The „Eastern Trajectory“: Last Glacial Palaeogeography and Archaeology of the Eastern Mediterranean and of the Balkan Peninsula

Principal Investigators: J. Richter, F. Lehmkuhl

Project B1 investigates a possible "Eastern Trajectory" of modern human migrations into Europe. This route bridges the region with the earliest fossils of Homo sapiens sapiens so far known in the Near East over Anatolia, the Balkans and the Northwestern Pontic Sea. The main focus lies on the elucidation of both the archaeology and the environmental/ecological conditions of last glacial population dynamics, particularly migrations, by means of archaeological surveys and excavations, accompanied by small to medium scale geoscientific reconstructions of landscapes. In the first phase of the CRC, investigations concentrate on Southern Jordan, Romania, and Southern Ukraine.

While there is little doubt about the African origin of anatomically modern humans (Homo sapiens sapiens), there is only scattered knowledge about the exact timing, the migration pathways and the environmental conditions of the earliest occupation of Europe by Modern Man. Until today, it is still not known which industries indicate the presence of the earliest groups of Homo sapiens sapiens in Eurasia, and what subsistence strategies were present at different stages and locations of their migration. And, although modern humans crossed specific climatic and environmental zones on their way into Europe, the capacity of cultural adaptation is largely unexplored. The project team "Eastern Trajectory" aims to fill these gaps based on a combination of archaeological, geoarchaeological, sedimentological, and geomorphological methods. Several key locations along different ecozones and environments of the potential "Eastern Trajectory" towards Central Europe will be studied in detail. Working areas of the first phase of the project have been selected according to the first appearance of Homo sapiens sapiens attested by human fossils outside of Africa and in Europe.

Starting around 190 ka before present in Africa, the dispersal of Homo sapiens sapiens seems to have been interrupted in the Near East (Levant) at least once. The first occurrence of Modern Man in the Levant is indicated at about 100 ka BP by human fossils, but not accompanied by major changes in the Middle Palaeolithic material culture. A recent type of modern human then appears as late as between 46 ka BP and 35 ka BP, and is only then associated with a genuine Near Eastern Upper Palaeolithic material culture (the Ahmarian, dated to after 38 ka BP). Until today, both the circumstances for this break and a possible interference with already established western Eurasian Neanderthal populations are open questions.

The oldest unequivocally classified fossils of Homo sapiens sapiens in Western and Central Europe found in an archaeological context were dated to around 31 ka BP. However, isolated modern human fossils were found in Romania dating significantly older, to approximately 35 ka BP. It follows that neither the human type of the earliest Upper Palaeolithic nor the kind of lithic industry associated to the earliest modern humans in Europe are known. This lack of information about the archaeology of the first European sapiens not only brings up the question about their cultural background, but at the same time hampers archaeological links between Levant and European early Upper Palaeolithic industries. Furthermore, it is still not clear whether these earliest anatomically modern groups were the founders of the European Upper Palaeolithic population, or if later Upper Palaeolithic waves of immigrating Homo sapiens sapiens replaced them. To answer these questions, the project investigates the possible role of principal large rivers in the migration of Palaeolithic populations along the Jordan valley, the river Timiş catchment in the Banat, the lower Danube as well as the Valleys of Prut and Dnestr. In these working areas, the project team will concentrate on

combined archaeological and geoscientific surveys and investigations of archives associated in archaeological locations,
the timing of different sediments (aeolian, fluvial, limnic) and archaeological findings,
geomorphological mapping in the catchment areas of archaeological sites for a better understanding of palaeoenvironments and process response systems, and
the development of a detailed chrono-stratigraphy combining different types of terrestrial records for the area and methods of absolute dating.

The work in Jordan will focus on several Upper and Epipalaeolithic sites and their sedimentological context within a tributary wadi (Wadi Sabra) of the Jordan Valley, which is part of the "Levantine Corridor" for the expansion of modern humans. In Romania and Ukraine, excavations of early Upper Palaeolithic sites between the Banat Mountains and Transcarpathia are supported by intensive geoarchaeological prospections in a region with extended loessial and loess-like sediment-covers close to the Danube Valley, the assumed pathway for modern humans towards Western Europe.

During the second and third phase, it is planned to investigate additional regions completing this possible eastern route of modern humans from Africa to Central Europe. The envisaged organisational frame of a so-called "merged project" shall facilitate the analysis of human-environment interaction on a large-scale frame by combining the different regions of the "Eastern Trajectory" in one project. After first phase research in Jordan, Romania, and Ukraine is completed, second phase research will include investigation areas in Israel, Turkey, Bulgaria, and Hungary. To cover the different environmental and archaeological settings, different expertises of the participating archaeologists and geoscientists will complement each other. In addition, a common system of data collection will allow detailed comparisons between the different working areas.

 

1st Phase - Research Programme
  2nd Phase - Research Programme
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2nd Phase - Poster presented at international Congresses & Workshops
   
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