Research on the Middle Palaeolithic in Dalmatia, Croatia

By Karavanic, Ivor | Antiquity, December 2000 | Go to article overview

Research on the Middle Palaeolithic in Dalmatia, Croatia


Karavanic, Ivor, Antiquity


The Palaeolithic sites of Croatia are internationally important for their association of lithic industries and fossil human remains. The most significant sites include Krapina and Vindija in the Hrvatsko Zagorje region (northwestern Croatia). Middle and Upper Palaeolithic industries and Neanderthal remains from Hrvatsko Zagorje are discussed in many publications (Smith et al. 1999 and references therein). In contrast, the characteristics of the Middle Palaeolithic of Dalmatia (south Croatia) are little researched. Superficial artefact collections from open-air sites (Batovic 1988; Chapman et al. 1996) have enabled lithic analysis based on typology (Batovic 1988). New research is needed to explore Middle Palaeolithic technological characteristics and for the reconstruction of the palaeoecological conditions of Dalmatia, which would enable comparison with other sites from the Eastern Adriatic region and Italy, establishing (and explaining) similarities and/or differences between Neanderthal behaviour in the Adriatic and Tyrrhenian parts of the Mediterranean.

The only systematically excavated site in Dalmatia, with clear and homogenous Mousterian stratigraphic context suitable for absolute dating, is Mujina Pecina. Here research aims to provide a framework for the interpretation of environmental conditions and Neanderthal adaptations in Dalmatia, and practical training for undergraduate and postgraduate students.

The cave is about 10 m deep and 8 m wide. It is situated north of Trogir and west from Split in typical karstic terrain (FIGURE 1). Archaeological finds were initially (1977) collected from the surface inside and outside the cave (Malez 1979), and the first test excavation took place in 1978 (Petric 1979]. Since 1995, a joint project by the University of Zagreb Department of Archaeology and Kastela City Museum has undertaken systematic excavations (Karavanic & Bilich-Kamenjarin 1997). Following standard archaeological methodology for Palaeolithic cave sites, all artefacts and ecofacts with dimensions of 2 cm or more in size have been entered in three dimensions on site plans (FIGURE 2). The sediments were sieved and samples for absolute dating (ESR, AMS), sedimentological, palynological and anthracotomical analysis were taken.

[Figures 1-2 ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The main stratigraphic profiles are only about 1.5 m deep and they suggest short sedimentation during both warm and cold climatic periods. The Quaternary sediments include large fragments of carbonate rock, sand and little silt, with some clay. Lithic industries and faunal remains processed by humans were found in all Mousterian levels, but not later periods. The oldest levels, deposited during a warm period, are richest in finds and they suggest long-term occupation by Neanderthals. Conversely, significantly lower frequencies of archaeological finds in cold-period deposits suggest sporadic and short-term occupations. The faunal assemblage from these cold period levels (D1, D2) (preliminary analysis by P.T. Miracle) is dominated by red deer, followed by wild caprids, chamois/ibex, birds, large bovids and other less frequent species. Two localized areas of burning, probably representing open (unconstructed and unpaved) Mousterian hearths, were found in occupation level D2.

Cores and debitage items from several occupation levels indicate tool manufacture in situ, occasionally with the use of Levallois technology. Many tools are small (similar to so-called Micromousterian) due to the size of local raw material; cortex on tools and small cores further emphasizes this. …

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