Report on Session #284 at the 25th EAA Annual Meeting in Bern, Switzerland
Theme: Interpreting the archaeological record: artefacts, humans, and landscapes
Session organisers: Annabell Zander MA (firstname.lastname@example.org, University of York, United Kingdom); Dr Inger Marie Berg-Hansen (Museum of Cultural History, University of Oslo, Norway), Prof Ebbe Nielsen (University of Bern, Switzerland) and Prof Mikkel Sørensen (University of Copenhagen, Denmark)
The last Ice Age came to an end 11,500 years ago when rapid climate warming of c. 5-10°C occurred within decades, which radically transformed the environment of Europe. This change in landscape had a significant impact on the fauna, and of course on humans. From early on, the Pleistocene-Holocene transition was used to define the beginning of the Mesolithic, and based on typology, several archaeological traditions or groups were constructed. Shifting between different theoretical approaches during the 20th century, research largely focused on economic adaptation, technology and settlement history. Remaining relevant today, the increase in data and application of new methods, however, allows a renewed discussion of the 10th millennium; e.g., recent research shows that climatic changes do not necessarily align with cultural changes.
However, it remains debated how various traditions/groups relate to each other. Thus, untangling this complex web of archaeological traditions at the Pleistocene-Holocene interface in Europe was the main focus of this session. In this session, we sought to question the division between Palaeolithic and Mesolithic archaeology based on various case studies from across Europe, with particular interest in papers addressing several traditions from one region in terms of interrelatedness. Through a discussion of these problems we aimed to offer a broader European perspective on the relationship between the various archaeological traditions at the Palaeolithic-Mesolithic interface thereby inspiring new thoughts on human responses to the Holocene climatic change.
Our session at the 2019 Annual Meeting of the EAA in Bern set out to explore the following questions:
- How can different Final Palaeolithic and Early Mesolithic traditions be defined and do these differ on a regional/European scale?
- How do different regions relate culturally during the 10th millennium BC?
- How can we define the “Final Palaeolithic” as opposed to the “Early Mesolithic”?
Sixteen oral contributions and one poster addressed these questions from very diverse points of view, including: lithic studies (including raw material, technological and typological studies); networks analyses; investigating bone and antler material; palaeogenomics; computational approaches to climate change; investigating live reindeer hunting cultures. The session was generally structured to move thematically from southern to northern regions in Europe starting off with Iberia.
The first presentation by Sergio Martín Jarque, Antonio Tarriño, Julián Bécares and, Esteban Álvarez-Fernández presented lithic raw materials and supply strategies in the Sella Valley: Tito Bustillo (Ribadesella, Asturias) in Spain. The results of the investigations brought to light one of the most important Magdalenian sites in the Cantabrian Spain, which documented abundant faunal remains, lithic and bone industries, and portable art. This paper discussed the first results of the analysis of lithic raw materials in general and flint in particular of layer 1c2, assigned to the Lower Magdalenian (ca. 18,000 cal BP) with results indicating that a variety of different types of flint found in this layer derive from the western and central Cantabrian (Piloña, Monte Picota) and the Spanish and French eastern Cantabrian (Flysch, Chalosse).
Carolina Cucart-Mora, Magdalena Gómez Puche, Valeria Romano, Sergi Lozano and Javier Fernández López de Pablo analysed networks to study cultural transmission processes from the Upper Magdalenian to the Late Mesolithic in Iberia. They started with the observation that despite the well-established use of social networks in Palaeolithic Archaeology, the heuristic power of the networks approach has been traditionally biased towards its social dimension, empirically grounded in the reconstruction of exchanges systems using ornaments and lithic raw materials. Much less attention has been paid to use of networks approaches to study diachronic patterns of cultural transmission and their demographic context. Cucart-Mora and colleagues presented their long-term research program in the context of the PALEODEM project (ERC-CoG-2015 Ref. 683018), aimed to study cultural transmission processes from the Upper Magdalenian to the Late Mesolithic in Iberia using formal network approaches and computational methods. Particularly, the work presented was concerned with the construction of a new georeferenced database of archaeological sites and cultural attributes which will be used to build spatio-temporal networks.
