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J Hum Evol. 2006 Dec;51(6):551-79. Epub 2006 Jul 25.

A critical review of the German Paleolithic hominin record.

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  • 1Forschungsbereich Altsteinzeit des Römisch-Germanischen Zentralmuseums, Schloss Monrepos, D-56567 Neuwied, Germany.


We review the hominin fossil record from western Central Europe in light of the recent major revisions of the geochronological context. The mandible from Mauer (Homo heidelbergensis), dated to circa 500,000 years ago, continues to represent the earliest German hominin and may coincide with the occupation of Europe north of the high alpine mountain chains. Only limited new evidence is available for the Middle Pleistocene, mostly in the form of skull fragments, a pattern that may relate to taphonomic processes. These finds and their ages suggest the gradual evolution of a suite of Neandertal features during this period. Despite new finds of classic Neandertals, there is no clear proof for Neandertal burial from Germany. Alternatively, cut marks on a skull fragment from the Neandertal type site suggest special treatment of that individual. New Accelerator Mass Spectrometry (AMS) radiocarbon dates of previous finds leave little reliably dated evidence for anatomically modern humans (AMH) in Europe before 30,000 BP; the remains from Hahnöfersand, Binshof-Speyer, Paderborn-Sande, and Vogelherd are now of Holocene age. Thus, a correlation of AMH with the Aurignacian remains to be proven, and the general idea of a long coexistence of Neandertals and AMH in Europe may be questioned. In western Central Europe, evidence of Gravettian human fossils is also very limited, although a new double grave from lower Austria may be relevant. The only dated burial from the German Upper Paleolithic (from Mittlere Klause) falls into a time period (circa 18,600 BP) represented by only a few occupation sites in western Central Europe. A number of human remains at Magdalenian sites appear to result from variable (secondary) burial practices. In contrast, the Final Paleolithic (circa 12,000-9600 cal. BC) yields an increase of hominin finds, including multiple burials (Bonn-Oberkassel, Neuwied-Irlich), similar to the situation in western and southern Europe.

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