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The Poggenwisch Rod

The Poggenwisch Rod – am example for the technological analysis of selected Late Upper Palaeolithic antler assemblages from northern Germany, southern Scandinavia and the Paris Basin


Markus Wild M.A. (doctoral dissertation)

The famous Poggenwisch Rod is the most precious artefact of the Hamburgian – the cultural entity of the first modern humans that settled in northern Germany. It is an example of a current study that deals with the socio-economic behaviour of these Late Upper Palaeolithic hunter-gatherers as well as with a re-evaluation of the precise relationship between two of the relevant entities of the Late Upper Palaeolithic of North-Western Europe, the Hamburgian (classic Hamburgian & Havelte group) and the Final Magdalenian of more southern regions. This research was conducted in the framework of a PhD thesis that was submitted to the universities of Kiel and Paris 1 – Panthéon-Sorbonne in January 2019.

Chronology of the Lateglacial and neighbouring glaical stages

1 Chronology of the Lateglacial and neighbouring glaical stages with the estimated presence of hunter-gatherers on the basis of 14C data.

In order to understand the chronological relationship of the Hamburgian and the Final Magdalenian, the Hamburgian site Meiendorf and the Final Magdalenian site Verberie (France) were redated and the results together with further data from Poggenwisch modelled. While the Meiendorf model speaks for an occupation at the beginning of the GI-1e (earliest Lateglacial Interstadial: 12692–12075 calBC), the Poggenwisch model speaks for an occupation in the second half of the GI-1e. The stratified occupations at Verberie are modelled to the end of the GS-2a (Late Pleniglacial; end of GS-2a: 12692 calBC). They therefore precede the classic Hamburgian of the Ahrensburg tunnel valley. The results further contest existing hypotheses about a GI-1e presence of Magdalenian hunter-gatherers as well as a GS-2a presence of Hamburgian hunter-gatherers.
Besides the conducted work on chronological issues, the main part of the presented study concerns the technical description and technological analysis of three classic Hamburgian (Meiendorf, Stellmoor, Poggenwisch), one Havelte group (Slotseng), and one Final Magdalenian (Verberie) antler inventory. Additionally, two single finds from the Køge Bugt in the South of Sjælland in Denmark were also described. The study is able to show that two basic procedures to obtain blanks were applied in the Late Upper Palaeolithic. The first is the groove and splinter procedure that represents a debitage by extracting. The second are the diverse transversal segmentation procedures that function as a debitage by segmenting. In many cases, the latter procedures are also applied on male antlers to produce secondary raw material blocks for the groove and splinter procedure.

 Extraction of blanks

2 Extraction of blanks on a – primary raw material block; b – secondary raw material block (bow-shaped matrix).

Comparable choices of raw material for different tool classes can be observed in the Hamburgian and the Final Magdalenian. Two main variants of the groove and splinter procedure can be observed in the Late Upper Palaeolithic in general: one is the exploitation of primary raw material blocks (whole antlers), the other is the exploitation of so-called bow-shaped matrices (mesial antler beams that lack the basal beam and the palmation). Although most of the finished objects from the Hamburgian are not typical in the Final Magdalenian, evidence for them exists. In conclusion, it is proposed to speak of the Hamburgian facies of the Final Magdalenian.
It is established that besides the techno-typological value of operational schemes of the groove and splinter procedure (cf. Fig. 2), they additionally yield spatio-temporal information. For the two main variants: the extraction of blanks from primary raw material blocks and the extraction of blanks on bow-shaped matrices, two spatio-temporal schemes can be deducted. While full raw material blocks of a nearby kill site were imported to the place of extraction for the first variant, the waste pieces of the second variant were dispersed over different sites. At the first of these, only the basal antler and the palmation was detached and, on another site, the bow-shaped matrix had been discarded. Although different, the main objective of both schemes is the continuous reduction of antler in size and weight during its transport.

Antler worked by experienced antler worker.
3 Antler worked by experienced antler worker.

Additionally, the waste pieces found on the classic Hamburgian sites indicate different levels of skills. Besides experienced antler workers (cf. Fig. 3), there were also learners present (cf. Fig. 4). This observations led to a re-evaluation of the general concepts „apprenticeship“ and „teaching“ with which learning is usually explained in Palaeolithic archaeology. Finally, the LOPI-concept deriving from developmental psychology is introduced. When the evidence from antler working is taken into account it is postulated that, at the classic Hamburgian sites in the Ahrensburg tunnel valley, a change in the group structure took place. At the beginning of the habitation whole groups were present, while after a while a certain part of the group (the experienced antler workers = a part of the elder people) split off from the group.

4 Antler worked by unexperienced antler worker.
4 Antler worked by unexperienced antler worker.

Altogether, the different sites as well as the economic and social strategies observed, are interpreted as a complex but flexible behavioural strategy of Late Upper Palaeolithic hunter-gatherers to reduce the risk of unsuccessful hunting on reindeer in autumn and the starvation in the following winter season.
These profound results show the full complexity of human

behaviour that can be mirrored in the artefacts made by ancient humans. The Poggenwisch Rod is thus only one example and it is worth to study all the human remains even though they might be not as precious as the decorated rod.