Upper Paleolithic Fibre Technology: Interlaced Woven Finds from Pavlo I, Czech Republic, C. 26,000 Years Ago

By Adovasio, James M.; Soffer, Olga et al. | Antiquity, September 1996 | Go to article overview

Upper Paleolithic Fibre Technology: Interlaced Woven Finds from Pavlo I, Czech Republic, C. 26,000 Years Ago


Adovasio, James M., Soffer, Olga, Klima, Bohuslav, Antiquity


The later Palaeolithic sites of Moravia, the region of the Czech Republic west of Prague and north of Vienna, continue to provide remarkable new materials. To the art mobilier for which Dolni Vestonice and Pavlov have been celebrated, there has recently been added the technologies of groundstone and ceramics - and now woven materials, interlaced basketry or textiles, again of a kind one expects only from a quite later era.

The Moravian sites of Predmosti Dolni Vestonice and Pavlov have yielded the earliest evidence for European groundstone technology (in the form of pendants and enigmatic, large rings) and for a ceramic technology (employed to fabricate a plethora of animal and female figurines) [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 1 OMITTED] (Absolon 1945; Absolon & Klima 1977; Klima 1954; 1957; 1962; 1963; Svoboda 1994; Svoboda et al. 1996; Vandiver et al. 1989). In the following pages, preliminary data are provided on another apparent innovation, the manufacture of basketry or textiles from plant fibres.

The materials examined come from Pavlov I, an apparent base-camp occupied between c. 24,000 and 27,000 b.p. (Svoboda 1994; Svoboda et al. 1996). The site probably does not represent a single occupation, but rather is a palimpsest of residential, probably seasonal, stays at the foot of the Pavlov Hills, located in the Czech Republic, some 35 km south of the present-day city of Brno. The site has a distinctive suite of lithic and bone artefacts assigned to the Pavlov culture, a local variant of the Eastern Gravettian technocomplex (Svoboda 1994; Svoboda et al. 1996).

While it has been known, since Absolon's 1925 discovery of the Dolni Vestonice 'Venus' figurine, that groups occupying this region fashioned and fired clay objects (Absolon 1945), it is only recently that the existence of a fibre-based technology was discovered. Although the presence of human fingerprints and palm prints on fired and unfired clay fragments from Dolni Vestonice I and Pavlov I had been known for some time (Vlcek 1951; 1991 with references), it was during the course of a comparative analysis of ceramic fragments from the site, one of us (OS) encountered fibre impressions which appeared to be interlaced.

Provenance and chronology

The objects discussed were recovered in 1954 from a c. 470 sq. m excavated area in the centre of Pavlov I (Klima 1957; 1958; 1987) [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 2 OMITTED]. The 1954 excavation was composed of two horizontal exposures or blocks, one block containing a round dwelling with a central fire hearth and the other block containing two dwellings which were intrusive into older features. Hearths within these dwellings yielded a substantial number of burned limestone cobbles.

Though the exact vertical and horizontal provenience of the fibre impressions recovered in 1954 is not available, all are reported to derive predominantly from ash deposits both in and around the interior hearths and also from outside the dwellings. The cultural level in this portion of the site is c. 60 cm thick and probably represents more than one occupational episode. Unfortunately, these episodes could not be vertically segregated.

Six radiocarbon determinations have been obtained on wood charcoal from the site. They are as follows:

GrA-192 Pavlov I,                   25,530 [+ or -] 110 b.p.
1953 excavation, area b

GrN-19539 Pavlov I,                 26,650 [+ or -] 230 b.p.
1953 excavation, area b

GrN-1272 Pavlov I,                  26,620 [+ or -] 230b.p.
1956 excavation, area b

GrN-1325 Pavlov I,                  25,020 [+ or -] 150b.p.
1956 excavation, area b

GrN-4812 Pavlov I,                  26,730 [+ or -] 250b.p.
1956 excavation, area b

GrN-20391 Pavlov I,                 26,170 [+ or -] 450b.p.
1957 excavation, area a

While the vertical position of the fibre impressions within the cultural zone cannot be specified, nor are there dates for materials from the 1954 excavations, the samples appear to be confidently ascribable to the time-range bracketed by the upper limit of the oldest and the lower limit of the youngest of the available dates - that is, c. …

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Upper Paleolithic Fibre Technology: Interlaced Woven Finds from Pavlo I, Czech Republic, C. 26,000 Years Ago
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