The Late Paleolithic of Europe 20,000 years ago
The University of Kansas Museum of Anthropology excavation projects conducted by Anta Montet-White between 1967 and 1998 concentrated on a phase of the Old Stone Age called the Upper Paleolithic (UP), which occured during the last stages of the Pleistocene (Ice Age). During this time modern humans, also known as Cro Magnon, lived in Europe hunting reindeer, horse, bison and sometimes mammoth.
Sites chosen for investigation are scattered in different parts of Europe. The initial project in the 1960's was conducted in southwestern France. We later concentrated on sites on the central European Plain: Kadar, Luscic and Zobiste in northern Bosnia and Grubgraben in Lower Austria. The site of Solutre, where the most recent research was done in collaboration with Jean Combier, is located in southern Burgundy, a region that was, historically as well as geographically, a link between western and central Europe.
The sites contained layers attributed to successive phases of the Upper Paleolithic and, in several cases, earlier levels with Mousterian (Neandertal) artifacts.
|Le Malpas, Dordogne, France
|Le Malpas stratigraphic sequence including Gravettian and Solutrean levels separated by a period of 1000-2000 years.|
|Kadar and Zobiste were open air, hill top sites where archaeological layers are stratified in a series of loam deposits. The lower series contained Mousterian artifacts (dated between 55000 and 60000 years ago). It was separated from the upper series, which contained Epigravettian occupation remains(16-15000 years ago), by an erosion surface.|
|Grubgraben, Lower Austria
|Grubgraben is buried in a series of loess deposits that accumulated at the bottom of a creek. We identified four archaeological layers separated by layers of sterile loess. All were attributed to the Epigravettian and dated between 18000 and 15000 years ago.|
|Solutré, Rhône, France
|Solutre, a well known kill site, occupies a vast area at the foot of an escarpment. The slope deposits contained a series of archaeological layers representing most of the Paleolithic cultures from Mousterian to Magdalenian.|
At all the sites the Paleolithic layers constitute well defined units, representing relatively short episodes of human occupation. The layers are separated by deposits void of archaeological materials, indicating that people were not there when the sediments were formed. A scenario of occasional human incursions at a site seems appropriate for Le Malpas or for Grubgraben. However, in the case of Kadar or Zobiste, a gap of some 30,000 to 40,000 years between the two superimposed archaeological layers created by erosion, leaves us ignorant of whether or not human groups visited the site during that time. It follows that an important research objective became answering questions regarding the nature and importance of discontinuities in the archaeological record and their implication for the understanding of the Paleolithic settlement of Europe.
However, the time period between 20,000 and 15,000 years ago, well represented at all five sites, became the primary research focus of the projects. The 5,000 year time span encompassed the last major advance of the Scandinavian Ice Sheet when the stress of a harsher environment forced humans to regroup and to invent new survival strategies.
The projects are intended to address the following questions:
- What did the areas we know as temperate Europe look like in the Ice Age?
- How, where and when did UP people settle?
- What strategies and techniques did they develop in order to survive, even prosper?