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Preliminary Findings of the Balkan Paleo Project:


Evidence of Human Activity at the Gateway of Europe
During the Late Pleistocene

Stefanka Ivanova, Maria Gurova, Nikolai Spassov, Vasil Popov,


Jana Makedonska, Tsanko Tzankov, David S. Strait*

This paper describes the initial findings of the Balkan Paleo Project (BPP). This project
has two long-term objectives pertaining to hominin biogeography and behavioral ecology. First, the project seeks to augment the evidence that can be used to test hypotheses
about hominin and faunal dispersals into and out of Europe during the Pleistocene, and
to assess whether or not those dispersals were associated with glacial cycles. Second, the
project seeks to gather data that can be used to test hypotheses regarding the adaptation of
early human populations to Eurasian ecosystems, in particular the adjustment of their tool
technologies, anatomical characteristics and behaviors in response to local climates and
predator and prey diversity. These research objectives can only be achieved by identifying
and excavating a broad spectrum of archaeological and paleontological sites that span the
Pleistocene within the Balkan Peninsula. As part of this research program, the BPP has conducted surveys and excavations at various localities across Bulgaria. Results of BPP activities conducted in southern Bulgaria are reported here.

Background to the Balkan Paleo project


Nearly all hypotheses pertaining to the origin of hominins in Europe, the origin of the
Neanderthals, and the origin of modern humans relate either directly or indirectly to biogeography and ecology (e.g., Stringer 2002; Conard, Bolus 2003; Dennell, Roebroeks 2005;
Hublin 2009). Specifically, these hypotheses all make predictions concerning the timing of
hominin and other mammalian dispersals into and out of Europe, the connections between
eastern and western European hominin populations, the species-level identity of the fossil
hominins who were dispersing, and the climatic conditions that would have influenced hominin behaviors. Given that the Balkan Peninsula represents one of only two pathways into
* Corresponding author, University at Albany (NY, USA), <davidsstrait@gmail.com>

Be-JA
Bulgarian e-Journal of Archaeology

-
-

2/2012
http://be-ja.org
ISSN: 1314-5088

S. Ivanova, M. Gurova, N. Spassov, V. Popov, J. Makedonska, Ts. Tzankov, D. S. Strait

Fig. 1. Possible dispersal routes into Europe. As a generalization, hominins together with
fauna could have reached Europe either from the north of the Black Sea basin, or via the Balkan
Peninsula. Dispersals out of Europe could have used the same paths in reverse direction. Note the
geographically restricted area through which the Balkan route passes. Satellite image from Google
Earth. Figure by D. Strait and N.Spassov
. 1. .

. /
.
. Google Earth
. .
and out of Europe during the Pleistocene (the other being the Eurasian steppes north of the
Black Sea [Spassov 2003]), that Balkan climatic conditions evidently differed from those of
Western Europe, and that Bulgaria encompasses most of the Balkan corridor, it is evident
that fieldwork in Bulgaria is absolutely critical to addressing these hypotheses.
The Balkan Peninsula is positioned at the southeastern gateway of Europe. As such, it
lies upon one of very few pathways along which Pleistocene humans may have dispersed
into or out of the continent. Note that dispersal does not refer simply to the marching

