Eastern Central Europe during the Pleniglacial

By Verpoorte, Alexander | Antiquity, June 2004 | Go to article overview
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Eastern Central Europe during the Pleniglacial

Verpoorte, Alexander, Antiquity


The climatic downturn of the last glacial maximum (LGM) caused a retreat of human populations into the southern regions of Europe. The main refugia (in which populations survived the Ice Age) outside the Mediterranean itself have traditionally been located in south(western) France/Cantabria and the Ukraine/Russian Plain. The general view is that Europe north of the Alps was an empty land during the Pleniglacial (24-13 000 BP). At the end of the LGM, populations derived from the refugia recolonised the deglaciated territories in the north.

The settlement history of Ice Age Europe has implications for three interrelated research topics:

* the biogeography of modern human hunter-gatherer adaptations, concerning the study of the circumstances that make an area suitable for colonisation or unsuitable for continued occupation (Gamble 1993; Sax & Brown 2000);

* the archaeology of colonisation, as a more specific aspect, involving the timing, pattern, process and tempo of settling new landscapes (Rockman & Steele 2003, and the huge amount of literature on the initial colonisation of the Americas and Australia and the first modern humans in Europe);

* the importance of refugia with regard to the evolution of Palaeolithic societies and the population base for recolonisations (Jochim 1987; Semino et al. 2000; Willis & Whittaker 2000).

Recent research from Germany and Switzerland provides new insights in the Pleniglacial occupation of Europe north of the Alps (Street & Terberger 1999, 2000; Terberger & Street 2002). New dating evidence indicated a short occupational episode during the LGM, possibly related to the Badegoulian culture. Terberger & Street (2002) suggest that east-west-connections were relevant for the development of the Badegoulian. Montet-White (1994) also pointed to similarities between the Badegoulian in the west and her Epigravettian in the east. These studies invite a reconsideration of the Pleniglacial settlement of more eastern parts of Europe.

This paper discusses the question of Pleniglacial settlement in eastern Central Europe (referring to Poland, Czech Republic, Slovak Republic, Austria, Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Yugoslavia), reviews the available data and describes new results. The record for the Pleniglacial of eastern Central Europe has been variously interpreted. Some argue in favour of a total abandonment of the region at, and/or immediately after, the LGM (e.g. Housley et al. 1997). Others argue for a continued but sparse presence of human populations throughout the Pleniglacial (Svoboda 1990; Montet-White 1994). A number of sites has now been dated convincingly around the LGM (20-17 000 BP), for example Grubgraben in Austria, Stranska skala IV in the Czech Republic, Mogyorosbanya, Madaras and Sagvar in Hungary, and Kasov in Slovakia (Dobosi & Hertelendi 1993; Hromada & Kozlowski 1995; Svoboda et al. 1996). An unmodified antler near a fireplace in Deszczowa cave, Poland, dated to 17 480 [+ or -] 150 (Gd-10212) (Cyrek 1999) and an unmodified bone from Zytnia skala dated to 20 080 [+ or -] 320 (OXA-6563) (Kozlowski 1999) may indicate LGM-occupation close to the Fennoscandinavian icesheet. Hence, the question of hiatus or continuity centres now on the period of 17 to 13 000 BP.

In order to make a contribution to the settlement history of eastern Central Europe, I collected samples from a series of sites for conventional and AMS-dating in the Groningen Center for Isotope Research. Of special interest were those sites that are crucial to Pleniglacial settlement: Moravany-Zakovska, the only site dated to the LGM in Western Slovakia; Nadap, the only Hungarian site from the early Pleniglacial (27-22 000 BP); Langmannersdorf, the only Late Aurignacian site in eastern Central Europe with radiocarbon dates; and Brno-Videnska, a Moravian site in the gap between 17 and 13 000 BP.

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