Department of Geoscience

WiSe 2018/2019

February 1st

Speaker: Gillian Wong (Universität Tübingen)

The paleoecology of southwest Germany during the Upper Paleolithic is well-studied; past research has used interdisciplinary approaches in archaeology, geochemistry, geology, and paleontology to reconstruct climates, environments, and human settlement patterns. Inherently, though, archaeological data have only allowed these reconstructions to occur at the regional-scale (e.g. "southwest Germany" or "the Swabian Jura") despite the fact that hunter-gatherer mobility patterns likely depended on more local ecological conditions. We use the Magdalenian faunal assemblage at Langmahdhalde, a recently excavated rock shelter in the Lone Valley of the Swabian Jura, to suggest how to reconstruct more local-scale human paleoecology using archaeofaunal remains. Our study combines traditional zooarchaeological methodology with microfaunal and stable isotopic analysis. We use these results to discuss how this type of faunal analysis can be used to interpret Magdalenian hunter-gatherer use of the Lone Valley in the Swabian Jura and how the local ecological context of the valley and its surroundings may have influenced hunter-gatherer decision-making.

January 25th

Speaker: Klaus Nickel (Universität Tübingen) and Patrick Schmidt (Universität Tübingen)

Stone tools are the oldest material remains left by our ancestors. Most of our understanding of early tool use is based on fractured (knapped) stone. Not all rock types were equally often used at different periods and in different environments and often, clear patterns of raw material preferences emerge. Understanding these preferences requires a quantitative approach to knapping quality that would allow to compare different rocks objectively. The major impediment for such comparisons has so far been the lack of a comprehensive physical model of what makes different stones appear different to knappers.

Such a model becomes even more important for understanding the deliberate transformation of the properties of rocks through heat treatment. The development of these abilities in the African Middle Stone Age was an important step for the cognitive and cultural evolution of anatomically modern humans, because any significant simplification of tool production must have been a great incentive to learn to distinguish proper material types and to control and use firing processes.
In order to understand, for which improvement early humans were inclined to put up with seeking and transporting materials and handle the treatments, it would be most helpful to have a quantitative parameter to qualify a stone tool material in terms of its quality for knapping. Using basic mechanical properties (fracture strength, indentation fracture resistance, elastic modulus and Weibull modulus) of several flint and silcrete samples from a heat treatment study, we develop a model to describe the decrease in force needed to knapp a rock by a combination of indentation crack formation and Griffith-type failure in materials with deliberately lowered fracture toughness. The model quantitatively explains the superiority of flint and the simplification of knapping silcrete, providing a tool for further studies comparing all sorts of materials from stone tool findings. 

January 11th

Speaker: Birgül Ögüt (Freie Universität Berlin)

Title: Phytoliths from Aeneolithic Monjukli Depe, Southern Turkmenistan – Possibilities and Limits

Phytoliths, microscopic silica bodies from genera-specific plant cells, are used to identify traces of plant remains in archaeological contexts, especially if organic and/or macroscopic material is not available. However, the reliability of phytolith analyses is discussed controversially since the 1980s in geography, botany and biology. In order to investigate the possibilities and limits of these analyses, sediment samples were taken from various contexts during the excavations in Monjukli Depe, a small village in modern southern Turkmenistan that was occupied in the Neolithic and Aeneolithic periods. Initially designed as an experiment, the first analyses applied on samples from grinding stones provided unexpected results. However, as more samples from different contexts were examined, it became clear that this method could be a useful tool, especially in the reconstruction of micro-histories, if it is based on precise research questions.
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December 14th

Speaker: Christoph Berthold (Universität Tübingen

Title: The CCA-BW at the university of Tuebingen: From Material Science to Archaeometry, selected archaeological case studies

Founded in 2016, the Competence Center Archaeometry Baden-Württemberg (CCA-BW) has developed from the archaeometry section of the applied mineralogy work group. The CCA-BW is an interdisciplinary research center at the University of Tuebingen that connects material science with archaeological disciplines. It is funded by the Baden-Wuerttemberg ministry of science, the Helmut Fischer Institut für Elektronik und Messtechnik GmbH and the excellence initiative at the University of Tuebingen.
The CCA-BW research activities focus on the analysis of archaeological materials via archaeometric methods with a special emphasis on non-destructive analyses.
It also aims to the development of flexible and mobile analytical setups.
Case studies of different kinds of ancient artifacts like pottery or metal objects will show the potential of the nondestructive and locally resolved analytical techniques that are available at the CCA-BW today.

