direct dating of an organic archaeological probe, but only indicates the age of its embedment.

A dramatic volcanic eruption surpassing anything known in the historical record took place in central Italy 39 k.a. BP. It is known as the Campanian Ignimbrite (CI) eruption, which was followed by the cold Heinrich 4 climatic oscillation.

Atmospheric circulation carried clouds of ash all over the eastern Mediterranean, and the products of the eruption reached regions as distant as southwestern Russia.

The nature of these ash deposits allows this event to be very accurately dated. It also has a distinctive chemical signature that can be recognized, even when the ash is invisible to the naked eye in sediments (Hublin 2012).

The Tephra from the Campanian Ignimbrite eruption is an important signature for itself and helps crosschecking the age estimates of other procedures (Isaia and Orsi in Fedele et al. 2013).

Figure 4
Relative Chronology: Stratigraphically the Chatelperronian is always to be found below the Proto-Aurignacian and Aurignacian. The Proto-Aurignacian ("Aurignacian 0", "Fumanian") is always below the Early Aurignacian. The Uluzzian is always to be found below the (Proto-) Aurignacian (see earlier Posts).

There is no stratigraphically proof that Middle Paleolithic was interstratified with truly Upper Paleolithic Industries like the Châtelperronien, (Proto-) Aurignacian, Bohunician, Uluzzian or Bachokirian.

The IUP: The European implements have their counterparts in the Levantine IUP / EUP- See: 1494 , as demonstrated by Skrdla, Bordes, Teyssandier, Tostevin, Shindrang and Israelian Scientists. Figure 3 displays a pointed Blade from Northern Bulgaria, near the Bacho Kiro cave.

Their morphology is still reminiscent of elongated Levallois points, from which they are originally derived, although they were made from Upper Paleolithic, often bi- or unipolar crested cores. The IUP is defined primarily by the method of blade production, involving hard hammer percussion and platform faceting resulting in blades and cores with a Levallois-like appearance (Kuhn 2019).

Two European lithic industries fit the definition of the IUP; the Bohunician, found in Moravia and southern Poland with beginnings around 48 k.a. and the Bachokirian from Temnata cave and Bacho Kiro (Bulgaria), the latter recently dated to ~47–44 k.a. Cal BP. ( Kuhn and Zwyns 2014; Tostevin and Škrdla 2006).

Anyhow, by far the largest sample of an IUP, widely identical with the Moravian Bohunician, is known from the open air site of Kulychivka in the transkarpartic Western Ukraine.

Level IV yielded more than 600000(!) artifacts and was recently dated around 45-40 k.a. CalBP (Koropetskyi et al. 2021).

These European manifestations of the IUP are restricted to eastern and east-central areas of the continent, with no known IUP assemblages further north or west (French 2021).

The Bachokirian Assemblages are characterized by:

  • Use of flints which come from sources up to 90 and 180 km northeast of the cave
  • Blades and Bladelets produced in continuity
  • High number of retouched tools (mainly pointed Blades) while Levallois Points are rare
  • High number of Bone Tools and Ornaments

  • the Bohunician Assemblages are characterized by:

  • Use of local raw materials which come from nearby sources. Imports from more distant sources: max. 10%
  • Blades and Bladelets produced in continuity; Bladelets rare at many sites, but in abundance present at Ořechov IV – Kabáty
  • Low number of retouched tools (mainly elongated Levallois-like Points, Endscrapers, some Leafpoints)
  • Bone Tools and Ornaments are missing in the Archeological record maybe by a taphonomic bias

  • Visual Information about the Lithics at Bacho Kiro and the Bohunician are to be found here: Bacho Kiro Tools / Bohunician Tools

    The Neronian:The Rhone Valley and its tributaries host several localities of the "Neronian". In the Mandrin cave L. Slimak reported a layer, interrupting a sequence of a late Mousterian strata with special characteristics.

    Here hundreds of small elongated Levallois-like points were found, morphologically similar to Early Ahmarian points from Ksar Akil and associated with teeth of H. Sapiens. Many of them were used as projectiles according to the traceological observations (Slimak et al. 2021).

