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Bednarik, R.G. The Lower Paleolithic Engravings of Bilzingsleben, Germany. Encyclopedia. Available online: (accessed on 25 May 2024).
Bednarik RG. The Lower Paleolithic Engravings of Bilzingsleben, Germany. Encyclopedia. Available at: Accessed May 25, 2024.
Bednarik, Robert G.. "The Lower Paleolithic Engravings of Bilzingsleben, Germany" Encyclopedia, (accessed May 25, 2024).
Bednarik, R.G. (2024, April 28). The Lower Paleolithic Engravings of Bilzingsleben, Germany. In Encyclopedia.
Bednarik, Robert G.. "The Lower Paleolithic Engravings of Bilzingsleben, Germany." Encyclopedia. Web. 28 April, 2024.
Peer Reviewed
The Lower Paleolithic Engravings of Bilzingsleben, Germany

Some of the earliest known engravings are described, analyzed, and interpreted, following their microscopic examination. They are of significance in exploring the cognitive evolution of hominins several hundred thousand years ago and have not been described together before. The Steinrinne site near Bilzingsleben, north of Weimar, Germany, is one of Europe’s most important Lower Paleolithic occupation sites. Its extensive human habitation floor, excavated over 1000 square meters, comprises some of the world’s oldest evidence of dwellings, broadly matching or exceeding the age of examples proposed in Africa, India, and France. It has yielded numerous hominin remains, many wooden artefacts, other exquisitely preserved organic remains, and more portable engravings than any other Middle Pleistocene site. The latter are reviewed here, presenting the results of a detailed microscopic examination of the main finds. Bilzingsleben has so far produced the largest number of engraved Lower Paleolithic objects reported, which are particularly important to exploring the cognitive developments of hominins.

earliest engravings cognition human evolution Lower Paleolithic Homo erectus
If we are interested in the cognitive evolution of early humans and how they managed to create their first constructs of reality, the most important archaeological evidence we can expect to uncover consists of the finds considered art-like (i.e., paleoart). Such artifacts extend back to the Lower Paleolithic (roughly 2.6 million years to 250,000 years ago), spanning the earliest human stone tool use. The late part of that period yielded several forms of paleoart, e.g., beads, proto-figurines, engraved marks, or ochre use, the most common being surface engravings on various materials. The Bilzingsleben site has so far provided the largest number of such very early engravings [1][2][3], and they are reviewed here.
As they were published only in German initially [4], most English-speaking commentators remained unaware of the engraved finds from the Bilzingsleben Steinrinne until they were subjected to international debate in English [5]. Subsequent commentators claimed that these objects (and various others) were only published after their assessment of early symbolism [6] had appeared. This is a common problem for anglophone archaeologists; they are often unaware of material available in other languages [7]. One commentator initially accepted the authenticity of the Bilzingsleben markings [8], instead questioning their purported age [9]. After visiting the find site and examining the material, he conceded that he ‘was wrong to give the impression that [he] could attack the stratigraphic dating to the Holstein interglacial complex’ [10], but now he attacked the significance of the markings instead. Having earlier accepted their intentionality, based on superb photographs, he now argued that they were incidental cut marks.
Only four marked objects from Bilzingsleben have been described in detail in English. The organic residues from the Steinrinne site are exceptionally well preserved due to travertine precipitation from a mineral spring at the locality [11] and include large quantities of vegetational [12] and malacological [13] remains. Possibly about 350,000 years old [14], the site dates from the Holstein Interglacial (MIS 9e). The excavated 1000-square-metre occupation floor shows distinctive patterning of activity zones [15][16], including apparent dwelling remains [17][18]. Lower Paleolithic windbreaks or dwelling foundations of similar or even earlier ages have been reported from various sites in Eurasia and Africa [19]. Twenty-five cranial fragments and seven molars from the site are said to be of a late Homo erectus [20], whose well over 100,000 recovered artefacts include polished ivory points, wooden staffs, and a series of incised objects. The animal remains feature a high proportion of large mammals, especially rhinoceros (26.6% of mammalian individuals), with extensive evidence of systematic butchering. The marked objects also consist primarily of bones from large animals [5].
Engraved object No. 1, made from the flat spall of the tibia of a straight-tusked elephant (Palaeoloxodon antiquus), was probably used as a percussion tool. Object 2 from Bilzingsleben is the distal part of a flat rib bearing a series of identically angled parallel incisions over the width of the rib. Each mark consists of several separate applications of the engraving tool, which suggests a careful, intentional procedure. The object is unsuitable as a cutting board, and no convincing utilitarian explanation for the marks or their consistent arrangement has been offered. Object 3, a retouched artefact believed to have been used for woodworking, is again from an elephantine bone. It bears a series of long convergent lines of extraordinary straightness. They are evenly engraved, and the multiple applications of a particular tool point with two minute projections is evident. Object 4 is a flat piece of bone with a series of more cut marks, all of which are thought to have been made by the same stone implement.
In addition to these four previously described artefacts, four other engraved objects have been excavated at the Bilzingsleben hominin site. They were found among significant numbers of bone and antler fragments bearing taphonomic (e.g., trampling) or defleshing marks and include four items to which we wish to draw attention. First, another bone artefact should be considered here, bearing numerous linear markings forming a consistent pattern. A large polished ivory point made from a split elephant tusk also warrants attention. The site has yielded numerous examples of large bone and ivory artefacts that were expertly split with wedges, involving a complicated manufacturing process. An apparently non-utilitarian, intentional marking occurs also on a slab of quartzite. Finally, another bone bearing a set of convergent lines has only been found and reported recently.
The site’s location is N 51°16′20.27″–E 11°03′34.87″. Its elevation is 168 m a.s.l., and it is situated about 1.2 km southwest of Bilzingsleben township and accessible from there by road.


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  2. Joordens, J.C.; d’Errico, F.; Wesselingh, F.P.; Munro, S.; De Vos, J.; Wallinga, J.; Ankjærgaard, C.; Reimann, T.; Wijbrans, J.R.; Kuiper, K.F.; et al. Homo erectus at Trinil in Java used shells for tool production and engraving. Nature 2014, 518, 228–231.
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  14. Schwarcz, H.P.; Grun, R.; Latham, A.G.; Mania, D.; Brunnacker, K. The Bilzingsleben archaeological site: New dating evidence. Archaeometry 1988, 30, 5–7.
  15. Mania, D. The zonal division of the Lower Palaeolithic open-air site Bilzingsleben. Anthropologie 1991, 29, 17–24.
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  18. Mania, D.; Vlček, E. Homo erectus from Bilzingsleben (GDR). His culture and his environment. Anthropologie 1987, 25, 1–45.
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