New Data from Willendorf and the Beginning of the classic Aurignacian in central Europe



aurignacian aggsbach lamelleaurignacian lamelle scraper

This is a classic Aurignacian core for the detachment of bladelets. The question of the beginning of this technocomplex and its origin is intensively discussed.  It can be assumed with sufficient certainty that the Aurignacian and the Protoaurignacian in Europe is closely related to the dispersal of AMHs. New data suggest a rapid dispersal of both technocomplexes across Europe at c. 44-42 k.a. cal BP.

The origin of these new blade/bladelet technologies remains completely open. The Protoaurignacian assemblages with long retouched bladelets have some affinities to the Ahmarian in the Levant and the Koznarnikian of the Balkans (which seems not to be systematically older than the Protoaurignacian!) and part of a common early Upper Paleolithic tradition along the Mediterranean. The classic Aurignacian has no forerunners elsewhere and might be well the invention of a local European network, with oldest data in central Europe. We should not necessarily think on migrations to describe this phenomenon.

The long awaited C-14 dates for the oldest Aurignacian at Willendorf II (stratum 3) are now available and confirm older dates from the 1980ies, which were questioned suggesting a contamination of the samples by older material from Willendorf II; stratum 2 (maybe Szeletian?).  By using stratigraphic, palaeoenvironmental, and chronological data, AH 3 is securely ascribed to the onset of Greenland Interstadial 11, around 43,5 k.a. cal B.P., and thus is older than any other Aurignacian assemblage in the world.

The determination of calibrated C-14 data has become much more reliable during the last years. This begins with intelligent sampling of material from clearly defined archaeological and geochronical defined strata, at the best on humanly modified materials. In addition, new materials, not datable before, for example deliberately perforated marine shells, which are markers of early symbolic behavior can also be dated and the results of such measurements have entered just the field. New material-specific techniques were designed and developed, such as the ultra-filtration of bone collagen, the cleaning of charcoal with ABOx-SC, and the dating of compound-specific bio markers that promise contaminant-free dates. Finally improved statistical tools, such as Bayesian analysis, used in the modelling of the results and several calibration curves for correcting radiocarbon determinations older than 26 k.a cal BP allow more reliable results for Pleistocene-aged material. It has to be mentioned, that a Bayesian approach needs a strictly stratigraphic control of the items that are to be dated.

Distal tephras can provide archaeologists and geoscientists with valuable chronostratigraphic markers.  These markers become especially important when they are found in relation to Paleolithic material that lies close to or beyond the range of radiocarbon dating. In this respect the CI Y-5 tephra in South East Europe, dated to than 39,3 k.a. cal BP is of overall importance.

In S-Europe a Protoaurignacian or a Uluzzian always lies below an Aurignacian, if both entities are present. Wherever the (CI) Y-5 tephra marker is present (South East Europe), the classic Aurignacian consistently overlies the Campanian Ignimbrite. In these parts of Europe the classic Aurignacian therefore seems to be relative young. The Mediterranean Protoaurignacian (at Castelcivita) and Uluzzian (at Castelcivita and Cavallo) and the “Transitional” Paleolithic industries of the Kostenki area (loci 14 and 17) are found below the tephra and must therefore be older than 39,3 k.a. cal BP. These data are affirmed by the fact that pretreated-AMS dated-C-14 samples at of the Protoaurignacian in Italy situate this techno complex at ca. 42-40 k.a. cal BP (for example Mochi G). One of the very few Italian Protoaurignacian contexts which has been directly and precisely dated using modern methodologies is layer A2 of Fumane Cave. Bone and charcoal samples from A2 date to ca 35,5 k.a. BP and the start of this earliest Aurignacian phase is calculated to fall between 41.8 and 40.8 k.a. cal BP.  According to the sparse data available, the Uluzzian dates to  43 to 41 k.a. cal BP.

In S/W- France the earliest Aurignacian of Abri Pataud dates slightly later to around 41-40 k.a cal BP.  Other sites in the Aquitaine seem to be younger. Towards the Paris basin, at Les Cottes the Protoaurignacian is dated to a short episode around 39 and early Aurignacian around 39-36 k.a.

Central Europe: The heavily debated lowermost Aurignacian levels at Geissenklösterle (AHIII) in the Swabian Jura dates to 42,9- 39,9 cal B.P k.a cal BP if we take for sure that AHIII is an archaeological reality and not a secondary reconstruction bias. The chronostratigraphic position of AH 3 (Willendorf II) is now the best evidence for a an early Aurignacian technology in Central Europe at least slightly before 43,3 k.a. cal B.P. Maybe the nearby Krems site was older and almost certainly contained both Protoaurignacian and Aurignacian-but this information is lost forever ( . Other Aurignacian sites in Austria and Germany are of later age (except possibly Keilberg-Kirche and Senftenberg). An early date in this context is the Aurignacian bone point of Pesko in Hungary, dated  to between 41,7 and 40,2 k.a. cal B.P. It remains exciting- stay tuned!

Loess profile at Willendorf II:

willendorf katzman


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About Katzman

During my whole life I was fascinated by stone age artefacts. Not only the aesthetic qualities of these findings, but also the stories around them and the considerations arising from their discovery, are a part of my blog. Comments and contributions are allways welcome!

About me: J.L. Katzman (Pseudonym). Born in Vienna. Left Austria in 1974 and did not regret. Studied Medicine and Prehistory at a German University. Member of a Medical Department at a German University.

Copyright 2010-2017 by JLK. All Rights Reserved. You are welcome to use material in these posts so long as you cite the work.

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