Numerous gravel quarries in the middle Elbe valley near Magdeburg have already yielded many significant archaeological discoveries from the period between the Middle Pleistocene (Weichselian glaciation) and the modern era.

At the Barleben-Adamsee gravel quarry, in addition to flint tools, five fragments of turtle shells between 42,000 and 50,000 years old have been found. These may have constituted easily transportable food reserves, carried as living provisions by ancient humans or Neanderthals.

In the Adamsee lake area near Barleben (Börde district), gravel accumulation occurred over a period of several tens of thousands of years. Since gravel extraction is conducted with bucket dredgers below the water table, observing the find layers is not possible.

Dredge at the Barleben-Adamsee site
Dredge at the Barleben-Adamsee site. Credit: Uwe Beye / Landesamt für Denkmalpflege und Archäologie Sachsen-Anhalt

Thus, dating is only possible through the shape of the tools or, especially for organic finds, through scientific methods (such as radiocarbon dating). The finds are generally recovered from the vibrating sieve of the dredger.

Here, volunteer archaeologists play an important role. In the case of the Barleben-Adamsee gravel quarry, the finds from recent years are especially attributed to Uwe Beye.

Not only have approximately 180 flint artifacts (including hand axes, other tools, cores, and flakes) been found at Adamsee, but also a very special find from the gravel quarry. Already in 1998/99, a 41.8-centimeter-long point made from a bovine rib (aurochs or bison) was discovered. The part of the bone pointing toward the sternum was carefully shaped into a long and slender point, about 12 centimeters in length.

Fragment of flint stone tool with blade point and retouched surface from Lake Adamsee
Fragment of flint stone tool with blade point and retouched surface from Lake Adamsee. Credit: Juraj Lipták / Landesamt für Denkmalpflege und Archäologie Sachsen-Anhalt

Radiocarbon dating places the time of the animal’s death, with a 95% probability, between 32,992 and 32,406 BC, at the end of the Middle Paleolithic or the beginning of the Upper Paleolithic. This makes the find one of the oldest polished bone tools in Central Germany.

Stone artifacts from the same period include fragments of a “leaf point”, which can be compared to finds from the Ilsenhöhle cave in Ranis, Thuringia. There, a research team, in collaboration with the Saxony-Anhalt State Office for Monument Preservation and Archaeology, identified modern humans as the creators of these tools 45,000 years ago, as previously, leaf points were associated with Neanderthals.

Among the recent finds at Adamsee, five fragments of turtle shells are notable, which can be attributed to the European freshwater turtle (Emys orbicularis). All fragments were dated twice using the radiocarbon method, indicating a period of between 50,000 and 42,000 years from the present.

Worked rib of a bovid (Ur or bison) from the Barleben-Adamsee gravel pit
Worked rib of a bovid (Ur or bison) from the Barleben-Adamsee gravel pit. Credit: Juraj Lipták / Landesamt für Denkmalpflege und Archäologie Sachsen-Anhalt

Thus, the turtles lived during the Weichselian glaciation, an unexpected dating for Central Europe, as the eggs that turtles lay on land require a temperature of over 18 to 20 degrees Celsius for the hatchlings to develop.

The Barleben-Adamsee finds may be outside the natural distribution range of the European freshwater turtle at that time, raising the question of their origin. Ethnographic and historical comparisons show that people used to carry turtles as provisions, somewhat like “living preserves”, on their travels.

These animals are easy to transport and offer a source of fresh meat even if hunting is unsuccessful. It’s possible that Ice Age hunters, Neanderthals, or early modern humans carried turtles to colder northern regions. Whether this is the case or not will be shown by future investigations.


Sources

Landesamt für Denkmalpflege und Archäologie Sachsen-Anhalt


  • Share this article:

Something went wrong. Please refresh the page and/or try again.