Archaeologists explore evidence of early modern human stone tool manufacturing in Romania

The latest season of excavations at Românești has provided evidence that the site was geared towards producing particular types of stone tools.

Recent excavations at the archaeological site of Româneşti, in the Banat region of western Romania, have provided new evidence suggesting it may have been used by early modern humans as a stone tool workshop.

The artefactual and early modern human fossil record indicates that the Aurignacian culture (c. 43,000-29,000 years ago) arose in the upper Danube region shortly after the expansion of early modern humans into Europe during the Upper Palaeolithic, with the river being used as a main route of migration.

The Banat region has produced a wealth of ancient human sites, such as the Oase Cave, where some of the oldest early modern human remains have been found.

Previous excavations at Românești (in 1960-1964 and 1967-1972) revealed layers of Early and Middle Aurignacian lithic assemblages, which was confirmed in a later study to date from between c. 42,000 and 39,000 years ago.

Use-wear traces found on lithic artifacts from the Aurignacian layer excavated at Românești. The team identified limited evidence of tools being used for animal hide and bone scraping (a and b), wood scraping (c), as well as signs of lithic fractures (d). IMAGE: Chu et al. 2022, Scientific Reports.

Now, an international team of researchers has reported the results from the latest season of excavations, carried out from 2016-2019, at Românești.

The team recovered thousands of artefacts from three stratigraphic layers associated with the Epigravettian, Aurignacian, and Middle Palaeolithic.

The Aurignacian layer contained a dense accumulation of stone lithics, which included several burins and endscrapers, but primarily consisted of standardised chipped stone blades and bladelets that could have been used as inserts for spears or arrows.

Microscopic analysis of a sample of 209 lithics revealed that most of them showed no evidence of use-wear. Only a handful exhibited signs of having been used for activities such as hide-scraping, bone-scraping, and vegetable cutting.

Taken together, the evidence supports a theory suggested in a 2012 study that Româneşti was used as a stone tool workshop. The lithics found likely represent the discarded forms or by-products of manufactured tools that were then transported elsewhere.

Further scientific analyses identified potential traces of the use of fire on the site, and also found chemical signatures in obsidian material that match an obsidian outcrop 300km away in modern-day Slovakia.

Though this result is still tentative, it could support current evidence of Româneşti’s significance within the landscape of Europe’s early modern humans.

The research has been recently published in Scientific Reports.