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Eastern Central Europe during the Pleniglacial.


The climatic downturn of the last glacial maximum (LGM) caused a retreat of human populations into the southern regions of Europe. The main refugia (in which populations survived the Ice Age) outside the Mediterranean itself have traditionally been located in south(western) France/Cantabria and the Ukraine/Russian Plain. The general view is that Europe north of the Alps was an empty land during the Pleniglacial (24-13 000 BP). At the end of the LGM, populations derived from the refugia recolonised the deglaciated territories in the north.

The settlement history of Ice Age Europe has implications for three interrelated research topics:

* the biogeography of modern human hunter-gatherer adaptations, concerning the study of the circumstances that make an area suitable for colonisation or unsuitable for continued occupation (Gamble 1993; Sax & Brown 2000);

* the archaeology of colonisation, as a more specific aspect, involving the timing, pattern, process and tempo of settling new landscapes (Rockman & Steele 2003, and the huge amount of literature on the initial colonisation of the Americas and Australia and the first modern humans in Europe);

* the importance of refugia with regard to the evolution of Palaeolithic societies and the population base for recolonisations (Jochim 1987; Semino et al. 2000; Willis & Whittaker 2000).

Recent research from Germany and Switzerland provides new insights in the Pleniglacial occupation of Europe north of the Alps (Street & Terberger 1999, 2000; Terberger & Street 2002). New dating evidence indicated a short occupational episode during the LGM, possibly related to the Badegoulian culture. Terberger & Street (2002) suggest that east-west-connections were relevant for the development of the Badegoulian. Montet-White (1994) also pointed to similarities between the Badegoulian in the west and her Epigravettian in the east. These studies invite a reconsideration of the Pleniglacial settlement of more eastern parts of Europe.

This paper discusses the question of Pleniglacial settlement in eastern Central Europe (referring to Poland, Czech Republic, Slovak Republic, Austria, Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Yugoslavia), reviews the available data and describes new results. The record for the Pleniglacial of eastern Central Europe has been variously interpreted. Some argue in favour of a total abandonment of the region at, and/or immediately after, the LGM (e.g. Housley et al. 1997). Others argue for a continued but sparse presence of human populations throughout the Pleniglacial (Svoboda 1990; Montet-White 1994). A number of sites has now been dated convincingly around the LGM (20-17 000 BP), for example Grubgraben in Austria, Stranska skala IV in the Czech Republic, Mogyorosbanya, Madaras and Sagvar in Hungary, and Kasov in Slovakia (Dobosi & Hertelendi 1993; Hromada & Kozlowski 1995; Svoboda et al. 1996). An unmodified antler near a fireplace in Deszczowa cave, Poland, dated to 17 480 [+ or -] 150 (Gd-10212) (Cyrek 1999) and an unmodified bone from Zytnia skala dated to 20 080 [+ or -] 320 (OXA-6563) (Kozlowski 1999) may indicate LGM-occupation close to the Fennoscandinavian icesheet. Hence, the question of hiatus or continuity centres now on the period of 17 to 13 000 BP.

In order to make a contribution to the settlement history of eastern Central Europe, I collected samples from a series of sites for conventional and AMS-dating in the Groningen Center for Isotope Research. Of special interest were those sites that are crucial to Pleniglacial settlement: Moravany-Zakovska, the only site dated to the LGM in Western Slovakia; Nadap, the only Hungarian site from the early Pleniglacial (27-22 000 BP); Langmannersdorf, the only Late Aurignacian site in eastern Central Europe with radiocarbon dates; and Brno-Videnska, a Moravian site in the gap between 17 and 13 000 BP. A good association with the archaeology (as indicated by cutmarked bone and/or clear stratigraphic integrity) is the main criterion for sample selection.

It should be mentioned that all dates are given in radiocarbon years (see Table 1). No calibration was done (contra Blockley et al. 2000) for several reasons. First, there is no consensus in the radiocarbon community about a high-resolution standard calibration curve back beyond approximately 12 000 cal BP (see e.g. Van der Plicht 2000; Beck et al. 2001). Second, the radiocarbon determinations from archaeological contexts for the period under consideration need to be treated with some caution due to the dramatic effects of small amounts of contamination. Their accuracy should not be overestimated based on low standard deviations, which reflect only measuring insecurities. Third, calibration or the conversion of radiocarbon years in calendar years is not a goal in itself, but a means of correlation with other records. The calendar years are only of interest for correlation with such high-resolution records as the Greenland ice core records, but not for low resolution ones such as the terrestrial faunal record.