December 7th

Speaker: Kristen Wroth (Universität Tübingen)

Title: Neanderthals at the micro-scale: Integrating phytolith analysis and micromorphology in Southwest France

The role of plants in Neanderthal subsistence and technology is less well known than that of animal or stone resources due to preservation differences and a subsequent lack of study. This gap is most clear in certain parts of the Neanderthal range where seasonal shifts in temperature/humidity are particularly damaging to plant remains and past environmental patterns may have constrained the available plant resources, such as France. However, phytoliths, the silica infillings of plant cells, are more durable than organic components of plants, and can be used to reconstruct human activities, local plant ecology, and diagenetic alteration of archaeological sediments. In combination with sediment micromorphology and FTIR analysis to provide necessary context, my research employs phytolith analysis to shed light on the relationship between Neanderthals, plants, and the local environment during the Middle Paleolithic (ca. 100,000-40,000 BP) of southwest France.
Phytoliths recovered from the cave site of Roc de Marsal demonstrate patterns of environmental change, natural deposition of plant material, and Neanderthal use of plants. Specifically, these phytolith assemblages provide evidence for spatial patterning in plant remains related to hearth features and diachronic change in plant use due in part to a shift from warm stadial to cold glacial conditions. To begin to assess larger scale patterns of Neanderthal plant use in southwestern France, the material from Roc de Marsal was compared with phytolith samples and micromorphological thin sections from the nearby site of Pech de l’Azé IV.  These sites are broadly similar in terms of chronology, stratigraphy, artifacts, and preserved combustion features, but there are key differences in the construction of the hearths and the amount of phytoliths recovered. The comparison of these two sites highlights possible differences in Neanderthal pyrotechnology and the level of reliance on plant resources from site to site. However, the need for more complicated extraction protocols for specific deposits at Pech de l’Azé IV demonstrates interpretive bias may be introduced during the sampling or laboratory phases of phytolith analysis and indicates the necessity of coupling phytolith analysis with geoarchaeological techniques such as micromorphology for more detailed interpretations.

November 30th

Speaker: Elisa Luzi

Title: Microtus arvalis and Microtus agrestis role in palaeoclimatic and palaeoenvironmental reconstruction.

In the last decades, small mammal assemblages have been employed as proxies for palaeoclimatic and palaeoenvironmental reconstructions. The common vole Microtus arvalis and the field vole Microtus agrestis, being widespread in Continental Europe and consistently present in the fossil record of late Middle and Late Pleistocene, have been commonly included in these reconstructions. They present similar dental morphologies but have different ecological preferences, therefore it is important to try and separate them in order to obtain a more reliable picture of the climate and environment of the past.

During my PhD, I analysed samples coming from Middle and Late Pleistocene of Spain, Italy, Croatia, Hungary and Belgium, in order to understand the influence of climatic and environmental changes in shaping the dental patterns of these two species.

The morphological and morphometric analysis of the dental characters of M. arvalis and M. agrestis confirmed the taxonomic value of the measurements taken on the first lower molar (m1) as a tool for the identification of these two species.

To quantify the relative variations in size of the two species, the Lagr/Larv index has been applied (Lagr and Larv being the mean value of the total length of m1s of M. agrestis and of M. arvalis for each of the studied site and for the different levels in sites with long sequences). This index proved to be an excellent indicator of the general level of humidity in the surrounding of the sites and to be correlated with the index of continentality as calculated by the climatic reconstruction inferred from the small mammal assemblage of each sites. It was also possible to observe oscillations in the index in correspondence of major climatic shift, such as the Eemian in the Carpathian Basin or the Bølling-Allerød interstadial in the Italian and Iberian Peninsulas.

November 16th

Speaker: Doğa Karakaya

Title: Subsistence in post-collapse societies: patterns of agricultural production from the late Bronze Age to the Iron Age I (1500-900BCE) in the Levant

Current archaeobotanical research plays an integral role in comprehending agricultural economies of ancient Near Eastern societies. Available archaeobotanical data from Late Bronze and Early Iron Age sites in the northern Levant are relatively scarce, despite the long history of archaeological research in this region. This talk reviews available archaeobotanical data to identify any contrasting patterns which may allow us to determine changes in the nature of agricultural production during the Late Bronze-Iron Age transition. We also evaluate the stable carbon isotopic evidence from Near Eastern sites to explore any recognizable trends of increasing aridity in the region. Through integrating new archaeobotanical and stable carbon isotope results from Tell Ta’yinat, we want to contribute to a more complete picture of the regional patterns in crop husbandry of the Levant. Crop data demonstrates a renewed interest on the water-demanding crops during the Iron Age I period. In conjunction, stable isotope data for Ta’yinat and many other sites shows only minimal stress conditions of water availability.