    Figure 5
    In my view, there are still too many unanswered questions about the site - see: 2307 to argue for an incursion of H. Sapiens during early MIS3, as Slimak would like.

    Provided that the still open questions are clarified, one could probably speak of the currently earliest EUP / IUP of Europe.

    The Châtelperronian Enigma: There is nothing new to report about the Châtelperronian. A critic appraisal can be found here: 1492 .

    The Early Aurignacian: The early Aurignacian, as defined from the Aquitaine Archeological record, shows a different Chaine operatoire compared with the IUP: The “ideal” blade (i.e., that which will be used as a tool blank) is large and, above all, wide and thick; its profile is often curbed, and remnants of cortex often remain.

    In contrast to the IUP of Europe, preforming of cores tends to be minimal: crests are rather uncommon, and not well made. The single striking platform is rejuvenated through the removal of thick core tablets.

    The removal of blades is often executed through direct soft hammer percussion, using an organic hammer. Facetted or spur butts predominate. The size of blade cores does not vary with raw-material: blade production stops as soon as the length falls below 8-10 cm, at which time the width of blanks is of 2-3 cm.

    Figure 6
    Heavy retouching of Aurignacian blades is common, maybe a consequence of thick blanks and intended for better hafting (Figure 5-8).

    Bladelets occure in various frequencies and usually represent curved or twisted debitage. Organic Points were common at sites with adequate conservation of organic remains.

    Figure 4-6 displays typical Aurignacian samples from the Perigord (Figure 5: Combe Capelle), Central Europe (Figure 6: Swabian Jura / Kleinheppach) and the Middle Dnepr region (Figure 7). Note the "Aurignacian Retouches" on most of the artifacts.

    The Proto-Aurignacian: D. Peyrony (1934) had described an industry, which we today call Proto-Aurignacian above a Chatelperronian and below an early Aurignacian layer in La Ferrassie (Dordogne). L. Pradel (1961) found a similar Ensemble in the same stratigraphic position in Les Cottes (Vienne) a "Lense Correzien" below an “Aurignacian ancien”.

    With the deconstruction of the concept of two independent "phyla" in the Perigord, namely the autochthonous "Perigordian" (today: Châtelperronian and Gravettian) and an allochthonous "Aurignacian", an ignoring of the assemblages of the Proto-Aurignacian was accompanied. One spilled simply the baby out with the bath.

    Figure 7
    Since the 1960ies the entity was re-introduced again, with new sites and collections. It was Laplace during the 1960s, who once again turned the spotlight on an "archaic Aurignacian”. Subsequently this Entity was found in Northern Spain (Ekain, La Viña, Morin, Labeko Koba and Arbreda); Mediterranean France, the greater Aquitaine and the Pyrenees (Isturitz, Barbas III, Les Cottes, Piage, Tuto-de-Camalhot, Esquicho-Grapaou, Louza, Mandrin, Trou de la Mère, Clochette and Observatoire); Italy (Mochi and Bombrini at Balzi Rossi, La Fabbrica, Castelcivita), Eastern Austria (Hundssteig site in Krems), at the Margins of the Carpathian Basin (Românești-Dumbrăvița I GH3), several sites in the Ukraine, the Middle Don region (Kostenki 14) and Crimea (Siuren 1).

    In multilayered sites this Entity is always found below the „Classic“ early Aurignacian and first appeared before the CI- Eruption (before 39 k.a. Cal BP). It is generally suggested that the Proto-Aurignacian was made by incoming H.Sapiens populations(Banks et al. 2013, Teyssandier et al. 2010).

    Depending on different Research traditions the Entity was called „Aurignacian 0“, „Archaic Aurignacian“, "Fumanian", "Aurignacian of the Krems - Dufour type" and Proto-Aurignacian“.

    Figure 8
    Typologically the hallmarks of this industry differ from the Aurignacian sensu stricto. Blades are more delicate, that their thick Aurignacian counterparts. The invasive Aurignacian Retouche is virtually absent.