Zsolt Mester, Norbert Faragó, Attila Király, Róbert Kertész, Attila Péntek, Dávid Kraus, Kristóf István Szegedi, Ágnes Novothny and Enikő Magyari analysed four excavated Final Palaeolithic and Early Mesolithic sites in Hungary: Szekszárd-Palánk (south) and Sződliget (north) in the Danube valley, Páli-Dombok (northwest) in the Rába valley, and Jászberény (northeast) in the Zagyva valley. The environmental context, the lithic typology and technology, and raw material economy were considered using the results of new analyses as well as the revision of published analytical data. It was shown that the sites are very much located at the “meeting point of influences” with cultural influences from western and eastern regions.
Jörg Orschiedt, Wolfgang Heuschen and Michael Baales discussed a Pleistocene-Holocene transitional industry from the Blätterhöhle rock shelter in Hagen, Westphalia, Germany. The cave is known for its Early Mesolithic (9200 - 8700 cal BC) and Late Neolithic (3900-2900 cal BC) human remains and palaeogenetic evidence for Late Neolithic societies. In 2016 the first Late Palaeolithic artefacts and faunal remains were found in a stratigraphic context providing new insights into the Palaeolithic-Mesolithic transition in this region. According to Orschiedt and colleagues the lithic assemblage is comparable to the French Épi-Laborien dating to the Pleistocene-Holocene transitional period around 9650 cal BC. Therefore, this assemblage marks the most eastern evidence of this distinct typo-technological influence by the French Épi-Laborian.
Hans Vandendriessche and Philippe Crombé presented new results from the recently excavated Upper Scheldt valley sites of Ruien (Final Palaeolithic) and Kerkhove (Early Mesolithic). They apply a twofold methodology: in addition to a detailed attribute analysis, the abovementioned sites are also subjected to a refit study, thus providing us with both quantitative aggregate level data (at the scale of an artefact cluster) and data at the level of a single refit sequence. Although preliminary results indicate that technological traditions at the start of the Younger Dryas do not differ substantially from those of the Early Holocene, the first refitted sequences from Kerkhove already seem to depict a much greater variability in the knapping methods adopted by the hunter-gatherers at the site, than is generally acknowledged for this period.
Annabell Zander’s paper reflected upon the question of how we can trace cultural change during the Palaeolithic-Mesolithic transition in north-western Europe. In order to better define the relations between these traditions, Zander’s paper presented a diachronic, comparative study of transitional lithic assemblages, combining analysis of lithic technology and typology with chronological, zooarchaeological and environmental datasets. In particular, new data from two transitional assemblages in western Germany indicate a continuity of Final Palaeolithic technology into the early Holocene in this region, in contrast, for example, to evidence of a hiatus between Palaeolithic and Mesolithic cultural traditions in the Vale of Pickering in northern England. Zander consequently reformulated the Pleistocene-Holocene transition in north-western Europe in terms of complex, regionally variable developments across a mosaic landscape.
Sonja B. Grimm, Daniel Groß, Berit Valentin Eriksen, Moiken Hinrichs, Sascha Krüger, Katja Winkler and Mara-Julia Weber illustrated the difficulties in identifying the transition from Ahrensburgian to the Early Mesolithic in northern Germany. They assembled the different lines of palaeo-environmental and archaeological evidence to show the relatively large margin and compared inventories from this transformation period using a quantitative as well as a qualitative approach to the northern German archaeological record. Based on this approach, they exemplified a broader behavioural change from a more curated to a more expedient behaviour that may be one of the reasons for our difficulties to untangle these interrelated traditions.
Inger Marie Berg-Hansen and Hege Damlien highlighted variations in typological and technological elements in 43 chipped stone assemblages based on morphological and metrical attributes in north-western Europe between 10,900-7000 calBC. Until recently, the Stone Age of Northwest Europe has mainly been investigated by using typological approaches to formal tool types. This has resulted in delimitation of a large number of regional archaeological groups. Projectile point typology has been central to this research. However, recent technological studies of lithic blade technology challenge this picture by demonstrating a shared and uninterrupted tradition of blade-making throughout the Final Palaeolithic and Early Mesolithic, indicating technological relatedness within large areas. The analyses of the projectile inventory from the same assemblages demonstrates a development partly dyssynchronous with the blade technology, as well as growing variability in projectile types through time, which probably indicates a gradual process of increased regionalisation during the first millennia of the Holocene.
