Posts Tagged ‘open-air site’

In 2015 my friend and colleague Yuri Demidenko told me that he wanted to know something about the use of a particular type of lithic tools, the Sagaidak-Muralovka-type microliths. This long name refers to small lithic elongated micro flakes with a marginally backed edge, which are typical from assemblages dated to the Last Glacial Maximum in Central and Eastern Europe. I met Yuri in the Max Planck Institute of Leipzig in 2008 or 2009, and since then we kept in contact and spoke about making some investigation together. The opportunity appeared when Yuri contacted Petr Škrdla for the study of a recently excavated assemblage found in the vicinity of Mohelno-Plevoce, in Moravia (Czech Republic). This collection has a great interest for Y. Demidenko, because it had similar features than the so-called Epi-Aurignacian from Ukraine and western Russia, whose origins and links with other coeval cultural complexes are of great interest for understanding the population dynamics of the Last Glacial Maximum in Eastern Europe. In Mohelno-Plevoce, for the first time this cultural complex (‘Epi-Aurignacian with Sagaidak-Muralovka-type microliths’) has been identified, and its position in central Europe opened diverse possibilities for contacts and relationships with eastern and western cultural complexes, for example the Aurignacian V. Also, the Mohelno-Plevoce site was of great interest because it was found in a region with a continuous gravettian occupation record that abruptly ended when the climatic conditions get worse. For me it was a good opportunity to see the technological behavior of pioneer populations entering into a new and unknown territory with the only help of few tools and their survival skills. Now the results of this joint research have been published on-line in the prestigious journal Comptes Rendus Palevol (Rios-Garaizar et al. 2019).


Location map. Base cartography obtained from the European Environment Agency. Rivers and bathymetry obtained from Natural Earth. Alpine and LGM glacial sheets obtained from Becker et al., 2015.

The site of Mohelno-Plevovce has two clearly-separated occupation areas (KSA and KSB) dated to ca. 23.000 years ago, when the the ice sheet was located only 300 km north from the site. The two units corresponding with short human occupations are separated only by a 3–4-meter distance and no refitting between them has been made, suggesting that they were occupied at different times. Each area yielded a similar but distinct lithic assembalge characterized by a variable use of local (rock crystal and quartz- less than 1 km from the site) and imported (erratic flint- 150-200km to the northeast – and radiolarite- 250km to the southeast) raw materials. Interestingly the Stránská Skála Jurassic chert, situated 30 km far away and extensively used during the Early Upper Paleolithic was not used at all, suggesting that it was not accessible or simply that these pioneer populations didn’t know about its existence. The assemblages are characterized by the small size of artefacts and by the simplicity of the production system, which is orientated towards the serial production of elongated chips (no more than 1.5 cm long) and microblades, obtained from carinated atypical endscrapers and bladelet/microblade cores. This ‘micro-debitage’ was oriented towards the production of tiny ‘pseudo-Dufour’/’Sagaidak-Muralovka’-type microliths. Other tools represented are endscrapers, burins and splintered pieces. In addition, the bipolar anvil core technology was used to produce rock crystal and some erratic flint and radiolarite chips.


Example of impact traces identified in a microlith from KSB.

In 2015 and 2016 I stayed for some weeks at the Institute of Archaeology of ASCR in Brno, and worked there with Yuri Demidenko and Petr Škrdla. We selected a sample of 124 pieces (4 pieces from KSA and 60 pieces from KSB) for the use-wear analysis. The assemblages were rather well preserved and different uses were identified. In both sites many microliths revealed fractures and damage caused by projectile impact. Also, in KSB the work of hide with abrasives is prevalent, while in KSA medium-hard organic materials are better represented, but this does not, however, necessarily represent actual differences in the activities carried out in both places. Most of the traces related with hide work in KSB appear in highly curated and recycled tools, and may represent activities that did not take place at Molheno-Plevoce, but somewhere off-site. On the other hand, the working of medium-hard organic materials KSA was probably carried out in situ.


Top: carinated atypical endscraper used for hide scraping and mineral (ochre?) cutting; Middle: Carinated atypical endscraper used for hide scraping and hard mineral (ochre?) scraping; Bottom: endscraper recycled into splintered piece (two fragments) used for hide scraping and chiseling.

