Leaf Points from the Middle and Early Upper European Paleolithic

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This is a fragment of a Paleolithic leaf point found at the Goldberg, near Nördlingen, Germany. This post summarizes the archaeological evidence from Germany, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and adjacent regions, especially with regard to so called “leaf point complex”. The meaning of this complex is open for discussion, as:

  • A “cultural entity” with leaf points as  “fossil directeurs”
  • An activity specific ensemble, derived from the Micoquian
  • A “transitional industry” rooted within the local Middle Paleolithic, which developed towards an Upper Paleolithic
  • A technocomplex made by Neanderthals independly or by acculturation to Homo sapiens groups  arriving in Middle Europe  from South East Asia  about 40 k.a. BP

Here I will focus only on sites with chronological and technical informations. Surface findings with data, that could be heavily biased will not be described or discussed. The “Szeletian” at Szeleta: Szeleta Cave is located on the eastern side of Bükk Mountains. The cave is divided into four parts: the “Hall” is situated immediately north of the Entrance, the “Main Corridor” opens to the northwest of the “Hall”, and the “Side Corridor” is situated to the west. Szeleta cave was first excavated between 1906 and 1913 by Kadic and later in 1928,1936, 1947, 1966, 1989 and since 1999 by several scholars and even international teams. The lithic assemblages of Szeleta Cave were initially classified as “Solutrean”, and attributed to the Upper Paleolithic (Kadic 1916). After WW 2 the classification for the Paleolithic occupations at Szeleta was changed. It was recognized that the middle European leaf point industries were chronologically earlier than the Solutrian in France and in some regions clearly related to the local Middle Paleolithic (for example in Bavaria). The Szeleta Cave was chosen to be the eponymous site of what is today known as the “Szeletian” (Prosek 1953). At Szeleta, Kadic described 11 layers among which 9 wereof Pleistocene age.  The most complete sequence of layers was recovered in the Hall, where the excavation reached the bedrock. The nine Pleistocene layers were not found in the same order in each part of the cave. Some layers of the cave fill were further divided into sub-layers. In the case of layer 3 for example into three hearth levels (3a, 3b, 3c) with an up to 0.25 m thickness. Kadic distinguished three types of “Solutrean”: an “Early Solutrean” from Layer 3, an „Intermediate Solutrean” from Layer 4 and a “Developed Solutrean” from Layers 5 and 6. The “Early Solutrean” was characterized by rough, irregular leaf points, while the “Developed Solutrean” was characterized by fine regular laurel leaf points. The “Intermediate Solutrean” comprised both types. Cadic and his successors focused on the spectacular Leaf Points, without much emphasis on other tool types. It later became clear that the „Developed” Szeletian industry without leaf points was Upper Paleolithic and showed Gravettian influences by the presence of backed bladelets and a Gravette point. Stratum 3 and 4 showed Middle Paleolithic Artifacts but also a Split Base Bone Point.  Several models, which claimed or refuted the integrity of the strata, have been proposed:

  • Upper and Lower Strata are part of a Szeletian tradition, which bridges the middle and early upper paleolithic.
  • Upper and Lower Strata are independent from each other. The Lower strata are a Middle Paleolithic of Babonyian /Micoquian Tradition with Leaf Points. The Upper Strata represent a Gravettian with Leaf Points.
  • Several Upper and Middle Paleolithic cultural entities are present at Szeleta. These entities are irreversibly mixed by severe post depositional events.