Preliminary Findings of the Balkan Paleo Project: Evidence of Human Activity at the Gateway ...
of hominins into and out of the continent, but refers also to the more passive process by
which populations shift, contract or expand their ranges over time in response, presumably, to environmental conditions. These dispersals pertain to some of the most important
research questions in paleoanthropology: When did hominins first arrive in Europe (e.g.,
Spassov 2001; Arzarello et al. 2007; Guadelli et al. 2005), and to which species did they belong
(e.g., Carbonell et al., 2008)? Were hominin dispersals throughout the Pleistocene influenced
by climate change and, in particular, the advance and retreat of continental glaciers (e.g.,
Hublin 2009)? Were there cultural connections with or gene flow between hominin populations in Europe, Asia Minor and/or Eurasia at various times during the Pleistocene? When,
precisely, did anatomically modern humans disperse into Europe (e.g., Trinkaus et al. 2003;
Soficaru et al. 2005; Rougier et al. 2007; Benazzi et al. 2011; Higham et al. 2011), and does the
appearance of Upper Paleolithic tool industries coincide with this dispersal (e.g., Stringer,
2002; Benazzi et al. 2011; Higham et al. 2011)? These questions are biogeographic in nature,
and thus can be addressed at least in part by understanding the archaeological, paleontological and ecological records of the regions through which hominins dispersed. For example, regarding the earliest dispersal of Homo into Europe, an analysis of Plio-Pleistocene
Southeastern European fauna indicates that open landscapes were widespread at that time.
This evidently facilitated dispersals into Europe of faunal elements related to steppe/open
forest conditions. These dispersals may have traversed the Bosphorus corresponding to the
periodic appearance of a land bridge (Spassov 2003). Homo might reasonably be considered
to be among these open habitat species.
The number of routes along which Pleistocene hominins could have dispersed into
and out of Europe is very small. These routes are, of course, heuristic abstractions, but they
are useful concepts for focusing discussion. The proximity of northern Africa to the Iberian
Peninsula might seem to make such a route possible, but it is unlikely that a land bridge
would have joined the two continents given that the floor of the Strait of Gibraltar (the
Camarinal Sill) is of sufficient depth that it would likely have remained submerged even
during those periods in the Pleistocene when sea levels were low, and the question has
been raised as to whether or not hominins could have traversed a patent strait (e.g., Bailey
et al. 2008). Another route might involve dispersals between Eurasia and Europe along the
northern margin of the Black Sea Basin (Fig. 1), including along terrain that is currently underwater but would have been exposed periodically during the Pleistocene. Indeed, there is
evidence that hominins occupied the Crimea at Sinyaya Balka at least 1.2 mya (Shchelinsky
et al. 2010). Thus, it is plausible that hominins may have dispersed along a northern route in
the event that climatic conditions were favorable. Alternatively, dispersals along the lower
latitudes of the Mediterranean coast would certainly have been favored by milder climatic
conditions (e.g., Hublin 2009). Unfortunately, some of the evidence of a coastal dispersal is
almost certainly submerged under currently high sea levels (e.g., Bailey 2008). Likewise, direct evidence of dispersals around the southern and western margins of the Black Sea basin
(where hominins would eventually find the Danube and other river valleys that might serve
as conduits into the heart of Europe [e.g., Conard, Bolus 2003]) may also be underwater. The
last remaining likely dispersal route into and out of Europe would be across the Balkan
Peninsula (rather than along its coastal margins). Of course, the distinction between coastal
and over land routes may be artificial, but the fact remains that the modern landscape of
the peninsula is marked by several river valleys that may have been conduits of dispersal.
The potential importance of river valleys as human dispersal routes has long been noted
(e.g., Conard, Bolus 2003), and at present, there are five major river valleys (Struma, Mesta,

S. Ivanova, M. Gurova, N. Spassov, V. Popov, J. Makedonska, Ts. Tzankov, D. S. Strait

Fig. 2.
. 2.

Fig. 3.
. 3.
Fig. 2. View of Arkata from the north. The arch, from which the site complex gets its name
is visible to the right. Figure by M.Gurova
. 2. .
. .
Fig. 3. Sketch plan of the Arkata site complex, showing the location of eight caves and/or cave
niches, numbered from east to west. The arch of the rockshelter covers Caves 68.
Drawing by M. Zlatkova, S. Petkov
. 3. /
. . , .
Arda, Maritza and Tundzha, from west to east, respectively) that originate in southern Bulgaria and traverse much or part of the southern Balkan Peninsula before draining into the
Mediterranean. A caveat is that the Balkan Peninsula is tectonically active, and the present
day topography may differ from that of the Pleistocene (e.g., Tzankov et al. 2005). Nonetheless, it is a reasonable working hypothesis to suppose that these river valleys may have