The last Gravettians in Moravany, Slovakia

A series of Gravettian locations has been documented in the Moravany-area, Western Slovakia (Hromada & Kozlowski 1995; Kozlowski 1998, 2000; Hromada 1998). On the basis of radiocarbon dating and loess stratigraphy, Kozlowski and others have interpreted the information to indicate a sequence of settlements between 24 and 18 000 BP. The site of Moravany-Zakovska was described as an Epigravettian occupation during the LGM and dated to 18100 [+ or -] 350 (Gd-4915).

A number of charcoal samples was collected from Gravettian locations in Western Slovakia including Moravany-Zakovska. At a later stage, bone samples were collected from other localities in the Moravany-area (Table 1). The redating of Moravany-Zakovska gave a result of 24 230 [+ or -] 150 (GrA-16 159). The big difference between the two dates for this site sheds doubt on both of them. Both samples were very small and consisted of a bulk of scattered, small charcoal fragments of several millimetres in size. The implications of the two dates are totally different.

The date of 18 100 [+ or -] 350 (Gd-4915) makes it the youngest member in the Upper Palaeolithic occupation of the Moravany area (the Epigravettian). On this basis, Kozlowski (2000) describes an archaeological sequence with changes in raw material use, flake size distribution and tool typology. According to Kozlowski, the older phase in the Moravany area is characterised by a dominance of extralocal, "northern" flint, which gives way to the local radiolarites from the Vah valley in the Epigravettian. This change in raw material base is also reflected in a change from a high proportion of small flakes and chips in the shouldered point horizon to a relatively low proportion in the Epigravettian. In addition, the domination of burins in the older phases does not continue in the Epigravettian, where burins are a minor tool class. Finally, the date is also used in the lithostratigraphy of the Moravany and Banka area in Western Slovakia (cf. Kozlowski 2000: 145-148).

However, the date of 24 230 [+ or -] 150 (GrA-16159) is actually the oldest [sup.14]C-date for the Moravany area and makes Moravany-Zakovska contemporaneous with other sites of the shouldered point horizon. As a consequence, flint- and radiolarite-dominated assemblages existed in the same period. The relative proportion of burins can then be interpreted as functional differentiation and not as a temporal trend.

Taking into account the totality of dates from the Moravany-area, then the 18 000 date is a clear anomaly (Verpoorte 2002). All other dates indicate a final date of about 22 000 BP for the Gravettian in the area. This is also supported by dates from stratified layers in Trencianske Bohuslavice, Western Slovakia (Verpoorte 2002). This final date is also in good agreement with those from south Poland, the Czech Republic and Willendorf II/layer 9 (Damblon et al. 1996; Verpoorte 2003).

Nadap, Hungary and the settlement history of the Carpathian Basin

The Upper Palaeolithic record of the Hungarian Basin is not large but of considerable interest. The small radiocarbon database suggests a highly discontinuous occupation (e.g. Gabori-Csank 1970; Siman 1990; Dobosi & Hertelendi 1993; Otte 1998; Dobosi 2000). The number of sites with dates around the LGM is remarkable. In contrast to more northern regions, only one site is attributed to the period between c. 27-22 000 BP: Nadap near Lake Velencei (Dobosi et al. 1988). The small collection consists of a blade industry with backed bladelets, associated with a faunal assemblage dominated by horse. The cultural remains are located below a soil sediment correlated with the h2 horizon in the Hungarian loess stratigraphy (dated to 20 500 BP in Dunaujvaros and 21 700 BP in Dunaszekcso) and above a slope deposit correlated with the Mende Upper soil (dated to 30-28 000 BP). A horse phalange was selected from the cultural layer and dated to 13 050 [+ or -] 70 (GrA-16563). This is in total disagreement with the geological interpretation. Either the radiocarbon date is far too young (though no conservation agents were used) or the geological interpretation has to be reconsidered. The authors indicate that the sequence of sediments is the fill of a dry valley. The presence of rubble horizons indicates that sediments have been eroded and redeposited. In this situation I suspect that the correlation with any well-established stratigraphic sequence is complicated. There are two other arguments to suggest that Nadap is younger. The collection contains a large amount of backed bladelets, but the presence of truncated ones and the absence of ventral terminal retouch is somewhat at odds with the Gravettian in the region. In view of the radiocarbon database for the Hungarian Basin, the 13 000 BP date fits well in the late Palaeolithic recolonisation of the Hungarian Basin (Otte 1998). Additional dating could give new information. In view of the present data, hardly any site is dated in the 27-21 000 and 17-13 000 periods in the Hungarian Basin. The scarce data from Slovenia and Bosnia-Hercegovina confirm this picture (Montet-White 1994, 2000).


