Oldest known European Art, Music and Symbolism just got older
Newly revised radiocarbon dates from the from Geißenklösterle Cave in Swabian Jura of Southwestern Germany have been published in the Journal of Human Evolution.
Improved methods of dating
The new dates by researchers from Oxford and Tübingen Universities use improved methods to remove contamination and produced ages between 42,000 – 43,000 years ago for the start of the Aurignacian, the first culture to produce a wide range of figurative art, music and other key innovations as postulated in the ‘Kulturpumpe’ hypothesis, where climatic change on the northern margin of the Alps, independent cultural evolution and competition between archaic and modern hominins are viewed as the driving forces for cultural innovation in the Upper Danube region. The Danube Corridor hypothesis postulates that modern humans migrated to Europe and rapidly moved up the Danube.
Both the Danube Corridor and Kulturpumpe hypotheses were easily refutable if the early dates for modern humans and Upper Palaeolithic innovations could be shown to be wrong. With this in mind, the research teams intensified excavations and obtained numerous new dates before subjecting them to the refined method of dating.
These are now the earliest radiocarbon dates for Aurignacian deposits in Europe, and pre-date Aurignacian dates from Italy, France, England and any other regions. Geißenklösterle Cave is one of several caves in the Swabian Jura that have produced important examples of personal ornaments, figurative art, mythical imagery and musical instruments. The new dates from Geißenklösterle together with existing dates using thermoluminescence confirm the greater antiquity of the Swabian Aurignacian.
New dates pinpoint human migration
The new dates indicate that modern humans entered the Upper Danube region prior to an extremely cold climatic phase referred to as the H4 event dating to ca. 40 000 years ago. Previously, researchers had argued that modern humans initially migrated up the Danube immediately following the H4 event. However it now looks that modern humans entered south-western Germany during a mild phase during the last Ice Age, under climactic conditions, which should have been inhabitable by indigenous populations of Neanderthals. Despite a major effort to identify archaeological signatures of interaction between Neanderthals and modern humans, researchers have yet to identify indications of cultural contact between these groups in Upper Danube region.
A plausible homeland
These results point to the Upper Danube Valley as a plausible homeland for the Aurignacian, with the Swabian caves producing the earliest record of technological and artistic innovations that are characteristic of this period. Whether the many innovations best documented in Swabia were stimulated by climatic stress, competition between modern humans and Neanderthals or by other social-cultural dynamics remains a central focus of research by the archaeologists from Tübingen and Oxford. High-resolution dating of the kind reported here is essential for establishing a reliable the chronology for testing hypothesis to explain the expansion of modern humans into Europe, the processes that led to a wide range of cultural innovations including the advent of figurative art and music, and the extinction of Neanderthals.
The German site of Geißenklösterle is crucial to debates concerning the European Middle to Upper Palaeolithic transition and the origins of the Aurignacian in Europe. The previous chronology (critical to the model), is based mainly on radiocarbon dating, but remains poorly constrained due to the dating resolution and the variability of dates. The cause of these problems is disputed, but two principal explanations are proposed: a) larger than expected variations in the production of atmospheric radiocarbon, and b) taphonomic influences in the site mixing the bones that were dated into different parts of the site.
Reinvestigation confirms hypotheses
The teams reinvestigated the chronology using a new series of radiocarbon determinations obtained from the Mousterian, Aurignacian and Gravettian levels. The results strongly imply that previous dates were affected by insufficient decontamination of the bone collagen prior to dating. Using an ultrafiltration protocol the chronometric picture becomes much clearer.
Comparison of the results against other recently dated sites in other parts of Europe suggests the Early Aurignacian levels are earlier than other sites in the south of France and Italy, but not as early as recently dated sites which suggest a pre-Aurignacian dispersal of modern humans to Italy by ∼45000 cal BP.
This new data seems to confirm the importance of the Danube Corridor as a key route for the movement of people and ideas. The new dates suggest that Swabian Jura is a region that contributed significantly to the evolution of symbolic behaviour as indicated by early evidence for figurative art, music and mythical imagery.
Source: Universitaet Tuebingen
- T. Higham*, L. Basell, R. Jacobi, Rachel Wood, C. Bronk Ramsey,N. J. Conard*. Τesting models for the beginnings of the Aurignacian and the advent of figurative art and music: The radiocarbon chronology of Geißenklösterle. Journal of Human Evolution.
- Bolus, M., 2003. The cultural context of the Aurignacian of the Swabian Jura. In: Zilha˜o, J., d’Errico, F. (Eds.), The Chronology of the Aurignacian and of the
Transitional Technocomplexes. Dating, Stratigraphies, Cultural Implications. Trabalhos de Arqueologia, 33. Instituto Portugueˆs de Arqueologia, Lisboa, pp.
- Nicolas Conard, Maria Malina: Abschließende Ausgrabungen im Geißenklösterle bei Blaubeuren, Alb-Donau-Kreis. in: Arch. Ausgr. Bad.-Württ. Theiss, Stuttgart 2001, 17-21. ISSN0724-8954
- J. Hahn: Die Geißenklösterle-Höhle im Achtal bei Blaubeuren. in: Forsch. u. Ber. Vor- u. Frühgesch. Bad.-Württ. Theiss, Stuttgart 21,1988,262. ISBN 3-8062-0794-1 ISSN 0724-4347