Tomas Rimkus reported on the newest lithic, bone and antler material from the Early Holocene sites of coastal Lithuania. In recent years, several new sites have been discovered in this region. One of the most important sites in this area is Aukštumala. The latest excavation showed that the island contains three sites, and all of them belong to the leaf-shape point technology, better known as the Swiderian culture. Currently that is the earliest known occupation in the current area of the Lithuanian coast. The lithic assemblage contains typical Swiderian points, axes, scrapers and knives. Furthermore, a large part of the lithic assemblage compromises non-flint material. For a better understanding of site economy and the community's relation to the wider region, use-wear and flint material chemical analysis were carried out.
Marcis Kalnins and Ilga Zagorska illustrated changes in Late Palaeolithic and Early Mesolithic lithic projectile points in Latvia. They concluded that from the territory of Latvia (total of 67 projectile points) it is possible to divide the projectile points into four main types, all produced from non-local high-quality Cretaceous flint. The first two types – tanged and willow shaped points – are associated with the banks of two major rivers – the Daugava and Lielupe, representing Swiderian technological tradition (Salaspils Laukskola and Avotiņi site). The tanged type has been attributed to the Late Palaeolithic whereas the willow leaf type has been attributed to end of Late Palaeolithic and beginning of Mesolithic. The remaining two tanged point types – long, regular and smaller ones, represents the Pulli technological tradition and were found as stray finds in the River Daugava basin and at the Early Mesolithic sites in NE (Zvejnieki II) and SE (Kvapani II) Latvia, dating to the 9th Millennium BC.
Kjel Knutsson, Hege Damlien, Per Åke Persson, Carine Eymundsson, Anton Murashkin, Anja Roth Niemi and Mikael Manninen discussed recent results from the field of palaeogenomics to investigate prehistoric human mobility and dispersal. They presented an up-to-date synthesis of available archaeological data from Fennoscandia predating 7500 cal BCE and discussed it in relation to the current model of single event gene-culture co-dispersal. The authors specifically scrutinized the idea that the eastern component detected in Mesolithic Scandinavian hunter-gatherers in studies of ancient DNA can be directly linked to a single population event evidenced by the spread of eastern pressure blade technology along the Norwegian Atlantic coast.
Per Persson talked about genetics of Mesolithic hunter-gatherers in Scandinavia (Kjel Knutsson presented for Persson in absentia). Genome-wide aDNA sequences were obtained from three individuals from birch tar "chewing gums" dated to ca. 8200-7600 BC, from the Huseby Klev site on the Swedish west coast. They group together with earlier investigated Scandinavian Mesolithic individuals (SHG), thereby enlarging the chronological and geographical extension of this group. The origin of the SHG genetic group is supposed to be an eastern admixture to an earlier western hunter-gatherers population (WHG) in Scandinavia. This Early Postglacial dual-route colonization of the Scandinavian Peninsula is largely based on dispersal of lithic technology from the East European Plain. This means that the genetic mixing should have taken place some 1000-500 years before the Huseby Klev individuals were living.
Mikkel Sørensen presented research on the transition to the Mesolithic in southern Scandinavia. According to Sørensen, the transition to the Mesolithic in Southern Scandinavia is for many reasons a difficult question to handle: the definition of the Mesolithic is not clear, the radiocarbon dating of the Younger Dryas/Early Holocene is imprecise and the finds with stratigraphic and palynological evidence are few. In his paper, Sørensen argued that: 1) the categorical definition of the Palaeolithic versus the Mesolithic is not feasible in order to characterize the social and cultural change during the period, 2) Several methodological perspectives needs to be applied on the period concerning e.g.; technology, typology, environment, geology, absolute dating, palynology, and 3) A large Northwest European perspective needs to be applied. He concluded that this period can concern two social traditions; the “Long Blade Complex” and the “Early Mesolithic”, both rooted in Late Palaeolithic/ Late Glacial Cultures. Moreover, that these two traditions partly are separated in time, regionalism and in their life style i.e., concerning economy and environmental adaptation.
