Groß Pampau, GR, c. 500,000 BP, Anthropoidea
In addition to geometrics, including the biface or 'handaxe', female figurines, and the human head or skull, animals constitute the fourth major element in Early Paleolithic symbols systems. This gallery highlights a special motif identified at Pampau, primates, including what appear to be a macaque-like monkey and some baboon-like heads and even a proposed gorilla-like creature. The artifacts are in the collection of Ursel Benekendorff and she was the first to propose that these artifacts may be interpreted as representations of macaques and other primates. Fossil evidence for macaques does occur throughout the European Pleistocene.
For details about site and dating see Groß Pampau Gallery 1.
Credits: Photo © Ursel Benekendorff; collection Ursel Benekendorff unless otherwise noted. The site is documented in Benekendorff, U. (1990). From the information recorder stone to a picture book of the stone age. Archaeologische Berichten 20:14-28 and 43-65 (Elst, NL).
Comment: According to Kurtén (1968) Macaca (Macaca sylvanus and florentina) is the only primate--other than humans--attested in the palaeontological record during the Pleistocene [Kurtén, B. (1968). Pleistocene Mammals of Europe, Chicago: Aldine]. Stuart (1982) observes that Macaca finds are well-dated in British Isles during Cromerian and probable-dating during Hoxnian, but not thereafter. Hence, sculptures identified as representing Macaca would have a minimum dating of Hoxnian interglacial, OIS 9, 303,000-339,000 BP.
Although there is evidence of large terrestrial monkey Paradolichopithecus and a tooth of Theropithecus occur in Europe in the Late Villafranchian (1.8-2.0 MYA), there are only Macaca finds after about 1.2 Ma. [Eric Delson, personal communication].
A Theropithecus fossil is reported in: Gibert J, Ribot F, Gibert L, Leakey M, Arribas A, Martînez-Navarro B. 1995. Presence of the Cercopithecid genus Theropithecus in Cueva Victoria (Murcia, Spain). Journal of Human Evolution 28,5:487-493. The stratum is dated approximately 1 MYA.
More recently a Cercopithecid is reported for Pirro Nord, southern Italy, approximately1.31.6 MYA, the second finding outside of Africa in association with sabretooth cat (Megantereon whitei) as at Ubeidiya [Lorenzo R, Bienvenido M-N, Howell FC. 2004. Occurrence of Theropithecus sp. in the Late Villafranchian of Southern Italy and implication for Early Pleistocene out of Africa dispersals. Journal of Human Evolution 47, 4:267-277]. The attribution is questioned by Patel et al (2006) who argue that the Pirro Nord fossil cannot be confidently assigned to subgenus or genus, only subfamily Cercopithecoid [Patel BA, Gilberta CC, Ericsona KE. 2006. Cercopithecoid cervical vertebral morphology and implications for the presence of Theropithecus in Early Pleistocene Europe. Journal of Human Evolution, online 23 August 2006].
If some of the Pampau primate heads appear to depict baboonheads and we have no evidence of baboons or more generally Cercopithecids extant in northwest Europe warm times, then are we not forced to hypothesize that (a) the sculptures are = or > 1 MYA; (b) the sculptures are < 1 MYA and fossils of that younger date have yet to be found; or (c) the motif was carried in the cultural memory of the artists over hundreds of thousands of years.