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photo M. Biernacki
The Obłazowa Cave was inhabited by humans several times. This is indicated by the settlement levels seen in a number of deposit strata. A number of Mousterian artefacts was found in the river series and at the bottom/in the floor of the transitional series. Artefacts dating from the Upper Palaeolithic were discovered in the upper part of the transitional series (layer XI) and within the clayey and rubble-like sequence (layer VIII and those above). Another problem concerns the artefacts found beyond the intact system of the above presented series, i.e. in the pit ("layer" XXII).
In the chamber, a very interesting construction was found in the layer VIII near the limestone wall. It has the form of an irregular circle and was built of massive granite and quarzite boulders. The Pavlovian people delimited the area of this construction and dug a nearly 2 m-deep pit in the entrance area of the cave. As a consequence, the construction was on a platform higher than the heads of the people entering the cave.
The industries discovered in the Middle and Upper Palaeolithic layers of the Obłazowa represent the typical inventories known from a lot of other hunting sites. Only the assemblage of layer VIII (early eastern Gravettian, Pavlovian) has a very unusual character which differs fundamentally from the rest of the material.
The layer VIII has a high content of humus. Here a circle-like collection of solid granite and quartzite boulders and big sandstone plate has been identified. They must have been brought here from the nearby river. It can be assumed that they used to form some kind of construction (dwelling place? cultural significance? other functions?). A number of quite unusual Upper Palaeolithic artefacts have been found around the three biggest adjoining stones.
The inventory of artefacts made of organic material are diversified. The most representative one is an arched/curved item made of mammoth's tusk which can be interpreted as a boomerang. It was made of mammoth tusk which convex face is in fact the external tusk surface and exhibits some scratches which probably originated during the animal's life, except for thin scratches oblique in respect to the axis at one of the ends. On the other side it is almost flat as a result of polishing and shows several scratched lines of two kinds, both as a result of human activity. The first one, very thin and almost parallel intersecting/crossing lines at one end, can be interpreted as a traces of holder forming. Similar lines are also visible on the internal surface. The second kind of lines, deeper and larger, accentuate the shape in such a way that they can be treated as a sort of decoration. They are best visible at the opposite end where they show tendency to crossing. Some lines perhaps appeared as an affect of post-depositing processes. In the fissures red pigment is present.
Central part of the concentration with boomerang (layer VIII)
The inventory also includes two antler wedges which can be classified as mining girders. One of them is meticulously finished and can easily notice marks where it was cut off of the antlers, notches and, in particular, the engraved decoration of arches. Both have flat tips.
The other articles of adornment recovered from this layer include a horn perforator and three pendants made of perforated canine teeth of fox or arctic fox (Alopex lagopus) were also recovered in this layer. An oval bead has also been included in the collection of artefacts made of bone. A pendant (or whistle decoy used for hunting or other practices?) made of a perforated (notched) Conus shell was also discovered which was recovered from fossil sediments as well as a fragment of another shell of the same species; both with rests of red coloured pigment.
Three pendants made of perforated canine teeth of arctic fox (1), horn perforator (2) and bone bead (3, 4) - layer VIII
Pendants made of Conus shells (layer VIII)
Two antler mining wedges - layer VIII
Scratches lines on the surface of mammoth's tusk boomerang - layer VIII
Core of patinated flint (1-3) and pre-core made of ¦wieciechów flint (4-5) - layer VIII
End-scrapers of rock crystal and green radiolarite - layer VIII
The results of the multidisciplinary research in the Obłazowa Cave have not yet been synthetically published up to now. A monograph is quite ready. Only some papers have been published during the excavations dedicated mainly to the discovery of the oldest boomerang in the world manufactured of a mammoth tusk. In these publications the remains of level VIII were thought to be from a more or less typical hunting camp, perhaps of seasonal character, far away from the basic camps situated e.g. in Moravia. The inventory was declared a special set of weapon composed by a boomerang and the most important stone implements like end-scrapers and some pre-cores and cores intended as raw material for the preparation of tools needed for the next hunting expedition. The wedges made of horn-cores could also be explained as tools related to mining activities in the vicinity of Obłazowa Cave, used for the extraction of local radiolarite.
However, a few of the other elements of layer VIII looked very strange in its context and did not correspond to the interpretation as a camp-site. After a long and intensive analysis and based on our present knowledge of all elements of layer VIII, the stratigraphy of the cave and the general archaeological context of the Obłazowa, we are now inclined to suggest a totally different interpretation of the findings.
The Palaeolithic man transported the big blocks from the neighbouring Pra-Białka river valley into the cave. We can postulate a similar provenience for a sandstone plate found inside of the circle. The boomerang was situated in the centre of this stone circle. In the vicinity of the boomerang a distal thumb phalanx of a adult human left hand was discovered. And a second phalanx was near the granite boulder. Some of the artefacts - the boomerang itself, Conus shells, mining tool and hammer stone, have traces of a red colour pigment rich in iron. The human distal left phalanx, the bone perforator and the horn-core wedge were AMS dated by the Oxford Laboratory to about 30,000 years BP (the result of phalanx is 31 000 ± 550 B.P.).
All of these elements can be explained as the remains of a ceremonial place, because here we have a lot of relatively rare and unusual and precious artefacts, which are well-preserved and in undisturbed condition. The red ochre occurred and in the sediments is not the typical cultural rubbish, as are animals bone fragments, flakes etc. found on other sites. The presence of only two parts of human fingers and the fact that no other parts of the human skeleton could be fount although the sediment was wet screened with fine sieves (less than 1 mm) seems to be very significante.
Distal thumb phalanx of adult human left hand
Phalanx of little finger
The finds of parts of human fingers in the context of early Gravettian should be related to the old discussion about the explanation of the pictures of positive and negative presentation of hands, often with incomplete fingers.
It is not necessary to remember again some most important hypotheses connected with this subject and the review of some practices documented by ethnologists and cultural anthropologists from Hottentots and Bushmens from Kalahari, Aborigines from Australia or from pre-Columbian Inca or generally Indian groups from America. The last presented opinion, does not accept the hypothesis about ritual cutting of fingers or finger-cutting with "medical" purposes. Instead, an explanation of curved fingers and the "language of symbols" is proposed.
The Obłazowa discovery can be a crucial argument for understanding of Gargas phenomenon.