The antler finds at Bilzingsleben, excavations 1969-1993

Dr Jürgen Vollbrecht

Feuerwehrweg 22, 02906 Kreba-Neudorf.

Cite this as: Vollbrecht, J. 2000 The antler finds at Bilzingsleben, excavations 1969-1993, Internet Archaeology 8.


German version


2820 antler remains from the Lower Palaeolithic site of Bilzingsleben, Thuringia, Germany (excavations 1969-1993) were the subject of detailed investigations. The two major goals were:

  1. the consideration of taphonomic aspects
  2. the critical evaluation of suggestions about artificial modifications to the antler material

A detailed morphological description of the antler material provided the basis for the investigation. A prerequisite was the transfer of provenance data onto an x-y coordinate grid.

Taphonomic aspects considered in this work include the relative frequencies of antler elements, estimates regarding the minimum number of individual deer, their age structure and seasonality, and, insofar as the condition of the antlers allowed, the classification of surface preservation, size classes and spatial distribution of the finds.

The assemblage of antler finds, the majority of which seems to have come from red deer, is dominated by small fragments, mostly of tines. About one quarter of the finds are larger than 150 mm. Lower beams are more abundant than upper beams (e.g. crowns). Detailed counting, substantiated by systematic reconstruction, shows that in general the antlers are incomplete.

After reconstruction of unshed antlers, it was possible to assess the minimum number of heads at 150 animals. Preliminary counting of postcranial and cranial (non antler) cervid material points to about 70 cervids. Intentional accumulation of antlers by hominids can only be accepted as the reason for these disproportionate figures if other site formation processes can be ruled out. In fact, the correlation between sediment thickness and maximum antler densities, at least for finds smaller than 120mm, suggests that fluvial accumulation has to be taken into account as a probable element of the site formation history. Further, the mixture of unifacially abraded finds together with finds that exhibit bifacial abrasion points to a succession of changing fluvial environments in the area of accumulation. More investigation is needed to help the understanding of site formation processes, without which head counts and evaluations of age structures and seasonality of the antler material are of little use for examining hominid contribution to the antler accumulation.

Hominids are represented in Bilzingsleben by 30 cranial fragments. A very large number of stone artefacts confirms intensive hominid occupation. Nevertheless, the breaking of antlers, by far the main reason for the fragmentation of complete antlers, cannot definitely be attributed to hominids. Causes other than hominid activities need to be considered including sediment pressure (and subsequent dislocation of finds?) and trampling by large animals. Desiccation is responsible for the disintegration of cervid skulls with unshed antlers. The destruction of antlers by natural processes must be seen in conjunction with the fact that only five of the total antler finds exhibit possible use. On the basis of these observations, the suggestion that the modifications to the antler material were caused by hominid activities cannot be supported.

As long as the last small portion of the shore terrace, bigger parts of the 'pavement', and areas of the diluvial fan and the lake shore are preserved, future excavations at Bilzingsleben still offer a fascinating opportunity to focus research on the site formation processes which led to the accumulation of the material.

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