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Beyond the Bounds of Western Europe: Paleolithic Art in the Balkan Peninsula

Abstract

Paleolithic art offers unique perspectives on prehistoric societies and cultures. It is also considered a key component of modern human behavior. Until recently, Paleolithic artworks were thought to be geographically restricted to a very few areas, especially southwestern Europe. Discoveries of art in other parts of Europe and other parts of the globe have challenged this vision, expanding the documented distribution of this important cultural phenomenon. As a consequence, there has been renewed interest in less well-known areas, with the goal of determining whether the current lack of art is a reflection of a past reality, the product of limited research, or a matter of preservation. One of these regions is the Balkan Peninsula, a key area for understanding Upper Paleolithic societies given its location at the crossroads of several migration routes into Europe. This article provides a comprehensive overview of the Paleolithic symbolic products, including both rock art and portable art from the Balkans. Recent research has led to new discoveries and insights into the symbolism of this long-neglected area. The present review, combining existing literature and new fieldwork, sheds new light on social and cultural interactions in this part of the continent and leads to a better understanding of its role within the European Upper Paleolithic cultural sphere.

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Acknowledgements

Most of the results presented in this manuscript are part of the BALKARTS (Looking for the Origins of Art: BALKans Archaeological Rock arT Survey) project, led by AR-R, and funded by the French State within the framework of the ‘Investments for the future’ Programme IdEx University of Bordeaux (reference ANR-10-IDEX-03-02). AR-R has also received financial support from the British Academy through a Newton International Fellowship. We are grateful to the Archaeological Museum of Istria (AMI) for contributing its technical and human resources to the work in Romualdova pećina. In Serbia, this work has received financial support from the Ministry of Culture and Information and the Ministry of Education and Science of the Republic of Serbia, project no. 177,023. We are thankful to D. Vujević (Dept. of Archaeology, University of Zadar) for sharing with us contextual data about portable art from Vlakno cave and for providing photos of materials from the site shown in Fig. 9.

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Correspondence to Aitor Ruiz-Redondo.

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Ruiz-Redondo, A., Garate, D., González-Morales, M.R. et al. Beyond the Bounds of Western Europe: Paleolithic Art in the Balkan Peninsula. J World Prehist 33, 425–455 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10963-020-09147-z

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Keywords

  • Upper Paleolithic
  • Rock art
  • Portable art
  • Balkan Peninsula
  • Southeastern Europe
  • Symbolic behavior