One of the primary goals of the department is to generate new, high-resolution datasets through excavation with a standardized set of methodologies. Most of this work centers on questions related to the origins and dispersal of modern humans and the replacement of Neandertals. Thus we have excavated or collaborated in the excavation of a number of site in France with deposits covering the last Neandertals and earliest modern humans (Chez Pinaud Jonzac, Les Cottes, Abri Peyrony, La Ferrassie) and sites in north Africa that cover the time period of the first modern humans (Jebel Irhoud and Rhafas in Morocco). More recently we have expanded work in the areas in between that should document the movement of modern humans into Europe including excavations at Willendorf II (Austria), survey and excavations in the lower Danube of Romania, survey and test excavation in Bulgaria, and survey and planned excavation in Serbia. In 2013, we will also begin new excavations at the important transition period site of Bacho Kiro (Bulgaria), and we are collaborating with the Weizmann Institute to excavate the key early Upper Paleolithic site of Boker Tachtit. In addition to these projects, we directly support fieldwork in Russia (Kostenki), Ukraine (Dnester valley) and Mongolia (Tolbor) conducted in part by recent graduates of our program.
Late Neandertals and Early Modern Humans in western Europe
Les Cottés (France) – Since 2006, the Max-Planck-Institute has been working at this site, in collaboration with the French Ministry of Culture, and since 2008 with the INRAP. It is one of the rare sites in Europe with a complete Middle to Upper Palaeolithic sequence with Mousterian, Chatelperronian, ProtoAurignacian as well as Early Aurignacian preserved in situ. One four-year cycle of excavation is complete, and a new one began in 2012. A report on the radiocarbon dates for the sequence and a preliminary description of the industries has been published. In 2013 a roof will be installed over the site. Excavations will continue in 2014.
Jonzac (Chez-Pinaud, France) – From 2004 to 2007, in conjunction with Institut de Prehistoire et de Geologie du Quaternaire (IPGQ) at the University of Bordeaux I, we excavated the Middle to Upper Paleolithic site of Jonzac. Work is still on-going to publish the resulting collections, but several papers are available on various aspects of the archaeology, dating, and isotopes. [with link to the publication portion of the jonzac page]
La Ferrassie (France) – In 2010 the department joined a project led by several other institutions to begin new work at the classic site of La Ferrassie. This site is known for the discovery of several Neandertal skeletons, and like Les Cottés contains a complete sequence of late Middle Paleolithic, Chatelperronian, and Aurignacian. Excavations will continue in the late summer of 2013 and are anticipated to continue at least two more years. A paper on the OSL dating of the sequence is expected in 2013.
Abri Peyrony (or Haut de Combe-Capelle, France) – In 2009, 2010 and 2012 the department in conjunction with the University of Bordeaux I re-opened the late Middle Paleolithic site of Abri Peyrony. These excavations demonstrated that rich in situ Mousterian of Acheulian Tradition deposits remained, and expand our dataset of late Mousterian MTA from Pech de l’Aze I and IV and Jonzac. We have dates from the MTA and have finished with most of the faunal and lithic analysis. A paper is in progress on some worked bones, and a site report is planned for late 2013 or 2014. No new excavations are currently planned.
North Africa and the Origins of Modern Humans
Jebel Irhoud (Morocco) – In May of 2004, in conjunction with the Institut National des Sciences de l’Archéologie et du Patrimoine (INSAP, Rabat, Morocco), we started a multi-year project to salvage the remaining deposits at this important Middle Stone Age locality. The site is known for its human fossils and for its MSA stone tool industries. Several attempts to date the site have yielded results with wide error margins centering on approximately 160,000 years ago. We have conducted several seasons at the site, found more human fossils, obtained a new set of TL dates, completed some new raw material and lithic studies, and completed a zooarchaeological analysis of faunal remains. Publications are in progress. New fieldwork is planned for late 2013 or early 2014.
Rhafas Cave (Morocco) – In 2007, the Max Planck Institute began working with the Institut National des Sciences de l’Archéologie et du Patrimoine (INSAP, Rabat, Morocco) at the site of Rhafas, Morocco. It is anticipated that the sequence at this site will overlap with Jebel Irhoud and extend from the Middle Stone Age into the Aterian. Currently there are no excavations while we finish the analysis of the faunal and lithic assemblages. A program of OSL dating is underway.
On the path of modern humans: The Levant and Central Europe
Willendorf (Austria) –Willendorf, a site originally excavated nearly a century ago, is one of the more important European Upper Paleolithic sites in part for the discovery of the famous Venus figurine but also for the data it can provide on the earliest Aurignacian. From 2006 to 2011, the Max Planck Institute along with the Institut für Ur- und Frühgeschichte (IUF) of the University of Vienna, conducted new excavations at this site. These excavations were focuses on the early Upper Paleolithic deposits with one of the primary goals being to clarify the nature of the Early Aurignacian and its date. The work is complete and publications are in process.
Boker Tachtit (Israel) – A new project to re-date this important early Upper Paleolithic or transition site had been launched by the Max Planck Society-Weizmann Institute of Science Center for Integrative Archaeology and Anthropology in 2013. One of the research goals of this new center is to re-date key transition period sites using AMS. Thus later in 2013 the site will be cleaned in preparation for excavations designed to obtain new samples from the previous published sequence. In addition, an OSL dating program is envisioned and the excavations should generate new data on the stratigraphy, paleoenvironment, and stone tool industries.
Lower Danube Survey Project (Romania) – For several years the department has collaborated with the RGZM to conduct survey and excavations in the lower Danube. This work is resulting in a better understanding of the thick loess deposits that exists there, some of which date to the period of modern human dispersal. One site has been excavated and revealed deposits dating to the Lower Paleolithic. This work has been recently published.
Resava Survey Project (Serbia) – In 2012, in collaboration with University of Belgrade, we conducted survey in the valley of Resava, a river belonging to Middle Danube Basin. This work focused on locating caves and shelters in the karst-rich area that might contain Upper Pleistocene deposits. We located numerous localities and a number of them showed significant potential. Later in 2013 we will conduct test excavations in several of these sites. The primary goal of this work is to locate late Middle Paleolithic and early Upper Paleolithic deposits.
In addition, the Department and its staff activity supports the following field projects:
Roc de Marsal (France)- Previous excavations at this cave site yielded a nearly complete juvenile Neandertal skeleton and a series of well preserved Mousterian archaeological layers. New excavations were conducted (2004-2009) to better understand the burial context of this skeleton, the associated industries, and their dates. This year will be a study season. No new excavations are planned for this site.
Abydos (Egypt)- The Abydos Survey for Paleolithic Sites was a multi-year project to survey the high desert immediately adjacent to the Nile Valley near the historically famous site of Abydos. Several publications are now available for this work and a monograph is in progress.
Dikika (Ethiopia) - The Dikika Research Project is an on-going effort to document the archaeological and fossil evidence from a large span of early hominin history in East Africa.