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Success, limits and failure of subsistence strategies in eastern Central Europe during the early Gravettian and the Last Glacial Maximum

PI: Prof. Dr. Andreas Maier

The Last Glacial Maximum (LGM, ca. 24,000-19,000 cal BP) was, in contrast to the common notion, a period of relative climatic stability and reinvigoration of the human population. It was during the preceding period of the Late Gravettian (ca. 29,000-25,000 cal BP) that climatic conditions were the harshest of the entire Upper Paleolithic and hunter-gatherer communities in northern latitudes were faced with considerable subsistence stress. The project focusses on a site cluster in Austria, Moravia and southern Poland. Although sparsely populated, this area did not experience a breakdown of its regional population in contrast to other areas north of 50°N during this climatic deterioration. The questions thus arise as to what made this region special and which adaptive strategies were developed by its inhabitants. In order to address these questions, we compare the environmental and archaeological situation of the LGM with the one of the Early Gravettian, a period of cultural prosperity and comparatively favorable climatic conditions. We combine archaeological analysis (e.g. of lithic and organic tools), osteoarchaeological information and sedimentological and paleoenvironmental data (geochemistry, stable isotopes, mollusks, etc.). An innovative aspect of this project is the close entanglement of archaeological and on-site paleoenvironmental analyses for one of the key regions of the LGM in Central Europe in a diachronic perspective. Special attention will be given to the following questions: What are the environmental differences between the early Gravettian and the LGM and how did changes in temperature and humidity affect prey species? What are the specific adaptations of the LGM hunter-gatherers in comparison with those of the early Gravettian? This interdisciplinary approach will allow a deeper understanding of human population dynamics and adaptive strategies of hunter-gatherers.