The Cioarei-Borosteni Cave (Carpathian Mountains, Romania): Middle Palaeolithic Finds and Technological Analysis of the Lithic Asseinblages

By Carciumaru, Marin; Moncel, Marie-Helene et al. | Antiquity, September 2002 | Go to article overview
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The Cioarei-Borosteni Cave (Carpathian Mountains, Romania): Middle Palaeolithic Finds and Technological Analysis of the Lithic Asseinblages

Carciumaru, Marin, Moncel, Marie-Helene, Anghelinu, Mircea, Carciumaru, Radu, Antiquity


Cioarei cave (southern Carpathians, Transylvanic Alps, southwest Romania) contains the oldest Middle Palaeolithic remains dated by radiocarbon known so far in Romania. Other Carpathian cave sites have palynologically more recent occupations (for example, Bordul Mare, Curata de Nandru, Spurcata, Hotilor and Gura Chei), during the warmer last glacial Nandru and Obaha stages, contemporary with the upper levels of Cioarei cave (Carciumaru 1989; Honea 1986; 1900). The local lithic assemblages are little known, except that they differ from those in other districts (Valoch 1993; Paunescu 1089; Mertens 1996) in their use of local raw materials, rare flint and scarcity of Levallois debitage. This first study of the Cioarei lithic industry reveals the local cultural traditions in its environmental and chronological context and is the first technological analysis of a Romanian Middle Palaeolithic assemblage.

Knowledge about technological behaviour is essential to describe the variability of human groups, much more than just the tool frequencies. Moreover, ochre containers in stalagmite fragments were discovered in the same deposits as the lithic industry. Their artefactual nature is attested by scraping marks and a preliminary chemical analysis of the ochre deposits. These containers are the only ones so far known in Europe for this period.

The geographical location of the site is significant for our understanding of the last glacial period. First, Romania is at a regional crossroads between the Carpathian mountains and the Danube plain, unique in the European bio- and chronostratigraphy. Secondly, the precise designation of the human species responsible for these tools is not yet known, but the [sup.14]C dates suggest either very late Neanderthals or early Homo sapiens. In the eastern part of Europe, we do not know the authors of several transitional lithic assemblages, such as Bohunician and Szeletian, dated to 45-40,000 BP and the question of a relationship between Neanderthals and Homo sapiens is still unsolved. In this area, the few sites with Homo sapiens remains are not older than 40,000 years and are related to an `Upper Palaeolithic' tradition. As in Portugal or Spain, Neanderthals would still be present around 40-35,000 years ago in the south of central Europe, as in Vindija, Dudopest cave or Theopetra cave (Smith et al. 1999; Bar-Yosef & Pilbeam 2000). The Middle Palaeolithic settlements might well be, consequently, the evidence of either permanent or transitional Neandertal presence in Romania.

The Cioarei cave

The cave is located at 350 m a.s.l. and about 30 m above the Bistricioara river, a tributary of the Bistrita river (FIGURE 1), at the boundary between the Valcan mountains and a plain. The sheltered southwest orientation and valley-side location explain the choice of this cave, 27 m long, 7 m wide, and covering 85 sq. m. Several excavations have been conducted, the first by Nicolaescu Plopsor and Materscu in 1954, then by Maria Bitiri and Marin Carciumaru from 1973, followed by Marin Carciumaru from Targoviste University, Romania and Marcel Otte from Liege University, Belgium for a few years from 1990. The latest excavations revealed a stratigraphy from Mousterian to Gravettian and modern.


There are 801 lithic artefacts, mainly in five levels (E to J) (TABLE I). 55 elements of ochre residues (red and yellow-red) were also discovered. The most interesting are the 8 `containers', made of stalagmitic fragments with traces of ochre and scraping marks (Carciumaru et al. 1995). Six of them come from level E, one of the richest levels (FIGURE 2). Traces of fire were observed in level G but there are no burnt bones or burnt artefacts.


Most of the animal remains belong to bears (85%), particularly Ursus arctos and Ursus spelaeus. The other skeletal remains are from herbivores, or local fauna, including species typical of mountain slopes (ibex) or forests (deer, boar): Capreolus capreolus, Cervus elaphus, Bos primigenius, Capra ibex, Dicerorhinus kirchbergensis, Sus scrofa, Canis lupus, Vulpes vulpes (Terzea 1987).

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The Cioarei-Borosteni Cave (Carpathian Mountains, Romania): Middle Palaeolithic Finds and Technological Analysis of the Lithic Asseinblages


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