The use-wear analyses of the lithic assemblages from Mohelno-Plevovce have provided interesting information about the activities carried out within the two stone structures excavated there (KSA and KSB). In both loci the most represented task is rearming with microlithic armatures. However, there are differences between the two loci: in KSA bone and antler work has been identified, while in KSB hide scraping is more represented. Some of these activities probably were not carried out in situ because they represent earlier tasks done using heavily curated and recycled tools. These differences are also visible in other features of the lithic assemblages, for example in the use of imported erratic flint (KSA) versus the use of local rock-crystal (KSB). The characteristics of these two occupations — namely activities mostly related with re-gearing; the use of local lithic raw materials when transported tools and blanks are exhausted after a long use-life; the importance of microlith — composed tools; and the repeated short term occupations at the site — fit perfectly with the expected archaeological signature of pioneer populations entering in southern Moravia during the Last Glacial Maximum.


Demidenko, Y.E., Škrdla, P., Rios-Garaizar, J., 2017. EpiAurignacian with Sagaidak-Muralovka-Type Microliths in the South of Eastern Europe and its European Perspectives. Археологія і давня історія України 24, 38–52.

Rios-Garaizar, J., Škrdla, P., Demidenko, Y.E., 2019. Use-wear analysis of the lithic assemblage from LGM Mohelno-Plevovce site (southern Moravia, Czech Republic). Comptes Rendus Palevol. https://doi.org/10.1016/J.CRPV.2018.11.002

Škrdla, P., Nejman, L., Bartík, J., Rychtaříková, T., Nikolajev, P., Eigner, J., Nývltová Fišáková, M., Novák, J., Polanská, M., 2016. Mohelno – A terminal Last Glacial Maximum industry with microlithic tools made on carenoidal blanks. Quaternary International 406, 184–194. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.quaint.2015.05.055

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Archaeological excavations at Aranbaltza, site located in the Basque Country coast, have revealed several episodes of neandertal occupations with preserved wooden remains. The fieldwork is leaded by Joseba Rios-Garaizar, archaeologist from the Spanish National Research Centre on Human Evolution (CENIEH). In 2015, the excavation revealed the presence of waterlogged sediments preserving wooden remains in an extraordinary state of preservation. The assemblage includes including two wooden tools, and one of them is a 15 cm long digging stick which has been published in PLOS ONE.

Figura Macro

Aranbaltza digging stick made. Left, actual morphology after excavation. Right, slightly deformed morphology after restoration

The detailed analysis of this tool and the OSL dating of the sediment that bears the wooden remains indicate that the objects were deposited around 90.000 years and thus, they were made by neandertals. The Micro-CT analysis and a close examination of the surface have shown that a yew trunk was cut longitudinally into two halves. One of this halves was scraped with a stone-tool, and treated with fire to harden it and to facilitate the scraping to obtain a pointed morphology. Use-wear analysis revealed that it was used for digging in search of food, flint, or simply to make holes in the ground.

figura MicroCT

Cross-section images of the internal structure obtained with Micro-CT

The preservation of wooden tools associated to neandertals is very rare because wood degrades very quickly. Only in very specific environments, like the waterlogged sediments from Aranbaltza, it has been possible to find evidence of wooden technology. As it was suggested by indirect evidence, this type of technology was relevant in neandertal daily life. In the Iberian Peninsula wooden tools associated to neandertals have been found only in the travertine from Abric Romaní (Catalonia), and in the rest of Europe only four sites (Clacton on Sea, Schöningen, Lehringen and Poggeti Vechi) have provided wooden tools associated to neandertals or pre-neandertals. Therefore, findings like the one from Aranbaltza are crucial to investigate the neandertal technology and use of wood.

The archaeological project at Aranbaltza started in 2013 to investigate the last neandertals from Western Europe, who were responsible of the Chatelperronian culture. The ongoing excavations have revealed different neandertal occupation events spanning from 100 to 44.000 years. This makes of Aranbaltza an exceptional site to investigate neandertal evolution and behavioral variability.

Piezas US4 y 5

Stone-tools recovered from US4 (1) and US5 (3-4), the stratigraphic units that preserve wooden remains.

This archaeological project is coordinated by the CENIEH and INRAP and funded by Heritage Center of the Bizkaia Regional Government (2013-2017) and Basque Government (2014-2015). Researchers from the following institutions have participated in this publication: CENIEH, Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona, Universidad de Burgos, INRAP, Universidad del País Vasco and Universidad de Cantabria.


Joseba Rios-Garaizar, Oriol López-Bultó, Eneko Iriarte, Carlos Pérez-Garrido, Raquel Piqué, Arantxa Aranburu, María José Iriarte-Chiapusso, Illuminada Ortega-Cordellat, Laurence Bourguignon, Diego Garate, Iñaki Libano (2018), A Middle Palaeolithic wooden digging stick from Aranbaltza III, Spain. PLOS ONE. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0195044

3D models

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