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Technological approach to Hamburgian lithic assemblages (completed)

Dr. Mara-Julia Weber

A means of re-evaluating its relationship with the Magdalenian


This doctoral project addresses the resettlement of the North European lowlands at the end of the last Ice Age and, in particular, human artefacts arising from what is termed the ‘Hamburg culture.’

The comparison of archaeologically-defined cultures constitutes an important tool in their basic definition, as well as in clarification of associated chronological and geographical questions. On the basis of similarities and differences of the equivalent units, in space or time, is it possible to draw conclusions concerning their mutual relationship. In the case of the Hamburg culture, the comparison already existed at the beginning of its investigation, because it was defined in the 1930s as a regional expression of the Magdalenian on the North European lowlands. Crucial in this respect were type artefacts among the flint finds. Subsequently, various hypotheses were proposed concerning the relationship between the Hamburg culture and the Magdalenian. These relate, firstly, to the Late Glacial resettlement of the North European lowlands by Magdalenian groups and, secondly, the relationship between these archaeological cultures following the establishment of the Hamburg culture.

Concerning the second question, it is possible to define two extreme positions: There was one single tradition showing adaptations to the regionally differing environmental conditions – or  there were no exchange between lowland and highland areas and the commonalities observed merely describe convergence phenomena. According to the presently available data, the clear lack of a geographical connection contrasts with a heterogeneous chronological picture, because settlement of the Central European Magdalenian regions began earlier than, or was fully completed prior to, those in northern lowlands. In the Paris Basin, however, the Magdalenian developed in parallel with the Hamburg culture.

On the basis of this situation, the University of Tübingen has set up a doctoral project in which the comparative base for the technological components will be expanded in order to re-assess the relationship between the Magdalenian and the Hamburg culture. This technological approach is based on the observation that similar forms can originate in different ways, whereas the sequence of operations or workflow, inherent within a cultural unit, is better suited to demonstrating cultural commonalities or contacts. As a first step the chaîne opératoire will be reconstructed in order, as the second step, to decipher the predominant concept of this chain of actions, the schéma opératoire. As the Magdalenian has already been characterised technologically, in this project three assemblages from the Hamburg culture in Schleswig-Holstein will be investigated using a comparative technological approach. In work during the year 2010, the abstraction from chaîne to schéma opératoire was central. The latter operation comprises the selection of a relative small volume of raw material which, after variously intensive preparation of the core edges shows a bi-convex to square cross-section and the least dimension corresponds to the width of the reduction face. According to the length of the raw material, first long blades were removed. These were produced after careful preparation of the platform, partly en éperon, with a hammer of organic material, but also with a soft hammer stone. In removal of the blades, this constituted the primary percussive tool in the production of shorter examples which, depending on the maintenance of the core, were more or less regular. Preferably, two opposing platforms are used in this process. The blades so produced serve as the starting point for making tools and projectile points.

When compared with the Magdalenian, it appears that the same preparation methods and reduction techniques were used. However, the purpose of the reduction corresponds to a varying extent. In the light of the present state of research, it seems that the Hamburg culture most probably corresponds to the atypical Magdalenian of the Fazies Cepoy-Marsangy in the Paris Basin.

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