The late Aurignacian of Langmannersdorf, Austria

The unique collection of finds from Langmannersdorf was dated in the 1970s. Two bulk samples of burned bones from a fireplace gave an age estimate of c. 20 000 BP. The results have been regarded with some caution (Hahn 1977), but are crucial to the dating of the Late Aurignacian in Central Europe (Oliva 1987). A reindeer bone was taken for a radiocarbon date of this important site. The result of 20 590 [+ or -] 110 (GrA-16567) confirms the other dates around the LGM. At present, there are no other dared Late Aurignacian sites in eastern Central Europe. A restudy of the collection, undertaken by S. Mayer (2002), shows that the only 'Aurignacian' element is the presence of busked burins (Bogenstichel).

Brno-Videnska street, Moravia, and the 17-13 000 BP period

The only Moravian site dated between 17 000 (Stranska skala IV) and 13 000 BP (the Magdalenian in the Moravian karst) is the site of Brno-Videnska street (Valoch 1975, 1996; the site was originally published as Brno-Konevova street). It consists of a hearth with burned bone and a small scatter of flint and bone around a sandstone slab. A bulk sample of burned bone from the hearth was dated in the 1970s and gave a result of 14 450 [+ or -] 90 (GrN-9350). The small assemblage is typologically and technologically indistinctive. It has been related to Epigravettian industries and some similarities with the Magdalenian have been pointed out as well (an atypical bec de perroquet).

In order to confirm the radiocarbon date, a cutmarked bone with a flint fragment attached was selected for additional dating. The result of 14 820 [+ or -] 120 (GrA-20002) is very close to the first date of the site. They seem to indicate at least some human occupation in eastern Central Europe before the main colonisation by the Late Magdalenian.

In the light of this date, a survey was conducted for other sites which could be related to the 17-13 000 and in particular the 15-14 000 period. A modified antler and a horse bone from Maszycka cave, Poland, have been dated to 15 490 [+ or -] 310 (Ly-2454) and 14 520 [+ or -] 240 (Ly-2453) respectively (Kozlowski & Sachse-Kozlowska 1993; comments in Housley et al. 1997). Two unmodified bones from layer E in Zawalona cave, Poland, have been dated to 15 380 [+ or -] 340 and 14 060 [+ or -] 400 (Alexandrowicz et al. 1992, no laboratory numbers mentioned). Burned bone from a fireplace in Stadice, Bohemia, has been dated to 14 280 [+ or -] 120 (GrN-15862), but the excavator considers the date to be far too young based on the typology of the artefacts and the associated fauna (Vencl 1989). A bone from Velke Pavlovice, Moravia, was dated to 14 460 [+ or -] 230 (GrN-16139) (Svoboda et al. 1996). Bone from the Gamssulzenhohle, Austria, was dated to 14 000 [+ or -] 500 (VRI-1255) (Neugebauer-Maresch 1999). The chronological position of all these sites is controversial because of a questionable association with human activity, the problem of contamination by conservation, contradictions in the faunal evidence or because it is only one single date. Two dates on one bone sample from Kamegg gave results of 13 840 [+ or -] 120 and 14 130 [+ or -] 110 (GrN-22883 and GrN-23182, Groningen database). Contamination by conservation agents is probable in this case and the typology and technology of the whole assemblage seem to fit better in a Gravettian context of around 22 000 BP (also Hromada 1998). Substantial effort should be placed on redating to resolve these questions.


Unlike western Central Europe (Street & Terberger 2000), the east was not abandoned by 25 000 BP. The Moravany data fit in a widespread Gravettian occupation of the region till approximately 21 000 BP. After 21 000 BP the focus of settlement moved southward to the Carpathian Basin. The area was abandoned by 17 000 BP. The abandonment of regions provides information on the limits of modern human hunter-gatherer adaptations, a subject that has not had the same attention as the process of colonisation.

