Whatever the journalist's definition of eastern Europe might be, let us state, as introduction to this Special Section, that Czechoslovakia is a country in Central, not Eastern, Europe. It is somewhat controversial to speak about its 'return to Europe', as some politicians would have it, as it has been there all the time.
VENCLOVA 1991: 306
Despite archaeology's focus on space and time, it often ignores the exact location in space and time of its own research. This essay seeks to examine varying grounds on which archaeological knowledge-claims have been made over time in relation to the well known Palaeolithic site, Dolni Vestonice, in the former Czechoslovakia. While it is necessary to consider the physical context of the artefacts that validate a particular hypothesis, at the same time it is also essential to unravel the social, historical, political and personal contexts within which the site, the materials and the investigators themselves are submerged.(1)
Palaeolithic archaeology, rooted in geology and positioned directly on the fault line demarcating the furthest edge of the humanities, combines the methodological aspects of natural sciences and the interpretive aims of social sciences. Its heavy reliance on stone tools, soil samples and geological profiles gives Palaeolithic archaeology the image of 'hard', or by extension 'objective', science. The appearance of agriculture, architecture, and cities in subsequent time periods substantially increases the distance between natural sciences and archaeology, flaming other archaeologies with a more humanistic mind-set. Thus Palaeolithic archaeology offers a pivotal case-study on the border between the historical development of a natural science, and a humanistic pursuit of interpretation of factual evidence.
Archaeological research operates within two contexts: one archaeological - the physical circumstances of the finds - and one culture-historical - the socio-political climate of the country in which the site is located, together with that of the researcher's country. These two contexts are inseparably bound. Giving meticulous attention to the archaeological context is itself no guarantee of a value-free interpretation, for all interpretations claiming to be factually based, and scientifically tested, are constructed in relation to both material evidence and social reality (Gero et al. 1983; Pinsky & Wylie 1989; for a different approach to similar questions, see Patrick 1985).
What constitutes a location worthy of a survey, a site in a need of excavation, materials worth collecting, identifying and analysing varies over time: it is culturally determined, constructed and reconstructed. The 1853 drought in Switzerland exposed the 'Lake Dwellings', resulting - histories of archaeology tell us - in a large-scale excavation and the discovery of the Bronze Age settlements (Trigger 1989: 83). Without doubting that the drought in question occurred, and helped to reveal the wealth of finds, one still has to question why the Swiss scientists were searching for ancient settlements in such a meticulous way, in that particular geographical location, at that point in time.(2)
Archaeological excavations and research, it is often written, should be problem-oriented, addressing specific questions formulated to deal with issues pertaining to the past (Renfrew & Bahn 1991; Thomas 1989). Yet one has to pause and consider the meaning of such a bold, basic statement in introductory text-books. What constitutes, at a specific point in history, in a specific geographic location, a question that needs to be dealt with? Presumably, a question is posed so as to obtain an answer, and an answer that is seen as vital and interesting. The question itself is a lead toward an answer, that acquires interest and meaning in a particular context. The specific historical and social context gives meaning to that social construction called the past, be it local, regional, national, or universally human in scope.
History of European prehistory
Palaeolithic archaeology operates within a time-bracket labelled as prehistory, the period before written records (Renfrew & Bahn 1991: 17). The term prehistory, as opposed to history, appears in England and continental Europe during the second half of the 19th century, signifying a separate, conscious aspect of the study of human existence (Chippindale 1988; Clermont & Smith 1990). At the time, prehistory was called prehistoire in France, preistoria in Italy, Vorgeschichte in Germany (Daniel 1963: 14). All these terms suggest a similar optimism: there was a tangible past before the occurrence of written records, knowable and worth naming. In Germany, with the concurrent rise of the nation state, the ancient past was viewed not only as something tangible but also something significant to the national identity, and prehistory 'changed its name' in 1886 from Vorgeschichte to Urgeschichte - indicating that it was the source (the prefix ur-) of history, rather than its antecedent (Sklenar 1983). Neither England nor France followed suit. Czech intellectuals, on the other hand, in the midst of battles for language rights in the Austro-Hungarian empire, avoided using the existing loan word historie (history) that would have suggested links to Western traditions, and instead adopted the term pravek with its strong Slavic ring. The created word evoked the image of ancient ancestral time (the prefix pra-indicates antiquity, old age along direct kinship lines), a Slavic past which the present population descended from (vek is the Slavic root for age). These three different words - prehistory, Urgeschichte and pravek - may serve as the background against which the materials from Dolni Vestonice were interpreted in the 20th century.