    Contrary to the Aurignacian, the most common Blank and Tool class in the Proto-Aurignacian are Bladelets, which often outnumber all other artifacts and comprise up to 80% of the ensembles. The Bladelets are larger than those, seen during the Aurignacian, and are often retouched contrary to the often unretouched items of the Aurignacian (Figure 9 from Les Cottes).

    Lamelles during the Protoaurignacian and the Aurignacian in S/W-France are highly diversified and have not only chronological,but also ecological, economical and paleo-ethnological meanings.

    They can be classified by the several dichotomies: Large vs small; straight vs. slightly curved vs. twisted; tipped vs. non-tipped. Of importance are also their retouches (ventral, dorsal, alternate, marginal vs. semi-abrupt).

    Large Lamelles Dufour (subtype Dufour) with straight or only slightly curved profile and around 30–45 mm long were preferably made during the Proto-Aurignacian, while small Lamelles Dufour (subtype Roc-de-Combe with a twisted profile and around 15-20 mm long) are usually ascribed to the Aurignacian.

    In contrast to the Aurignacian, however, is the deliberate retouching of these small- to medium-sized bladelets into a series of highly distinctive “lamelle Dufour” and “Font Yves” forms, usually shaped by means of fine, semiabrupt retouch (Falluci et al. 2028.

    Technologically, in the Aquitaine the signature of the Proto-Aurignacian is said to be embedded in the production of blades and bladelets within a single and continuous stone knapping sequence. Both products are thus obtained from the same core as the result of its progressive reduction.

    Figure 9
    The Aurignacian on the other hand shows a dissociated production, that means that there were two independent chaînes opératoires to produce blades and bladelets. The bladelets were usually detached from carinated and nosed cores.

    However, this model does not apply to other regions. The "Aquitaine Model", which was exemplified only for a small region, is not valid for more distant areas, where we observe a techno-typological simultaneity of elements from the Proto-Aurignacian and Aurignacian in their original definition. This has become clear above all by the works of Falcucci et al.; Tafelmayer et al. ; and Gennai 2021.

    It seems quite possible, that the Aurignacian 0 and 1 are not defined Entities in the cultural-historic sense, but more complex adaptive manifestations based on a common technological repertoire (Tafelmayer 2007).

    By the way, this holds also true for other Upper Paleolithic entities, that one may not simply transfer the findings of S/W France uncritically to other regions. Nevertheless, prehistorians have been stepping into the same trap for 150 years. That's how powerful research traditions are....

    Early Homo sapiens in Europe: Here I will briefly list the early H. Sapiens remains in association with the respective find horizons.

    Such an association of AHM-remains with an IUP / EUP is all the more likely for an authorship of the lithic ensemble by H. Sapiens if:

  • a burial with largely preserved skeletal remains is present
  • a taphonomically undisturbed layer is present
  • a valid dating of the skeletal remains and other organic remains in the same stratum is present
  • Ancient DNA could be isolated from skeletal remains

  • Figure 10
    However, the situation is rarely ideal. Often only small skeletal fragments are found, which are naturally more susceptible to dislocation from other strata above and below. Sometimes we are dealing with old, poorly documented excavations. In most of the cases ancient DNA could not be isolated. It has to be pointed out, that beside the Bacho-Kiro case, the association often remaines insecure and unequivocal.

    The Châtelperronian is associated with Neanderthal fossils at Saint-Césaire (Level EJOP sup) and Grotte du Renne (Levels VII, IX, and X) (Hublin et al. 2012).

    The earliest directly dated European Homo sapiens fossils are the fragments from Bacho Kiro ca. 46,7-42,8 k.a. cal BP, associated with Bachokirian (Hublin et al. 2020), followed by the Oase 1 mandible from Peştera cu Oase, without associated industry, at about 42–37 k.a. calBP.

    The Homo sapiens incisors from Riparo Bombrini and Grotta di Fumane are the only known fossils in direct association with Proto-Aurignacian material (Benazzi et al. 2015).

