The Upper Paleolithic burial area at Předmostí: ritual and taphonomy

The Upper Paleolithic burial area at Předmostí: ritual and taphonomy

Available online at Journal of Human Evolution 54 (2008) 15e33 The Upper Paleolithic burial area at Prˇedmostı´: ritual and ta...

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Journal of Human Evolution 54 (2008) 15e33

The Upper Paleolithic burial area at Prˇedmostı´: ritual and taphonomy Jirˇ´ı A. Svoboda Institute of Archaeology at Brno, Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic CZ-69129 Dolnı´ Veˇstonice 25, Czech Republic Received 12 September 2006; accepted 1 May 2007

Abstract Paleoanthropological materials from Prˇedmostı´, recovered by J. Wankel in 1884, K.J. Masˇka in 1894, M. Krˇ´ız in 1895, and K. Absolon in 1928 (and probably 1930), represent one of the largest collections of early modern human remains. Unfortunately, most of these fossils were destroyed in 1945. The aim of this paper is to create a list of finds in accordance with the discovery dates, to place them into the spatial and chronological context of the site, and to compare them with the evidence from recent excavation in 2006. Two competing hypotheses are raised in the literature suggesting that the Prˇedmostı´ individuals represent either a contemporary burial as a consequence of one catastrophic event, or a gradual accumulation of human bodies at one place. Whereas the first hypothesis is supported by the demographic structure of the buried group, including adults and children, the second interpretation is based on stratigraphic and taphonomic analysis of the burial area itself. Using the original documentation of Masˇka and other early researchers, and my own experience from recent excavation in the remaining part of the site, I attempt to reconstruct the plan of the site, with a focus on spatial distribution of the human fossils, especially in the main burial area. I suggest that the burial place was not the settlement center, but rather a peripheral and task-specific area. The determining factor for location of the burial area was likely the remarkable Skalka rock, a cliff that rose directly above the site. A long-term tendency to place the dead ‘‘below the rock’’ may have given rise to the accumulation of human remains at a single place, with a scatter of dispersed fragments in the vicinity. At this location, the human bodies were partly protected by soil coverage, limestone debris, and mammoth scapulae, but were also affected by postdepositional processes such as redeposition of sediments, predator activities, and later human activities, including the burial of additional corpses. Ó 2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. Keywords: Modern humans; Gravettian; Burials; Rituals; Taphonomy; Prˇedmostı´

Introduction Few paleolithic sites in Europe have as long and complex a research history as Prˇedmostı´ in the Moravian region of the Czech Republic (Table 1; Wankel, 1884, 1892; Masˇka, 1886, 1894a,b, 1895a,b; Krˇ´ız, 1894, 1896a,b,c, 1903; Absolon, 1918, 1929; Breuil, 1925; Knies, 1927; Zotz and Freund, 1951; Klı´ma, 1973, 1990, 1991a; Absolon and Klı´ma, 1977; Svoboda et al., 1994, 1996; Oliva, 2001a,b; Svoboda, 2001a, 2005a; Zilhao and Trinkaus, 2002;). The area is important for several reasons, including its key geographic location

E-mail address: [email protected] 0047-2484/$ - see front matter Ó 2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. doi:10.1016/j.jhevol.2007.05.016

in western Eurasia. Three sites (Prˇedmostı´ IeIII) were originally clustered around two limestone formations dominating the southern entrance of the Moravian Gate, which is one of the most important valley passages of Upper Pleistocene Europe for both humans and other animals (Fig. 1). Prˇedmostı´ yielded not only immense amounts of mammoth and other animal bones, artifacts, and decorative and symbolic items, but also an important assemblage of Upper Paleolithic (Gravettian) human fossils. Unfortunately, industrial exploitation of loess and limestone in the past, and the insufficiently documented excavations, have resulted in almost complete destruction of this site. Two key monographs are essential for the archaeology (Absolon and Klı´ma, 1977) and paleoanthropology (Matiegka, 1934, 1938) of the site, but both were

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Table 1 Summary table of the main excavators at Prˇedmostı´ Excavator


Jindrˇich Wankel Karel J. Masˇka Jaroslav Klvanˇa Martin Krˇ´ız Jan Knies Karel Absolon Hermann Schwabedissen Karel Zˇebera et al. Bohuslav Klı´ma Jirˇ´ı Svoboda et al.

1880e1882, 1884, 1886 1882e1884, 1889e1895 1889 1894e1897 especially 1923 1924e1935 1943 1952e1954 1971e1973, 1975e1976, 1982e1983 1989e1992, 2002, 2006

written after the major discoveries and, thus, in fact, are secondary sources, with all the biases and missunderstanding that the delays in publication can produce. The human remains were recovered by J. Wankel in 1884, K.J. Masˇka in 1894, M. Krˇ´ız in 1895, and K. Absolon in 1928 (and perhaps also 1930). All of these finds were concentrated within the site designated Prˇedmostı´ I, located west of the formerdnow exhausteddlimestone outcrop named Skalka (Fig. 2). The largest accumulation of human skeletons was that found by Masˇka in 1894, concentrated at one spot of only 2.5 m by 4 m in size; the other finds are mostly fragments dispersed in the cultural layer in the vicinity. The first inventory of these finds (nos. 1e19) was drawn up by K.J. Masˇka on pp. 70e71 of his diary. During processing of the material for his planned monograph, Masˇka compiled lists of bones for each individual. Later, other inventories were drawn up: nos. 1e27 by J. Matiegka (1934) and 1e29 by E. Vlcek (1971), which added the finds of Wankel, Krˇ´ız and Absolon. There is, however, certain disagreement amongst the catalogs and original field data in numeration and description of the remains. Following Masˇka’s unpublished statistical tables, the individuals 1e10 and 15 are relatively complete skeletons, while the others are fragmentary. The altogether 20 individuals later

Fig. 1. Surface reconstruction of the geomorphology of the southwestern edge of the Moravian Gate, showing location of the sites Prˇedmostı´ IeIII. The scale along the bottom edge is in meters.

Fig. 2. Sketch of the Prˇedmostı´ I site in 1882 (after Masˇka, 1882: 112e113). In the south abandoned limestone quarry (former Skalka rock), in the north the clay pit. Archive of the Institute of Archaeology, AS CR, Brno.

examined by Matiegka (1934, 1938) were mosty young. Only the male numbered 14 (no. 15 in Masˇka’s numeration) could be considered relatively old (40e50 years), and the male no. 3 was 35e40 years old. The remaining six adults (half of which were females) were probably younger than 30 years, two individuals (girls?) were aged between 10e12 and 15e 16 years, seven children were younger than 10 years, and three were less than one year old. In 1945, this unique collection of human fossils was burned, together with other important Paleolithic finds from Moravia, in a catastrophic fire in the castle of Mikulov. Only rare specimens, such as two fragmentary human mandibles Prˇedmostı´ 21 and 26, were recently rediscovered in museum collections and records (Drozdova´, 2001, 2002; Vlcek, 2005). An anthropological revision of the entire assemblage, based on the preserved photographic glass plates made by J. Matiegka and on casts, is in progress (Katina et al., 2004; Velemı´nska´ et al., 2004). The existing contextual data concerning these human fossils are unfortunately insufficient. Of Wankel’s finds, only a short description is available (Wankel, 1884). From K.J. Masˇka we have the field diary with daily records, some topographic sketches, and stratigraphic sections, the most important being his diary volumes I (Masˇka, 1882) and VII (Masˇka, 1894c). These records are now deposited at the Institute of Archaeology, Brno and Dolnı´ Veˇstonice. In addition, there are fragments of Masˇka’s unpublished manuscripts and preliminary statistical tables at the Masaryk University,

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Brno, and summary publications, unfortunately lacking any plans or illustrations (Masˇka, 1895a,b, 1896). From M. Krˇ´ız there is an illustrated publication (Krˇ´ız, 1896a,b,c, 1903), with a general plan showing the location of his trenches relative to Masˇka’s. From K. Absolon there is a verbal description (Absolon, 1929) and a plan (Absolon and Klı´ma, 1977, their Fig. 36), but, again, there is no certainty as to the precise location of the human fossil finds. Since no general plan of the burial area was left by the excavators, later efforts to reconstruct it were presented based on the sketches and verbal description. The first reconstruction of the burial area was the idealized version of K. Absolon, that was evidently based on Masˇka’s publications alone. It depicts Masˇka’s term the ‘‘human heaps’’ and attempts to show the delimitation of the grave with mammoth scapulae. A later reconstruction by B. Klı´ma (1990, 1991a) also returns to Masˇka’s sketches, slightly idealized, to which other objects and the expected outlines of the unrecorded human bodies have been added. The aim of the present paper is not to repeat the wealth of archaeological, anthropological, and paleoenvironmental data on Prˇedmostı´, as presented in the above-mentioned publications. Neither shall I comment on the physical anthropology and demography of the human fossil assemblage (cf. Katina et al., 2004; Velemı´nska´ et al., 2004). Instead, I shall follow two lines of research. First, I shall focus in more detail on the primary field documentation left by the previous excavators, mainly by Masˇka, in order to reconstruct and explain the context of the human fossil finds (Table 2, Fig. 3). Second, I shall use the new data from a 2006 excavation in the still preserved portion of the site (Site Ib) to draw general conclusions about spatial patterning and chronology of the site. Masˇka’s original diaries, namely volume VIIdincluding the critical excavation year of 1894dcontain schematic maps, sections, sketches of (some) bone scatters and other find situations, administrative notes, and the text, organized by day (Masˇka, 1894c). This is a type of primary documentation intended for personal use, to refresh the memory during further processing of the material and during the writing of


