New Finds of Upper Palaeolithic Decorative Objects from Predmosti, Czech Republic

Article excerpt


A team of archaeologists led by Jiri Svoboda, of the Institute of Archaeology, Dolni Vestonice, and Martin Jones, of the University of Cambridge, has been excavating selected portions of the Gravettian sites of Moravia, beginning at Dolni Vestonice II in 2005 and continuing at Predmosti in 2006. Predmosti, located near the city of Prerov (Figure 1), has produced evidence of both Middle and Upper Palaeolithic occupation. Thanks to collaboration with the Municipality of Prerov, the excavated area was prepared for in situ conservation, as a part of a field museum constructed simultaneously with the excavation. Excavations in 2006 took the form of a trench dug adjacent to the previously excavated area in the south, in advance of the construction of the southern wall of the field museum. They were focused on a portion of the site with exclusively Gravettian cultural contexts, dated previously to 26-25 000 BP (Absolon & Klima 1977; Svoboda et al. 1994; dating samples from the recent excavation are currently being processed).

Since the discovery of Predmosti in the nineteenth century, the issue of whether Gravettian populations were mammoth scavengers or mammoth hunters, and, in the case of the latter hypothesis, how much specialisation they employed in hunting these large mammals, has been controversial (most recently Fladerer 2001; Oliva 2003; Svoboda et al. 2005; ali with references to the earlier literature). The mammoth remains themselves appear to have been extensively exploited in a variety of ways, ranging from probable consumption of meat to use of bones and ivory as tools, possible building materials--and a medium for ornamental art (Musil 2003; Bruhl 2005; Njvltova-Fisakova 2005; Wojtal et al. 2005). Although mammoths and the variety of other animals in the faunal assemblage were clearly valuable natural resources to the Gravettian inhabitants at Predmosti, modern excavations seek to uncover evidence of additional, often microscopic, botanical food sources that were previously unrecoverable (Mason et al. 1994). Through the collection and analysis of these microbotanical remains, this research project aims to provide a more complete picture of Gravettian subsistence.


The investigations

The Gravettian deposit at Predmosti has a total thickness of 0.6-0.8m, formed during the later part of OIS 3. After removal of the overlying deposit of more than 2m of loess, squares measuring 50 x 50cm were dug in 10cm-deep spits. All sediment from each section was passed through a flotation tank. Objects that were too small to be recorded three-dimensionally during excavation were recovered during flotation and could then be attributed to a 50 x 50cm square and 10cm-deep spit. Botanical remains recovered during flotation offered evidence for the palaeoenvironment of the site and the local use of plants.

The stratigraphic sequence separates broadly into two phases. While the upper layers contained dispersed bones and artefacts, the lower layers contained assemblages of bones and artefacts conserved in situ. Large mammoth bones were accompanied by complete and partial skeletons of middle-sized and small-sized animals, as well as small bone fragments, some of which were burnt. Flotation of samples from the lower layers produced numerous bone fragments, many of which were burned, as well as lithic fragments, microblades, and small pieces of ochre. It was among the samples taken in 2006 from square L3m of test trench L, 2.5m below the surface, that the decorated engraved bones reported here were recovered.

Decorated objects

The first decorated object discovered measures approximately 16mm in length and approximately 10mm in width, with a basically sub-rectangular shape with one end tapering slightly because of a break (Object 1, Figure 2). It is quite flat, with a depth of 2mm. Based on the size and character of the bone, zooarchaeologist Miriam Nyvtova-Fisakova has identified the material as the compact portion of rib of a middle-sized mammal, most probably a reindeer. …