Upper Palaeolithic immigration triggered by climatic deterioration? An arrowhead against geodeterminism

Ludwig Zöller1
1 LS Geomorphologie, Uni Bayreuth

V 4.7 in Steinzeitlicher Mensch und Umweltwandel - zur Archäologie von Umweltrisiken

18.09.2012, 11:10-11:30, H8

The revolutionary ideology of the Enlightenment had immense consequences for all sciences including geosciences. As a drawback, however, geodeterminism is seeking for direct (linear) links between natural environment and human culture. The combination with some outgrows of idealism led to most dangerous developments in geography in the period of imperialism which culminated in the book “Wehrgeopolitik” by Karl Haushofer who was condemned in the Nuremberg Trials.


In more recent years, since we learnt more about frequent past climate change as well as about the appearance and disappearance of human cultures geodeterministic interpretations appear to return through the back door. However, modern systems research, in particular in geoecology, focuses on non-linear responses of components in a complex systemor the entire system to determine changes of another component exceeding certain thresholds. This approach contradicts the direct (linear) response theory.


Refined stratigraphies and chronostratigraphies bear the challenge to revisit the interaction between (rapid) climate change on the time scale of D/O cycles and human culture. Terms like “vulnerability”, “resilience” and “adaptation” cope with the actual discussion on societal reaction to environmental change in Human Geography. A similar approach may appear to be adequate for the past.


Two Lower Gravettian open air sites in loess at Krems-Wachtberg and Grub-Kranawetberg in Lower Austria will be discussed under this aspect. At both sites an almost continuous loess stratigraphy between ca. 20 ka and ca. 40 ka was explored. At Krems-Wachtberg, famous for its infant burials, several magnetic, luminescence and radiocarbon dating attempts indicate an age of 32 to 34 ka for the archaeological horizon AH4, whereas the age of the main archaeological layer at Grub-Kranawetberg is confined to ca. 29 to 30 ka by radiocarbon and IRSL dating (see poster Antl et al.). At both sites refined stratigraphy indicates that the main archaeological layers postdate the climatic optimum of preceding interstadials. Instead, climatic deterioration is witnessed by pedological, magnetic and palaeobiological evidence. The simplification that climatic amelioration alone triggered migration is, thus, not valid. Therefore, the discussion of push and pull factors of Upper Palaeolithic migration requires a more complex approach.


I suggest this discussion to be based on a human ecology approach accounting, however, for the fact that our knowledge about Upper Palaeolithic hunter-gatherer societies may still be too limited. It should be considered that a dry, summer-warm and winter-cold loess-steppe landscape may have offered too low a bioproductivity to sustain large animal herds, whereas a cooler but moister loess-tundra better allow for herds to find enough biomass. Adaptation of -hunter-gatherers to cooler climate apparently was not a problem, as can be seen from the repeated occupation of the nearby Grubgraben site at Langenlois (Lower Austria) during the LGM. Our results so far show a human occupation of the sites of Krems-Wachtberg and Grub-Kranawetberg in phases of climatic deterioration and strongly argue against a simplified geodeterministic interpretation of human behaviour in the Upper Palaeolithic on a regional scale.

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Letzte Änderung 25.07.2012