the definitive monograph that the author has planned. As a text it makes for monotonous reading, which attains shape only if the data recorded for particular dates are projected into the site. Thus, by reconstructing the daily movements of the excavator in the area, we shall order his records into their spatial context. This approach concerns the 1894 excavation area in general (Fig. 4) as well as the burial area in particular (Figs. 5e9). Contrary to Klı´ma, we shall limit ourselves to Masˇka’s original sketches and verbal comments, which we attempt to arrange into a certaindalbeit incompletedsystem, making allowances also for the fact of overlapping of the bodies in the central accumulation. In its rough outline, however, our overall result (Fig. 8) is not basically different from Klı´ma’s (1990, 1991a). The spatial structure and stratigraphy of Prˇedmostı´ Of the several timely descriptions of the original appearance of the site, the brief and best-fitting was given by J. Knies (1927: 106; cf. Fig. 1): ‘‘The form of the elevation originally comprised a crest-shaped and saddled outcrop of Devonian limestone, from which high above rose two rocky formations, of which the northern was called Hradisko and the southern Skalka.’’ The limestone core of Hradisko was to a great extent covered by loess and is still preserved; it was recently excavated as a predominantly Middle Paleolithic site (site Prˇedmostı´ II; Svoboda et al., 1994, 1996). Skalka was quarried out during the 19th century, so that the archaeologists were aware of it from recorded information rather than first-hand experience. In fact, it must have been a rather imposing rock formation, accessible from the north but steeply cut to the south, and ‘‘higher than the church tower in Prˇedmostı´’’ (Masˇka, 1894a), the importance of which was reflected in the legend of the footprint of St. Adalbert on its peak (Skutil, 1951). The most important parts of the Gravettian settlements, now destroyed and only partly excavated, extended north and west of Skalka (the site of Prˇedmostı´ Ia). The cultural layers

Table 2 Summary table of the paleoanthropological finds from Prˇedmostı´, site Ia (for spatial reconstruction see Fig. 3) Find no.


Date of discovery

Further data


1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6.

J. Wankel K.J. Masˇka K.J. Masˇka K.J. Masˇka K.J. Masˇka K.J. Masˇka

1884 May 18th, 1894 Aug.7theSept.10th, 1894 Aug.18th, 1894 Aug.23rd, 1894 Aug. 24the28th, 1894

Chromecek’s clay pit North Burial site Northwest, uncertain South Southeast

7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13.

K.J. Masˇka K.J. Masˇka K.J. Masˇka M. Krˇ´ız M. Krˇ´ız M. Krˇ´ız M. Krˇ´ız

Aug. 24th, 1894 Aug. 30th Aug. 4th/Sept. 10th, 1894 June 25th, 1895, and later 1895 1895 1895

South South Northeast, during removal Chromecek: trench VIII Chromecek: trench IV Chromecek: trench II Dokoupil: trench VII


K. Absolon

August, 1928, 1930

Lower jaw Part of a lower jaw, humerus Skeletons 1e10, 15; others incomplete Ulna Pelvis Lower jaw, skull fragment, ulna, radius, humerus, ribs Skull fragment, humerus Rib Phalanx, ulna, humerus Skull, lower jaw Lower jaw Two femurs Skull fragment, two humeri, two ulnae, radius fragment 54 limb bones, two teeth, lower jaw

Human manipulation




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Fig. 4. Sketch of the area excavated in 1894 (after Masˇka, 1894c: 25). The arrows indicate the supposed directions of the excavation, the letters correspond to the main sectors: northern zone (N), northeast (NE), northwest (NW), southeast (SE), south (S), southwest (SW). The burial area is hatched.

Fig. 3. General plan of Sites Ia and Ib, showing areas excavated by the individual researchers and location of the paleoanthropological finds. Full point: relatively certain location; empty point: generally estimated location; the circle indicating the Skalka rock is a very approximate reconstruction.

are still partly preserved below the Prˇedmostı´ cemetery (the site of Prˇedmostı´ Ib). From other areas around this rock, we only have scarce records of huge accumulations of ‘‘giant bones’’, dating as early as the 16th century. Prˇedmostı´ III is a smaller Gravettian site in lower elevation, south of Skalka. Concerning the within-site spatial distribution and patterning at the main site of Prˇedmostı´ I, some later authors suspect that ground plans of dwellings remained unrecognized by the early excavators. Of course, such a possibility is open to discussion, but regular circular features of bones and stones would probably be noted if present. Whatever the situation was, it appears that a difference may be observed in density of artifacts and in regularity of patterning of the hearths and bone accumulations between the northern and western sections of the site. In the north, the first researchers recorded regular hearths (diameter: 1.5e 2 m; depth: 20e30 cm), surrounded by find scatters rich in artifacts and bones; in addition, mammoth bones were selected and arranged in certain groups after type of bone. In the west, the bone deposits were still large but irregular, with evidence of extensive burning, and associated artifacts were less numerous in these contexts. Our 2006 excavation clarified, in fact, a situation of the second type.

Another question concerns stratigraphy at Prˇedmostı´ I. Both Masˇka and Krˇ´ız described several (two or three) Upper Paleolithic layers, but it was unclear whether this complex stratigraphy reflects a real sequence of occupations through time, or whether it resulted from redeposition of the same layer along the slope. Stratigraphy and datings from the 2006 excavation support the first interpretation, that is a longer interval of Gravettian occupations at this site, comprising both the Pavlovian and Willendorf-Kostenkian stages (Table 3; cf. Svoboda, 2003; Jo¨ris and Weninger, 2004). Jindrˇich Wankel (1884) The northern and probably the most attractive part of the Site I was investigated along the edge of the Chromecek clay pit (over a length of ca. 100 m) by J. Wankel (1884). There are no more precise data as to how large an area he excavated. However, Wankel found accumulations of mammoth bones, partly sorted by element (e.g., 50 molars at one point, a pile of tusks), along with numerous stone and bone artifacts. Given the richness of the finds and sorting of the animal bones, we may consider the northern part of Site I to be a more typical settlement zone. An isolated find of a human mandible was an exception in this context. This item was described by Wankel as follows: ‘‘I also found, beneath a massive mammoth thigh bone, the right half of a human lower jaw, and lifted it myself from the ash in which it had been deposited. This jaw shows two gap

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Fig. 5. Case of a relatively complete human skeleton (Masˇka, 1894c: 38e39). On August 10, 1894, Masˇka uncovers in the middle part of the area several human skeletons in the upper level, of which he draws the male no. 3. Archive of the Institute of Archaeology, AS CR, Brno.

teeth and behind them the three rear molars, evidently from a female person of medium size, a little older than 24 years of age; and it is at just that place where it adjoined its second half that the jaw was anciently broken; in terms of dimensions, it does not differ from the lower jaws of modern man.’’ (Wankel, 1884: 96). The jaw is described again by K.J. Masˇka (1886), to whom it was lent for the purposes of his paper, by J. Havelka (1886); Masˇka, by contrast, pointed out the differences between this fossil and modern populations. The jaw was recorded as no. 21 in the monographs of J. Matiegka (1934, 1938), and Vlcek (1971) incorrectly states that it is housed in the Moravian Museum. Thus, most authors have automatically regarded it as destroyed, as is the whole anthropological assemblage from Prˇedmostı´. In 2000, however, along with P. Procha´zkova´ we identified this specimen in the museum exhibition at Olomouc and handed it over for a new description to E. Drozdova´ (2001, 2002). Karel Jaroslav Masˇka (1894) Between 1882 and 1893, Masˇka (as did Wankel before him) operated in the northern part of Site I, again uncovering sorted animal bones, including 13 mammoth tusks and four mammoth skulls in the same place. The hearths were regular in shape, and artifacts and decorative objects of stone and bone were also numerous. However, in spring of 1894, as Masˇka entered the western part of the site, the situation seems to have

changed slightly. The animal bones were numerous but no longer sorted, and the artifacts were less frequent so that even finding single, standard types was worth mentioning in the diary. Unfortunately, Masˇka’s method of exavation did not yet employ a regular grid (this was first done by M. Krˇ´ız), and his excavations instead expanded daily in concentric bands (Fig. 4). This evidently suited Masˇka’s laborers, and Wankel perhaps proceeded likewise. Such a system complicates even the approximate localization of finds from the area to a specific date. In several cases, and particularly with the anthropological finds, data is recorded for the day and band and is complemented by additional dimensions, such as the distance from the edge of the quarry. Thus, in some cases it is possible to infer a rough localization of the findspot. The excavations in the summer of 1894 expanded to the south the area already investigated in the spring. The approach was fundamentally the same as in the spring; excavations started at the northeastern corner (now covered by the welcome shade of an elm tree), and work progressed in concentric bands to the southwest. However, the discovery of the human burial area at the beginning of August altered the pattern of the excavations. Some of the anthropological finds were left in situ, and further excavation to the southeast and south then started from this spot. Following this model (Fig. 4), we have divided the investigated area into sectors that roughly correspond to the chronology of the investigations: a northern sector (the spring


