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Breitenbach
Region Saxony-Anhalt
Coordinates 51°00′27.57″N 12°05′6.38″E / 51.0076583°N 12.0851056°E / 51.0076583; 12.0851056
Type open air site

The multi-period archaeological site near the village Breitenbach in Saxony-Anhalt, Germany is primarily known for an open-air settlement that dates to the period of initial colonization of Europe by anatomically modern humans. More specifically, the occupations date to the early Upper Palaeolithic and belong to the Aurignacian cultural complex. Breitenbach is currently the biggest open-air settlement site known in western Eurasia dating to this period. During the most recent excavations through an international research team in 2012 an area of approximately 20m2 that was exclusively reserved for ivory processing was discovered, making it the oldest of its kind currently known [1]. Overlying the Palaeolithic deposits are the remains of a younger settlement, which has been ascribed to the Linear Pottery Culture of the Neolithic.

Location[edit]

The village Breitenbach is part of Wetterzeube municipality and is located approximately 6km south of the town of Zeitz. The archaeological site near the old cutting mill (“Schneidemühle”) is situated along the eastern bank of the river Aga, a small tributary of the Weisse Elster river. The site is located on the slopes of a gentle promontory that, coming from a north-westerly direction peters out in a south-easterly direction.

Local signpost near the archaeological site. It reads: Approximately 20,000 years ago in this valley, ancient Breitenbachers killed a mammoth using spear and axe. The leftovers of the meal are now stored in a museum. Note: the information is factually incorrect (see article below)

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Significance[edit]

The open-air site Breitenbach was located at the northern boundary of the Aurignacian oikumene, from which only few sites are currently known[2]. It is also one of the few Aurignacian open-air sites in Central Europe at which both lithic implements and faunal remains are preserved. This is noteworthy particularly in respect to the faunal remains, as most of the knowledge about modern human spatial behaviour and subsistence practices during the Aurignacian derives primarily from cave sites, in which faunal remains are more commonly preserved. The extent of the settlement is currently estimated between 8,000 and 10,000 square meters. This is very unusual for this time period and foreshadows the large open-air settlements of the Gravettian known from eastern Europe[2]. Excavations in 2012 revealed an area that was exclusively dedicated to the processing of ivory – whilst ivory objects have been found at other sites that are even older than Breitenbach (e.g. Vogelherd and Geistenklösterle), an actual working area documenting finds in different stages of processing[1] and the spatial arrangement thereof had thus far not been found. As a late representative of the Aurignacian, Breitenbach is also of supra-regional interest in understanding the dynamics of the Aurignacian-Gravettian transition. Finally, the site also promises insight to spatial organisation and subsistence practices of hunter-gatherer groups during the time of the initial occurrence of the “complete set” of behaviourally modern characteristics.

Discovery and Excavations[edit]

Excavations at Breitenbach in 2009

The site was discovered in the spring of 1925 by the local school teacher E. Thiersch[2][3][4]. In the process of cutting into the promontory in order to create a storage yard adjacent to the mill, large numbers of bones had already been discovered and discarded since the autumn of 1924[5]. First sondages by the geologists H. Hess von Wichdorff and A. Götze took place in 1925 and large scale archaeological excavations over an area of 400 square meters were conducted by N. Niklasson and F. Wiegers in 1927[5]. Unusual for the time, Niklasson and Wiegers excavated using a 1 x 0.5m grid system, which means that the horizontal distribution of the finds can be reconstructed[2]. A geological sondage took place in 1962[3], followed by a small archaeological campaign in 2004[2]. Since 2009 a collaborative effort headed by MONREPOS Archaeological Research Centre and Museum for Human Behavioural Evolution of the Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum Mainz, the State Office for Heritage Management and Archaeology of Saxony-Anhalt and the Faculty of Archaeology of Leiden University has resumed large scale excavations[1][2].


Chronometric dates[edit]

Several 14C dates (AMS) place the occupations at Breitenbach between 23,990±180 (OxA-11964) and 28,380±170 (OxA-11889) years ago[6][7]. Using the calpal calibration software, these dates translate into 26,883±401 to 30,824±338 calendar years ago. This renders Breitenbach a very late representative of the Aurignacian tradition, as the Gravettian is well represented in Central and Eastern Europe at this time (see above). New results published in 2011 suggest an age of 29,650±340 (33,914 ± 362 calibrated) (OxA-21089)[8]. Whether these discrepancies are related to contaminations of the earlier samples or simply represent a long history of occupation is currently not known.

Site organization and structures[edit]

At Breitenbach there is evidence for spatially differentiated activity zones, with foci of specific activities. This is suggested by the presence of large stone manuports, imported and intentionally arranged sandstone slabs, pits and hearths[5][2]. The sandstone slabs in particular hint at repeated longer-term occupations. Four high-lithic concentrations were tentatively labelled as “lithic workshops”[5] Burned bone and lithics occur in large numbers. The find horizon is well-pronounced and appears quite distinct from the over/underlying layers. These characteristics suggest a repeated, more permanent settlement behaviour that hitherto was only known from the Gravettian[2].

