Going Microlithic in Central Europe during the Eemian (MIS5e)

These are some unifacial microlithic artifacts ( length about 3 cm) from the last Interglacial Travertine at Burgtonna, about 20 km north west from Weimar; Germany. The artifact on the left has been made from a Levallois flake, the other tool was probably made from an opportunistic core. Both are made of flint.

The last interglacial, the Eemian (ca. 125 k.a. ago), with a duration of between 11-12 k.a. is characterized by a typical succession of plant communities, making it possible to correlate archaeological sites with good pollen records to specific parts of the Eemian. Therefore, Eemian Interglacial deposits hold the potential to function as high resolution archives for the study of Neanderthal behavior.

In central Europe, pollen profiles indicates the broad-leaved forest dominated by oak and elm, with participation of lime, maple and ash in the first half of the Interglacial and hornbeam at the optimum phase. During the second half of warm period, the gradual cooling and increasing humidity of climate brought about a development of dark-coniferous communities. Newer research shows, that Neanderthals were well adapted to such environments.

Recently, a GIS Maximum Likelihood Classification from 22 paleoclimate zones in Europe was created in order to assess where Neanderthal sites were located in relation to climate variables. The modeled climate zones examined in relation to last interglacial site locations demonstrates Neanderthals had a preference for Warm Temperate and Mesic climates and did not commonly select site locations near climate margins to exploit an array of food resources. Warm Temperate and Mesic climate zones may have been more seasonally stable for plant and animal populations, and in turn experienced less fluctuation in resource availability.

MIS5 sites from Central Europe in general have yielded microlithic assemblages and Neanderthal remains. Some of these assemblages have been named Taubachian (Valoch 1984). These assemblages are often related to hot water springs, or lake shores. Eemian life in central Europe may have been concentrated around such small lakes and springs  where people waited for incoming animals. Ambush hunting was probably common. Scavenging might have been easy, especially for rhino. The archaeological finds at most of these sites are embedded in a fine-grained sedimentary matrix or travertine.

The preservation of the finds tends to be excellent; plant remains are often preserved and bone surfaces do not generally show signs of significant post depositional alteration and still reveal the finest cut- and scrape-marks.  The animal remains are especially those of one or two great herbivores (bovines, horses). Among the fauna, there are also remains of large mammals as elephants and rhinoceros. In some assemblages, these remains are numerous (for example Gánovce in Slovakia or Taubach in Germany).

Possible pray that could be targeted, were Aurochs and red deer, well adapted to woodlands. Moreover, forest elephant and forest rhino kept large areas free of dense forests and facilitated grazing by other species such as horse and giant deer. It is of highly interesting that humans often exploited elephant and rhino at several sites. It is not always clear whether these animals were hunted, trapped or just scavenged. At Taubach, the age profile of forest rhino and bear together with abundant cut-marks argue for hunting of these dangerous animals. The minimum count of individuals at Taubach was 76 rhinos and 52 bears.

At the Lehringen site in Lower Saxony (Germany), an elephant skeleton was buried at a lake-side together with a 2,4 m long wooden spear and 27 stone unretouched Levallois flakes. Whether humans actually hunted the animal or just killed it when already trapped in the swamp, remains open to discussion. It was certainly butchered, as is equally attested for an elephant skeleton found at Gröbern, again at a lake-side, and again along with 27 Levallois artefacts.

The nearby Neumark-Nord site, dated to the first half of the Eemian interglacial, yielded several in-situ butchery zones.  Here hominins exploited a wide range of herbivores in a 26 ha lake landscape.

The combination of large animals and small flakes is characteristic for most of the central European MIS5e sites. The reason for a microlithic Mousterian has hotly debated: a microlithic tradition ( as K. Valoch and others argued) ?, Raw-material constraints? , deliberate choice of Neanderthals to produce flexible butchering implements? The flakes could have been hand hold or used as hafted tools.

Levallois-Point from Lenderscheid

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