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rather separate, spatially distinct accumulations. This would also explain the larger number of bones from smaller predators, including complete wolf skeletons, and the lower frequency of artifacts (as inferred by the fact that even isolated occurrences were recorded). The limestone debris was angular in the upper layers and rounded in the subsoil. The first human remains were reported on May 18th: ‘‘at two places, 9 and 11 m from the edge, human remains: the lower part of a humerus and the back end of a lower jaw. Unfortunately, both incomplete’’. This find is approximately localizable, if the distances of 9 m and 11 m from the edge of the loess wall are projected onto the band investigated on May 18th in Masˇka (1894c: 16). However, the anatomical description of the finds does not agree with the later catalogue (no. 20), which lists a humerus, a fibula, an ulna, and two teeth, and omits the lower jaw (Matiegka, 1934, 1938). In addition, Masˇka recorded finds of flakes, blades, and bone tools, including six ‘‘cylinders’’ made of mammoth ivory. Among the fauna, mainly mammoth, fox, and wolf are noted, and sporadically reindeer, horse, moose, bear, and lion. The mammoth remains are mainly tusks, molars, and vertebrae, and sporadically skulls, scapulae, and ribs. The northeast sector (July 24theAugust 6th, 1894)

Fig. 6. Later reconstruction of the male Prˇedmostı´ 3 from the 1930s, by K. Absolon for purposes of museum exhibition. Archive of the Institute of Archaeology, AS CR, Brno.

excavations), the northeast sector (July excavations), the burial area, the northwest, the southeast, a southern sector, and the southwest (all excavated in August). This is, naturally, schematic. A more precise outline of the whole area, as presented in Fig. 3, was received by projecting Masˇka’s sketch into a general site plan made the following year by M. Krˇ´ız (1903: 50). The northern zone (spring 1894) In comparison with previous excavations, during which hearths, accumulations of sorted mammoth bones (groups of tusks, skulls), and, above all, numerous pieces of stone and bone industry were found (Masˇka, 1894a,b), the northern sector is somewhat peripheral in nature. A description of the situation in the spring of 1894 attests to the stacks of mammoth bones, which, however, did not form a contiguous cover, but

During July, 1894, a sector was gradually uncovered in the northeastern part of the new area. The cultural layer comprised ash lenses lying in two or more horizons (Fig. on page 24 in Masˇka, 1894c). During this period, Masˇka divided his records into Layer I (the upper) and Layer II (the lower). Further, he notes an area of rounded limestone debris, mainly at the base of this stratigraphic sequence (‘‘seats’’, measuring up to 50 cm). We presume that this debris entered the area from the east, from the former Skalka rock. The northeastern sector yielded a larger assemblage of flakes, blades, and ‘‘scrapers’’ (‘‘Schaber’’), with individual mentions of a core, an awl, a leafpoint, a hammerstone, a whetstone, a polished marlstone disc (see ‘The burial area accompanying artefacts and finds’), a polished ‘‘chisel’’, and two dentalia shells. Among the bone industry, two spatulas and two mammoth ivory ‘‘cylinders’’ are mentioned. Predominant among the fauna are mammoth, reindeer, horse, fox, wolf, and bear, with isolated instances of wolverine, rhinoceros, and birds. The mammoth bones are mostly tusks, molars, long bones, vertebrae, and ribs, with a few crania, mandibles, limb bones, a scapula, and an innominate. Some of the material comes directly from the overlying layers of the burial area, before Masˇka identified it as such. On August 3rd, Masˇka turned south, thus encountering the burial area. The overlying layers were in fact dug out on August 3rde4th, ‘‘.so that any of the workers, the numerous watchers and I myself could realize that at just shallow depths below the stones something important lay’’ (Masˇka, 1895b: 163). On August 4th, he observes vertically-set mammoth bones in the area, both scapulae and long bones ‘‘perhaps also two mammoth lower jaws, lying on each other some 2 m east of the grave (Fig. on pages 32e33 in Masˇka,

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Fig. 7. Case of a heavily disturbed human skeleton (Masˇka, 1894c: 66e67). On September 10, 1894, Masˇka documents the last preserved skeletal associations, probably from the lower levels of the burial area. Archive of the Institute of Archaeology, AS CR, Brno.

1894c), relate directly to the human grave’’. This was later confirmed, since in his concluding remarks (Masˇka, 1894c: 72 and addendum on page 32) he adds that he discovered three human bones (an adult phalanx, a child’s ulna and probably a humerus) directly below and during removal of these mammoth bones. However, the central burial area was not registered before August 7th. The burial area (August 7the13th and September 10th, 1894) Masˇka did not draw up an overall plan of the ‘‘grave’’, but stuck instead to partial sketches, probably due to the unclear stratigraphic situation and the technical problem of expressing the overlapping bones; in his own words, they lay ‘‘next to and on top of each other’’ (Masˇka, 1895a,b) . Another problem was the irregular excavation system. The outline of the burial area is described narratively as an elliptical shape, the axis running northeast, (Masˇka, 1895a,b), measured, and sketched on page 40 in Masˇka (1894c). In reconstructing the interior, we base our conclusions on daily movement of the diggers within the area (Fig. 8, right). From the general plan (Fig. 4), it follows that Masˇka approached the ‘‘grave’’ from the northeast but did not recognize it before reaching its southern end, where the limestone debris cover (previously regarded as substrate) ended: ‘‘many small bones of arctic fox were scattered, somewhat deeper than the other parts of the lower cultural layer, such as metatarsals and a calf bone which I have discovered suddenly’’ (Masˇka, 1895b: 162). Therefore, we localized the point of

departuredthe first sketch from August 7th, at the southern edge of the area (Masˇka, 1894c: 34 below in the diary); the upper sketch, some 1 m distant to the north and, thus, drawn in the diary in the upwards direction (even across the text written previously), indicates that on the same day Masˇka returned back to the north, below the debris area. The rich finds from August 8th are described only narratively, but are said to lay ‘‘to the side’’ and ‘‘in the direction south-north’’. On one of the skulls lay a fragment of mammoth shoulder blade, the first of three found, which has thus been localized to the northeastern corner. The debris at this place was both over and below the human finds. The repeated burials at the same place (‘‘everything lay separately in the yellow earth’’, Aug. 7th), perhaps linked to lighting fires (‘‘beneath the skull was a layer of charcoal and a clear ash layer’’, Aug. 7th; ‘‘a black, burned layer lay on the person’’ Aug. 8th), illustrates the complexity of the situation. On August 9th and 10th, Masˇka reached the very center (‘‘mittlere Grube’’, ‘‘Menschenhaufen’’), where he counted a total of six skeletons; but on the 9th, he depicts only parts of the lower limbs and a skull (Masˇka, 1894c: 37) and on the 10th the most complete skeleton including vertebrae and ribs and indicating the flexed lower limbs (Masˇka, 1894c: 38, male no. 3; Fig. 5, compare its later reconstruction, Fig. 6). According to the publication, the other skeletons lay ‘‘west of here’’, and were temporarily left in place to be later placed in crates en bloc. A second mammoth scapula is also recorded at this point (worn at the crest and engraved with


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Fig. 8. Reconstruction of the burial area and its vicinity, based on original sketches inserted according to the individual excavation days. Only in case of the individual Prˇedmostı´ 3 (center) are we sure about the catalog number. Missing bodies are hatched. Right: direction of excavation on the individual working days (arrows and dates).

lines), evidently the one that Masˇka mentioned in his publication as being in the northwest. By the end of August 10th, Masˇka had already managed to establish the overall dimensions of the grave, which measured four meters in length and three meters in breadth. A day later the dimensions were rendered more precise by a drawn outline (Masˇka, 1894c: 40), where the width was reduced to 2.5 m, and this definitive dimension was then retained in all later publications (Masˇka, 1895a,b). On August 11the13th, Masˇka (1894c) worked within the area thus delimited, together with ‘‘the most skillful laborer’’, but at the same time the excavations reached into the surrounding area, and into the hitherto uninvestigated southern vicinity. On August 11th, he depicted an arm bone, strongly flexed at the elbow, lying south of the grave (Masˇka, 1894c: 40). On August 13th, he turned back (i.e., towards the central area) encountering a large group of limb bones, covered by a mammoth scapula (Masˇka, 1894c: 42). Evidently, this is the third of the

