Did Prehistoric Middle Eastern Culture Visit Europe, Spawn Artistic Culture, and Leave?
A team of archaeologists investigating a cave in Israel, claims to have found evidence that prehistoric tools and artwork from Western Europe could possibly owe their existence to an earlier culture from the Middle East.
The Two First Modern Human Cultures
Carbon dating of prehistoric layers in Manot Cave in Israel supports a questionable theory that the Ahmarian culture of the Levant predated the Aurignacian culture of Europe by thousands of years as Haaretz reports.
New theories of origins unearthed. Manot Cave in Israel (CC BY-SA 3.0)
The Ahmarian and Aurignacian cultures were the first two modern human cultures and definitely coexisted for thousands of years as scientists have concluded. However, there are many unanswered questions as to which one preceded the other, while there are some scientists who suggest that the advanced Aurignacian culture of Europe may have stemmed from the primitive Ahmarian culture, contrary to those who believe that the latter developed separately.
Illustration of Ahmarian culture stone tools (Source: Cambridge.org)
Both cultures involved morphologically contemporary humans, but the primordial Ahmarians continued to create tools mainly from stone, while Aurignacians began making tools from bone.
“Löwenmensch figurine, found in the Hohlenstein-Stadel cave of Germany's Swabian Alb and dated at 40,000 years old, is associated with the Aurignacian culture and is the oldest known anthropomorphic animal figurine in the world.” (Public Domain)
Aurignacian Culture may be a Product of Ahmarian Culture
A team of archaeologists dated the Ahmarian-occupied Manot Cave in Northern Israel and found that Ahmarians lived in the region around 42,000 to 46,000 years ago, which means that they existed before the Aurignacians. Interestingly, the new evidence proposes that at some point the Ahmarians “invaded” European lands and gave rise to the entire Aurignacian culture. If that theory is proven to be true, it would weaken the opposing theory that suggests that the two cultures coexisted and evolved at the same period of time, separately from each other.
Skull discovered in Manot Cave in 2015. (Credit: Clara Amit/Israel Antiquities Authority)
“Once we see a sequence from the Levant to Europe, from the older to the younger, we can confirm that the dispersal model of the Ahmarian-Aurignacian is right. If in the Levant this culture is 46,000 years old and in Europe it’s 40,000 then it makes sense to say that the direction is from the Levant to Europe,” co-lead excavator Omry Barzilai, an archaeologist with the Israel Antiquities Authority told Haaretz.
Tales from Manot Cave
Manot is a nearly-sealed prehistoric cave located in the rocky hills of western Galilee, Israel which was discovered in 2008 by spelunkers rappelling through a newly opened roof. Rockfalls had blocked off the entrance about 15,000 to 30,000 years ago. Excavations since 2010 have uncovered a trove of charcoal, bones, flint, and archaeological artifacts dating to the Upper Paleolithic era, and have shown that it was intensely occupied during that period, notes the website Antiquity. According to reports from Case Western Reserve University (CWRU), Manot is found on the “the only land route available for ancient humans to travel out of Africa to the Middle East, Asia and Europe.”
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It is notable for the discovery of a skull that belongs to a modern human, which is estimated to be 54,700 years old. This age implies that the specimen is the oldest known human outside Africa, and is evidence that modern humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals. The cave is also important from an archaeological point of view due to its impressive archaeological record of flint and bone artifacts.
Manot Cave under excavation in 2011 (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Scientists from the Dangoor Research Accelerator Mass Spectrometry Laboratory at the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot, Israel, managed to radiocarbon date the charcoal remains from Manot Cave’s hearths. They have concluded the following chronologies for the cave, based on radiocarbon dating: an Early Ahmarian phase (46,000-42,000 BC), a Levantine Aurignacian phase (38,000-34,000 BC), and a post-Levantine Aurignacian phase (34,000-33 BC).
“We were able to date levels containing tools from each culture. The Middle Eastern Ahmarians developed predominantly stone tools, while the later European Aurignacians developed bone tools,” Elisabetta Boaretto, director of Weizmann’s Kimmel Center for Archaeological Science, told Haaretz.
Earlier this year, a paper in the scientific journal Quaternary International reported details of a 38,000-year-old Aurignacian engraved image in France.
“The culture is known for its artwork, including cave paintings and elaborately carved jewelry,” Barzilai told Haaretz, and added, “The Aurignacians are the people who begin the sequence of cultures of modern humans in Europe, who develop cave paintings and elaborate jewelry. They are completely different from the Neanderthals and their toolkit is very distinguishable from the Mousterian.”
Interior of Manot cave (Simon Fraser University/CC BY 2.0)
They Came, They Saw, They Went Home?
Barzilai is also one of the authors of a paper published in November in the journal Science Advances, revealing that even though the diaspora throughout Europe was spreading, it wasn’t an exclusive destination for all the Aurignacians.
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“Around 38,000 years ago, some of them went back to the Middle East, reoccupying Manot Cave and others like it, possibly pushed by changing temperatures in the ice age. Think of it like this: they went to northern Europe, made a U-turn, and came back,” Barzilai tells Haaretz.
Ultimately, as the Science Advances paper suggests, there are four additional sites (other than Manot) that have close connections in radiocarbon dates: three rock shelters on the Mediterranean coast and one in the Jordan Valley. All of the prehistoric cave-art sites discovered to this day have been in Europe, created by Aurignacians, as Haaretz reports.
Top Image: Pendant, Aurignacian culture, 31000-24000 BC (Public Domain)