I will end with a prosaic view, which was recently put forward by Lengyel and Mester (2008): “At Szeleta Cave. evidence for the presence of several Paleolithic “fossil markers” within a single layer indicates extensive stratigraphic displacement of artifacts over thousands of years. The agency of displacement in the cave as yet unknown, also displaced organic remains that were used for radiocarbon dating, as evidenced for instance by the wide range of dates from > 41.700 to ca. 11.000 C-14 BP within Layer 3. In such a case it is impossible to assign dates to specific archeological entities”.  Therefore in my view the Szeleta Cave cannot be the type locality of the leaf point complexes in Middle Europe any more. Altmühlgruppe and Ranisian / Jerzmanowician: The Weinberghöhlen, near Mauern in Bavaria, are the most important references for the leaf point technocomplex in Germany. Two horizons, zone 5 and, above all, zone 4 have yielded leaf points. While 609 artifacts, 89 of them tools, came from zone 5, the overlying zone 4 yielded 398 artifacts, among them 111 tools. Cores and blanks are rare. The use of Levallois technique is attested. There are some flat triangular bifaces, Keilmesser and many scrapers with Quina Retouche. The highest density of finds were found in the entrance areas and the areas immediately in front of the caves, while inside the caves only isolated leaf points and few other artifacts have been found.  The fire places were found exclusively outside the caves. The archaeological material at Mauern comes from an Interstadial (Hengelo or earlier during OIS 3). It is very interesting that at Mauern the leaf point complex is clearly connected with the Micoquian. Kot (1012) sees the leafpoints from Mauern as equivalents for Keilmasser: “At the same time the thickness of the material was too small to create tools in the type of Micoquian Keilmesser, but the raw material allowed for producing tools with long working edges. It was logical, therefore, to change the system of repair of one edge into a tool in which one could use subsequently fragments of edges and then abandon them. Therefore analysed tool should be rather called “leafknives” than leafpoints” .The Leaf Point complex at Mauern is found below a rich Gravettian (28-30 k.a. BP). The site of Zeitlarn near Regensburg in Bavaria (Germany) is situated on a ridge near a small drainage. The position of the site provided a perfect view of the surrounding landscape. Intense surface collections yielded two clearly artifact scatters with numerous leaf points at a distance of 500 m from each other. Within the area of the denser concentration, small test excavations were carried out in 1996 to investigate whether there were still artifacts more or less in situ and, if so, to establish their stratigraphic position. Unfortunately ploughing has partly destroyed any find horizon, so there was not a single artifact below the surface finds of the main concentration. Anyhow the excavators were sure, that all artifacts belong to one single settlement horizon. Beside leaf points, bifacial and unifacial scrapers and Endscrapers were found. The findings have some similarities with Vedrovice V. A similar site was found at Vilshofen-Albersdorf in the Black forest. The Ilsenhöhle near Ranis in Thuringia, is the second multilayered cave site of the leaf point complex in Germany. Layer 2 is assigned to an Interstadial and yields bifacial but also marvelous unifacial leaf points (point blades sensu Jacoby; Jerzmanovice-points). Cores and evidence for an intensive blank production are rare, while the tool percentage is high. The more prominent raw material comes from some 40 to 60 km away, and the leaf points obviously were not fabricated in the cave itself. Based on the occurrence of a leaf point most likely made of Bavarian Jurassic chert, and based on typological similarities, It was suggests that there was contact between the Thuringian and the Bavarian regions, which indicates contact over a distance of about 200 km. The Jerzmanovice Cave in Poland is the backbone for chronological considerations of leaf-point industries during OIS3 over the North European Plane. Layer 6 with a C-14 age of 38 k.a. BP yielded both bifacial leaf points and point blades. The ratio of point blades to leaf points increased in the superimposed layer 6 and 5 (C-14 for layer 5: 30 k.a. BP). Upper paleolithic implements (burins) first appeared in layer 6 and increased over time. In layer 4, backed pieces are present. There are numerous findings of Jerzmanovice-points in the UK. They occur in both cave and open- air sites, and have been found at a number of such sites in the south-west region, including Kent’s Cavern and Bench Tunnel Cavern in Devon. The latter site has also produced a date for this industry (a hyena mandible below which a Jerzmanovice point was found has been dated to 34,500+/-1,250 BP), which is broadly in-keeping with the type-site date in Poland, and indicates that this industry could have potentially been produced by Neanderthals or modern humans, or indeed both. A most interesting group of artifacts  were discovered at the end of the last century by Dr John Harley whilst quarrying stone beside the drive to his house at Beedings, north of Nutbourne near Pulborough. The material consisted of some 2,300 artifacts, mainly long flakes and blades, some scrapers and burins, but most important a number of Jerzmanovice points (about 30). Beedings may represent the sophisticated hunting kit of Neanderthal populations which were only a few millennia from complete disappearance in the region. Leaf Points in Moravia: In Moravia, there are two EUP ensembles with leaf points: The Bohunician and the Szeletian. While the Szeletian is found in the Lower Pleniglacial soil of the Last Interpleniglacial soil complex of Moravia, the Bohunician is found in the same pedocomplex but can also be found within the superimposed soil of this complex, an observation that is subtantiated by the overlapping radiocarbon dates of both technocomplexes. The Szeletian of Moravia will be reviewed selectively by the results of two major excavations. There are numerous (>100) surface collections (Jezerany, Neslovice, Ondratice…), that were used for a periodisation of the Szeletian and for the formulation of hypotheses by prominent authors, but this material could be mixed and will not be used in this blog. The site of Moravský Krumlov IV lies in the Krumlovský Les (Krumlovian Forest) region which is well known as a source of the local chert. This hilly area is situated 40 km southwest of Brno. Moravský Krumlov IV was discovered on the edge of a Late Pleistocene valley. The richest archaeological concentrations at the site were those of archaeological layer 0 (the Szeletian).  