‘‘marginal’’ scapulae, in later reconstructions localized to the southwest edge. Thus, although only two ‘‘boundary’’ mammoth scapulae are mentioned by Masˇka in his publications (the southwestern and northwestern, respectively), the diary mentionsdincluding fragmentsdthree in turn, with one at the northeast as well. (Klı´ma’s reconstruction, too, shows only two, but at the southwest and northeast.) Because the use of mammoth scapulae as protective coverage of human bodies was later confirmed elsewhere in South Moravia (Trinkaus and Svoboda, 2006), we maydin individual casesdapply the same interpretation at Prˇedmostı´. There was not, however, any sort of a continuous coverage of the whole burial area. In the period during and after discovery of the ‘‘grave’’, Masˇka (1894c) records the discovery of just two bladelets, a racloir or scraper (‘‘Feuersteinschaber’’), and two hammerstones. No mention of dyes is made. In terms of fauna, he repeatedly mentions mammoth and fox, and occasionally

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Fig. 9. Southeastern part of the 1894 area, sketch from August 28: 54e55. Masˇka’s commentary (1894c): ‘‘ash layers were as if laid on top of each other, mostly irregular, but with horizontal charcoal bands... Large stones occured everywhere in the cultural layer.’’ Archive of the Institute of Archaeology, AS CR, Brno.

reindeer, horse, wolf, bear, wolverine, and hare. For the loose canines of various carnivores, mentioned several times, there is no mention of their being perforated, and these cannot, therefore, be interpreted as pendants. The mammoth bones were molars, long bones, scapulae, and isolated finds of skull, tusk, and vertebra. In general, Masˇka records accumulations of limestone blocks from the northern and eastern sides, ‘‘not reaching the southern part’’, and these have separated the anthropological remains from the overlying cultural layers. Of course, this debris continued outside the burial area as well, creating a kind of circular alignment around the former Skalka rock. In the foot zone it is logical to expect chaotic sedimentation of slope material, redeposited loess, limestone scree, pebbles, and other allochthonous material (Masˇka, 1894c: 54), which evidently periodically intruded into the space set aside for burials (‘‘here the layer shows clear bands’’, Aug. 10th; ‘‘an ash-grey layer penetrates into the horizon of human bones’’, Table 3 Prˇerov - Prˇedmostı´, summary table of

Aug. 13th). This attests to repeated deposition of geologic, not anthropogenic, origin. The last skeletal parts were removed by Masˇka en bloc, and drawn and photographed after the excavations had ended (i.e., on September 10th). The relevant sketches thus appear on pages 65e68 in Masˇka, 1894c, with only the most essential commentary (Fig. 7). It is logical to assume that the last sediments excavated were the stratigraphically lowest. On our final plan (Fig. 8), this superposition has been expressed graphically through overlapping frames that are localized west of the male skeleton no. 3. The northwest (August 14the22nd, 1894) A sketch on page 25 shows that, on August 14th and 16th, the excavations returned to the northern part of the site, which Masˇka had abandoned at the end of July before the discovery of the burial area, and resurrected the original direction of the


C datings (calibration after Danzeglocke et al., 2007)



date BP

date cal BC

GrN-6801 GrN-6852 GrA-32583 GrA-32641 OxA-5971 GrA-29085

Prˇedmostı´ Ib, excavation 1975, Pavlovian Prˇedmostı´ Ib, excavation 1975, Pavlovian Prˇedmostı´ Ib, excavation 2006, lower layer e Pavlovian Prˇedmostı´ Ib, excavation 2006, upper layer e Willendorf-Kostenkian Prˇedmostı´ II, 1992, layer 4, Pavlovian Prˇedmostı´ III, excavation 1984 e contaminated?

26,870  250 26,320  240 26,780  140 24,340  120 25,040  320 16,800  90

29,670  240 29,192  374 29,655  184 27,145  436 27,997  365 uncalibrated


J. A. Svoboda / Journal of Human Evolution 54 (2008) 15e33

excavations from hence, northeast to southwest (Masˇka, 1894c). The terrain slopes slightly to the south (Masˇka, 1894c: 47). Masˇka draws attention to the stratification of the layers into bands (solifluction?), and notes an extended ashy area. In the days that followed (August 17the22nd), the excavations reached the western boundary, where they should have abutted the neighboring plot. Masˇka repeatedly notes the doubling of the cultural layers and the appearance of ashy areas. On August 18th, an isolated human ulna is recorded that cannot, however, be more precisely localized within the framework of the northwestern sector. Moreover, its geochronological age is uncertain, given that there was an Iron Age pit uncovered at the same time. In this part of the site there were sporadic occurrences of flakes, a blade, a leafpoint (in the upper layer), a shark’s tooth, and a shell. In the bone assemblage there are six ‘‘cylinders’’ of mammoth ivory and above all a ‘‘fork-shaped’’ implement. Dominant species among the fauna are mammoth and wolf, while reindeer, lion, and wolverine are also quite frequent; horse, fox, and hare appear sporadically. There are repeated records of mammoth skulls, tusks, and molars.

Southern edge of the burial area (August 23rde24th, 1894) On August 23rd, Masˇka (1894c) returned to the southern edge of the burial, recording an interesting find: ‘‘also a human pelvic bonedyoung, perforated, 1 cm aperture, entirely round’’. On the basis of surviving photographs this find was later published by Klı´ma (1991b, his Fig. 4), albeit that the documented aperture is considerably larger than the one noted by Masˇka. On August 24th, when otherwise the work was going on in the southeastern sector, Masˇka localized certain finds in the southern section: ‘‘southwards from the grave a single human humerus, in the middle of the cultural layer. A meter to the east from there the skull of a young person (for washing), above which two mammoth shoulderblades (if this is not part of the grave?)’’. This, then, is another case of human finds being covered by mammoth scapulae.

The southeast (August 24the28th, 1894) On these dates the excavations gradually advanced to the southeastern tip of the area. In the narrow band between the burial area and the edge of the quarry Masˇka records the doubling or even a greater complexity of cultural layers, in places quite thick and deposited chaotically (‘‘huge black layers, as if disarranged between themselves. Much the debris, large blocks of granite’’: Masˇka, 1894c, Aug. 27th, 1894). These are evidently slope sediments along the foot of the former Skalka rock (Fig. 9), but mentioning granite is probably an error. Here, the mammoth bones appeared in the upper layer. Human bones were found in this context, reaching here from the central burial area (Masˇka, 1894c: 55).

August 24th: ‘‘Ca. 3 m eastwards lay a human lower jaw with teeth facing downwards, so that at first we thought it an upper jaw and skull. The jaw lay 10 cm above a thick charcoal layer (the lower cultural layer), immediately on the human jaw and next to it were mammoth bones.’’ August 27th: ‘‘Close to the lower jaw from Aug. 24th a fragment of skull vault, the forehead and nape, 5 m distant from the edge. Above this a shoulderblade. Beneath this 10 cm of loess, then a large hearth. Two meters from the edge at the most distant tip a human ulna, radius. This is in conjunction with the skull from Saturday. As deep as the substrate are older layers, in the same location are ribs as well. At the same place a mammoth skull and numerous skull fragments’’. August 28th: ‘‘Where the human bones lay there was no skeleton; instead, to the earlier finds of radius, ulna, and ribs we may add one more humerus. This specimen laid in the upper layer, oriented towards the east. The others lay to the left. The upper epiphysis of the humerus was missing. Milk canine of a bear, perforated’’. Of importance here is the mention of human skull covered by a scapula on August 27th, although it is unclear whether the scapula was from a human or mammoth. The stone assemblage is not mentioned from this sector, while the bone assemlage yielded a spatula and two ‘‘cylinders’’ of mammoth ivory. The single bear canine (August 28th) is, in this case, perforated. Dominant among the fauna are mammoth, reindeer, and hare, while fox also appears repeatedly, and there are isolated instances of bear, lion, and wolverine. For mammoth, there are repeated mentions of skulls, tusks, and molars; jaws, long bones, and a scapula appear in isolated instances.

The southern band (August 29theSeptember 1st, 1894) In late August, it remained to excavate the southern band, where Masˇka advanced from east to west. Further south it was bounded by another field that stretched to the former cemetery wall, and within which the owner, Chromecek, was unwilling to allow further excavation. The cultural layer was again structured, as Masˇka (1894c: 56) documents by a sketch. On August 30th, he records the find of a human rib, but the language relating to the statement ‘‘15 m from the edge of the borders’’ (Masˇka, 1894c) is problematic; the word ‘‘border’’ is usually used by Masˇka for the neighboring plots, but if despite this he meant the edge of the quarry (as was his habit), then the location would roughly match (Fig. 3). South of the burial area and beyond, in the southern band, there are repeated mentions of the discovery of flakes and blades, and moreover four dentalia shells and an isolated ‘‘cylinder’’ of mammoth ivory. Among the fauna, mammoth, reindeer, wolf, and hare predominate; there are repeated cases of fox, lion, and wolverine, and sporadic finds of horse and rhinoceros. In this case, mammoth is represented mainly by skulls and molars, less so by scapulae, long bones, and a tusk.

