Groß Pampau, GR, c. 500,000 BP, Site, Characteristic Tools, Bifaces
During Early Paleolithic Later Acheulian Phase III there is evidence for one or more artistic-religious symbolic systems recorded in sculptures in flint and other materials. The elements of these systems include female figurines; the human head/profile/skull; zoomorphs; and geometric sculptures such as the so-called 'handaxe'.
In Northwestern Europe numerous figurines have been found and documented in publications of unheralded pioneers, such as Walther Matthes (Hamburg-Wittenbergen and related sites, Hamburg, GR, c. 200,000 BP). Over the last decade or two the journal Archaeologische Berichten (Elst, Netherlands) has identified similar figurines from the Early and Middle Palaeolithic across Northwestern Europe. There is not an established concensus on the interpretation of these figurines by scholars outside of this journal's circle. Nevertheless, I present images from the archives of Archaeologische Berichten, because I believe many of the identifications and interpretations of artifacts by this Journal are highly worthy of consideration and consistent with finds from other Early Paleolithic sites as well as their Oldowan predecessors and Middle and Upper Palaeolithic successors. The dating of the Northwest European figurines is by geological profile and tool typology.
One of the most productive sites for Early Paleolithic figurines is the Ohle gravel pit, Groß Pampau, near Hamburg, Germany.. This site has provided a rich trove of fossils from its Miocene level, and the site section includes Elster and Saale strata.
Dating. Unless otherwise noted, all images of artifacts presented here were collected by Ursel Benekendorff from dredged material from the Ohle gravel pit, Elster glacial moraine basal gravels. Artifacts from these gravels can be dated to the late Cromerian Interglacial (OIS13, 478-524 kya) and the Elster (OIS12, 423-478 kya), or about 500,000 to 400,000 years ago. Infrequent lighter patina reworking on artifacts suggests possible reworking in Holstein warm times (OIS11, 362-423 kya). Many of the associated tools have a Middle Acheulian and early Later Acheulian quality, suggesting that they are Cromerian (OIS 13 = c. 500,000 BP) or older. While in general archaeologists shy away from moraines, since they do not allow reconstruction of original site profiles and habitation patterns, with respect to palaeoart the advantage of glaciation is that it sweeps thousands of square miles of artifacts into one enormous 'moraine-museum' and the gravel dredging procedure makes for an enormous archaeological 'dig'. In any case, the preponderance of Abbevillian and early Later Acheulian type tools at Pampau and their setting in the Elster moraine suggests that the Pampau palaeoart is basically Later Acheulian period, c. If so, the Ohle Elster gravels palaeoart might be considered one of the oldest examples of palaeoart in the world. It at least puts the Ohle site in a time frame comparable to the accepted Later Acheulian figurines from Tan-Tan, Morocco, 300-500,000 BP and Berekhat Ram, Israel, 233,000-470,000 BP.
Collection. U. Benekendorff has been collecting fossils since 1973 and has been interpreting as well as documenting artifacts from the Ohle pit since 1985. The site is documented in Benekendorff, U. (1990). From the information recorder stone to a picture book of the stone age. Archaeologische Berichten 20:14-28 and 43-65 (Elst, NL). On dating and cultural traditions at Pampau, see Musch, J. E. (1990). In what range of time? Who were those people? ibid:29-42.
The photos presented here in this series of Pampau galleries are courtesy of Ursel Benekendorff and for these images we are profoundly grateful. This collection potentially represents a significant contribution to the field of palaeoart studies.
Photo © Ursel Benekendorff or as otherwise noted.