Contact: Dr. Walpurga Antl-Weiser
Since 1993 archaeologists led by Dr Walpurga Antl-Weiser from the Natural History Museum’s Department of Prehistory have been carrying out research on a Palaeolithic hunter-and-gatherer campsite at Kranawetberg/Grub.
It was here that archaeologists discovered the largest collection of Palaeolithic jewellery ever found in Austria. The research work also provides insights into a significant period of cultural development before the glacial maximum of the Last Ice Age and into the climatic changes of the last cold period in this part of Austria.
The Palaeolithic finds from Kranawetberg/Grub date from around 25,000 to at least 22,000 years before today. Bones of Ice Age animals were discovered when ploughing a vineyard. Initial investigations in 1993 revealed a layer of objects dating from the Ice Age. In the year that followed several mammoth skulls, tusks and a mammoth skull were excavated. Traces of scorching indicate that a fire was repeatedly lit at this site to burn leftover bones. Similar heaps of bones have also been found in the Czech Republic and Poland.
Roughly 20 metres northeast of this fire site was a settlement where traces of two tents with two fireplaces have been found. Archaeozoological investigations carried out by Marjolein Bosch revealed, among other things, two molar teeth from the jaw of the same mammoth – one on the pile of bones and another on the western edge of the settlement. It can therefore be said with certainty that the pile of bones and the campsite existed at the same time. The archaeologists also discovered almost 1000 stone tools, several thousand unworked stone blades, 250 pieces of jewellery carved from ivory and about 100 shells and snail shells from this period in the area where the hunters and gatherers would have lived.
Above this settlement layer there are three further layers from three other phases of use of this site. While the uppermost layers contain only few items and can therefore not be dated with any certainty, the third of these layers – the layer directly above the Palaeolithic layer previously discussed – is particularly interesting for two reasons. Firstly, radiocarbon dating indicates it must have been formed very soon after the storm which covered the remains of the lower layer with 8-10cm of loess. Secondly, the finds and settlement traces of the two layers show great differences. The people who came later to Kranawetberg did not have tents with tent poles well-anchored into the ground. Instead they got the raw material for their equipment from a completely different area from the previous settlers. They did not wear ivory jewellery and some of them had different tools.
At this stage the two layers seem to reflect the presence of two groups that may have used the area under changing environmental conditions.
In 2010 and 2011 a series of long-profile samples were taken at the east of the site for IRSL and OSL dating as well as pollen and mollusc analysis. Researchers wished to find out more about changes to the climate at this site. The IRSL and OSL investigations were carried out by Prof. Dr Ludwig Zoeller, chair of geomorphology at the University of Bayreuth.
The analysis of the faunal remains were carried out by Dr Florian Fladerer from the Austrian Academy of Sciences and Marjolein Bosch. Parts of the settlement structures had already been examined by Dr Philip Nigst from the University of Cambridge. Initial sediment analysis was carried out by Prof. Spyridon Verginisᵼ, while Dr Christa Frank, University of Vienna, was involved in the analysis of the molluscs.
The dating of the sub-layers within this profile has revealed deposits of loess sediments from the entire Late Palaeolithic period in Austria. Therefore, the site not only provides insight into a significant period of cultural development before the glacial maximum of the Last Ice Age but also into climatic changes during the last cold period in this part of Austria.