The Emergence of Bone-Working and Ornamental Art in the Caucasian Upper Palaeolithic

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The Upper Palaeolithic in the Caucasus: old views and recent discoveries

The place of the Caucasian Upper Palaeolithic (UP) has been under discussion since the 1930s. Zamiamin (1935) described it as generally Aurignacian in character and drew broad analogies with the Mediterranean--from North Africa and Italy, across to Syria and Palestine. Later, Formozov (1959) argued for more geographically limited affinities with the nearest regions, particularly Syria, Palestine and Iraq. Bader (1966) noted similarities between the UP of the western Caucasus and the Baradostian and Zarzian industries of the Zagros Mountains (Iran). Amirkhanov (1986) emphasised the Aurignacian-Perigordian character and also the rarity of bone tools as a distinguishing feature of the Caucasian UP. More recently, Kozlowski (1998) has argued for a bilinear development of the Early Upper Palaeolithic (EUP) in Georgia, and linked the Georgian EUP industries to the Early Ahmarian and Aurignacian of the Levant.

The chronology and homogeneity of the Caucasian UP has also been an issue of debate, and stratigraphic inconsistencies have affected our understanding of both the timing and typological nature of this industry. To address these problems, Liubin (1989) carried out an overview and critical analysis of key UP stratified sequences in the Caucasus. In addition, the first absolute dating of some Georgian UP contexts was done in the 1990s (Nioradze & Otte 2000). Amirkhanov (1994) reviewed the UP materials from earlier excavations and concluded that many of these artefact assemblages were probably of mixed Mousterian and UP provenance. He attempted to divide the Caucasian UP into two stages, based on climate-chronological data and peculiarities of lithic industries. Earlier, Meshveliani (1986) had concluded that UP materials from older excavations in Georgia were probably mixed with older material.

The new chronology

Beginning in the mid 1990s, new data has begun to emerge, changing our understanding of the character and origin of the arrival and behaviour of early Modern humans in the Caucasus. Modern excavation techniques, including total sediment water screening and an expanded series of absolute dates (Tables 1 & 2) from three recently excavated sites (Figure 1)--Mezmaiskaya Cave (north-western Caucasus, Russia), Dzudzuana Cave and Ortvale Klde Rockshelter (southern Caucasus, Georgia)--have revolutionised the perception of the UP in this region, with important implications for our understanding of the development and spread of the EUP in Eurasia (for details see Bar-Yosef et al. 2006, Golovanova et al. 2006 and Adler et al. 2008).

The EUP industries at Dzudzuana and Ortvale Klde are similar. At Dzuduana, the EUP Layer D dates are between 26 and 32 ka UP (uncal), and the lowest EUP layers are not yet dated (Meshveliani et al. 2004; Bar-Yosef et al. 2006). At Ortvale Klde, the EUP begins at 38 100 ka UP ([+ or -] 935 uncal) in Layer 4d, and continues to between 23 500 and 27 ka BP (uncal) in Layer 4b (although Adler et al. (2008: 14) note that the single early estimate for Layer 4d 'must be treated with caution'). Adler et al. (2008) calibrated AMS results from Ortvale Klde using the CalPal_2007_HULU method (and all calibrated dates reported here use this method). These authors set the calendric age limits of the EUP in the southern Caucasus between ~30 ka UP (Layer 4b) and ~39 500 ka UP (Layer 4c). At both sites, the EUP sequence ends at ~26-28 ka BP (cal), the Late Upper Palaeolithic (LUP) dates between 26-28 and 25 ka BP (cal), and at Dzudzuana (Unit B), the Epipalaeolithic (EPP) dates between 11 500 ka BP ([+ or -] 75 uncal) and 13 830 BP ([+ or -] 100 uncal).

Mezmaiskaya Cave in the north-western Caucasus is well known as a Middle Palaeolithic site (Golovanova et al. 1998, 1999; Golovanova & Doronichev 2003). In 1997, ten years after excavations had begun, three EUP layers (1C, 1B & 1A) were first recovered here (Golovanova et al. …