Preliminary Findings of the Balkan Paleo Project: Evidence of Human Activity at the Gateway ...
played an important role in mammalian (and human) dispersals.
A full understanding of biogeography entails more than simply establishing the pattern by which hominins dispersed into and out of Europe. It also entails understanding
the processes that led to those dispersals. Thus, it will be necessary to assess the manner
in which hominins exploited resources in their environment, and whether or not their behaviors changed in association with climate change. Behavioral assessment of this kind is
needed in order understand the precise manner in which hominins may or may not have
been stressed by ecological conditions. These stresses presumably represent pressures that
would have led either to population dispersals and/or morphological/behavioral evolution.
In order to assess the biogeographic and ecological questions described above, the
BPP undertook surveys and excavations designed to identify promising sites preserving
evidence of Pleistocene occupations across Bulgaria. In 2008 and 2009, the BPP excavated at
Arkata Rockshelter overlooking the Arda River in the Eastern Rhodope Mountains. In 2010,
a survey of caves was conducted in the Strandzha Mountains east of the lower Tundzha
Valley and test excavations were undertaken in two adjacent caves, Malkata Leyarna and
Goliama Leyarna. Fossils were also collected from a known paleontological locality, Mechata Dupka. In 2011, a survey was conducted in the upper Tundzha Valley and nearby
regions in the Balkan Mountains. Excavation was undertaken in 2011 and 2012 in Magura
Cave along the southern margin of the Danube River watershed. Finally, surveys for cave
and open-air sites in northwest and northeast Bulgaria were conducted in 2012. Results
from Arkata, the Leyarna caves, and Mechata Dupka are described here.

Arkata Rockshelter
Translated into English, Arkata means the Arch. The name is apt, for it refers to the
roof of a massive rockshelter whose dominant visible feature is a stone arch left behind
by rockfall (Fig. 2). The Arkata site-complex comprises a rockshelter and eight caves and/
or cave-like niches (Fig. 3) located in the cliff of a massif overlooking the Arda River in the
eastern Rhodope Mountains of southeast Bulgaria (Fig. 4). Cave 8 (a small depression in the
wall of the rockshelter; Fig. 5) was excavated briefly in 2008, and results from that season
have been described elsewhere (Gurova, Ivanova 2008).
The site is located on the southern shore of the River Arda, 6 kilometers east of the
natural phenomenon Devils Bridge near the dam Momin kladenec. The site is in the
limestones that build the massif of the peak Erenertepe (altitude: 443.0 m), north of the
village of Oreshari (county of Krumovgrad). These rocks are a part of a large organogenic
carbonate lens in Upper Eocene sandy clays, clayey sandstones, tuffites and tuffs and their
overlapping Oligocene rhyolites (nowadays preserved north of the River Arda in the land
belonging to the village of Dolno Cherkovishte). During the Pleistocene the limestones of
the carbonate lens north of the village of Oreshari were subjected to intense karstification
and associated cave formation. Listric faults (Fig. 6) resulted in the displacement of separate
fragments of the carbonate lens and correspondingly of its caves. These processes have led
to the current position of the site, a few tens of meters above the current Arda riverbed. The
broad, arch-like feature formed during the cutting of a karst cavity in one listric fault, parallel to the River Arda and the collapse of its northern block. This fault and a few other listric
faults subparallel to it have formed the steep rock swath on the southern bank of the Arda.
In 2009, trenches were excavated in Caves 5, 7 and 8 ( . 2010). In Cave 5,

S. Ivanova, M. Gurova, N. Spassov, V. Popov, J. Makedonska, Ts. Tzankov, D. S. Strait

Fig. 4. Google Earth images of A) the Balkan Peninsula and B) the Arda River near the village of
G. Cherkovishte. The position of Arkata is indicated by arrows. Figure by D. Strait.
. 4. Google Earth ) ) . .
. . .

Preliminary Findings of the Balkan Paleo Project: Evidence of Human Activity at the Gateway ...