J. A. Svoboda / Journal of Human Evolution 54 (2008) 15e33

The southwest (September 3rde6th, 1894) Finally, a square of 10  10 m at the southwestern edge of the plot remained to be investigated. From here, Masˇka mentions an even more extensive area of ash, but otherwise the cultural layer disappears. The doubling of layers was still visible in places, as he assigns the find of a leafpoint to the upper layer. This relates also to the leafpoint found on August 22nd of the same year in the ‘‘northwest’’ areadboth, thus, come from the western part of the area and from the upper layer, as Masˇka explicitly notes. In addition, he recalls several other finds such as the 8e9 cm long leafpoints found in 1893, always in the upper layer (Masˇka, 1894b: 5), but he neglects a single find of a leafpoint from the lower layer, found on July 25th, 1894. By the end, Masˇka (1894c: 64) sketched in his diary an arched, unexcavated half of this sector, only noting that it comprises altogether 50 m2. This relict of the original sediments was not touched by Krˇ´ız in 1895, who on his map (1903: 50) marks it with a white triangle dalthough otherwise, as Masˇka (1896) complains, Krˇ´ız worked on the areas cleaned and prepared by Masˇka. It is, therefore, possible that Absolon, as late as 1928, reached undisturbed sediments at this location, and it was most likely from here that he obtained his human skeletal fragments. Concerning artifacts, there are repeated mentions only of lithics (including the above-mentioned leafpoint) and a ‘‘cylinder’’ of mammoth ivory. Of the fauna, only mammoth appears repeatedly, with rather sporadic reindeer, horse, aurochs, fox, wolf, lion, wolverine, and rhinoceros. Mammoth is represented mainly by molars and vertebrae and a single scapula. Martin Krˇ´ız (1895) Krˇ´ız excavated both in the western and northern parts of the site. Masˇka’s excavations of 1894 essentially formed a spatial linkage between these two parts, so that Krˇ´ız’s general plan can also be used to correct the outlines of Masˇka’s sketches. While the arrival of Krˇ´ız at the site posed an ethical problem of its own (Masˇka, 1895a, 1896; Krˇ´ız, 1896a,b,c), it must be recognized that these excavations utilized a better (i.e., rectangular) system (Krˇ´ız, 1903). Fortunately, in the case of all human skeletal remains Krˇ´ız gives its provenience according to his ‘‘pits’’, or ‘‘Gruben’’. In the western part of the site, Krˇ´ız mentions a skull (trench VIII), lower jaw 1 (trench IV), lower jaw 2 (trench VIII, unclear whether this belongs to the skull from the same trench), and left and right femur (trench II). In the northern part of the site, there were 18 cranial fragments (trench VII), right and left humeri (trench VII), two ulnae (trench VII), and fragment of a right radius (trench VII). These finds were later ascribed the nos. 22e26 by Matiegka, although the description does not match precisely and no. 26 is clearly a later addition. With the human fossil finds, Krˇ´ız’s record on provenience ends. Following his reports (Krˇ´ız, 1894, 1896a,b, 1903), the excavated settlement zone was clearly structured, with central hearths located in shallow pits and concentrations of


fragmented animal bones around them. However, we do not know whether this patterning refers to the western or (rather) northern part of the site, or both. In addition, Krˇ´ız’s excavations yielded the most famous art objects, such as the engraving of a woman and the sculpture of a mammoth, but these went unrecognized by their discoverer (it was Masˇka who later oriented them correctly and recognized their meaning), and their localization at the site was never given. Karel Absolon (1928) During the early 20th century, the area of Site I was encroached upon by industrial loess exploitation of the expanding brickworks belonging to F. Prˇikryl from the west. Following episodic activities of J. Lisˇka, J. Knies, and other investigators, the quarrying was monitored more systematically by K. Absolon and colleagues from 1924 onwards. In 1928, Absolon undertook a series of trenches in the westernmost part of the site, along the edge of the plot, and adjacent to the areas investigated by Masˇka and Krˇ´ız (Absolon and Klı´ma, 1977, their Figs. 36e37). Between the older excavations he found a roughly 10 m long, irregular, intact zone; judging from a drawing made by J. Mra´zek on September 15th, 1928, it possible that this area included the unfinished ‘‘southwest’’ sector of Masˇka from September, 1894. An incomplete human skeleton was found (Absolon, 1929; no. 27 according to Matiegka), but the skull was either missing or disintegrated when removed by its finder, L. Nova´k. Absolon lists 54 bones from both upper and lower limbs, including several phalanges, as well as two teeth. An important observation is that a fragment of left femur is incised by 26 oblique cutmarks, evidently by a sharp object, which Absolon (1929) explains as an effect of cannibalism, while Oliva (2001b: 19) feels it was from recent damage during the excavation. However, the pattern is very similar to numerous cutmarks identified on mammal bones during our recent excavations at this site (Svoboda et al., in press). In 1930, L. Nova´k found another lower jaw at the same place, but it is not known whether it comes from the same individual. It is possible that it was the specimen designated no. 26 and is still curated in the Moravian Museum (Skutil, 1940; Vlcek, 2005). Evidence from the recent excavation (2006) Between 1943e1992, excavations in the remaining parts of the site by Schwabedissen, Zˇebera, Klı´ma, and Svoboda (Table 1) clarified the overall picture of spatial extension and stratigraphy of Prˇedmostı´, but no more human fossils were discovered. Since the beginning of the 21st century, a project to build a museum pavilion that would cover and protect the last remains of the cultural layer, bones of mammoths, and other large animals at the Site Ib (about 8 m  3e4.5 m), has been proposed by the City of Prˇerov. The preparation had several stages. In 2002, we made test trenches in order to check the real extension and depth of the cultural layer. In spring


J. A. Svoboda / Journal of Human Evolution 54 (2008) 15e33

2006, we followed with two archaeological trenches in places of future sidewalls of the pavilion. Finally, in summer 2006, after roughly finishing the building, it was possible to conduct the archaeological recovery which conserved in place the Gravettian cultural layers and opened them to the public. Besides archaeologists and students from the Czech Republic, the excavation was joined by a team from the University of Cambridge, UK, who focused on plant remains and other microfossils in order to reconstruct environment and seasonality of the site. This part of the project is still in progress, but preliminary results relevant to spatial structure, stratigraphy, and chronology of the site can already be summarized (Svoboda et al., in press). In terms of stratigraphy, Holocene deposits are underlain by yellow-brownish loess with inclusions of niveoeolian sediments, forming the main thickness of the section (1.80e 2 m). The loess is horizontally penetrated by thin, darkish and rusty horizons, and vertically by lime-filled fissures and a typical ice-wedge cast of epigenetic type. Following J. Demek (in Svoboda et al., in press), such structures are typical of permafrost and mean annual air temperature (MAAT) around 5  C, during OIS 2. At the base of the loess is brown to brown-grayish clay with an undulated margin and evidence of cryotectonics, indicating a moister, but generally still cold environment. The Gravettian cultural complex is located in the subsoil, with total thickness of 0.6e0.8 m, formed during the later part of OIS 3. Bones, artifacts, and other recorded objects follow a shallow slope, in minimally two layers (Fig. 10). Whereas the upper layer was represented by individual bones and artifacts, the lower layer was a continuous coverage of objects, mainly the large and heavy bones. Therefore, the lower layer was excavated, preserved, and conserved in place. The first uncalibrated 14C dating on bones from both layers provided results of 24,340  120 BP for the upper layer and 26,780  140 BP for the lower layer, the lower of which corresponds with dates previously obtained from the same site (Table 3). Large mammoth bones were accumulated in the lower layer, especially in the southern sector (Fig. 11), accompanied by skeletons and partial skeletons of middlesized and small-sized animals, and small bone fragments, partly burnt (Fig. 12). At several places, longitudinal zones filled with small bone fragments, also partly burnt and mixed with fragments of red ochre, may be interpreted as fillings of shallow erosional canals following the slope.

Fig. 10. Prˇedmostı´ Ib, 2006 excavations. Vertical distribution of bones and artifacts showing separation in the two Gravettian horizons and indicating their radiocarbon dating.

Fig. 11. Prˇedmostı´ I, 2006 excavations. Photo of southern sector, showing deposition of large and complete bones, predominately of mammoth.

The lower case of the excavation (only in the side trenches) formed the reddish paleosol of OIS 5, as recorded elsewhere in the Prˇedmostı´ area (with OIS 4 not being represented in the deposits of this area). In the upper Gravettian layer, the malacofauna indicates cold-adapted loess species Succinella oblonga Drap, or subspecies S. o. elongata SNDB (Kovanda in Svoboda et al., in press). Among the vertebrates, the most numerous bones are mammoth (77%) and horse (15 %), followed by wolf (5%) and reindeer (3%), each from minimally one individual. The faunal composition becomes more versatile in the lower layer, dominated by mammoth (50%), unidentified middle-sized mammal (23%), horse (8 %), wolf (7%), unidentified mammals of various size (3%), reindeer (2%), hare (2%), fox (1%), lion, aurochs, and birds (0.1%). Based on the seasons of deaths of a young wolf and of a horse fetus and on the analysis of dental thin sections from the same context, there was

Fig. 12. Prˇedmostı´ I, 2006 excavations. Photo of the northern sector, showingdbesides the complete bonesdlongitudinal zones composed of small, burnt bone fragments.