Three archaeological layers (1, 2 and 3) were classified as Middle Paleolithic; they represent a period between 150 and 97 k.a. BP (OIS 6–5c). The Szeletian ensemble is characterized by the production of leaf points; other types include endscrapers, side scrapers and various notches and denticulates. Use-wear traces identified by use-wear analysis suggest that domestic tasks may have taken place. The technology is based on using flakes from both subprismatic and discoid cores.  Massive flakes were used for leaf point production by thinning them by the Façonnage technique. The morphology of the unfinished pieces resembles Micoquian backed knifes. The thickness was subsequently reduced and finally a symmetrical biconvex cross-section was created. This technique is indistinguishable from Façonnage techniques, which were used at Moravian Micoquian sites (Kulna cave for example). Vedrovice V is located on the gentle slopes of a ridge in the Krumlovský Les area, approximately 4 km from Moravský Krumlov IV. The site was discovered in 1981. Paleolithic artifacts were found in the lower part of a paleosol and the site was subsequently excavated in 1982–1983 and 1989. A total of 727 retouched artifacts were present. A sub-prismatic and discoid reduction strategy was used for the production of flakes and blades that were used for the production of endscrapers, some burins and several Mousterian Points. The C-14 samples were collected in hearths or as concentrations of charcoal and scatter between 35- 39 k.a. BP. OSL dating recently questioned the C-14 chronology. Szeletian artifacts lie in the lower part of an Interpleniglacial soil, mainly between the upper and middle OSL sample, under the gravel horizon which forms the middle part of the paleosol. The upper OSL sample (45 k.a. BP) is consistent with the C- 14 results; the lower samples are older (middle sample:  60 k.a. BP, lower sample: 102 k.a. BP). For correct interpretation, it has to be stressed that, contrary to the C-14 technique, the OSL- method dates the sediment and not human activity. The Bohunician was first described during the 1970ies as a technocomplex found in southern Moravia, consisting of a Levallois-like core technology with a significant blade component (elongated Levallois points) and Upper Paleolithic tool types like endscrapers and a few burins. However the material collections from the type site   Brno-Bohunice, near  Brno, Moravia also yield bifacial leaf points and therefore the artifact ensemble was called ” Szeletien de facies Levallois” by some researchers. Similar associations of Leaf-points with a leptolithic Levallois-like industry were also found in large surface collections from other localities in southern Moravia (at Ondratice for example). Subsequent excavation of stratified assemblages at Stránská skála on the east side of the Brno Basin, however, produced Bohunician assemblages but lacking the leaf points of the type-site. Until recently is seemed to be very possible, that leaf points in Bohunician ensembles were not an integral part of this technocomplex. It was suggested, that they were either imported to this sites from “Szeletian” sites by the “Bohunicians” or were the consequence of a secondary mixing between this two entities. Anyhow, renewed excavations at Bohunice in 2002 showed, that beside a leptolithic Levallois-like chaine operatoire,  a bifacial reduction strategy was also an integral part of the Bohunician at this locality. Stratigraphically, Bohunician artifacts are found in two soils of the Last Weichselian Interpleniglacial soil complex of Moravia. The lower soil is usually correlated with the Hengelo Interstadial, and dated to 41–37 ka  BP (C-14), whereas Bohunician assemblages located at the base of the upper soil of the Last Interpleniglacial paleosol sequence were dated to between 38.5–34.5 ka BP. The Szeletian seems to be derived from the local Micoquian. The same raw materials are used in both cultures and a very similar technological pattern is noted for the tool manufacture process. From a typological point of view, the bifacial tools are the common feature. The origins of the Bohunician are more unclear, but regarding the similarities with the Boker-Tachtit ensemble, a Levantine origin seems to be most probable. The presence of leaf points in Bohunician ensembles has yet to be explained (“acculturation” to the “Szeletians”? independent innovation?). Some Leaf Points from Mauern:

Suggested Reading: http://tortenelemszak.uni-miskolc.hu/ORT/LGy/cikkek/lengyel_mester_2008.pdf http://www.quartaer.eu/pdfs/1993/1993_01_valoch.pdf https://www.academia.edu/5092407/The_Middle-Upper_Palaeolithic_transition_in_Moravia_in_the_context_of_the_Middle_Danube_region https://www.academia.edu/3623381/The_role_of_leaf_points_in_the_Late_Middle_Palaeolithic_of_Germany https://www.academia.edu/213713/Early_Upper_Palaeolithic_archaeology_at_Beedings_West_Sussex_new_contexts_for_Pleistocene_archaeology

Leafpoints (Blattspitzen)

Jankovichian Leafpoint

Leaf Points Revisited

Vedrovice V:

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One Response to Leaf Points from the Middle and Early Upper European Paleolithic

  1. Anri Schaloschek says:

    Very fine overview. It is reasonable to use regional and diachronic data!

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