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THE VESTONICE CLUSTER

Lukas Hanzl

1. INTRODUCTION

The Gravettian was an archaeological culture of the European Upper Paleolithic that succeeded the Aurignacian circa 33,000 years BP.  This culture  had  disappeared by c. 22,000 BP, close to the Last Glacial Maximum. The Gravettians expanded westwards from the far corner of Eastern Europe or Iran, to Central Europe. They are associated with a genetic cluster that is normally called the Věstonice cluster. Those people, however, came to who were already older populations associated with the Aurignacian, with which they began to mix.

The beginnings of European humanity are linked to the discovery of skeletal remains in the Zlatý Kůň cave in the Koněpruská cave complex. The Koněprusy caves are situated in Central Bohemia, 7 km South of Beroun town, in the middle of the nature reserve of Czech Karst. The incomplete cranium discovered at the Zlatý kůň site in the Bohemian Karst is a rare piece of skeletal evidence the human presence in Central Europe during the Late Glacial period. The cranium was classified as a female with a probability of 0.98.

The fossil skull of a woman in Czechia has provided the oldest modern human genome yet reconstructed, representing a population that formed before the ancestors of present-day Europeans and Asians. The segments of Neanderthal DNA in shes genome were longer than those of the Ust’-Ishim individual from Siberia, the previous oldest modern human sequenced, suggesting modern humans lived in the heart of Europe more than 45,000 years ago.

The new discovery, made by a team of archaeologists and palaeontologists led by Ludovic Slimak of the University of Toulouse, puts the arrival of Homo sapiens in Western Europe around 54,000 years ago. A remarkable finding is that Homo Sapiens and Neanderthals alternately inhabited the Mandrin cave in present-day southern France.

Another example of the earliest beginnings of new humanity can be the Moravian Bohunicien. However, comparative genetic material is lacking here.Bohunicien is a stone chipped industry of the Young Paleolithic, whose bearers moved in the territory of South Moravia some 43,000 to 35,000 years ago. The identity of the representatives is disputed because no human bones have been found yet. The industry is widespread only in the Brno basin (with the exception of Dolní Kounice and Lhánice near Moravský Krumlov), because the processing technique was tied to the Jurassic Chert from Stránská skála. The Bohunician is "transitional" between the Mousterian and the Aurignacian, and thus a candidate for representing the first wave of anatomically modern humans in Europe. Its technology resembles the Mousterian and Levallois technique.

The separation of European and Asian ancestors occurred already at the time of the GoyetQ116 cluster. Among the individuals, GoyetQ116-1 from Belgium is the oldest at ~35,000 years ago shares more alleles with present-day Europeans than with East Asians. In contrast, Ust’-Ishim and Oase1, which predate GoyetQ116-1 and Kostenki14, do not show any distinctive affinity to later Europeans.

2. NEW PEOPLE FROM THE EAST

The Gravettians were hunter-gatherers who lived in a cold period of European prehistory. Archaeologists usually describe two regional variants: the western Gravettian, known mainly from cave sites in France or Spain and Britain, and the eastern Gravettian in Central Europe and Russia. The eastern Gravettians, which include the Pavlovian culture, were specialized mammoth hunters, whose remains are usually found not in caves but in open air sites.

Gravettians are thought to have been innovative in the development of tools such as blunted-back knives, tanged arrowheads and boomerangs. Other innovations include the use of woven nets and oil lamps made of stone. Blades and bladelets were used to make decorations and bone tools from animal remains.

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the bullroarer from Věstonice

The Pavlovian is an Upper Paleolithic culture, a variant of the Gravettian, that existed in the region of Moravia, northern Austria and southern Poland around 29,000 – 25,000 years BP. The culture used sophisticated stone age technology to survive in the tundra on the fringe of the ice sheets around the Last Glacial Maximum. Pavlovien economy was principally based on the hunting of mammoth herds for meat, fat fuel, hides for tents and large bones and tusks for building winter shelters.

