Hiatus or Continuity? New Results for the Question of Pleniglacial Settlement in Central Europe

By Terberger, Thomas; Street, Martin | Antiquity, September 2002 | Go to article overview

Hiatus or Continuity? New Results for the Question of Pleniglacial Settlement in Central Europe


Terberger, Thomas, Street, Martin, Antiquity


Introduction

The publication by Housley et al. (1997) of a model for lateglacial recolonization of northern Europe opened a lively debate on this question (Blockley et al. 2000; Housley et al. 2000). A review of available radiocarbon dates for the Upper Palaeolithic suggested that the region was largely deserted by humans at around the Late Glacial Maximum sensu stricto (LGM: FIGURE 1) of the last Cold Stage: `The AMS [sup.14]C data clearly indicate an hiatus in occupation in many of the regions of northern Europe' (Housley et al. 1997: 35). The text makes clear that the `northern Europe' of the model includes large areas of western central Europe north of the Alps and extending to the British Isles as the most northwesterly outlier of Europe. The postulated lateglacial reoccupation of Europe, with origins in southwestern Europe, apparently reached the upper Rhineland (the Kesslerloch site) in a `pioneer phase' at c. 14,200 BP, only reaching the British Isles after 13,000 BP. The subsequent `residential phase', characterized by increased site density, would follow some 600-800 [sup.14]C years later.

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

Shortly after the above model was presented, new research in the Rhineland suggested that the concept of a complete pleniglacial desertion of central Europe was in need of revision. Excavation during the 1990s at the open-air loess site Wiesbaden-Igstadt (FIGURE 2) had uncovered the remains of a small camp of horse and reindeer hunters. Initial doubts as to the age of the site, due to unclear stratigraphy and inconsistent radiometric dating, were removed by a coherent series of AMS radiocarbon dates provided by the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit (ORAU) (Terberger 1998; Pettitt et al. 1998; Street & Terberger 1999). The six results lie between 17,820 [+ or -] 240 BP (OxA-7500) and 19,320 [+ or -] 240 BP (OXA-7502), with a mean value c. 18,720 BP, close to the older result (TABLE 1). They show that occupation can most plausibly be dated to a period shortly after the LGM. The lack of parallels for Igstadt in the Rhineland prompted the authors to examine the evidence for contemporareneous human presence in central and western Europe at a larger regional scale (Street & Terberger 1999). With the cooperation of R.E.M. Hedges and P.B. Pettitt (ORAU) it was possible to date samples from a number of site, the results of which are presented and discussed by this paper.

[FIGURE 2 OMITTED]

New dates for the Kastelhohle-Nord cave, northwestern Switzerland

The Kastelhohle cave is one of a number of important Upper Palaeolithic stations concentrated in the neighbouring Kaltbrunnental and Birsta) valleys (FIGURE 2) in the Basel-Land Canton of the Swiss Jura (Sedlmeier 1998; Leesch 1993). The double cave entrance opens over a breadth of 23 m at an elevation of some 30 m above the valley floor. Excavation took place from 1948-1950 and in 1954 under the direction of T. Schweitzer in cooperation with E. Schmid (Schweitzer 1959).

In the North Cave, a long trench extending from the cave interior located three Palaeolithic cultural layers separated by sterile deposits (Schmid 1959). A Middle Palaeolithic level was covered by a deep deposit of eboulis-rich loess and loam, itself overlain by a deposit of speleothem. A second archaeological layer was located between this unit and a new overlying deposit containing cryogenic debris, above which followed the third, greyish-black cultural deposit. On the basis of the lithic assemblage and organic artefacts such as eyed needles, awls and projectile points, the uppermost cultural horizon was classified as Upper Magdalenian or `Type E Magdalenian' (Sedlmeier 1998; Leesch 1993: 162). This attribution provides a terminus ante quem for the underlying, middle cultural horizon which is of interest here.

This Middle Horizon delivered a relatively poor assemblage of 260 lithic artefacts and some fragmented bones. …

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