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 Location: South Moravia, Czech Republic.  Grid Reference: 48 53' 00'' N, 16 39' 00'' E .

 

       Dolni Věstonice: (Gravettian Site)

The site is unique in that it has been a particularly abundant source of prehistoric artefacts (especially art) dating from roughly 28,000 to 24,000 B.C (4). In addition to functional tools, the artefacts found at Dolni Věstonice include carved representations of animals, men, women, personal ornaments, enigmatic engravings. The remains of two dwellings were unearthed: an oval one (15 x 9m), with five hearths, and a round one (6m in diameter) with one hearth in the centre in which clay figurines were fired.

The remains of two kilns have been uncovered and more than 700 figurines-nearly all depicting Ice Age animals (1) such as lions, rhinos, and mammoths-were fired in the oval earthen kilns of Dolni Vestonice. At nearby sites of similar age, thousands more terracotta figurines and clay pellets have been excavated. Almost all the Vestonice figurines exhibit breaks and cracks-the shattering shock of the flames that baked them.  One hypothesis is that these figurines had magical significance, and were intentionally fashioned from wet clay so that they would explode when fired. The clay would have been mixed either with ash from certain plants or a different equivalent

The ceramic figurines and fragments recovered from Dolni Vestonice have been identified as representing the earliest known ceramic technology (Vandiver et al., 1989).  The Moravian site “cluster” has yielded more than 10,000 ceramic fragments.  The figurines recovered from Dolni Vestonice have been dated to 26,000 BP, while the world’s earliest known pottery vessels until this time appear 14,000 years later. (3)

The early origin of ceramic technology at Dolni Vestonice suggests that the local population were familiar with their surroundings and have demonstrated an ability to manipulate and control their environment.  If the ceramics were being produced simply to be shattered via thermal shock, it can be concluded that the process of making the objects was more important than the final product (4)

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The Venus of Dolní Věstonice.

The Venus of Dolní Věstonice is one of the earliest examples of fired clay sculptures in the world (c. 28,000–24,000 BC (4)).  It has four holes in the head, the function of which is unknown. A Tomograph scan in 2004 found a fingerprint of a child estimated at between 7 and 15 years of age (1)

 

 

The She-Shaman.

One of the burials revealed a human female skeleton, ritualistically placed beneath a pair of mammoth scapulae, one leaning against the other. The bones and the earth surrounding it contained traces of red ochre, a flint spearhead had been placed near the skull and one hand held the body of a fox. This evidence has led to suggestions that this was the burial site of a shaman. This is the oldest site not only of ceramic figurines and artistic portraiture, but also of evidence of female shaman.

(More about Shamanism)

 

 

The Triple Burial. (Dolni Věstonice II)

The following extract is J. Shreeve's book 'The Neandertal Enigma: solving the mystery of modern human origins':

In the spring of 1986, near a village called Dolni Vestonice in the Czech province of Moravia, the bodies of three teenagers were discovered in a common grave. A specialist was immediately summoned from Brno, some twenty-five miles to the north, and under his care the remains were exhumed and faint remnants of the youths' identities revealed. Two of the skeletons were heavily built males. By its slender proportions, the third was judged to be female, aged seventeen to twenty. A marked left curvature of the spine, along with several other skeletal abnormalities, suggested that she had been painfully crippled. The two males had died healthy, in the prime of their lives. The remains of a thick wooden pole thrust through the hip of one of them hinted that his death might not have been entirely natural.

The bodies had been buried with curious attention. According to the expert Bohuslav Klima, of the Czech Institute of Archaeology in Brno both young men had been laid to rest with their heads encircled with necklaces of pierced canine teeth and ivory; the one with the pole thrust up to his coccyx may also have been wearing some kind of painted mask. All three skulls were covered in red ochre. The most peculiar feature of the grave, however, was the arrangement of the deceased. Whoever committed the bodies to the ground extended them side by side, the woman between her two companions. The man on her left lay on his stomach, facing away from her but with his left arm linked with hers. The other male lay on his back, his head turned toward her. Both of his arms were reaching out, so that his hands rested on her pubis. The ground surrounding this intimate connection was splashed with red ochre.
(2)

Although the gender of the central figure has been contested recently with suggestions that it is also a male, the following Journal puts that claim to rest:

American Journal of Physical Anthropology. 2001 Aug;115(4):372-9.    (Quick-link)


The Upper Palaeolithic triple burial of Dolni Vestonice: Pathology and funerary behaviour.

Formicola V, Pontrandolfi A, Svoboda J.