The site of Dolni Vestonice is located near a village of the same name, in the southern part of the central section of former Czechoslovakia known as Moravia. The country itself was created in 1918, as one of several small nation-states that rose from the disintegrated Austro-Hungarian empire after the First World War. In many respects its making was more a result of a political failure in the sphere of multiculturalism, particularly mis-handling the language question, than a mature decision of all parties involved. Political boundaries were created that did not correspond with ethnic territories, resulting in the incorporation of long-settled linguistic minorities into the new national entity. Czechoslovakia was simultaneously part of Central Europe and the westernmost Slavic country, possessing at the time of its creation large German and Hungarian populations in addition to Czechs and Slovaks. Historically, the country has never been comfortable with its geographically expansive and threatening, but also inescapably influential and appealing, German-speaking neighbours to the west, south and north, an unease that is counteracted by an equally ambivalent relationship with its eastern neighbour - the former Soviet Union, heir to the Russian empire. This historically shaped and ideologically charged geographic location, with perceived ethnic attachments and emotional value, played a major role in the collective national identities of the Czechs, the Moravians and the Slovaks.(3) FIGURE 1 records how the boundaries of nation-states have moved across its location.
Dolni Vestonice lies in the southern part of the Moravian Karst, traditionally a German region, later part of the contested Sudetenland. The village was known under its German name of Unterwisternitz, and the overwhelming majority of the population was ethnically German (Frolec 1985). Their identity within the newly formed state became unclear, since they had traditionally identified themselves as Austrian Germans under the Empire. As of 1918, they were no longer Austrian, and yet could not claim to be German either. The system that had allowed the ambiguity of a figure like the writer Franz Kafka - who lived in Prague, but was Jewish in ethnic tradition and religion, and German in the literary language - had collapsed. Where the old imperial German language had distinguished between tschechisch (Czech) and bohmisch (Bohemian), the new national Czech language recognized only one state identity - Czechoslovak. This only contributed to the German sense of alienation from the Czechoslovak state's identity, an issue that developed into a serious problem in the 1930s, and an irreparable crisis by the beginning of the Second World War, with generous assistance from German and Czech political parties.
The site located in the 19th century
The hilly region of Southern Moravia was of historical interest for centuries, mainly due to its claim of having been the location of the first Slavic state - the Great Moravian empire (9th-10th centuries AD). The search for the exact site of this once powerful community captured the imagination of all local patriots from the 18th century, when land and nation became inseparable concepts in the popular imagination (Gojda 1991). The first mention of prehistoric finds is dated to the 17th century when a doctor at the emperor's court recorded mammoth bones recovered in the vicinity of the village (Absolon 1938; Klima 1954; Schwabedissen 1943; Svoboda 1991). Throughout the following centuries local doctors, teachers, botanists and naturalists made numerous records of extremely large bones, later identified as mammoth. The hunt for ancient fauna was replaced, in the second half of the 19th century, by a search for ancient human inhabitants, partly due to increased awareness of the antiquity of humanity (Ermarth 1978: 68):
The swelling tide of Darwinism in the '60s and '70s even exceeded the impact of Hegelianism in the '20s and '30s. Psychology, anthropology, economics, geography, philology, ethical philosophy, and even epistemology were remodeled on Darwinian lines. The idea of natural evolution came to dominate the thought of the later nineteenth century in a way comparable to the fascination exerted by …