Abundant remains of 13,000 year-old hunter-gatherer camps found in Poland

One of the thousands of flint tools recovered from the encampments. Image: I. Sobkowiak-Tabaka

One of the thousands of flint tools recovered from the encampments. Image: I. Sobkowiak-Tabaka

Locations where people established encampments and manufactured flint tools, skinned animals and processed antlers at the end of the last ice age, have been studied by researchers in Lubrza near Świebodzin. This is one of the richest discoveries of its kind in Poland.

During the three-year research project, between 2011 and 2014, the archaeologists discovered around 4 thousand flint objects, indicating that from 13 thousand years ago, hunter-gatherers intensively settled in the Świebodzin area near to bodies of water. Due to the high research potential of the area, it has now been extensively studied using a variety of scientific methods.

Archaeologists excavating in the Lubrza area. Image: I. Sobkowiak-Tabaka

Archaeologists excavating in the Lubrza area. Image: I. Sobkowiak-Tabaka

Traces of activity

Not a trace remains of the structures used in the camps, but we were able to find traces of activity of the inhabitants. In addition to flint tools, these include burned animal bones, tools for making fire and sandstone pestles” – explained Dr. Iwona Sobkowiak-Tabaka from the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology PAS, who headed the interdisciplinary project funded by the National Science Centre.

Thanks to the animal bones discovered in the encampment remains – which happens very rarely – it was possible to accurately determine encampment age using the radiocarbon method. Until now, this type of material has been obtained and dated in Poland only a few times. An equally interesting discovery was made by Dr. L. Kubiak-Martens, who identified burned remains of plants along with pine and willow charcoal from encampment fires.

Illustration of an arrowhead. Image: I. Sobkowiak-Tabaka

Illustration of an arrowhead. Image: I. Sobkowiak-Tabaka

Plant processing

The archaeologists not only discovered late Palaeolithic arrowheads and tools used in animal processing, but also tools bearing traces of plant processing. According to Dr. Bernadeta Kufel-Diakowska, who has carried out research into the function of these tools, says this discovery testifies to the high demand for plant material in the late Palaeolithic and considerable skills associated with processing and use of herbaceous plants available at the time.

The landscape surrounding the studied encampments 13 thousand years ago was different from today. The lake was surrounded by pine and birch forests, and plants such as bulrush (Typha latifolia) and white waterlily (Nymphaea alba) thrived. However, about 11,000 years ago, climatic conditions had declined dramatically, and vegetation appeared in the form of dwarf birch, juniper and herbaceous plants – mugwort and selaginella. The coasts of the lakes were overgrown with sedges and grasses – detailed palaeobiological analysis showed.

Due to the extremely attractive location, on the southern coast of the studied basin, the archaeologists discovered activity spanning the late Upper Palaeolithic period (11/10,000 BC) to the early Middle Ages (approx. 1000 AD).

PAP – Science and Scholarship in Poland