Department of Ethology, Ecology, and Evolution, University of Pisa, 56126 Pisa, Italy.

This work focuses on palaeopathological analysis of one of the skeletons from the Gravettian triple burial of Dolni Vestonice (Moravia) and addresses issues of Upper Paleolithic funerary behavior. The burial includes the well-preserved skeletons of three young individuals. The skeleton in the middle (DV 15) is pathological and very problematic to sex; the other two (DV 13 and DV 14) are males and lie in an unusual position. The young age, the possibility of a simultaneous interment, and the position of the three specimens have given rise to speculations about the symbolic significance of this spectacular and intriguing funerary pattern. The pathological condition of the skeleton in the middle further emphasizes its peculiarity. Main pathological changes of the DV 15 skeleton include: asymmetric shortening of the right femur and of left forearm bones, bowing of the right femur, right humerus, and left radius, elongation of fibulae, dysplasias of the vertebral column, and very marked enamel hypoplasias. Scrutiny of the medical literature suggests that the most likely etiology is chondrodysplasia calcificans punctata (CCP) complicated by trauma and early fractures of the upper limbs. CCP is a rare inherited disorder characterized by stippled ossification of the epiphyses. The cartilaginous stippling is a transient phenomenon that disappears during infancy, leaving permanent deformities on affected bones. Among the different forms of CCP, the X-linked dominant form is that resulting in asymmetric shortening and is lethal during early infancy in males. Thus, survival of DV 15 until young adult age would require the specimen to be a female. Clinical findings often associated with the disease (erythemas, ichthyosis, alopecia, cataracts, and joint contractures, among others) would emphasize the singular aspect of this individual, pointing to a condition that should be carefully taken into account when speculating on the significance of that peculiar burial.

Copyright 2001 Wiley-Liss, Inc.


 


The Earliest known Example of Woven Fabric:

The surprising discovery of textile imprints at Pavlov I and Dolní Věstonice I, II attracted attention and opened discussions. As was the case with ceramics, the textile technologies were also tested experimentally by Soffer et al. (2000) who noted the following:

The weavers of Upper Palaeolithic Moravia were not only manufacturing a variety of cordage types but, more important, also producing plaited basketry and twined and plain woven cloth which approach levels of technical sophistication heretofore associated exclusively with the Neolithic and later time periods. Unfortunately, much of this technology is evident only to those who have considerable experience with perishable material culture and have examined the original evidence first-hand.

On a lump of fired clay from the Dolní Věstonice / Pavlov area were found the impressions of substances from plant fibres. The whole process of picking nettles, crushing the dried stem, preparation of tow, spinning the thread and then weaving was tested and shown to be possible using tools of the time by M. Bunatova. Urbanová (ca 1999)

(Image Credits: Donsmaps.com)

Article: BBC NewsOnline: (June, 2000). Woven cloth dates back 27,000 years.
 

Woven clothing was being produced on looms 27,000 years ago, far earlier than had been thought, scientists say... ...The evidence was obtained from a number of sites in the Czech Republic... ...Some of the fibre impressions may have been made accidentally, such as by sitting on a fresh clay floor or when wet clay was carried in woven bags. "Other impressions may have been caused by deliberate action, such as lining a basket with clay to make it watertight," said Professor Soffer.

A detailed examination of the impressions reveals a large variety of weaving techniques. There are open and closed twines, plain weave and nets. Professor Soffer told BBC News Online that twining can be done by hand but plain weave needed a loom. It may be that many stone artefacts found in settlements may not be objects of art as had been supposed but parts of an ancient loom, which should now be considered as the first machine to be made after the wheel... ...Further revelations are to be expected in this area of research. There are recent reports that fragments of burnt textiles have been found adhering to pieces of flint.

(Click here for Full Article)

 

 

Selection of Objects Recovered from Dolni Vestonice.

   

Carved ivory objects. (The central figure is a marionette)

    

Carved mammoth-bone heads.

Pottery heads of animals. (The two holes in the lions head run right through).

 

(Prehistoric Cave-art)

(Venus Figurines)

 

References:

1). http://www.donsmaps.com/dolnivenus.html
2). James Shreeve. The Neandertal Enigma: solving the mystery of modern human origins. 1995. William Morrow and Company, New York.
3). http://sylviadeskaj.wordpress.com/2011/02/20/dolni-vestonice-evidence-for-the-emergence-of-social-hierarchy/
4). Vandiver P, Soffer O, Klima B, Svoboda J. 1989. The Origins of Ceramic Technology at Dolni Vestonice, Czechoslovakia. Science. Vol. 246, No. 4933:1002-1008.
 
 

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