The ivory workshop[edit]

In 2012 an area of 20 square metres was excavated. This area is characterised by discrete concentrations of larger ivory lamellae, ivory chippings and even finished items, such as ivory beads and part of a figurine. Cut- and processing marks are also visible on some pieces. This discovery shows that particular spaces were reserved for specific activities by hunter-gatherer groups at the time of colonization of Europe by Homo sapiens.

Finds[edit]

There are three seperate inventories consisting of lithic and faunal remains. Breitenbach A consisits of finds excavated in 1927 by Niklasson and Wiegers. Breitenbach B is a smaller inventory that apparently stems from an illegal excavation conducted during the early 1930's.

Aurignacian artefact production is characterised by an increasing inclusion of bone and antler as raw materials and also the production of non-utilitarian objects. The Breitenbach lithic inventory (n=737) is made exclusively of Baltic flint and shows a high prevalence of keeled, simple and nosed scrapers, as well as various types of burins. In addition to the lithic implements a small number of worked bone tools, as well as non-utilitarian objects in the form of several perforated arctic fox canines[2], an incised rib fragment and a piece of worked ivory have also been described[5]. In 2012, several ivory beads, parts of an ivory figurine and other pieces of worked ivory were found[1]. SOme pieces of the lithic inventory and the incised rib fragment are on display in the Halle State Museum of Prehistory.

Faunal remains[edit]

Since well-preserved faunal remains from Aurignacian open-air sites are rare, the relatively good preservation of the faunal materials is noteworthy. Together with the open-air site Lommersum, Breitenbach is the only Aurignacian open-air site in northern Central Europe known to have a faunal inventory. The Breitenbach faunal remains have to date only been partially described[9] and are currently undergoing more detailed analysis. The site is primarily known for its mammoth remains, which initially alerted Thiersch to the presence of an archaeological site. Also occurring in numbers at the site are the remains of horse, reindeer and to a lesser extent those of woolly rhino, hyena, wolf, lion, arctic fox and arctic hare[2][9].

The Neolithic settlement[edit]

A Neolithic settlement, belonging to the Linear Pottery Culture (ca. between 7.500-5.500 years ago) overlying the Palaeolithic layer was first recognized during geological sondages by Hess von Wichdorff in 1927(3). He noted surface finds and the outlines of several living structures. During the course of the investigation, large numbers of potteryshards and several lithic axes were recovered. The Neolithic settlement is currently excavated by the State Office for Heritage Management and Archaeology Saxony-Anhalt.

Literature[edit]

  • GROIß, J.T. 1987. Fossilfunde aus dem Aurignacien von Breitenbach, Kreis Zeitz, Bez. Halle. Quartär 37/38, pp. 97–100.[1]
  • GRÜNBERG, J. 2006. New AMS Dates for Palaeolithic and Mesolithic Camp Sites and Single Finds in Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia (Germany). Proceddings of the Prehistoric Society 72, pp.95–112.
  • HESS VON WICHDORFF, H. 1932. Ein bedeutsames geologischvorgeschichtliches Profil im Bereich der paläolithischen Freilandstation an der Schneidemühle bei Zeitz (Prov. Sachsen). Mannus 24, pp.60–463.
  • JÖRIS, O. & L. MOREAU. 2010. Vom Ende des Aurignacien – zur chronologischen Stellung des Freilandfundplatzes Breitenbach (Burgenlandkr.) im Kontext des Frühen und Mittleren Jungpaläolithikums in Mitteleuropa. Archäologisches Korrespondenzblatt 40, pp.1–20.
  • MOREAU, L. 2012. The Aurignacian of Breitenbach (Sachsen-Anhalt, Germany): The state of flake production. In: A. PASTOORS and M PERESANI, eds. Flakes not Blades - The role of flake production at the onset of the Upper Palaeolithic. Wissenschaftliche Schriften des Neandertal Museums 5, pp.181-197.
  • MOREAU, L. & O. JÖRIS. 2012. La fin de l’Aurignacien. Au sujet de la position chronologique de la station de plein air de Breitenbach dans le contexte du paléolithique supérieur ancien d´Europe centrale. In: P. Bodu, L., Chehmana, L. Klaric, L. Mevel, S. Soriano & N. Teyssandier (Eds.) Le Paléolithique supérieur ancien de l‘Europe du Nordouest. Actes de la table-ronde de Sens (avril 2009), Mémoire de la SPF.
  • NIKLASSON, N. 1928. Die paläolithische Station bei der Schneidemühle bei Breitenbach im Kreise Zeitz. Tagungsber. Dt. Anthr. Ges. Köln 49, pp.89–90.
  • POHL, G. 1958. Die jungpaläolithische Siedlung Breitenbach, Kr. Zeitz, und ihre bisherige Beurteilung. Jahresschrift für Mitteldeutsche Vorgeschichte. 41/42, pp.178-190.
  • PORR, M. 2004. Menschen wie wir. Die Aurignacien-Fundstelle von Breitenbach. In: H. MELLER, ed. Paläolithikum und Mesolithikum. Kataloge zur Dauerausstellung im Landesmuseum für Vorgeschichte. Landesamt für Denkmalpflege und Archäologie. Halle (Saale), pp.223-231.
  • RICHTER, J. 1987. Jungpaläolithische Funde aus Breitenbach/Kr. Zeitz im Germanischen Nationalmuseum Nürnberg. Quartär 37/38, pp.63–96.[2]
  • STREET, M & T. TERBERGER. 2003. New Evidence for the Chronology of the Aurignacian and the Question of Pleniglacial Settlement in Western Central Europe. In: F. D’ERRICO and J. ZILHAO, eds. The Chronology of the Aurignacian and of the Transitional Technocomplexes. Dating, Stratigraphies, Cultural Implications. Proceedings of Symposium 6.I of the XIVth Congress of the UISPP, Liege 2001. Trabalhos Arqu. 33, pp.213–221.[3]
  • TOEPFER, V. & NUGLISCH, K. 1962. Paläolithikum und eiszeitliche Tierwelt im Flussgebiet der Elster und Saale südwestlich Leipzig. In: Exkursionsführer Geologische Gesellschaft in der DDR, pp.155-168.
  • WILCKE, M. 1925. Die paläolithische Fundstätte an der Schneidemühle bei Breitenbach(Kreiz Zeitz). Heimatklänge. Blätter und Blüten aus dem Saale- und Orlagau” (Beilage zur “Pößnecker Zeitung und zum Ziegenrücker Kreisanzeiger, pp.270-272.


