Franchthi Cave Revisited: The Age of the Aurignacian in South-Eastern Europe

By Douka, K.; Perles, C. et al. | Antiquity, December 2011 | Go to article overview

Franchthi Cave Revisited: The Age of the Aurignacian in South-Eastern Europe


Douka, K., Perles, C., Valladas, H., Vanhaeren, M., Hedges, R. E. M., Antiquity


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Introduction

Dating the Middle to Upper Palaeolithic transition in Europe continues to present major methodological challenges, bur during the last two decades a suite of technical advances in radiocarbon dating, such as the development of new pre-treatment protocols (Higham 2011), an internationally-agreed calibration curve which spans 50 000 years BP--IntCal09 (Reimer et al. 2009)--and the application of Bayesian statistics (Bronk Ramsey 2009), have prompted new attempts to refine the chronological framework (Bronk Ramsey 2008; Joris & Street 2008; Higham 2011).

At the same time, the development of technological approaches on well-stratified assemblages has led to a much better characterisation and understanding of lithic production during the different phases of the Aurignacian, particularly in Western and Central Europe (Bon 2002, 2006; Bordes 2006; Nigst 2006; Teyssandier 2008; Maillo-Fernandez & de Quiros 2010).

Taken together, these new perspectives in both radiocarbon dating and lithic studies invite us to reconsider the Aurignacian at Franchthi Cave, Argolid, Greece, as one of the most easterly Aurignacian sites in Europe. Its lithic assemblages were first published when the succession of Aurignacian phases was poorly defined in terms of lithic technology (Perles 1987), hence a re-assessment is due. In this paper we present a brief re- analysis of the lithic evidence and publish the first radiocarbon determinations for the earliest part of the sequence.

Current status of the Aurignacian

Three different Aurignacian industries are now recognised in Europe (Bon 2002, 2006; Le Brun-Ricalens 2005; Teyssandier 2008). The Pratoaurignacian (Aurignacian 0), originally defined by Laplace (1966), is relatively common in the Mediterranean region (Bazile & Sicard 1999) but has also been documented in Western and Central Europe (Bon 2002, 2006; Bordes 2006; Tsanova 2006). It has affinities with the early Near Eastern Ahmarian (Mellars 2006; Zilhao 2006; Teyssandier 2007). The Protoaurignacian is characterised by the production of blades and long straight bladelets within a single reduction sequence, usually on pyramidal cores. Organic tools made of bone or ivory are very limited in range and number (Teyssandier 2008).

The Early Aurignacian (Aurignacian I) can be seen as the founding facies ofthe Aurignacian sensu stricto (Teyssandier et al. 2010). It is characterised by the production of blades and bladelets in two clearly separate reduction sequences. Blades are produced from large flat-faced prismatic cores, while bladelets are produced on what were classically termed carinated end-scrapers. In the Early Aurignacian, these carinated cores have a wide front and the debitage is detached towards a central ridge on the upper face. The bladelets are straight or curved, rarely or only lightly twisted, and rarely retouched. These industries are normally associated with the emblematic split-based bone point (Knecht 1991; Liolios 2006). It has recently been suggested that the Early Aurignacian was restricted to south- western Europe and the Swabian Jura (Teyssandier et al. 2010).

The Evolved Aurignacian (Aurignacian II) also makes use of carinated cores for the production of bladelets but these have a narrower front and include carinated burins, carinated end-scrapers and nosed end-scrapers. The bladelets--Dufour bladelets of the Roc-de-Combe subtype--tend to be smaller and often twisted to the right when viewed from the upper surface (Chiotti 1999; Bordes & Lenoble 2002; Bordes 2006). In both Aurignacian I and Aurignacian II, the cores are extensively used and rejuvenated, producing characteristic rejuvenation flakes and bladelets (Le Brun-Ricalens 2005), which attest to the presence of this mode of debitage even in the absence of the cores.

Inherent difficulties in the dating of the time period, close to the limits of the radiocarbon method, make it difficult to establish whether the Protoaurignacian and Early Aurignacian industries were produced successively or if some chronological overlap should be expected. …

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