The two main factors in the abandonment process are the reorganisation of the biogeography due to the extension of the Finnoscandinavian and Alpine ice sheets and the decline in human available biomass due to an increase in aridity. Migration patterns changed due to the loss of the North European Plain, with reindeer and horse moving further southward into the Carpathian Basin. Mammoth and woolly rhinoceros did not move into the Carpathian Basin but to the more eastern plains. Raw materials and site distributions indicate the use of an enormous territory during the LGM. The evidence connects the moraines and valleys in southern Poland to the Carpathian Basin and Lower Austria, covering a territory of more than 200 000 [km.sup.2] (Montet-White 1994; cf. Binford 1983, 110).

The settlement history of eastern Central Europe shows continued occupation of the region till 17 000 BP. It demonstrates that human settlement continued during the temperature minimum of the Pleniglacial and that the area was deserted only afterwards. The main change at about 17 000 BP is an increase in aridity due to an extremely dry climate. This is shown in widespread aeolian deposition and very limited fluvial action, restricted to the bigger rivers only. The aridity caused a decline of the vegetation and subsequently a decrease in the density and diversity of animal resources. The fauna would not allow the long-term survival of human populations causing local extinction in eastern Central Europe after 17 000 BP.

The site of Brno-Videnska street indicates sparse occupation of eastern Central Europe between 17-13 000 BP. Similar dates for other sites in eastern Central Europe need to be confirmed, but suggest a short episode around 15-14 000 BP. The view of an empty Central Europe after the LGM needs to be qualified. Esztergom-Gyurgylag, Hungary, is dated by a single date to 16 160 [+ or -] 200 (Deb-1160) (Dobosi & Kovecses-Varga 1991). It contains flint from either the Prut valley in the Ukraine or Nagytevel in southern Hungary. Szeged-Othalom, Hungary, has a date on bone of 15 916 [+ or -] 168 (no laboratory number, Dobosi 1999). These sites could indicate a continued sparse presence during the period under consideration (see also Pasda 1998 about Munzingen, Germany).

What was the nature of this sparse occupation in the context of hunter-gatherer land use? Binford (1983: 204) argues that "much mobility occurs when there is also the most food". When there is a relatively secure subsistence base in one area, it is possible to take chances on the availability of more risky resources. I suggest that the short occupational episodes during the Pleniglacial took place in similar circumstances. If site density is an indication, it is significant that Delpech (1989) mentions an increase in sites in south-western France for the 15-14 000 period. Also the main sites on the Russian Plain such as Mezhirich and Gontsy are dated to this period. With relative resource richness in the refuge areas, chances could be taken to exploit and explore the riskier areas above the Alps.

Sites such as Brno and Maszycka cave are located strategically in areas where a relatively high diversity of resources can be expected (at the lowland-upland boundaries). They represent short-term camps--as indicated by their small assemblages--used for very variable purposes, exploiting the affordances of the local environment. Some contain caches of points and high-quality raw material. In addition, some assemblages show long-distance contacts in terms of raw materials and/or tooltypes.

These short incidents of unsuccessful colonisation give us insight into the archaeological signature of initial colonisations. The sites share characteristics of a pioneer phase, that is otherwise hard to detect when followed by successful colonisation of a region (Housley et al. 1997; Hazelwood & Steele 2003; Meltzer 2003). These sites also give insight in the actual colonisation process. The distance from the refuge areas to Maszycka and Brno is in the order of 700 or 800 kilometres at least. It suggests that colonisation by modern human hunter-gatherers is one of fast long-distance migration by small populations. It is only the long-term effect of this process that can be described as a wave-of-advance (Housley et al. 1997; Gammon & Maurer 2002 for a biological study of dispersal processes).


Whereas the main picture of refugia remains intact, the eastern Central European data add important insights in the patterns, limitations and processes of settlement history. First, the data add to a differentiated picture of the settlement history of the Pleniglacial. Whereas eastern Central Europe shows occupational continuity till 17 000 BP, with the Hungarian Basin and Lower Austria serving as a refuge area, the western part was deserted by 25 000 BP and only shows a short occupational episode at 19-18 000 BP (Street & Terberger 2000; Terberger & Street 2002). Before the major recolonisation of (eastern) Central Europe in the Late Magdalenian, there was a sparse occupation of the region in the context of information gathering and exploitation activities away from the refuge areas.

Second, the relatively late abandonment of eastern Central Europe indicates that aridity and biogeography and not temperature were the major controls on the limits of human settlement. I would like to emphasise that not global climate change as such (as supposedly stored in Greenland ice core records), but regional and relative resource richness should be reinstalled as the critical variable in future investigations of Pleniglacial settlement histories (Jochim 1987; Gamble 1995; Housley et al. 2000).

