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The Zooarchaeology of Sirgenstein Cave: A Middle and Upper Paleolithic site in the Swabian Jura, SW Germany

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Abstract

The Swabian Jura of southwestern Germany contains some of the oldest and richest Aurignacian assemblages in Europe and has been intensively studied for over 160 years. Sirgenstein, excavated in 1906, is one of the iconic caves in the region that in 2017 were awarded the UNESCO World Heritage status and preserves a sequence that spans the Middle and Upper Paleolithic. Here, we present the results of a comprehensive zooarchaeological study of the macro-vertebrates from the site and a new set of 16 radiocarbon dates. The analysis of the fauna shows an increase in the exploitation of birds and hares starting with the Aurignacian, contrary to the traditional view that in Central Europe the shift from the Middle to the Upper Paleolithic does not involve hunting diversification as seen in the Mediterranean basin. Carnivores and birds of prey also contributed to the accumulation of the assemblage. The radiocarbon dates not only support the antiquity of the Swabian Aurignacian, but also document a high degree of mixing of the Sirgenstein materials.

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All data generated or analyzed during this study are included in this published article and its supplementary information files.

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Acknowledgements

This study was funded in part by the Department of Early Prehistory and Quaternary Ecology of the University of Tübingen and by the Tübingen Senckenberg Centre for Human Evolution and Paleoenvironment. We thank Thomas Rathgeber for access to the materials stored at the State Museum of Natural History in Stuttgart, Ingmar Werneburg for access to the materials stored at the Palaeontology Museum of the University of Tübingen, and Viola Schmid and Mima Fatima Batalovic for access to the materials stored at the Department of Early Prehistory and Quaternary Ecology of the University of Tübingen. Susanne Münzel offered precious advice on the identification of Pleistocene mammals from the Swabian Jura and the aging of cave bear teeth. Angel Blanco-Lapaz identified the fish remains from Sirgenstein and helped with several logistical matters. Dorothée Drucker, Hervé Bocherens, and Martin Cotte offered advice and help with the sampling of faunal remains for radiocarbon dating, which was performed by Irka Hajdas. Peter Tung helped compiling the information in table S1. Early stages of this project greatly benefitted from discussions with Hervé Bocherens, Sara Rhodes, Gillian Wong, Giulia Toniato, Chris Baumann, Sybille Wolf, Ewa Dutkiewicz, Alexander Janas, and Keiko Kitagawa. The thoughtful comments of Teresa Steele, Shannon McPherron, and three anonymous reviewers helped to improve the final version of this paper.

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All authors contributed to the study conception and design. Data collection and analysis were performed by Alex Bertacchi and Britt Starkovich. The first draft of the manuscript was written by Alex Bertacchi and all authors commented on previous versions of the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Bertacchi, A., Starkovich, B.M. & Conard, N.J. The Zooarchaeology of Sirgenstein Cave: A Middle and Upper Paleolithic site in the Swabian Jura, SW Germany. J Paleo Arch 4, 7 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s41982-021-00075-8

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