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Looking for the earliest European home with an ERC Consolidator Grant

During the Late Pleistocene, Europe was a cold and unforgiving place to live. Even so, groups of early modern humans roamed around, just like their Neanderthal counterparts. It is unclear what kind of dwellings these people inhabited to shelter them against the elements, especially in regions without naturally occurring caves. Now, Dr Wei Chu has received an ERC Consolidator Grant to look for evidence of dwellings in his project called HOME: Palaeolithic shelters in East-Central Europe.

In between caves

When thinking of habitation for Pleistocene humans, you are bound to get the association with caves. ‘And in this project we will certainly explore caves’, Wei notes. ‘But a cave is a very special type of shelter. It is not mobile and only located in specific parts of the landscape. For this period we are talking about highly mobile hunter-gatherer populations. Which leaves the question how they were living in between locations with caves.’

Mammoth bone houses

Another known structure from this period are mammoth bone houses in the loss belts of Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine. ‘These structures have always been assumed to have been shelters. Only recently this came under suspicion. New work has shown that they may have served a different function, like areas for food storage, or ritual mounds.’ It is certain that the humans traversing the continent needed shelter. ‘How else would you survive the winter? We are exploring the idea of temporary shelters, which can be an effective solution for thermoregulation.’

Wikimedia Commons
A potential reconstruction of a mammoth bone structure


So how would one investigate a broad topic like this? ‘With a lot of fieldwork,’ Chu chuckles. ‘We will be exploring a part of Eastern Europe that has a lot of promise. The region has traditionally been under-researched, and we will invest in modern excavation and remote sensing techniques.’ Chu will assemble a team of two PhD's and two Postdocs to investigate areas that are known for their wide-spread archaeological deposits. ‘And we will look for anomalies, things that may indicate different types of site activity.’

Living in the Late Pleistocene

The mammoth bone structures are also on the menu. ‘We want to get a better grip on what this was used for over time. These were not static structures.’ The research project aims to get a better understanding of how people in the Late Pleistocene were living. ‘We expect to see changes in the way people are living over time as well.’

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