Prehistoric ivory workshop discovered in Germany
|Documentation of the finds by an international team of students [Credit: Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum]|
During this year’s campaign, site directors Dr. Olaf Jöris and Tim Matthies and their team found the oldest evidence for clearly distinct working areas which are interpreted as standardized workshops for working mammoth ivory. It was possible to identify a zone where pieces of ivory were split into lamella, as well as a second area where the pieces had been carved and their waste had been discarded. Some ivory beads and rough outs of unfinished products were also found amongst this debris, alongside several other ivory objects, including a decorated rod and fragments of a three-dimensionally modified object, very likely an object of art. The manufacturers were early modern humans similar to ourselves, who obtained mammoth ivory which had probably lain around at this site for some time, either from the carcasses of mammoths which had died here naturally or from the bodies of the victims of expert hunters. In the case of the latter scenario, the mammoths could have been hunted by modern humans or even by Neanderthals, since Neanderthals had only become extinct a few thousand years before the site was occupied by modern humans.
|Mammoth ivory splinters found at the Breitenbach site [Credit: © MONREPOS / Dr Olaf Jöris]|
The settlement at Breitenbach covers an area of at least 6,000 m2 and perhaps as much as 20,000 m2, making it one of the largest sites of the younger Palaeolithic period (Upper Palaeolithic) known to date. The first archaeological excavations were carried out in the 1920’s; the more recent campaigns have investigated some 70 m2 of the site. Many students from 25 countries have helped to excavate the site. Close to 3,000 finds have been recovered so far in this year alone.
Finds comparable in age to the ones from Breitenbach are most commonly found in caves, where the utilisation of space was governed by the natural formation of the cave walls. This led to restrictions on, and compromises by, the cave inhabitants. In addition, the same areas of caves were repeatedly inhabited over a long period of time, superimposed over and often blurring details of earlier settlement remains. In the open, as at Breitenbach, humans had the possibility to organise their space more or less free of restrictions or preconditions and establish structures which allow us to reconstruct the daily life of this period at the highest resolution.
|Flint tools found at the Breitenbach site [Credit: © MONREPOS / Dr Olaf Jöris]|
Due to the unparalleled large size of the settlement area, the Breitenbach site offers a unique opportunity to undertake a detailed investigation of an open site of the Aurignacian period. This will enable us to gain new insights into the complexity and spatial organisation of an early Upper Palaeolithic settlement site, where evidence of personal adornment, art, music or even burials, which are to date hardly known from this period, can also be expected.
Artifacts found at the Breitenbach site during previous seasons have been described in the 2012 issue of the Verlag des Römisch-Germanischen Zentralmuseums.
Source: Monrepos Archaeological Research Centre and Museum for the Evolution of Hominin Behaviour via AlphaGalileo [September 26, 2012]