Fig. 5. Views of Cave 8 at Arkata as seen from the north (right panel) and west
(along the length of the rockshelter; left panel). Figure by S. Ivanova
. 5. 8 ()
( ). .
a trench measuring 2.5 by 2 meters was dug to a depth of 2.40 m from the surface (Fig. 7).
A Holocene layer, 20cm thick, contained pottery sherds from the Chalcolithic and Bronze
periods and a limited collection of undiagnostic flint artifacts. The Pleistocene sediments
contained many limestone blocks with varying degrees of weathering but were otherwise
sterile. In Cave 7 (Fig. 8), a large, pre-existing pit was cleaned to produce a 3.5m x 3m
trench. A 2040 cm thick layer was excavated in which flint artifacts, bones and fragmented
ceramics were found belong to the Chalcolithic and later periods. Quaternary sediments
were found below 80 cm depth containing limestone blocks and friable areas of weathered
limestone. A low density of artifacts (Fig. 9) was recovered belonging to the Upper Paleolithic, and it is possible that a few flakes from the deepest sediments are Middle Paleolithic.
Sixty-two artifacts were recovered, including 4 flake cores, 33 flakes, 12 blades, 5 debitage
fragments, and 1 retouched tool (an atypical scraper made from a flake). The excavation
reached bedrock at 3.5m.
In Cave 8, which is a niche in the base of the larger Arkata Rockshelter, the trench
from 2008 was expanded by 1 m to the west. Bedrock was reached at 2.53 m below the
surface, and Pleistocene sediments were similar in nature to those in Cave 7. One hundred
and thirty-eight stone artifacts with Upper Paleolithic characteristics were recovered. The
artifacts (Fig. 10) were manufactured from local raw materials including jasper and chalcedony, and consist of 2 blade cores, 73 flakes of which half possess a maximum dimension

S. Ivanova, M. Gurova, N. Spassov, V. Popov, J. Makedonska, Ts. Tzankov, D. S. Strait

Fig. 6. Paleogeographic reconstruction of the Arkata landscape. Figure by Tz. Tzankov.


. 6. .
.
of between 5 and 7 cm, 34 blades derived from unidirectional cores, and 28 amorphous
debitage fragments (debitage from production). There are no chronologically diagnostic
forms in the sample collected in 2009, but a Gravettian point was recovered in 2008; so the
assemblage is certainly Upper Paleolithic and an attribution to the Gravettian is likely.
A representative sample of 130 artifacts from the 2008 and 2009 seasons has been
subjected to use-wear analysis, including 7 tools, 78 blades, 41 flakes, 1 burin spall and 3
miscellaneous pieces. Only two other Upper Paleolithic assemblages from Bulgaria have
been analyzed in this fashion the Gravettian samples from the open-air site of Chuchura

Preliminary Findings of the Balkan Paleo Project: Evidence of Human Activity at the Gateway ...

Fig. 7. Cave 5. A) Looking out of the cave. B) Excavation trench following the removal of Holocene
deposits. C) Photograph and D) drawing of section profile (esat)). Figure by M. Gurova
. 7. 5. ) ; B)
; ) D) .
.
(Orhpei I) (western Rhodopes) and the Temnata Dupka Cave (northern Bulgaria) (Gyurova
1995; Gurova 1998; Giourova, Stchelinski 1994)1. Use-wear analysis was performed using
a MBS-10 (x100) microscope; microphotographs were taken using a Kayence VHX-100k
1The work was done by M. Gurova despite the different translation of the name by the publishers,
made without the agreement of the author.

S. Ivanova, M. Gurova, N. Spassov, V. Popov, J. Makedonska, Ts. Tzankov, D. S. Strait

Fig. 8. Cave 7. A) Before excavation and B) during excavation. C) Photograph and D)


drawing of section profile (north).
Figure by S. Ivanova
. 8. 7. ) B) ;
) D) .
.

digital microscope.
The flint artifacts from Arkata are very well preserved, with fresh edges suitable for
use-wear observation and with very few postdepositional alterations on the artifact surfaces. A variety of use-wear traces were identified. Cutting is the most common operation
detected among the used artifacts, and the materials worked included meat, hide, bone,
wood and soft stone (Figs. 11, 12).
The microfauna from Arkata is composed of modern species (Table 1), but the species
abundance is quite distinct from that characteristic of modern ecosystems. Chionomys nivalis
prevails. This species is encountered in the region today, but is quite rare. It is thought to
be an indicator of a relatively cool climate (cooler than today). The proportions of the other
taxa represented also differ from those in the modern environment. In sum, the microfaunal
assemblage shows that the deposits most likely date to the Late Pleistocene. The climate
was cooler and drier than at present, but not as cold or dry as northern Bulgaria during the
same time period.