Its name is derived from the village of Pavlov, in the Pavlov Hills, next to Dolní Věstonice in southern Moravia. The site was excavated in 1952 by the Czechoslovakian archaeologist Bohuslav Klima. Another important Pavlovian site is Předmostí, now part of the town of Přerov.

Excavation has yielded flint implements, polished and drilled stone artifacts, bone spearheads, needles, digging tools, flutes, bone ornaments, drilled animal teeth, and seashells. Art or religious finds are bone carvings and figurines of humans and animals made of mammoth tusk, stone, and fired clay. Textile impression made into wet clay give the oldest proof of the existence of weaving by humans. Important Gravettian localities in South Moravia are Dolní Věstonice and the eponymous Pavlov for Pavlovien.

3. DOLNI VESTONICE

Dolni Vestonice is a small village in the South Moravian Region of the Czech Republic. It is known for a series of ice age archaeological sites in the area, including the oldest permanent human settlement ever found by archaeologists in the entire world. These sites were used by mammoth hunters, and finds include a triple burial and the Venus of Dolni Vestonice.

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Dolni Vestonice (South Morava)

Soon after excavations of this site began in 1924, the significance of Dolni Vestonice became apparent. Thousands of ceramic artifacts, many of which depicted animals, were found associated with the site. The animals molded in the clay include lions, rhinoceroses, and mammoths. These figurines have been interpreted to have been of some ceremonial significance to the ancient occupants of the site. In addition to these artifacts, two figurines depicting women were found. One of the figurines, known as the Black Venus, was found on a hillside amongst charred mammoth bones; the other depicted a woman with a deformed face. Speculation regarding the relation of the second Venus figurine with a woman buried at the site, who had a deformation on the same side of the face, may imply a connection between the two. This woman’s skeleton was found buried under the scapula of a mammoth, with a fox pelt and red ochre.

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Contrary to popular beliefs regarding the hunting practices of people living in the Upper Pleistocene, the inhabitants of this site did not solely chase mammoths with spears. Indentations of netting on the clay floors of the huts found at the site were preserved in the archaeological record when the structures burned down, hardening the clay. These indentations strongly suggest that these people were using nets to catch smaller prey in addition to hunting mammoths with spears. Finally, shells found at the site have been shown to originate from the Mediterranean, suggesting these people either traveled to collect them or were trade partners with other groups nearby.

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During an excavation at the site in 1986, a well-preserved triple burial was unearthed. The site is dated to be 28 kya. The remains of three male individuals were found. It was initially believed that the middle of the three bodies was a female, but recent DNA evidence has proved the body was a male.

The Venus of Dolni Vestonice is a Venus figurine,a ceramic statuette of a nude female figure dated to 29,000–25,000 BCE. It was found at the Paleolithic site Dolni Věstonice in the Moravian basin south of Brno, in the base of Děvín Mountain, 549 metres. This figurine and a few others from locations nearby are the oldest known ceramic articles in the world.

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the profile of archaeological layers

It has a height of 111 millimetres, and a width of 43 millimetres at its widest point and is made of a clay body fired at a relatively low temperature (500 °C–800 °C). The statuette follows the general morphology of the other Venus figurines: exceptionally large breasts, belly and hips, perhaps symbols of fertility, relatively small head and little detail on the rest of the body.

The palaeolithic settlement of Dolní Věstonice in Moravia, a part of Czechoslovakia at the time organized excavation began, now located in the Czech Republic, has been under systematic archaeological research since 1924, initiated by Karel Absolon.

In addition to the Venus figurine, figures of animals – bear, lion, mammoth, horse, fox, rhino and owl – and more than 2,000 balls of burnt clay have been found at Dolní Věstonice. The figurine was discovered on 13 July 1925 in a layer of ash, broken into two pieces.