Ole Grøn discussed live reindeer-hunting cultures regarding their internal organisation, typology/style development and interaction between them. On the basis of fieldwork with the Evenk culture in Siberia and supplementing literature studies, some general features of such cultures were outlined. He highlighted that there is generally a worrying difference between live reindeer-hunting cultures and the synthetic ‘culture constructs’ archaeological analysis is based on. One of the conclusions of this paper was that one of the explanations of the difference between archaeological and live reindeer-hunting cultures can be that ephemeral materials (skin, fur, bark, wood, bone, etc.) are preferred for dynamic social signalling as opposed to the generally well-preserved lithics which are much more difficult to vary.
Felix Riede introduced the new ERC-funded 5-year project CLIOARCH, which focuses on computational approaches to Final Palaeolithic/Earliest Mesolithic archaeology and climate change. At the core of CLIOARCH is the radical but, in light of research-historical insights, necessary hypothesis that much of the current archaeological cultural taxonomy for this period is epistemologically flawed and that interpretations based on this traditional taxonomy – especially those that seek to relate observed changes in material culture and land-use to contemporaneous climatic and environmental changes – are therefore problematic. Hence, novel approaches to crafting the taxonomic building blocks are required, as are novel analyses of human-environment relations in this period. According to Riede, CLIOARCH’s aim is to provide operational cultural taxonomies for the Final Palaeolithic/earliest Mesolithic of Europe and to couple these with interdisciplinary cultural evolutionary, quantitative ecological methods and field archaeological investigations beyond the state-of-the-art, so as to better capture such adaptations
In the final talk, Cristina Gameiro focused on bladelet production and microlith typology during the Late Pleistocene in Portugal (Sérgio Gomes presented for Gameiro in absentia). According to Gameiro, in Portugal, the Late Pleistocene industries, traditionally assigned to Magdalenian technocomplex, are characterized by profuse bladelet production and a huge variety of microlith types. Those have been conventionally used to establish the chronocultural sequence and are usually perceived not only as cultural markers but also as a source to understand adaptive strategies. Previous work showed that the same debitage strategies were used during a long diachrony and usually the different microlith typology resulted of blank transformation given by retouch. The regional variability has been explained by an adaptation of local groups to different raw material environments. Using a new grid analysis (combining morphology, metric, technical and functional analysis), gathering data from recently excavated sites and comparing the identified cultural phases with climate changes, Gameiro presented information on the Late Pleistocene in the western façade of Iberia producing un updated synthesis on the lithic tool kits used by the last Pleistocene hunter-gatherers.
Lastly, Ebbe Nielsen and Jehanne Affolter presented their poster on chert procurement and cultural affiliation of the Final Palaeolithic and Mesolithic of Central Switzerland. They analysed a small number of assemblages from this region and concluded that there seem to be differences between the Palaeolithic and Mesolithic procurement strategies. The main source was the southern hill foot of the Jura Mountains, mainly the areas of Olten and Lägeren. Olten seems to be the main source during the Mesolithic, Lägeren during the Final Palaeolithic. Contacts to the Alpine Area were shown by rock crystal and to the western part of Austria through the presence of radiolarite from the Klein- and Grosswalsertal valleys. There also was chert present originating from the Southern Alps and Western Switzerland. Typological analyses demonstrate a cultural group in the Swiss Plateau. According to Nielsen and Affolter, in the Early Mesolithic the groups seem to be more locally restricted.
Summing up session results and interesting, lively discussions throughout the session, there are a few issues raised in several of the contributions:
- We generally see complex, regionally variable developments across a mosaic landscape during the Pleistocene-Holocene transition which means this interface should not be investigated based on large, artificially defined metagroups.
- We need to look beyond typological studies and include technological, zooarchaeological data as well as the settlement structure to untangle this complex web of archaeological traditions.
- Lastly, recent advances in palaeogenomics help to shed light on the complex developments at the Pleistocene-Holocene transition which results in the need to redefine the relationship between the various Final Palaeolithic and Early Mesolithic archaeological traditions.
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