    The Uluzzian is associated with Homo sapiens at Grotta del Cavallo (Layer E) (Benazzi et al. 2011)

    The Classic Early Aurignacian was associated with remains of H. Sapiens remains at La Quina-Aval and at Brassempouy.

    Later stages of the Aurignacian, which post-date the last known Neanderthals, were found in direct association with Homo sapiens fossils at multiple sites- e.g. Mladeč (Wild et al. 2005); Cioclovina (Kranioti et al. 2019); Les Rois (Ramirez Rossi et al. 2009). Figure 7 displays artifacts from the "Aurignacien recent" at La Rochette; Dordogne.

    The Eastern and Central European route: The Eastern Route along the Carpathian arc seems to be of great importance for the initial Dispersal of H. sapiens during MIS3, while the route across the Iron Gate into the Pannonian Plain obviously did not play a major role, most likely due to unfavorable climatic conditions in this region. Thus the Lower Danube corridor possibly rather acted as a barrier during MIS3.

    However the hilly terrains and mountain slopes at the margins of the Carpathian Basin are clearly areas where Upper Paleolithic sites in general and Aurignacian sites in particular are found, either in situ or as surface lithic artifacts scatters (Demidenko et al 2012).

    Demidenko recently gave an overview of the Proto-Aurignacian sites in question: Krems-Hundssteig in Lower Austria, north-western corner of the (Pannonia) Basin; Romanesti-Dumbravita I and II, Cosava, and Tincova in the Romanian Banat and Crvenka-At in the Serbia Vojvodina's Banat, south-south-west of the Basin; Berehove I and Berehove II-VII and Muzhievo 1-5 surface find spots in the Ukrainian Transcarpathia, and the site of Tibava in Eastern Slovakia, north-western corner of the Basin.

    It was early recognized, that Palaeolithic sites in the Banat, (especially Tincova - near the important Oase Cave, Coşava and Româneşti- Dumbrăviţa), in south-western Romania bear among other Entities a „Krems-Dufour type Aurignacian“ (Mogoşanu 1972, Hahn 1970, 1977; Demidenko 1999, Demidenko & Noiret 2012, Demidenko er al. 2020).

    However, it was considered surprisingly young in archaeological terms until recently - an assessment that seemed implausible given the state of present-day research. Several working groups have revisited these sites as part of renewed interest in the region under the "Out of Africa-2" hypothesis (Sitlivy et al. 2014, Chu and Zeeden 2016, Anghelinu 2012, Floss and Fröhle 2016, Demidenko et al. 2012, 2016, 2020).

    Chronologically the (Proto-) Aurignacian in the Banat and other parts of East Europa can now be placed with reasonable justification into the time period preceding Heinrich event 4 (HE-4) and the Campanian Ignimbrite (CI) eruption. However, it must be pointed out that the absolute dating is essentially based on the data from Românești-Dumbrăvița I GH3 and Kostenki 14.

    In Eastern Europe, the Entity appears much more variable than in the Aquitaine. (Sitlivy et al.2012, Demidenko et al. 2012, 2016,2020).

    It bears a clear blade and bladelet debitage character with either a continuous blade and then bladelet reduction within one and the same core reduction system or separate blade and blade/bladelet, and bladelet core reductions.

    These technological features are connected to the several presence of blade, blade/bladelet cores and bladelet ‘carinated’ cores with, at the same time, some occurrence of wide-fronted carinated endscraper – cores, a few nosed/shouldered end- scraper – cores and a near-absence of carinated burin-cores, explaining the availability of nume- rous on-axis and flat and/or slightly incurvate in profile Dufour sub-type bladelets/microblades with alternate and/or ventral retouch
    (Demidenko et al. 2020).

    In this context, it was recently possible for the first time to generate settlement patterns for the Proto-Aurignacianon, indicating a complex system for a site-clusters in Berehove I and Berehove II-VII and Muzhievo 1-5 (Ukraine) with a base-camp and and several sites-satellites; according to a logistic/foraging/ radiating mobility system (sensu Binford).

