One Of The Last Uluzzian Neandertal Frontiers: Fumane Cave, Italy

Dienekes pointed out another interesting paper that I want to share with you, this time on Neandertals and evidence of the Uluzzian Industry as seen from the Fumane Cave in Italy. The paper was published by Marco Peresani in the journal Current Anthropology, under the title, “A New Cultural Frontier for the Last Neanderthals: The Uluzzian in Northern Italy.” Persani describes the archaeological assemblage of the 11 layers of Fumane Cave, of which the oldest layers, 11 through 5 are Mousterian typology and the latest, 2-1 are Aurignacian. Layers 4-3 are Uluzzian, and date right at a critical transition period during human evolution — the time at which Neandertals are thought to have gone extinct in Europe (around 30,000 years ago).

The term Uluzzian was coined by Palma di Cesnola in 1988 after the observed assemblages from sites around the Bay of Uluzzo, found on the Ionian Coast. Julien Riel-Salvatore, the blogger behind A Very Remote Period Indeed, studied the Uluzzian technology and has in fact published or presented several pieces on the emergence of the Uluzzian during the transitional period of the Middle to Upper Paleolithic.

The Uluzzian is characterized from the Mousterian by larger stone tools, some bone items others splintered cores (perhaps bidirectional cores), lots of unidirectional or bidirectional cores, few burins, end scrapers, side scrapers, etc. In general, a modest modernization of the Mousterian. Some of the most famous Uluzzian sites are La Fabbrica, Castelcivita, La Cala, Grotta Brenardini, Grotta di Uluzzo (the namesake site), Grotta del Cavallo all of which are found in Italy. The Vindija cave in Croatia and the Klisoura cave in Greeze are also considered Uluzzian sites. Fumane Cave is the northernmost, now-understood-to-be Uluzzian site.

splintered piece (1), backed knives (2, 3, 6), implement with curved back (5), bladelet core (4) (drawings by S. Muratori and G. Almerigogna).
Figure 3 from the paper. Uluzzian implements found in units 3 and 4: splintered piece (1), backed knives (2, 3, 6), implement with curved back (5), bladelet core (4) (drawings by S. Muratori and G. Almerigogna).

The animal remains found in the older, deeper Mousterian levels, such as ungulates and macromammals suggest that the inhabitants regularly hunted animals found in moist/cool ecosystems… perhaps an alpine environment. Like I mentioned, layers 4-3 represent a different tool set, as if the inhabitants were (desperately?) experimenting with different technology which was replaced with the distinctly different Aurignacian formal blades and retouched tools soon after. The authors also suggest that Fumane wasn’t persistently occupied during the layer 4-3 period. All of which suggests that these last Neandertals were trying very different cultural items. Why? They had perfectly find tools… or did they?

    Marco Peresani (2008). A New Cultural Frontier for the Last Neanderthals: The Uluzzian in Northern Italy Current Anthropology, 49 (4), 725-731 DOI: 10.1086/588540

2 thoughts on “One Of The Last Uluzzian Neandertal Frontiers: Fumane Cave, Italy

  1. how can you say these are neandertal artifacts? how do you draw the line between the set of artifacts which are “neandertal” and “modern.” and how do you drawn the line about who is “neandertal” and “modern.” i’m a CAFT yo!

  2. Razib,

    You asked a really good question. I asked a colleague of mine who did several seasons of fieldwork on upper paleolithic European archaeology and she helped me a bit.

    Short answer, we can’t know for sure… especially since they originate at a time when we know modern humans were in Europe. The author of the paper runs with the notion that layers 3-11 were occupied by archaic humans, since they date to a time period when Neandertals existed in the area. Also, since Uluzzian tools have a closer affinity to Mousterian type tools, and less of a resemblance to the refined blades associated with modern humans, we have assumed that modern humans did not give up their advanced toolset for a more archaic form. But recent research has shown us that Neandertals are much more modern than we’ve given them credit for…

    I am going to try and ask Julien Riel-Salvatore to see if he has a more definitive answer. I know of some other friends who have done fieldwork at sites like Atapuerca, maybe they’ve got some tidbits as well.



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