References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d Oldest ivory workshop in the world discovered in Saxony-Anhalthttp://web.rgzm.de/fileadmin/gruppen/Pressemeldungen/Pressemeldungen_2012/PM_MONREPOS_Breitenbach_25092012_engl.pdf
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j JÖRIS, O. & L. MOREAU. 2010. Vom Ende des Aurignacien – zur chronologischen Stellung des Freilandfundplatzes Breitenbach (Burgenlandkr.) im Kontext des Frühen und Mittleren Jungpaläolithikums in Mitteleuropa. Archäologisches Korrespondenzblatt 40, pp.1–20.
  3. ^ a b PORR, M. 2004. Menschen wie wir. Die Aurignacien-Fundstelle von Breitenbach. In: H. MELLER, ed. Paläolithikum und Mesolithikum. Kataloge zur Dauerausstellung im Landesmuseum für Vorgeschichte. Landesamt für Denkmalpflege und Archäologie. Halle (Saale), pp.223-231.
  4. ^ WILCKE, M. 1925. Die paläolithische Fundstätte an der Schneidemühle bei Breitenbach(Kreiz Zeitz). Heimatklänge. Blätter und Blüten aus dem Saale- und Orlagau” (Beilage zur “Pößnecker Zeitung und zum Ziegenrücker Kreisanzeiger, pp.270-272.
  5. ^ a b c d e RICHTER, J. 1987. Jungpaläolithische Funde aus Breitenbach/Kr. Zeitz im Germanischen Nationalmuseum Nürnberg. Quartär 37/38, pp.63–96.
  6. ^ Grünberg, J. 2006. New AMS Dates for Palaeolithic and Mesolithic Camp Sites and Single Finds in Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia (Germany). Proc. Prehist. Soc. 72: pp95-112
  7. ^ Street, M & T. Terberger. 2003. New Evidence for the Chronology of the Aurignacian and the Question of Pleniglacial Settlement in Western Central Europe. In: F. d’Errico /J. Zilhao (eds.) The Chronology of the Aurignacian and of the Transitional Technocomplexes. Dating, Stratigraphies, Cultural Implications. Proceedings of Symposium 6.I of the XIVth Congress of the U.I.S.P.P., Liege 2001. Trabalhos Arqu. 33: pp213-221
  8. ^ STREET, M., O. JÖRIS, T. HIGHAM and H. LÖHR. 2011. New Oxford AMS dates from the northern boundary of the Aurignacian oikumene. Hugo Obermaier Society 53 Annual Symposium. 26-30 April 2011, Herne, Germany.
  9. ^ a b Groiß, J.T. 1987.Fossilfunde aus dem Aurignacien von Breitenbach, Kreis Zeitz, Bez. Halle. Quartär 37/38: 97-100.


Category:Aurignacian Category:Archaeology of Germany