J. A. Svoboda / Journal of Human Evolution 54 (2008) 15e33

likely a year-round occupation of this part of the site (Ny´vltova´ Fisˇa´kova´ in Svoboda et al., in press). Whereas the upper Gravettian layer yielded only six blades and flakes of flint, the majority of the archaeological material was recorded in the lower layer, which represents an Evolved Pavlovian assemblage. Compared to the previously published artifacts from Prˇedmostı´, the character of the newly recovered industry is more microlithic, probably as a result of systematic floating of the sediments. A portion of the microblades are backed and some are marginally retouched, or both, and typical crescent-shaped microliths occured as well. The ‘‘normal-sized’’ industry is represented by burins and blades. Two small, subrectangular rib fragments, measuring 16  10  2 mm3 and 11  10  2 mm3 in size, are decorated by finely engraved ridge patterns, imitating perphaps the plainweave structures as recorded from other Moravian sites. The 2006 evidence is useful as a base for comparison with the results obtained previously by Wankel, Masˇka, and Krˇ´ız. We confirmed the division of the cultural stratigraphic complex in two or more sublayers, and the relative richness of the lower layer compared to upper layer (both in bones and artifacts). The stratigraphy (Fig. 10) and the 14C dating currently available (Table 3) support our earlier attribution of the upper layer to the Willendorf-Kostenkian and the lower layer to the Evolved Pavlovian stages of the Gravettian complex (Svoboda, 2001a, 2003). All this indicates a long-term Gravettian occupation at Prˇedmostı´. The general character of the lower layer, the unsorted accumulations of large bones, evidence of their intensive burning and fragmentation, and rather sporadic occurence of lithic artifacts correspond with the adjacent, earlier excavated areas west of Skalka (including the burial area excavated in 1894). This is in contrast to areas previously excavated further to the north of Skalka, with typical hearths associated with rich and variable artifact and bone concentrations (i.e., settlement units), and by mammoth bones sorted by type. The burial area: accompanying artifacts and finds The accompanying finds are characterized only in summary fashion in the original publications, and only selected pieces received special mention. Wankel’s and Absolon’s reports lack any kind of localization, and we can only speculate as to the space in which the researchers moved, whereas for Masˇka’s excavations it is possible to get at least a rough localization for many finds from the diary records. The first problem with Masˇka is his excavation strategy, as discussed above, and the second is the subjective selection of objects for recording, influenced not only by the real value of the items as such, but also by how rich their finds context was on a particular day. The excavations conducted by Krˇ´ız were divided into regular, numbered trenches, but the provenience data that exist for the paleoanthropological finds (Krˇ´ız, 1903) are missing for the artifacts. In terms of the accompanying fauna, Masˇka (1894c) estimates the total number of molars found at ‘‘more than 2,000; tusks, while, cut and split, several hundred; other bones,


thousands’’. To this it can be added that preservation of mammoth bones was generally poor at sites of this kind, which was undoubtedly reflected in the documentation and equally in the quantification of their occurrence. Another problem is the character of Masˇka’s records. Whenever a bone type is given without mentioning the species, it usually refers to mammoth; however, in certain contexts he may have had human bones in mind. Musil (1994, 2004) has provided a supplementary and overall assessment of the faunal representation at Prˇedmostı´ that underscores the great preponderance of mammoth, and which essentially defies quantification. Of the other species, the most numerous are wolf (ca. 43%) and fox (24%), followed by hare (10%), reindeer (9%), and wolverine (6%). Horse, aurochs or bison, moose, bear, lion, and rhinoceros appear rather sporadically; the presence of birds is not quantified. All of this is consistent with the results of the 2006 excavations. Masˇka estimates the total number of artifacts at 20,000, Absolon at 30,000, and, under his influence, Breuil (1925) at 40,000. However, this is still a low number given the quantities of artifacts at the South Moravian settlements, where the find layers were for the most part subject to screening. It is interesting (again, in contrast to South Moravia) that, according to Masˇka’s records, the stone industry often occured in spatially defined scatters, and was scarce or absent elsewhere. Several terminological differences arise from differences in common usage at the time of discovery. In terms of the chipped stone industry, ‘‘knife’’ (Messer) and ‘‘small knife’’ (Messerchen) may be interpreted as blade and bladelet, respectively, whereas ‘‘pieces or fragments’’ are clearly what we would presently refer to as flakes; the ‘‘Solutrean type’’ is evidently the leafpoint. In terms of Gravettian chronology (Svoboda, 2003), fine leafpoints, together with shouldered points, are indicative of the Upper Gravettian (WillendorfKostenkian). This corresponds with Masˇka’s observations of their occurence in the upper layer. None of them, however, was related to the human fossils. ‘‘Diggers’’ or ‘‘trowels’’ are interpreted as spatulas, which in the first case is supported by a diary sketch as well. The common term ‘‘cylinder’’ or ‘‘small cylinder’’ of mammoth ivory can evidently have a variety of meanings. The large pieces may be either grinders made of tusks (Valoch, 1982) or retouchers (Steguweit, 2005), while smaller pieces may be segments of the typical Gravettian points (projectiles), decorative items, and, in several cases, as was the case for Wankel’s find of a tusk with an eye and blow marks in the middle section, ‘‘weights’’ (Svoboda, 2001b). Publication of important artifacts from the earlier excavations at Prˇedmostı´ was undertaken by Absolon and Klı´ma (1977) and K. Valoch (1960, 1975, 1981, 1982). Nevertheless, only two of the artifacts from 1894 that are explicitly described by Masˇka are identifiable in the current collections of the Moravian Museum: a marlstone disc, now restored (Masˇka, 1894c, August 3rd; Figs. 13 and 14) and a mammoth ivory fork (Masˇka, 1894c, August 20th); it is also from here that one of polished sandstone pebbles published by Valoch comes (‘‘polished slate chisel’’; Masˇka, 1894c, August 1st).


J. A. Svoboda / Journal of Human Evolution 54 (2008) 15e33

Fig. 13. Sketch documenting Masˇka’s find of the marlstone disc in the vicinity of the burial. Archive of the Institute of Archaeology, AS CR, Brno.

Otherwise, the 1894 excavations are remarkably poor in special, decorated, or artistic items, and almost no decorated artifacts from Valoch’s (1975) list can be localized here with any degree of certainty. The generally lower density of archaeological finds indicates that the northern part of the site, where the excavation was initiated by Wankel, was richer in artifacts and better structured in terms of hearths and the sorting of mammoth bones by type, whereas the western part, including the 1894 area, looks rather peripheral or task-specific. Undoubtedly fires were burned there, mammoth bones were stacked in distinct

Fig. 14. Pavlov I. Marlstone disc, comparable to the find made by Masˇka in the vicinity of the burial (cf. Fig. 13). Photo by Martin Frouz.

accumulations, and even artifacts were deposited. A contiguous mammoth midden did not appear, however, as at Dolnı´ Veˇstonice or Milovice, for example. Clearly, the burial area is the most important feature in the western part of the site. The absence of pigments or pigmented materials around the burial area is striking; Masˇka would certainly have recorded them. Pigments or dyes are a common indicator of Upper Paleolithic graves in general, and since the 19th century scholars have paid special attention to them. At the South Moravian settlements there is not only a red ochre coverage over the skulls and other parts of the buried bodies, but also grinding palettes and pebbles covered in pigment (Svoboda, 1997) . Some of these were even found near the burials (e.g., Dolnı´ Veˇstonice 16). Dyes were recorded elsewhere at Prˇedmostı´, including the area of our 2006 excavations. The absence of grave gifts is another striking feature of the burial area and its vicinity. Of course, even for apparently richer Paleolithic burials found at settlements, the question arises as to what extent the artifacts and animal bones found in the vicinity of bodies can be interpreted as deliberately selected and deposited burial items. In Southern Moravia, the most common type of artifact in burial contexts are drilled carnivore teeth (fox, wolf), mollusk shales from Tertiary deposits, and simple shaped pendants carved of ivory (Trinkaus and Svoboda, 2006). Specifically, the first and preliminary zooarchaeological analysis of the faunal remains in the vicinity of Dolnı´ Veˇstonice 16 suggests that complete animal bodies were laid next to the buried man, and perhaps intentionally (Ny´vltova´ Fisˇa´kova´, pers. comm.). Across Europe, however,

J. A. Svoboda / Journal of Human Evolution 54 (2008) 15e33

it is the case that the richest Gravettian burials are also the youngest (e.g., the ‘prince’ from Arene Candide and other Italian sites, the two burials from Sungir in Russia, and the male burial of of Brno 2 in Moravia; Pettitt et al., 2003). In terms of chronology, these ‘‘rich’’ cases (all dated to 23e24 ky BP) all belong to the later Gravettian stage compared to Prˇedmostı´, Dolnı´ Veˇstonice, or Pavlov. This suggests, therefore, that the richness of the Gravettia burials may also be the result of temporal variation in mortuary ritual. A possible exception is the remarkable polished and perforated disc of marlstone, 18e19 cm in diameter, found in the vicinity of the Prˇedmostı´ burial area (Fig. 13; on this and similar discs cf. Valoch, 1960; Svoboda, ed., 2005b: 151e165). Several Gravettian sites in Moravia provided these typical artifacts (Fig. 14) and, in two cases (Prˇedmostı´ and Brno 2), they were associated with human burials. They do not appear to be related to a utilitarian function. In the Siberian ethnological record, shamans are equiped with similar discs, made of metal in this case, and symbolize the ascent to the underground world (Anisimov, 1958). In early China, from the Chou period onwards, discs of the same shape and size, but made of jade, were called ‘‘pi’’ and symbolized the circular sky, while the central hole represented the ‘‘lie-chhiu’’ through which the lightning flashes (Christie, 1968: 56). If these objects symbolized ‘‘gates’’ to the other worlds during the Upper Paleolithic as well as in later times, then the association with Paleolithic burials such as Prˇedmostı´ was certainly of significance.