    West of the Pannonia Basin, Early Aurignacian Ensembles are known from Lower Austria and S/W-Germany, and follow the Danube in its middle and upper course. I have already reported about the Aurignacian cluster in the Middle Danube Region around the City of Krems and the Wachau in earlier posts-See: 1194 and 1717 .

    In my view the presence of a Proto-Aurignacian at the multilayered site of Krems-Hundsteig can not reasonable contested. Moreover, I have not yet given up hope of that residual layers of this Entity enclosed in vast loess accumulations north of the original site will be excavated.

    The early Date for initial Aurignacian at Willendorf II AH3 is now generally accepted (ca. 43,5 k.a. Cal BP) and represents another example of an early Presence of H. Sapiens in the Middle Danube Region.

    Several important Aurignacian levels have been excavated in Swabia since the early 20th century, especially in the Lone and Ach valley, both tributaries to the Upper Danube-See: 1347

    Geißenkösterle AH3 is now dated to 42- 43 k.a. CalBP for the start of the Aurignacian, prior to the Heinrich 4 cold phase. In addition, the Hohlenstein Stadel Aurignacian (Find spot of the Lion man) was recently re-dated to 40 k.a. cal BP.

    Table 2: Balzi-Rossi Site Cluster; Courteously by Thio Parg
    The Italian EUP Record: In principle, an incursion of H. Sapiens into Italy via the Adriatic Plain and/or the Rhone Valley would be possible. Unfortunately, the temporal resolution of the C-14 data is not sufficient to generate a temporal gradient based on the numerous in-situ sites.

    The most important Proto-Aurignacian sites clusters are to be found at the Balzi Rossi-site complex in the region of Liguria (NW Italy)-See- 2309 , where it has been identified in multiple levels at the sites of Riparo Mochi and Riparo Bombrini and in the Grotta dei Fanciulli. A second cluster is located in N-Italy.

    In Northern Italy the Entity is present at the Grotta Fumane, layers A2-D3, situated in a tributary valley of Valpolicella, on the western Lessini and at Riparo Tagliente, located a few km Eastwards of Fumane, along the Valpantena.

    The Protoaurignacian in the Venetian Prealps is dated between 42 and 41 k.a. CalBP. Most sites are located near the entrance of wide valleys, close to the adjacent plain, at altitudes generally lower than 400 m. Similar age estimates are known from the Balzi Rossi site-cluster.

    Roll-Back via the Aurignacian to the Levant? Figure 10 shows a classic Aurignacian Blade from one of the Carmel caves. The Levantine Aurignacian sensu stricto, is identified by ensembles that encompass thick and carinated scrapers, strangled blades with lateral retouches dihedral and truncated burins, Dufour bladelets (some twisted, some incurvated), and (small) el-Wad points.

    Bone tools, if present, include points and awls, and split base points, which are so well known from the European Aurignacian.

    The best documented non-calibrated Radiocarbon dates for the Levantine Aurignacian sites like Manot scatter around 34-38 k.a CalBP - clearly more recent than the (Proto)-Aurignacian of Europe and the Ahmarian at Kebara.

    It should be pointed out that the European "Aurignacian” is rich in tools on blade and bladelet blanks as well as blade/bladelet cores, while in the Levant, the local Aurignacian is considered primarily as a flake-based industry.


    Collections Levenstein, Perseke, Meller, Popov, Bachmayer (NHM / Austria), Reinhard and Halm.

    Suggested Readings:

    J.C French: Palaeolithic Europe (Cambridge World Archaeology); 2022 - A wonderful book that will give you an update on hot topics in Paleolithic Archaeology - Buy!

    The more you know, the more you know you don't know (Ascribed to Socrates)

    Thomas Litt; Jürgen Richter; Frank Schäbitz (Eds): The Journey of Modern Humans from Africa to Europe; 2021

    Jiri Swoboda et al. Dolní Vestonice-Pavlov: Explaining Paleolithic Settlements in Central Europe (Peopling of the Americas Publications) 2020

    Resources and images in full resolution: