Petersfels

This is a picture of the Petersfels cave, a large Magdalenian site in S/W-Germany, which I was lucky to visit in the very hot summer of 2003. It is a cave, slightly above the valley floor, with a large, well-preserved living area in the front.  What makes this place interesting is the fact, that archaeologists and archaeobotanists from the University of Tubingen and Hohenheim recreated the archaeobotany conditions of the late Pleistocene in the vicinity of the cave. The forest at Petersfels was cleared, and a Late-glacial vegetation landscape of tundra steppe was reconstructed, including even an artificial bog in front of the Petersfels site.

The Late-glacial and the early Holocene were periods of critical environmental changes in western and middle Europe. During the period from 15 to 9 ka cal BP, global climatic warming occurred, characterized by rapid oscillations between warm and cold.  A period of warming, the Meiendorf /Bölling interstadial, started shortly before 14.7 ka cal BP (ca. 13 ka BP). It was interrupted by a brief cooler event at about 14-13.9 ka cal BP (ca. 12-11.8 ka BP) known as the older Dryas (Dryas II). The time immediately before and during the Meiendorf /Bölling episode played an important in the recolonisation of Middle Europe by Magdalenian foragers.

Hypothetic migrations in Prehistory are a critical issue, because it is often not clear if people, artifacts or ideas were on the move, when the archaeological record of a region changed over time. In the case of the reappearance of humans in the periglacial regions of Central Europa, abandoned during the LGM,  a migration-scenario can be considered as the one and only explanation for the reappearance of upper Paleolithic hunter / gatherers. It has been widely accepted, that Central Europe after the LGM was recolonized by humans coming from Franco-Cantabrian refugia. However, their expansion towards the North may have been an episodic process, taking several thousands of years. Several explanatory “push” and “pull” scenario have been proposed for explanation of this scenario (Jochim et al. 2007).

Despite the difficulties associated with the C-14 dating on the organic material of old excavations, it appears that the expansion to S/W-Germany began before the Bölling although the majority of sites in southern Germany, as well as in the Paris Basin, Belgium, the Rhineland, and Moravia, date to the Bölling interstadial and the older Dryas.

The Petersfels, a cave near Engen near the Lake Constance, was repeatedly used for interception hunting of reindeer during autumn and is considered as a main aggregation site. The multilayered site is roughly dated between 13.1 and 12. 0 ka BP. Other important Magdalenian sites were found clustered nearby in a relatively small area comprising parts of northern Switzerland and the German Southwest. The most interesting are the famous Kesslerloch and Schweizersbild, both excavated “too early” during the 19th century.

Excavations at the Petersfels were conducted by E. Peters between 1927 and 1932. Peters was unfortunately an amateur with the license to excavate. In addition the Petersfels was his first large excavation project. As a consequence the quality of the excavation was low; this is lamentable, because the Petersfels was by far the richest Magdalenian site in S/W-Germany.  If this would not have been enough, stratigraphic observations are missed in E. Peter’s publication, because he was sure, that in caves postdepositional processes always would disturbe the archaeological context. In his nihilistic view a meticulous excavations did not make any sense. Sampling was biased and incomplete. When the excavation debris was cleared in the 1970ies, ten thousand of artifacts, which escaped the initial excavation, were collected.

Excavations in the 1970s in a limited area in the front of the cave revealed a complex multilayered settlement history during the Magdalenian. Petersfels was an important strategic point for ice age hunters, awaiting their pray in a narrow corridor, during the migration of reindeer in autumn.

The lithic inventory mainly comprises endscrapers, burins and backed pieces, but there are also artifacts which resemble both Hamburgian shouldered points, Zinken and Cheddar points. These findings may indicate networks to Northern Europe and the Paris basin. Even some tanged points, similar to the Teyjat points of S/W-France are present. Here are some common backed bladelets:

 

Bone and Antler artifacts were numerous and well preserved as shown in the photographs below, taken from Peter`s publication. The Petersfels is a find spot of numerous gagat (jet) figurines of the so-called “Lalinde / Gönnersdorf” type, all dated to the late Paleolithic (Magdalenian, Romanellian). These figurines are known both as portable statuettes and from engraving on rock, stone plaquettes and schist slabs. Bosinski calls these representations of the femal body: “femmes sans tete” (http://www.actes-sud.fr/catalogue/prehistoire-protohistoire/femmes-sans-tete) Indeed these figurines display no head and are highly stylized femal bodies, with over-sized buttocks, long trunks and small or missing breasts. They are known from France (Fontalès, Lalinde, Gare de Couze), Germany (Gönnersdorf, Andernach, Petersfels, Nebra, Oelknitz) but are also  from Moravia (Pekárna), Mégarnie, in Belgium, Wilczyce in Poland and Italia (Grotta Romanelli). The stylized statuettes from Mezin and Mežirič in the Ukraine are earlier than those in the rest of Europe, but maybe an independent invention.

Suggested web-resource: http://donsmaps.com/petersfels.html

Suggested Reading:

ALBRECHT, G. 1979 Magdalénien – Inventare vom Petersfels. Siedlungsarchäologische Ergebnisse der Ausgrabungen 1974 bis 1976. TMU 6, Tübingen

 JOCHIM, M., HERHAHN, C. & STARR, H. 1999 The Magdalenian colonization of southern Germany. American Anthropologist 101 (1), S. 129-142

 MAUSER, P.F. 1970 Die jungpaläolithische Höhlenstation Petersfels im Hegau. Badische Fundberichte, Sonderheft 13

 WENIGER, G.-C. 1982 Wildbeuter und ihre Umwelt, ein Beitrag zum Magdalénien Süddeutschlands aus ökologischer und ethno-archäologischer Sicht. Arch. Ven. Bd. 5, Tübingen

PETERS, E. 1930 Die altsteinzeitliche Kulturstätte Petersfels. Augsburg

Tables from E. Peters publication:

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