The Aurignacian of central-western Italia

aurignacian km 83In Italy Aurignacian evidence is found with some substantial settlement practically everywhere, from the  Riviera to the gulf of Naples and, further south, to the Cilento; as well as from the prealpine piedmont to the Salento. Even in the pre-Alps and the Apennines, at elevations of 1300-1600 m , as well as in Sicily across an arm of the sea, were distinct traces of the Aurignacian discovered.

The first Upper Paleolithic in Italia is the Protoaurignacian. The most important sites  are situated in Northern Italy: Riparo Mochi, layer G in Liguria, Tagliente, levels 25a-c and Fumane, levels A3-A1, D6 and D3  in Verona and Venice provinces, but this entity is also present in the South (Cala, Castelcivita, Serino).

It does appear that the beginning of the early Upper Paleolithic in Europe  was a continent-wide  “punctuational” (in geological terms) event in Europe, which occurred in the middle to late 40 thousands k.a. cal BP.

There are at least two possibilities on how these entities entered the continent. According to one hypothesis, Homo sapiens followed the Danube, which formed a natural corridor into the heartland of the continent which was, at the time, thickly forested.

A  different hypothesis is that the early (Proto)-Aurignacian was formed around the Meditterranean and / or entered Europe via the Balkans and Italy. Distinguishing between the two hypotheses depends on obtaining reliable chronological estimates for the Mediterranean and Central European Aurignacian. A recent dating of a site in the Swabian Jura and of Willendorf II suggested that the Aurignacian was earlier attested in Central Europe than in the South, but  the Protoaurignacien  in the Mochi rockshelter and Fumane are just as early. Certainly one has to imagine several and complicated colonization events by H. Sapiens to the continent at this early date.

While the makers of the Aurignacian are unknown (maybe AMHs), an upper deciduous incisor from Grotta di Fumane contains ancient mitochondrial DNA of a modern human type. These teeth are the oldest human remains in an Protoaurignacian-related archaeological context, confirming that by 41,000 calendar years before the present, modern humans spread into southern Europe.

The classic Aurignacian in Italia is dated within the time frame between 40-30k.a. It remains to be evaluated if the colonization of the Peninsula and Sicily was continuous or not.  There seems tobe much inter-site variability. The latest Aurignacian in Italy comes from from Grotta Paglicci located at Rignano Garganico (Apulia). Level 24A1 is attributed to the Aurignacian and dated to 29,3 k.a. BP  and is characterized by marginal retouched tools, denominated “lamelles à dos marginal déjetées de Paglicci”, which at the moment were found only in this site.

Around the Monte Circeo the non-dated classic Aurignacian of the Grotta del Fossellone remains the reference site for west central Italy. Most of the lithics were produced using flint pebbles, allreadydescribed in my Blog. A long sequence of Pontinian layers is also documented at Grotta Del Fossellone, below level 21, which is the Aurignacian one. Of the ca.1400 retouched tools of level 21 ca 900 are endscrapers, most of them carinated and therefore bladelet cores. Blanc mentions thousands of bladelets, which are mostly unretouched. Over 100 Aurignacian blades (blades with uni and bilateral steep retouche) were noted. Burins, points, scrapers, denticulates, and splintered pieces were rare. The bone industry is unusually abundant for an Italian site, and includes a number of split-based points the southernmost such occurrence.

large and smallThe Aurignacian artifacts displayed here were foundat a surface scatter 17 km north of the Monte Circeo. The sizes of tools are mainly attributable to local raw materials, which consist of small, heavily rolled pebbles of excellent flint seldom exceeding 10 cm in diameter. This Aurignacian  is literally microlithic in comparison to the Aurignacian of S/W-France or the Danube region, but has all characteristics of a classic evolved Aurignacian. Figure 2 shows a lLarge and a small bladelet core from Laussell and the “Microaurignacian” near Monte Circeo.

In the collection displayed here,  the uni-and the bipololar technique is contested by small cores. Beside many carinated and pyramidal scrapers for bladelet production, endscrapers with lateral retouches are very common, some with a „tanged” aspect. There are some “thumbnail scrapers” which seem the endproduct of repeated reworking and reduction of “normal” blade scrapers. The absence of bladelets is certainly a collection bias.

Suggested Reading:

http://www.patrimoniocultural.pt/media/uploads/trabalhosdearqueologia/45/13.pdf

The Aurignacian in Lower Austria revisited

Les Cottes and the Stratigraphy of the Early Upper Paleolithic in France

Abri Lartet

Strangled blades

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