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4. THE VESTONICE DNA CLUSTER

The “Vestonice Cluster” is composed of 14 pre-Ice Age individuals from 34,000-26,000 years ago, who are all associated with the archaeologically defined Gravettian culture. Thus, the subsequent spread of the Vestonice Cluster, which is associated with the Gravettian cultural complex, shows that the spread of the latter culture was mediated at least in part by population movements. The population represented by GoyetQ116-1 did not disappear. After the Gravettian, comming the “El Mirón Cluster” is composed of 6 Late Glacial epoque individuals from 19,000-14,000 years ago, who are all associated with the Magdalenian culture.

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The Cluser Goyet 116-1 was linked mainly by the γ-haplogroup C1a and CT.

C1a, is extremely rare worldwide and has been found mainly amongst individuals native to Japan or Europe and among Upper Paleolithic Europeans, with single cases known from Nepal and Jeju Island through academic studies and from an ethnic Armenian, an ethnic Kabyle, and an ethnic Han from Liaoning province of China.

C1a2 was present in the remains in Europe by the Upper Paleolithic, including the Vestonice cluster (Vestonice16) and also known as "La Braña 1", found in La Braña-Arintero.

Haplogroup CT is a human Y chromosome haplogroup, defining one of the major paternal lineages of humanity.

Men who carry the CT clade have Y chromosomes with the SNP mutation M168, along with P9.1 and M294. These mutations are present in all modern human male lineages except A and B-M60, which are both found almost exclusively in Africa.

The most recent common male line ancestor of all CT men today probably predated the recent African origin of modern humans, a migration in which some of his descendants participated. He is therefore thought to have lived in Africa before this proposed migration.

After the arrival of new people from the east, the older Aurignacian population mixed with them.

Haplogroup I has been found in multiple individuals belonging to the Gravettian culture.

Haplogroup I (M170) is a Y-chromosome DNA haplogroup. It is a subgroup of haplogroup IJ, which itself is a derivative of the haplogroup IJK. Subclades I1 and I2 can be found in most present-day European populations, with peaks in some Northern European and Southeastern European countries.

Haplogroup I appears to have arisen in Europe, so far being found in Palaeolithic sites throughout Europe, but not outside it.

DNA studies, which revealed that various subclades of hg U encompassed the vast majority of European mitogenomes during the Palaeolithic and Mesolithic, and that most of the other (non-U) mtDNA lineages appeared only later in the Holocene. Hg U is subdivided into U1, U5, U6, and a fourth subclade, which further divides into U2, U3, U4′9, U7, and U8.

MtDNA haplogroup U5, dated to be ~ 40–50 kYa, arrived during the first early upper Palaeolithic colonisation. Individually, it accounts for 5–15 % of total mtDNA lineages. Pre-V (around 26,000 years old) and the larger branch H, both of which spread over Europe, possibly via Gravettian contacts. Haplogroup H accounts for about half the gene lines in Europe, with many subgroups.

5) SUMARRY

After the arrival of the next Ice Age, the Gravettian culture withdrew together with many animal and plant species to the Spanish refugio. Here the Gravettian culture gradually transformed into Magdalenian. The arrival of the Gravetians enabled the partial continuity of the oldest European humanity to the present day. The oldest documents of the Aurignacians and Gravetian people, among others, come from the territory of the Czech Republic and it seems that this territory was of key importance for the overall colonization of Europe.

 

Reference

A genome sequence from a modern human skull over 45,000 years old from Zlatý kůň in Czechia, nature ekology & evolution, (2021) on: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41559-021-01443-x


Dolni Vestonice - Archaeological Site, on: https://australian.museum/learn/cultures/international-collection/dolni-vstonice-archaeological-site/

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Modern human incursion into Neanderthal territories 54,000 years ago at Mandrin, France, in: Science Advance, on: https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/sciadv.abj9496

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Y-DNA Haplogroup I and its Subclades – 2018 (on: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1WkRe8UxrhMZ CaYtPET5rIBbzqCNkGER4YJurbG2ESQ/edit#gid=198726360)