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Palaeolithic Huts at Dolní Věstonice, Czechoslovakia*

  • Bohuslav Klíma

The question of ancient artificial dwellings or huts has been the subject of lively scientific discussion recently, though notices of their discovery at various palaeolithic sites in Europe have appeared in the literature from time to time throughout the past thirty years. Most of the archaeological evidence on the subject has been collected by Soviet workers whose discoveries of traces of ancient huts (in the course of extensive excavations at several palaeolithic stations in the U.S.S.R., both in Europe and in Siberia) have extended the history of domestic architecture to the remotest times. This journal contained a detailed account of these discoveries in V. G. Childe’s article ‘Cave Men’s Buildings’ (ANTIQUITY, XXIV, 4-11). I can now report on the latest excavations at the well-known upper-palaeolithic mammoth hunters’ settlement on the Pavlov Hills near Dolni Věstonice (south Moravia, Czechoslovakia), where fresh evidence of ancient artificial human shelters has come to light during the past few years. Before doing so, I should like to point out that the identification of these hut-sites in the course of excavations is surely a sign of considerable advance in archaeology, its methods of research and principal aims. While former excavations often exploited cultural horizons with the sole object of collecting the greatest possible number of relics of ancient cultures, and particularly of rarities, recent researches have a more fundamental object: to reveal behind the mere artifact the living man and artificer himself, and thereby the conditions of his life, and the development of human society. For this reason archaeological research to-day, employing modern methods in cooperation with experts in allied sciences, endeavours first and foremost to amplify material finds by a most detailed description of the circumstances of discovery, and by a study of the inter-relation of these finds with each other and with the site. It is this that constitutes progress in archaeological science, and at the same time indicates why hut-sites were not recognized during the previous systematic excavations directed at Dolni Věstonice by Dr K. Absolon in the years 1924-38. These excavations, surely carried out in masterly fashion (for their period), are principally known through the rich collections furnished by them for the Moravian Museum at Brno, which contained many objects of considerable cultural and scientific value. The remains of huts failed however to be recognized then, although Dr Absolon expected to find evidence of dwellings of permanent construction. Dolni Věstonice is therefore chiefly known in international palaeolithic literature as the site of great accumulations of mammoth-bones, of small baked clay figurines of animals, of statuettes of women (the Vëstonice Venus, 1925), of a carved female portrait of mammoth ivory (1936), and of the oldest musical instruments.

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1 K. Absolon, ‘Die Erforschung der diluvialen Mamutjaeger-Station von Unter Wisternitz an den Pollauer Bergen in Maehren’, Arbeitsbericht fuer das zweite Jahr, 1925. Brno, 1938.

2 Arthur Keith, Illustrated London News, 2 October 1937.

3 Gley is thus described by Sir John Russell (Soil Conditions and Plant Growth, 8th edn., 1950): ‘The outstanding visual characteristic of soil layers in which strong reducing conditions prevail is the colour of the soil. On it is a light grey colour tinged with blue or green. . . . It is soil layers of this colour that are called glei or gley, a Russian peasant word for this soil’. The same author explains chernozem as a Russian word for unleached ‘black earth’ soils.—ED.

4 A more detailed analysis of the most recent loess layers is given for a Polish palaeolithic site by L. Sawicki in ‘Les conditions climatiques de la période d’accumulation du loess supérieur’, Sedimentation et Quaternaire, France, 1949.

* Sometimes, wrongly, called Vistonice (German, Unter Wisternitz) in the literature. It is about 25 miles south of Brno.

The Editor wishes to thank Mr Paul Pollak not only for translating this rather difficult and technical articles, but also for his help in preparing it for the press.

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  • ISSN: 0003-598X
  • EISSN: 1745-1744
  • URL: /core/journals/antiquity
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