The Last Pleniglacial and the Human Settlement of Central Europe: New Information from the Rhineland Site of Wiesbaden-Igstadt

By Street, Martin; Terberger, Thomas | Antiquity, June 1999 | Go to article overview

The Last Pleniglacial and the Human Settlement of Central Europe: New Information from the Rhineland Site of Wiesbaden-Igstadt


Street, Martin, Terberger, Thomas, Antiquity


Introduction

It is generally considered that the extreme climatic deterioration of the late Weichselian Pleniglacial led to the complete desertion of northern Central Europe by humans (Bosinski 1992: 84; 1990: 131; Gamble 1986: 205) and, although this viewpoint has also been questioned (Weniger 1990: 173), it is at least certain that there was a considerable reduction of settlement intensity following the Gravettian represented in the region before the Pleniglacial (Hahn 1969; Bosinski et al. 1985; Bosinski 1995a; 1995b; 1995c; Conard et al. 1995).

The recolonization of northern Central Europe is usually interpreted as a relatively late expansion of Upper Magdalenian groups (of ultimately southwestern French origin) in a direct response to the sudden lateglacial climatic amelioration c. 13,000 BP (Bolus et al. 1988; Rensink 1993). This view has been somewhat modified by first attempts to calibrate radiocarbon ages, and to correlate them with climatic data from ice cores, deep-sea cores and varve sequences (Street et al. 1994), an adjustment which increases the age of Magdalenian samples by more than 2000 calendar years [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 1 OMITTED]. On this evidence, and supported by several consistent new series of radiocarbon dates, Upper Magdalenian groups were already established at the northern fringe of the Mittelgebirge (Upland Zone) before the lateglacial rise in temperature (Street et al. 1994; Housley et al. 1997).

Nevertheless, while it still seems certain that the occupation of northern latitudes indeed intensified in response to late glacial climatic amelioration, there is increasing evidence that regions peripheral to proposed Pleniglacial refugia were also occupied sporadically or at low intensity much earlier than hitherto supposed. This paper will suggest that there is evidence for occupation of the Rhineland before the Upper Magdalenian.

The age of Last Glacial events is currently expressed by several different (and often incompatible) relative and absolute dating methods. However, recent advances in the calibration of radiocarbon dating suggest that it will soon be possible directly to compare 14C ages and those obtained by other methods (such as thermoluminescence, counts of varves and ice cores and biostratigraphic evidence) and establish a standard time-scale for the Last Pleniglacial and the Late Glacial (Street et al. 1994; Lanting & van der Plicht 1996; Kitagawa & van der Plicht 1998; Joris & Weninger 1998). This paper will quote radiocarbon dates from archaeological contexts as uncalibrated years 14C BP. Until there is a consensus for a common calibration system, the presentation of the 'raw dates' avoids confusion and even the uncalibrated radiocarbon dates provide convincing evidence for continuity or hiatus of settlement in different regions of Europe.

Pleniglacial settlement in Europe - hiatus or continuity

The classic southwestern French Upper Palaeolithic cultural sequence is divided into the four major groups: Aurignacian, (Upper) Perigordian (= Gravettian), Solutrean and Magdalenian (with sub-divisions), complemented by further groups such as the Aurignacian V (Peyrony & Peyrony 1938), Protomagdalenian (= Perigordian VII) (Bordes & de Sonneville-Bordes 1966), ProtoSolutrean and Badegoulian (= Magdalenian 0/I). In this region Upper Palaeolithic development is characterized by continuity of settlement through the Pleniglacial [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 2 OMITTED].

In contrast to southwestern France, Central Europe is apparently characterized by a hiatus between the Gravettian occupation before the Pleniglacial and the lateglacial sites. The Gravettian in the Rhineland [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 3 OMITTED] is represented particularly at the sites of Koblenz-Metternich, Rhens, Mainz-Linsenberg and Sprendlingen (Hahn 1969; Bosinski et al. 1985; Bosinski 1995a; 1995b; 1995c; Conard et al. 1995), for which no 14C dates are available. …

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