Taphonomic issues From the moment of discovery of the burial area at Prˇedmostı´, two competing hypotheses were raised: a contemporary burial as a consequence of a catastrophic eventd proposed already by Masˇka (1895a,b) and lastly by Zilhao and Trinkaus (2002)dversus gradual accumulation of human bodies at one place (lastly Svoboda, 2005a). Whereas the first hypothesis is supported by the demographic structure of the buried group, including adults and children, the second interpretation results from contextual and taphonomic analysis of the burial area itself. One of the basic archaeological assumptions is that a skeleton preserved in a completely or partially anatomical position was deposited in that way deliberately. Thus, the burial results from a ritual and symbolic act, underscored by some theory of life and death. Nevertheless, even such an apparently straightforward thesis has in the recent past been subject to criticism and revision from a taphonomic perspective (Gargett, 1989; Riel-Salvatore and Clark, 2001). The disturbance of human bodies has sometimes been explained as an effect of deliberate, symbolic, or ritual behavior, as richly illustrated by ethnology: cannibalism, secondary burial, deliberate exposure of human remains to natural forces (for Prˇedmostı´, cf. Absolon, 1929; Ullrich, 1982, 1986, 1996; Oliva, 2001a,b). However, this interpretation should be preceded by a taphonomic analysis of a variety of postdepositional processes that might have operated at a particular site.


Often a far simpler and, on closer examination, a more likely solution is brought to light. Based on Masˇka’s preliminary counts of bones ordered according to the individuals, the skeletons were originally more complete than is usually quoted in later literature. The most complete skeleton, preserved in more or less anatomical position, was the male no. 3, as sketched by the excavator on his original Fig. 5. In the later description and analysis by Matiegka (1934, 1938) are missing the ribs that were depicted on the original Masˇka’s sketch. Some of the other smaller bones probably got lost. Thus, the reconstruction presented later by Absolon for museological purposes was probably completed artificially, perhaps adding skeletal elements of various origins (Fig. 6). In another case, the female skeleton no. 4 was also later reconstructed by Absolon into a complete body. Some of the later excavated skeletons, although relatively complete as well, were found in highly disturbed positions (Fig. 7). In some studies concerning Prˇedmostı´ (Absolon, 1929; Ullrich, 1982, 1986, 1996), cannibalism became an alternative explanation for the incomplete or disturbed skeletons regardless of whether this incompleteness resulted from natural postdepositional processes or from deliberate human manipulation. Cannibalism is undeniably part of human behavior, generally nonstandard, and generally widespread in only a few cultures (Ullrich, 1982, 1986). The most common meaning of this term lies, however, in consumption of human meat, and this is not convincingly demonstrated by either fragmentation patterns or deliberate manipulation, if these are demonstrable on human bones. If we consider the mean annual air temperatures and the evidence of permafrost in glacial conditions, burials into frozen ground are difficult. In high latitudes, burials on elevated grounds are a widely used custom (Alekseev, 1980). Another type of behavior is represented by ritual secondary burials, whereby bones are carefully selected, sorted or complemented into a particular pattern, with symbolic meaning according to a tradition. If the second model is to be applied at Prˇedmostı´, as done by H. Ullrich (1996) and especially by M. Oliva (2001a,b), statistically convincing evidence of the deliberate selection of certain (‘‘representative’’) bones should be provided first. This, however, is not the case (Svoboda, 2001c). Particular human interventions are apparent on some human bones only, always found isolated and outside the burial area: the perforation of a pelvis bone found south of the grave, and the oblique cutmarks on the humerus found by Absolon (1929); surprisingly, the authenticity of these cutmarks has been rejected by Oliva himself (2001b). Characteristic Upper Paleolithic graves, set in and protected by relatively deep grave pits covered by bones, have been described from Russia (Kostenki on the Don river; Sinitsyn, 2004), in a region where deeper pits in general (storage, settlement pits) were a common phenomenon. In contrast, at the Moravian sites pits of any kind are rare and shallow, and graves themselves were laid virtually on the surface or in only shallow depressions, but most of them are preserved intact and in anatomical position (Trinkaus and Svoboda,


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2006). At Dolnı´ Veˇstonice, it is even possible to see the root marks on human bones. The most likely explanation of such shallow depositions in Moravia is offered by the generally greater extent of permafrost in Central Europe. Under such conditions, an effective protection was usually provided by mammoth shoulderblades, as shown by the burials of Dolnı´ Veˇstonice 3 and 4 (?), and Pavlov 1, and possibly in certain marginal cases at Prˇedmostı´. Whenever the mammoth scapulae are missing, as in case of the well-preserved triple burial Dolnı´ Veˇstonice 13e15 and the burial Dolnı´ Veˇstonice 16, some sort of wooden structure over the bodies is indicated. Such a reconstruction is in the first case attested by the numerous pieces of charred roundwood around the triple burial, and in the second by the plan of a circular settlement unit in the area, interpreted as a dwelling. The influence of geological processes on Pleistocene burial situations must be evaluated separately for each sitednot just from the geographic and geomorphological context, but also from the associated planigraphy and stratigraphy, with respect to the patterns of deformation observed on other regular archaeological features such as hearths and pits. As an example, the sites in the Dolnı´ Veˇstonice-Pavlov area, located on the slopes of Pavlov Hills in much steeper position than at Prˇedmostı´, provide evidence of shifting whole sediment blocks, layers, artifact groups, and separate artifacts. In addition, it is possible to observe the effects of frost phenomena such as solifluction, cryoturbation, frost wedges, and the subsequent deformation of the originally regular pits and hearths (or their subsequent covering by a fine microlayer of loess down slope). Nevertheless, the anatomical position of the majority of the buried human bodies at the Dolnı´ Veˇstonice-Pavlov sites shows little disturbance. With the exception of the Pavlov 1 burial, the deformation is not fundamental, and shifts were on the level of centimeters to tens of centimeters along the slope (compare, for example, the slope movement of the lower part of the legs of DV 14 at the knees). At Pavlov, after a later erosion of this part of the site, the male skeleton occured on a slight slope, and the parts of the body protected by a large mammoth scapula moved more or less as a whole. Unprotected parts, such as the skull, moved independently of the covered remains. However, scatters of individual fragments of human bones and teeth, found through the cultural layer, are common both at Dolnı´ Veˇstonice and Prˇedmostı´ (Trinkaus et al., 2000). The burial area at Prˇedmostı´ was located only a few meters from a large limestone rock, Skalka. Masˇka’s records reveal an increased thickness of the find horizon between the burial and Skalka, comprising loess, humic, and ashy zones, and layers of limestone debris (Fig. 9). This situation probably resulted from slope movements and sediment accumulation that can logically be expected at the foot of a large rock formation. Consequently, the influx of slope sediments into the burial area has the effect of protecting the bodies under the mass of debris, and, at the same time, causing some redeposition and disturbance of these same remains. These movements may also have caused the vertical positioning of certain mammoth bones in the vicinity of the burial area, such as the scapulae,