November 9th

Speaker: Jun.-Prof. Dr. Cynthianne Debono Spiteri

Title: The potential of biomarker analysis with a special focus on Early Celtic consumption practices

The analysis of organic residues recovered from archaeological artefacts is a well-established technique spanning decades of methodical research that has successfully identified a wide range of food and non-food products. The versatility of this technique means that it can be used to answer a myriad of archaeological questions targeting palaeodiet, development in food technology, cuisine, shifts in dietary preferences, vessel function, trade and exchange, and dating, to mention a few. During this lecture, we shall first look back on what has been achieved in previous years, highlighting milestones in the methodological development of organic residue analysis as well as key breakthroughs in archaeological research identified through the application of this technique. We will then focus on a research project targeted at documenting chemical signatures of eating and drinking practices during the Early Iron Age in Central Europe (7th-5th cent. BC) by extracting and characterising lipid residues absorbed within local and imported vessels from the site of Vix-Mont-Lassois in Burgundy. The ceramics tested originated from different contexts within the site including settlement areas on the hilltops and lower towns, as well as the outer settlement and rampart area which may have included craft activities area. This enabled us to obtain novel insights into dietary practices. The identification of plant oils, in particular olive oil, and wine point towards the importation and consumption of Mediterranean products; a finding that questions whether or not Early Celtic societies appropriated foreign feasting practices. Results showed that Mediterranean food products were mostly present in imported vessels from Vix-Mont-Lassois. Evidence for the consumption of wine in locally produced drinking vessels was occasionally found. Moreover, fermentation markers indicate the presence of an alcoholic beverage other than wine in both local and imported drinking vessels. We found a wide variety of probably local products in the local vessels, including animal fats, plant oils, millet, beeswax and dairy products. Beeswax, in particular, was repeatedly present in the local pottery, suggesting that beehive products played a key role in Early Celtic communities. This research enabled us to achieve a better understanding of the meanings and functions of Early Celtic pottery and associated eating and drinking practices.

October 26th

Speaker: Ina Reiche

Title: Combined non-invasive PIXE-PIGE analyses of mammoth ivory from Aurignacian archaeological sites


Aurignacian ivory tools and symbolic artefacts represents a high point in rich the material culture of the Upper Palaeolithic. Until now chemical analyses of these ivory artefacts was limited due to the exceptional status of these objects. New technological developments using external microbeam Proton-Induced X-ray and gamma-ray analyses (PIXE/PIGE) now allow non-invasive study of such artefacts. Our research pursues three main goals:

  1. the evaluation of the state of preservation of mammoth ivory from the Aurignacian

  2. the measurement of trace elements as an indication of the provenience of mammoth ivory

  3. the measurement of F-content to establish relative ages within individual sites.

Here we present results from the study of mammoth ivory artefacts from five key Palaeolithic sites in France and Germany. Our initial results document site-specific patterns of trace element that are in part the consequence of local diagenetic processes. These observations allow us to draw reliable conclusions about the provenience of ivory and to provide new insights into procurement and use of mammoth ivory during the Early Upper Paleolithic [1-3].

This talk addresses both the potential and limitations of these analyses.


  • [1] C. Heckel, K. Müller, R. White, H. Floss, N. Conard, I. Reiche, Micro-PIXE/PIGE analysis of Palaeolithic mammoth ivory: potential chemical markers of provenance and relative dating. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 216 (2014) 133-141.

  • [2] C. Heckel, K. Müller, R. White, S. Wolf, N.J. Conard, C. Normand, H. Floss, I. Reiche, F-content variation in mammoth ivory from Aurignacian contexts: preservation, alteration, and implications for ivory-procurement strategies, Quarternary International 403 (2016) 40-50.

  • [3] I. Reiche, C. Heckel, K. Müller, O. Jöris, T. Matthies, N. Conard, H. Floss, R. White, Combined non-invasive PIXE-PIGE analyses of mammoth ivory from Aurignacian archaeological sites, Angewandte Chemie Int. Ed. 57(25) (2018) 7428-7432.