Comparing Upper Palaeolithic sequences across the Carpathians

The appearance of Anatomically Modern Humans in Europe around 40,000 years ago coincided with highly dynamic environmental conditions during the latter part of the last glacial cycle which ended with the begin of the Holocene 11,700 years ago. For the Upper Palaeolithic record, these conditions led to complex patterns of preservation on all levels − for finds, structures, and sites. Preferably, the archaeological record is embedded in a sequence of naturally deposited sediments allowing for assessment of the environmental context and chrono-stratigraphic placement.

Project goals

The project aims at comparing the records and formation processes of two important Upper Palaeolithic find regions with similar chrono-stratigraphic and archaeological ranges located on either side of the Carpathian arc: the Krems area in northeast Austria with well-known sites such as Stratzing, Krems-Hundssteig, Krems-Wachtberg, and Kammern-Grubgraben − as well as further localities in the Kamp valley and on the Wagram plateau − and the Ceahlău Basin in the Bistriţa valley in northeast Romania where a dense cluster of 18 sites was identified in the course of a dam construction in the 1950s and 1960s, for some of which investigations led by the Valahia University of Târgoviste have been resumed in the last decade. In particular Bistricioara-Lutărie III exhibits an impressive record with several Epigravettian and Gravettian find layers.

At each of these localities, complex sedimentary and depositional processes are illustrated by the presence of in situ preserved anthropogenic structures such as hearths, pits, and burials next to layers with re-deposited finds. This shows that sedimentary processes can be both protective and destructive depending on the local and diachronic environmental conditions. Detailed correlation with climate and environmental oscillations therefore requires obtaining local high-resolution records of chronological, archaeological, sedimentological, and environmental data, and demands profound understanding of the formation processes.


At the current stage of the project, main target is intensification of data collection in the Ceahlău Basin with principal focus on Bistricioara-Lutărie III and its immediate surroundings. The joint field investigations are conducted by OREA’s Quaternary Archaeology research group and the Faculty of Humanities of the Valahia University and include mainly systematic excavation and core sampling, but also test trenches. Hereby, innovative documentation tools (e.g. databases) are developed to enhance the integration of multidisciplinary approaches. Important result of the 2019 excavation at Bistricioara-Lutarie III was evidence of five superimposed Epigravettian and Gravettian find layers with preserved anthropogenic structures, in most cases hearths.

Lithic raw material analyses

The cluster of Upper Palaeolithic sites in the Ceahlău Basin provides the rare opportunity for investigating long-distance lithic raw material procurement throughout a long sequence of short-term and seasonal Gravettian and Epigravettian hunter-gatherer occupations spanning the time range of ca. 30,000 to 17,000 years ago. Key site is Bistricioara-Lutărie III which provides the highest resolution for the regional occupation sequence, and thus main reference for the diachronic aspect. Other sites from the surroundings provide contemporaneous, but only partial sequences and are used to control functional aspects. All lithic assemblages from these sites show a strong component of Cretaceous flint, for which a known source is located in the Middle Prut area ca. 150 km to the northeast. While the assemblage of the main Gravettian occupations (ca. 30,000–26,000 years ago) is almost exclusively manufactured in flint, the (later) Epigravettian find layers show higher portions of local raw materials.

First microscopic examinations have already been carried out at the OREA Raw Material Lab for a limited set of artefacts from the Ceahlău Basin, and first results suggest occurrence of at least six genetically different types of flint. A new project funded by the Dr. Anton Oelzelt-Newin’sche Stiftung (“Flint as proxy for diachronic mobility patterns in the Upper Palaeolithic of northeast Romania”) aims at microscopic and geochemical analyses of artefacts and samples from potential source areas in order to assess diachronic mobility patterns of Gravettian and Epigravettian hunter-gatherer groups. Reconstructing procurement patterns and resource management for flint will contribute to understanding behaviour and adaptation of hunter-gatherers of northeast Romania during the Last Glacial Maximum, and allow for comparisons with the Middle Danube Region on the other side of the Carpathian Basin where OREA’s Quaternary Archaeology research group and Raw Material Lab have assessed a number of assemblages from sites of comparable chronology.



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