a tibia, and a femur, and perhaps two mammoth mandibles further to the east mentioned by Masˇka. Pressure from the overlying sediments may also have influenced the positioning and preservation of remains. At Dolnı´ Veˇstonice and Pavlov, the weight of the loess deposited rapidly after abandonment of the site evidently compressed the skeletons into extreme positions (Dolnı´ Veˇstonice 3), and caused some skull fracturesdwhich were then somewhat romantically explained as fatal wounds by heavy objects (Dolnı´ Veˇstonice 14). At Prˇedmostı´, the influx of slope sediments could have had similar effects. The fact that ‘‘no skull was found whole, all had fallen apart (along the sutures)’’, as noted by Masˇka (1895a,b) can be explained by the pressure of the overlying sediments. Wherever the bodies were still accessible to predators and rodents, their activity should be presumed. Gravettian sites in Moravia provided evidence of fox (common and arctic), wolf, hyena, wolverine, lion, and bear. Foxes are capable of digging up, breaking open, and discarding bones, but have difficulty breaking the bones of medium-sized animals, including larger human bones. Wolves may dig carrion out of the snow, but there is little evidence to suggest that they would dig bodies out of the ground; they are, however, capable of breaking human bones into spiral fractures, and damaging epiphyses. Hyenas could dig out, gnaw on, damage, and discard bones, and it has been demonstrated that they disturb shallow human graves; they break long bones and split them with even more ease than wolves. Bears dig up carrion, gnaw it, and eat it, and can also break human bones. Equally, wolverines gnaw and break up bones (Binford, 1981; Haynes, 1983; Haglund et al., 1988; Horowitz and Smith, 1988; Mondini, 1995; Trinkaus et al., 2000). On the bones themselves, howeverdaccording to the photographic documentationdno demonstrable traces of gnawing are to be found, despite Masˇka’s claims, in particular with regard to bones found outside the burial area. From his notes it follows that it was rather the fragmentation (e.g., the breakage of epiphyses) of the remains that he interpreted as evidence of carnivore activity, rather than the typical gnawing marks that we would identify today. However, predators could of course have dragged skeletons in such a way as not to leave visible traces on the bones. In 1996, together with a team of the Autonomous University of Barcelona, I had the opportunity to follow the actions of foxes on a forested hillside in Tierra del Fuego, where a herd of guanacos had died over the past winter. The foxes denned adjacent to each corpse (or group of corpses), consuming them over a period of the one month that we observed them, so that the position of the bodies changed slightly each day. This kind of a den would roughly match the accumulation of fox bones that Masˇka identified on August 7th at the southern edge of the area, and elsewhere at Prˇedmostı´. Finally, one should consider the effect of postdepositional human activity. The bodies, buried in shallow graves, may have been exposed to all kinds of human activities, especially in the case that the burial place had been forgotten or lost its significance. If the burial area was memorized and reused

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during a longer timespan, then the deposition of additional bodies would disturb the position of the earlier ones (cf. Pequart and Pequart, 1954). For Prˇedmostı´, such a model is supported by the fact that the most complete skeletons (male no. 3, female no. 4) were found on the first excavation days, evidently in the upper layers, whereas the most disturbed skeletons were documented a month later at the base (cf. Figs. 5 and 7). Reading Prˇedmostı´: a contextual approach In recent years, the rapid development of settlement of archaeology and the spatial approach to sites and landscapes (e.g., Vasil´ev et al., 2003) has influenced how we interpret the location of settlements and associated human burials. From this perspective, a burial may be explained as a kind of declaration of rights to a territory that has been confirmed by deposition of the remains of ancestors at important locations. Theoretically, such significance may be applied to certain Gravettian burials deposited at strategically important points of passage, such as at Grimaldi, Krems, Dolnı´ Veˇstonice-Pavlov, and, last but not least, Prˇedmostı´ (Fig. 1). Focusing on the within-site structure of the large Gravettian settlements, the problem of center and periphery, and of the task-specific structuring of the sites are crucial topics (e.g., Svoboda, 2005b). From this perspective, and contrary to claims in earlier works on Prˇedmostı´ (e.g., Matiegka, 1934: 9), the burial area west of the Skalka cliff does not correspond to ‘‘the center of the settlement of prehistoric man’’. A rather peripheral or task-specific role of this area is reflected in the relative dearth of chipped industry, both within and around the burial area. The records left by both Wankel and Masˇka suggest that the real settlement center was localized more to the north of Skalka. In terms of stratigraphy and chronology of the Gravettian, the position of the burial area corresponds predominantly to the lower archaeological layer (Evolved Pavlovian, with uncalibated dates between 25e27 ky BP; Svoboda, 2003; Jo¨ris and Weninger, 2004), described also as the ‘‘main’’ layer by Masˇka (‘‘human bones. are also found within the cultural layer, which appear to show the temporal identity of man with the cultural layer, and not perhaps that he lived here before the formation of this cultural layer’’; Masˇka, 1894c, Aug. 11th), but there are mentions of human bones found above and below it. This relates to the northern and eastern parts of the burial area where the layer with anthropological finds was separated from the above stratigraphy by limestone scree. The first explanation suggested by Masˇka would assume deliberate (i.e., anthropogenic) burial of human bones from above, later partially filled by redeposited loess and ultimately covered by the limestone scree. Another explanation, considered by Masˇka in his later publication (1985b: 163), is that the material deposited in the subsoil corresponds chronologically to the time of sedimentation, and is, therefore, earlier (‘‘even earlier than the cultural layer itself began to be deposited at the place, that is, perhaps at the beginning of the settlement of the campsite at Prˇedmostı´’’). The contradiction to his note of


August 11th, (Masˇka, 1894c), as cited above, is explicable through the stratigraphic complexity that Masˇka was faced with during his fieldwork, making a single and straightforward answer more difficult. Following the findings of Masˇka, the bodies buried at Prˇedmostı´ were generally oriented to the north, (i.e., parallel to the rock wall). In this there is a difference from Dolnı´ Veˇstonice, where heads were usually oriented against the slope. Although the human remains found in the burial area and vicinity are disturbed, or are treated as such by Matiegka (1934, 1938) and all derived literature, the Masˇka’s original tables show that a number of them (Prˇedmostı´ 1e10, 15) were relatively complete at the time of discovery, and some of them in near anatomical position (Prˇedmostı´ 3). No demonstrable evidence of selection of particular bones that would indicate secondary burials or other type of ritual is apparent. Rather, a complex of taphonomic issues seems to be responsible for the postdepositional disturbance of a part of the bodies. These processes include geological processes, predator activity, and subsequent human activity at the site. At a site located in the direct vicinity of the large limestone rock of Skalka, one should expect formation of footslope deposits such as limestone debris and redeposited soil. This expectation is confirmed by the original observations of Masˇka. The complex stratigraphy he described within the burial area continued towards the Skalka hillside, and became even more complex and thicker in this direction. These movements would cause redeposition and disturbance of some of the bodies, as well as reburial and better protection of others. Predator activities, to which attention has been drawn by all researchers starting with Masˇka, and continuing with Matiegka and Klı´ma, are indicated by the large number of fox and wolf remains (including almost complete skeletons) within and around the burial area. The influence of predators (and rodents) as a natural part of the Pleistocene biocenosis and landscape must, therefore, be acknowledged, even if it is not directly demonstrable by evidence of tooth marks on the bones. Besides redeposition of the sediments and predator activities, humans were also potentionally responsible for disturbance of the burial area. If we reject the hypothesis of contemporary burial and postulate a gradual accumulation of bodies, then each newly added body will deform the situation of those deposited earlier. As an example, the best preserved skeleton, Prˇedmostı´ 3, probably lay in an upper layer in the central part of the burial area, while the skeletons located below it and, thus, excavated later are evidently more disturbed. The burial area is minimally laden with artifacts, and the otherwise usual pigment coverage is also absent. The data repeated in popular and secondary literature mentioning items of decoration in the context of a child skeleton are supplementary and erroneous. However, the oft-cited association of a fox skull that lay across a human skeleton is authentic (i.e., Masˇka’s) but given the frequency of fox remains over the whole area it loses any kind of exceptionality. The only conspicuous artifact found in close proximity to the burial area is part of a marlstone disc (the other half of which was found some


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distance away, Fig. 13); this might have had substantial symbolic significance, stemming from the funerary context of this location, and supported by more recent North Asian analogies. Mammoth scapulae (one of which had irregular engraving) evidently covered three or more skeletons at the margins of the burial area, but provided no contiguous cover of the whole space. In addition, two mammoth scapulae probably covered individual human remains south of the burial area, and perhaps in one instance southeast of the burial area. Deposition of the limestone debris is a natural phenomenon at the foot of a rock, although of course stones were available at the location and could have been used deliberately as coverage of the bodies. In contrast to Dolnı´ Veˇstonice-Pavlov in South Moravia and the other, better preserved and more complex Gravettian burials of Eurasia, the Prˇedmostı´ burial situation results from combination of both ritual and natural processes. However, exposure of the dead to natural processes may be a kind of ritual behavior of its own, based on concepts about life and death of that time. A hypothesis may be set forth that the determining factor for the selection of the burial area at Prˇedmostı´ was the remarkable Skalka rock itself, a cliff that rose directly above it. None of the archaeologists saw the rock firsthand, so one cannot speculate whether location of the burial area reflected any particular rock formation. However a long-term tendency to take the dead outside the actual settlement center, (i.e., ‘‘below the rock’’) may have given rise to the accumulation of human remains at a single place, with a scatter of dispersed fragments in the vicinity. At this place, bodies were more or less deliberately left to the action of redeposition, predators and additional human activities, including deposition of additional bodies.

Acknowledgements This paper was prepared as a part of Czech Grant Agency project 206/04/1498 on Prˇedmostı´, which is conducted in collaboration with the Department of Anthropology, Charles University, Prague. The last fieldwork at Prˇedmostı´ in 2006 was part of a Czech-British project on Gravettian environment and seasonality, conducted jointly with the University of Cambridge; I thank Martin Jones and all British and Czech colleagues for their collaboration. Last but not least, I thank the reviewers and Susan Anto´n for their comments on this paper and for editorial help.

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