Finally, the short occupational episodes in Central Europe during the LGM suggest a process of colonisation by fast long-distance migrations of small groups of hunter-gatherers. The archaeological signature of these sites give us an opportunity to test the expectations of initial colonisation provided in recent literature (e.g. Hazelwood & Steele 2003).
Table 1. List of radiocarbon dates from Slovakia, Hungary, Austria and
the Czech Republic. GrA-numbers indicate AMS-dates. GrA and GrN
indicate the Groningen laboratory, Gd refers to Gliwice laboratory.


Gd-4915 18100 [+ or -] 350 BP charcoal, bulk sample (Hromada & Kozowski
GrA-16159 24230 [+ or -] 150 BP charcoal, bulk sample,
[delta][sup.13]C= -24.4 [per thousand] (Verpoorte 2002)

Moravany-Lopata II
Gd-9246 21400 [+ or -] 610 bone fragment (Kozlowski 1998)
Gd-10555 24100 [+ or -] 800 bone fragments, bulk sample
(Kozlowski 1998)
GrA-19999 23310 [+ or -] 320 longbone fragment, reindeer, cutmarked?,
[delta][sup.13]C= -19.4 [per thousand] (Verpoorte 2002)
GrA-20460 22030 [+ or -] 190 longbone fragment, reindeer, cutmarked?,
[delta][sup.13]C= -18.8 [per thousand]

GrN-26749 22680 [+ or -] 400 longbone fragment, mammoth, no cutmarks,
association unclear, [delta][sup.13]C= -20.2 [per thousand]
(Verpoorte 2002)
GrN-26750 22200 [+ or -] 220 longbone fragment, mammoth, no cutmarks,
association unclear, [delta][sup.13]C= -20.8 [per thousand]
(Verpoorte 2002)

Banka-Horne farske role
GrA-19909 22010 [+ or -] 210 bone fragment, reindeer?, cutmarked?,
[delta][sup.13]C= -19.2 [per thousand] (Verpoorte 2002)
GrA-19910 22320 [+ or -] 220 rib fragment, reindeer?, cutmarked?,
[delta][sup.13]C= -18.9 [per thousand] (Verpoorte 2002)


GrA-16563 13050 [+ or -] 70 horse phalange, no cutmarks,
stratigraphic association, [delta][sup.13]C= -20.3 [per thousand]


GrN-6585 19340 [+ or -] 100 charred bone, extract,
[delta].sup.13]C= -23.4 [per thousand] (Groningen database)
GrN-6660 20260 [+ or -] 200 charred bone, residue of GrN-6585,
[delta][sup.13]C= -25.0 [per thousand] (Hahn 1977)
GrN-6586 19520 [+ or -] 120 charred bone, extract,
[delta][sup.13]C= -27.7 [per thousand] (Groningen database)
GrN-6659 20580 [+ or -] 170 charred bone, residue of GrN-6660,
[delta][sup.13]C= -26.2 [per thousand] (Hahn 1977)
GrA-16567 20590 [+ or -] 110 longbone fragment, reindeer,
cutmarked?, stratigraphic association, [delta][sup.13]C= 19.4
[per thousand]

Czech Republic

Brno-Videnska street
GrN-9350 14450 [+ or -] 90 charred bone, bulk sample (Valoch 1996)
GrA-20002 14820 [+ or -] 120 longbone fragment, reindeer?, cutmarked,
[delta][sup.13]C= -21.0 [per thousand]


I would like to thank J. Hromada, A. Durisova (Bratislava), V. Dobosi (Budapest), S. Mayer (Traismauer) and K. Valoch (Brno) for providing samples, access to finds and information on the sites. The Center for Isotope Research in Groningen took care of the samples in their usual and reliable manner. W. Roebroeks and two anonymous referees gave valuable comments on an earlier version. All interpretations are entirely my own responsibility. The research was funded by the Dutch Organisation for Scientific Research (N.W.O) and the Faculty of Archaeology of the University Leiden, the Netherlands.


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Alexander Verpoorte (1)

(1) Faculty of Archaeology, University Leiden, P.O. Box 9515, 2300 RA Leiden, The Netherlands (Email: A.

Received: 11 November 2002; Accepted: 16 April 2003; Revised: 27 May 2003
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Title Annotation:Research
Author:Verpoorte, Alexander
Geographic Code:4E
Date:Jun 1, 2004
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