An archaeological proxy for the earliest modern human colonization of Eastern Europe?
An archaeological proxy for the earliest modern human colonization of Eastern Europe?

Roughly 50,000 years ago, a stone tool industry appeared in south-central Europe that lacks any obvious local source. This industry is characterized by the production of Levallois points and blades and contains varying proportions of typical Upper Paleolithic retouched forms; it is usually labeled “Bohunician,” but also is referred to as Initial Upper Paleolithic (IUP). TL dates from the type site in Moravia (Brno-Bohunice) suggest a maximum age of 48,000 years BP. Bohunician sites have yet to yield any diagnostic human skeletal remains, but because of their similarities to the contemporaneous IUP industry of the Levant (widely assumed to have been produced by anatomically modern humans [AMH]), they are regarded by some as a credible proxy for AMH in south-central Europe. If so, they would represent the earliest known movement of Homo sapiens into Europe, apparently during an interval of pronounced and sustained warmth (Greenland Interstadial 12). An alternative interpretation for the Bohunician is that it represents an independent development among local Neanderthals.

A Levallois point and blade industry also is present in Eastern Europe, but its dating and relationship to the IUP are unclear. Although a Bohunician assemblage is widely recognized in the western Ukraine at Kulychivka, Layer III, it appears to be relatively young (i.e., less than 40,000 cal BP). The East European site most likely to contain an industry of similar age and composition to the IUP of south-central Europe is Shlyakh, located on the southern plain near Volgograd (Russia). Shlyakh was excavated by P.E. Nehoroshev and L.B. Vishnyatsky in 1990–1991 and 1998–2001, and yielded a Levallois point and blade industry that has been compared with the IUP of the Levant, but efforts to date it produced conflicting results. In August 2013, new field research was undertaken at Shlyakh with the support of the Leakey Foundation in order to obtain new dates for the site, as well as new information on site stratigraphy and formation processes. Most if not all the results will be available in early 2014.

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