Project: EUP- Middle-Upper Palaeolithic transition in Central Europe
Person in Charge: prof. PhDr. Jiří Svoboda, DrSc.
Host institution: Department of Anthropology, Faculty of Science, Masaryk University
Country of Origin: Australia
Country of scientific activity: Australia
Project duration: 24 months
Scientific panel: Environment and Geosciences
In order to comprehend the context and course of our own evolution, it is vital to collect and analyse data pertaining to the economy, cultural practices and circumstances of the disappearance of Neanderthals, the most recent and culturally sophisticated hominids, who were the bearers of a cultural system successful for at least 230,000 years, but which ultimately proved unsuccessful.
Explaining the existence and ultimate demise of Neanderthals is also one of the central concerns in modern human evolutionary studies. A question which has often been asked is whether Neanderthals were as complex cultural beings as our modern human ancestors or whether they possessed a less complex culture. This research project focuses on studying hominid economic lifeways and the environment of hominids (Neanderthals as well as H. sapiens) who lived in Central Europe during the Middle-Upper Palaeolithic transition 50,000-30,000 years ago. More specifically, it will focus on economic behaviour from an ecological perspective and environmental circumstances by conducting interdisciplinary team studies of archaeological sites in South Moravia and adjoining regions from this period. State-of-the-art scientific analytical techniques will be employed to analyze archaeological material in order to improve our understanding of hominid lifeways during the Middle-Upper Palaeolithic transition, especially its economic aspects, with the ultimate goal of unravelling the circumstances which led to the extinction of Neanderthals.
More informations about archaeological excavation of Pod Hradem cave hier.
The ongoing project summary
The objectives of the project are to conduct research at two archeological sites by conducting excavations and post-excavation analyses of the excavated material. Another objective is to lecture in a subject about Australian archeology and anthropology at the Department of Anthropology, Masaryk University.
Summary of activities
The first few months of the year were spent in basic pre-excavation activities such as recruitment of student volunteers, as well as skilled archaeologists took part in the excavation from Australia, USA and Canada as well as from Masaryk university, anthropology and archaeology departments. This faciliated exchange of ideas as well as transfer of knowledge e.g. participants in the excavation became familiarized with scientific techniques which they may not have been previously aware of. In a broader sense, exchange of ideas & transfer of knowledge were also achieved by organising participation at the Diváky archaeological site(summer field school organised by the Department of Archaeology & Anthropology, Australian National University. Other preparation activities includded planning the excavation, purchasing, equipment and supplies, negotiating necessary excavation permits, etc. A conference was attended by the researcher in March 2011 at the Neanderthal Museum, Mettmann, Germany to gather new information about recent developments in his field of research.
Another preparation activity was appriaching and meeting warious scientists who had relevant qualifications and skills to conduct analyses of the excavated material, in order to answe the specific research questions being asked in this research. Due to this project's mulitdisciplinary nature, no less than 19 scientists from several different countries are so far directly involved in conducting specific analyses for this project.
The actual excavation of the first site, Pod Hradem cave in the Moravian Karst, began in late May 2011 and continued until the end of July. All in all, it was a very successful endeavour and two 1x1 metre test pits were excavated to a depth of over 2 metres. At least 12 geological layers were exposed in stratigrpahic profiles, ten of which are of Pleistocene age. This made it possible to collect all of the samples for the analyses proposed in the original application for this project submitted to SoMoPro.
The second site is an open-air site in Želešice and this was excavated in August. This excavation was also successful as a sizeable assemblage of lithic artefacts was recovered and an interesting geological situation was documented.
A conference where some of the results were presented was attended in Toowoomba, Australia in December 2011. The presentation of these results, and subsequent contacts with the relevant researchers resulted in finding people for some analyses of which up to that point there was no scientist available e.g. analyses of the wet-sieved fraction, particularly remains of microfauna.
From September to November, much time was spent on preparing lectures for the subject Bi8778 - Anthropology and Archaeology of Australia and Oceania. As this subject has never been taught before by the researcher, teaching this subject included preparing all lectures from the beginning and, as all of the source material is in English, all lecture material presented in class had to be translated into Czech. In addition to lecturing in this subject, a lecture on the topic of Australian palaeoanthropology was also given in Professor Svoboda's class at the Department of Anthropology, subject 'Paleoanthropology' and a similar lecture was also given for a class on University of the Third Age (Univerzita třetího věku).
Throughout the year, the researcher also participated in various surface surveys for surface archaeological sites. This included physical surveys of potential and actual archaeological sites and this process also included test pitting in places for potential stratified sites. Overall, this activity was also successful and a publication of a study is currently being prepared for submission to a high-impact journal.
Completed tasks include the first stage of the excavation at Pod Hradem cave and at the open site of Želešice. Collection of samples at Pod Hradem cave for various analyses including: bulk sediment analyses, micromorphology, magnetic susceptibility, palynology, phytoliths, anthracology, palaeofauna, phosphates, ancient residue analysis, lithic sourcing study, microfauna, stable isotope analyses and absolute dating analyses including Optically Stimulated Luminescence, Electron Spin Resonance/U-series and Accelerator Mass Spectrometry.
Summary of the envisaged project outputs
The impact of this research is very broad as natural environment and climate change are global issues. Building a picture of the changing local climates and changing natural environments will add to the growing body of evidence regarding environmental and climate changes in the past, especially during the environmentally and climatically 'tumultuous' period of Oxygen Isotope Stage 3, i.e. 59 - 24 thousand years ago. Given that archaeological evidence of human presence was discovered in Pod Hradem cave, it will also be possible to make statements about human presence in the Moravian Karst during prehistory.