The Kostenki-Gravettian

These are two broken shouldered points from the Willendorf-Kostenki complex (max. 3 cm long).

A Paleolithic entity can be defined by the presence of a common material culture, ideology and a common “lifestyle”, shared by the members of a group which is present over a defined area and during a defined period of time. In this respect the Willendorf-Kostenki complex is a Paleolithic entity which dates roughly between 25-20 k.a. BP. It has to be considered, that within the vast area between the middle Danube and the Don rivers, there were other contemporaneous sites with quite different cultural remains (Milovice, Kostenki 4, Kostenki 11, Sunghir and the Leaf point Gravettian at Trenčianske Bohuslavice). In this area the eastern Gravettian precedes the Willendorf-Kostenkian, which is in turn followed by some sort of “Epigravettian (s.l.) industries. While several summaries about the Aurignacian and Gravettian have been published during the last 10 years or so, we have no monograph about the Willendorf-Kostenkian, which is in part the consequence of language barriers, as most of the literature about the topic has been written in the Russian language. It would be a field of great interest! For me the connection between the eastern Gravettian and the Willendorf-Kostenkian, which is always presumed, is not beyond any doubt.  Kozlowski assumed that the C-14 dates allow reconstructing a migration of people, equipped with the Willendorf-Kostenkian toolkit, from west (Willendorf, Krakow) to the east (Kostenki). This remains an unproven hypothesis until a meta-analysis of these data is available.

Material culture: The “lithic common” is suggested to be the “shouldered point”. Indeed these points never comprise more than 6% of the inventories and show a considerable variability. On one end of the spectrum there are classic Kostenki points (large, broad with a high shoulder and often with flat retouches at the ventral side) at Kostenki I, Kostenki 21, Avdeevo, Berdyj, Zaraisk and Moravany for example. On the other end of the spectrum we find slender and elongated shouldered points (at Moravany Podkovica and Banka, in the east European plain[“the Molodavian”] for example) with only marginal or steep retouches, which more resemble “Perigordian” shouldered points of S/W-France. It can be suggested, that these types are part of a continuum and represent different steps within reduction sequences as well as cultural traditions.

Gravette-Points may be common (Willendorf 2/9, Krakow Rue Spadzista,Molodova 5 ), or even absent (Kostenki I, most of the Moravany sites). Pen-knife points, resembling Azilian points have been observed at Kostenki 21. Burins are always of importance. At the Moravany sites a strong tendency for “burination” was explicitly described by Kozlowski et al. Kostenki knifes (truncations) are frequent at Kostenki I, Kostenki 21, Avdeevo, Krakow Rue Spadzista but virtually absent at other sites (Moravany, Willendorf).

In my view, the extremely rich archaeological record of the east European plain clearly supports the two-stage concept of an eastern Gravettian with occasional leaf point production, followed by a Gravettian with (Micro)-Gravettes, backed microliths and shouldered points (Mitoc Malu Galben in the Pruth valley; Molodova 5, layers VIII and VII; Molodova 1, lower layer; Korman’ 4, layers VII and VI; Voronovitsa 1, upper layer; and Babin I in the Dnester river basin, Khotylevo 2 in the Desna river basin).

Artifacts made of organic material like bone spatulas, bracelets, headband and diadems are common findings at Kostenki I, Kostenki 21, Avdeevo, Gagarino and Zaraisk. Many of these items exhibit geometric ornaments

Ritual and Art: The most famous aspect of the Willendorf-Kostenki complex is the presence of female (and some male?) figurines (Willendorf, Ostrava, Moravany, Kostenki I, Avdeevo, and Gagarino) made of stone or bone. The eastern sites also exhibit clay and stone animal figurines, very similar to the Pavlovian features at 28-26 k.a.BP.

Settlement structures: Settlement studies in the Kostenki-Borshchevo region and the Ukraine focused on two types of dwellings and settlements: huge dwellings at Kostenki 1 and Avdeevo before the LGM and relatively small roundish houses of the Anosovo-Mezinsk type made of large mammoth bones during the Epigravettian. The simultaneity of dwellings, the duration of their existence and the related organization of settlements are currently debated, as well as the issue how to reconstruct these complexes. At Kostenki I an oval-shaped settlement structure measuring 14 to 15 meters by 36 meters, was detected. It is possible that the living space was surrounded by some kind of walls. This area encompassed nine hearth pits, mostly down the center line of the structure, four large pits filled with deposits and twelve smaller storage pits which were used to keep bones in were present. If a building construction covered the whole area above ground, as Yefimenko, the initial excavator assumed, or if only a part of the area was covered, is the matter of debates.

Eastern Gravettian at Moravany Nad Vahom: the Banka-Site

There is almost no literature on the web about the Willendorf-Kostenki complex, but I strongly recommend the reading of Don’s Maps (Resources for the study of Paleolithic / Paleolithic European, Russian and Australian Archaeology / Archeology) with further links

The rich record of the Dnester river basin at:

The initial report of L Zotz about the Vah-valley:

Kostenki during the Gravettian:

Written in 1965: An excellent book about the Paleolithic in Slovakia-still up-to date:



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