Upper Palaeolithic and Mesolithic Human Fossils from Moravia and Bohemia (Czech Republic): Some New [sup.14]C Dates. (News & Notes)

Article excerpt


Traditionally, the territories of Moravia and Bohemia (Czech Republic) are considered rich in human fossils from Upper Pleistocene and Early Holocene contexts. However, the fossil lists, as included in the available Catalogues and other reviews (Vldek 1971; Valoch 1996; Svoboda et al. 1996; Jelinek & Orvanova 1999; Wolpoff 1999) are constantly being supplemented and modified by new discoveries both in the field (Matousek 2000; Svoboda et al. 2000a) and in the collections (Trinkaus et al. 1999; 2000), by rediscovering old fossils believed to be lost (Svoboda 2001b; Drozdova 2001), and by new dates improving both the chronologies and the archaeological contexts (Pettitt & Trinkaus 2000).

We review here [sup.14]C dates for the region, obtained from materials such as bone, charcoal and calcite. The bone samples provide direct dates, whereas charcoal and calcite yield associated dates. The dates are all shown in TABLES 1 & 2. The samples received the standard [sub.14]C pretreatment to remove contaminants. Large samples were measured by the conventional method (GrN, Groningen; ISGS, Illinois), and small samples (mg size) by AMS (GrA, Groningen; OxA, Oxford). For ages beyond 20,000, there are inconsistencies in published `calibration' records and thus in absolute chronology, so that we use the [sub.14]C chronology in this text. The measurements are all corrected for isotopic factionation, and are reported in BP (Mook & Streurman 1983).

In addition to a previous paper on the depositional context of the human fossils from Mladec and Koneprusy-Zlaty kun (Svoboda 2000), we focus in this paper on new [sub.14]C dates, obtained recently from four Moravian and Bohemian sites: Mladec, Koneprusy-Zlaty) kun, Svitavka and Obristvi, and discuss them in the chronological framework of the human fossils from Moravia and Bohemia. It appears that the Mladec dates confirm the expectations very well, whereas dates from the other three sites make a revision and reclassification of the contexts of these human fossils necessary.

New dates from the four Czech sites

Mladec I (Central Moravia)

Sites I-II from Mladec are characterized by a multi-floor karstic system in the Tresin Hill. It is penetrated by vertical fissures and chimneys, where more than 100 specimens of anatomically modern human fossils were found at various locations between 1881 and 1922 (Szombathy 1925; Bayer 1925; Smycka 1922; Skutil 1938; Jelinek 1983; Oliva 1993; Wolpoff 1999). The aim of our present project was the reconstruction of the depositional context, as it was before removal of sedimentary cave fillings, by combining the early reports with evidence from sediment relicts still present in the cave, using a Surfer programme graphic presentation (Svoboda 2000). It appeared that all human fossils were related to debris cones accumulated under the chimneys, the largest being the so-called Chimney of the Dead at site I. The majority of the cone deposits are of Middle Pleistocene age; the dating of the anatomically modern human fossils found in their uppermost parts was based primarily on the presence of the Mladec, points, i.e. bone projectiles considered culturally diagnostic for the Early Upper Palaeolithic in general and the Aurignacian in particular (Albrecht et al. 1972; Svoboda 2001a). Dating the human bones directly was unsuccessful thus far. Through the courtesy of Drs Szilvassy, Wolpoff and Frayer, a human rib fragment from the main cave, chamber D, locus d, associated with Mladec crania 1,2 and 4, was submitted to the Oxford Accelerator for dating in 1987 by C. Stringer (pers. comm.). Unfortunately it contained insufficient collagen to produce a radiocarbon date (R. Housley pers. comm.).

Our dating efforts Concentrated on site I, Szombathy's find-spot `a' in the so-called Dome of the Dead. The graphic reconstruction shows that before removal of the sediments this spot lay at the foot of the large debris cone under the Chimney of the Dead (Svoboda 2000: figure 5). …