Oldest mammoth-ivory workshop discovered

Archaeologists have revealed the oldest ivory workshop in the world, in Germany’s Saxony-Anhalt region.

The 35,000 year old site shows evidence of clearly distinct working areas, which the researchers say are standardized workshops.

It was possible to identify a zone where pieces of ivory were split into lamella, as well as a second area where the pieces had been carved and their waste had been discarded,” says the Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum team.

“Some ivory beads and rough outs of unfinished products were also found amongst this debris, alongside several other ivory objects, including a decorated rod and fragments of a three-dimensionally modified object, very likely an object of art.”

The craftspeople were early modern humans, who probably found themammoth ivory lying around – either as part of the carcasses of mammoths which had died here naturally, or from the victims of expert hunters.

In the case of the latter scenario, the mammoths could even have been hunted by Neanderthals, which only became extinct a few thousand years before the site was taken over by modern humans.

The researchers point out that while most settlements of similar age consist mainly of caves, this one is not only out in the open, but of exceptionally large size.

“In the open, as at Breitenbach, humans had the possibility to organise their space more or less free of restrictions or preconditions and establish structures which allow us to reconstruct the daily life of this period at the highest resolution,” they say.

“This will enable us to gain new insights into the complexity and spatial organisation of an early Upper Palaeolithic settlement site, where evidence of personal adornment, art, music or even burials, which are to date hardly known from this period, can also be expected.”