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Preliminary Findings of the Balkan Paleo Project: Evidence of Human Activity at the Gateway ...

Fig. 9. Lithic artifacts from Cave 7. Figure by S. Ivanova


. 9. 7. .

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S. Ivanova, M. Gurova, N. Spassov, V. Popov, J. Makedonska, Ts. Tzankov, D. S. Strait

Fig. 10. Lithic artifacts from Cave 8. Figure by M. Gurova


. 10. 8. a .
Sample:

8/4

depth[cm]:

82-102 166-186 166-186 169-189 ~206

Species
Sorex minutus
Sorex araneus
Crocidura leucodon
Myotis ex gr. blythimyotis
Spermophilus citellus
Nannospalax sp.
Apodemus sp.
Mesocricetus newtoni
Clethrionomys
glareolus
Arvicola sp.
Chionomys nivalis
Microtus subterraneus
Microtus ex gr. arvalis
Microtini (M3)
Arvicolidae indet.

9/5

8/2

8/1

8/8

8/7

8/6

8/9

187-207 190-210 ~225

8/10
~234

4
6
3

3
-

3
-

1
1
1

2
-

6
1
17
6
2

1
-

1
-

1
-

1
-

6
2
-

9
1
-

2
37
8
4
23
250

3
2
-

6
2
3
-

1
-

Table 1. Species distribution and number of identifiable bones (mainly teeth) of small mammals of
the Late Pleistocene sediments from cave of the Arkata Rockshelter (eastern Rhodopes).

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Preliminary Findings of the Balkan Paleo Project: Evidence of Human Activity at the Gateway ...

Fig. 11. Flint artifacts from Arkata (cave 8, 2008 season) and associated micro-wear traces: 2a
and 2b virgin edges; 3a and 6a sawing soft stone ; 8a hide processing. Microphotograph
magnification x75. Figure by M. Gurova
. 11. ( 8, 2008)
: 2b ; 3a and 6a / ;
8a . x75. .

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S. Ivanova, M. Gurova, N. Spassov, V. Popov, J. Makedonska, Ts. Tzankov, D. S. Strait

Fig. 12. Flint artifacts from Arkata (cave 8, 2009 season) and associated micro-wear traces: 2a
cutting meat/hide; 3a virgin edge; 4a and 5a sawing wood; 7a post-depositional alteration.
Microphotograph magnification x75. Figure by M. Gurova
. 12. ( 8, 2009)
: 2 /; 3a ; 4 5 ;
7a - . x75.
.

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Preliminary Findings of the Balkan Paleo Project: Evidence of Human Activity at the Gateway ...

Fig. 13. The Learna caves in the Strandzha Mountains. Malkata Leyarna is to the left and
Golyama Leyarna is to the right. Figure by M. Gurova
. 13. : ,
. .
Macrofaunal remains from Arkata include Cervus elephus, Capra cf. ibex, Bison cf. priscus, and Equus cf. germanicus transilvanicus and these are also consistent with a Late Pleistocene age and relatively open landscapes.

Leyarna Caves
In collaboration with local speleologists, the BPP visited approximately 30 caves distributed throughout the Strandzha Mountains east of the Tundzha Valley. Two adjacent
caves (Malkata Leyarna and Goliamata Leyarna) were selected for test excavations (Fig.
13) near the village of Mladezhko, in the county of Malko Tarnovo (Fig. 14). These caves
lie within a complex of four caves whose entrances are only a few meters apart. The cave
entrances are localized in the base of a rock ring/crown and are oriented in an east-west direction. The caves are found approximately 25 meters above the level of the Tumna (Dark)
River, about 2 kilometers from the confluence of the Tumna and Mladezhka rivers. The
caves are formed in marbled limestones. Archaeological remains were found in one of the
caves (Malkata Leyarna).
Malkata Leyarna (Leyarna 2; the small Leyarna): The cave is 23 meters in length
and 6 meters in breadth, with a height of 3-8 meters. A 2x2 meter pit was dug that was

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S. Ivanova, M. Gurova, N. Spassov, V. Popov, J. Makedonska, Ts. Tzankov, D. S. Strait

Fig. 14. Google Earth images of the Balkan Peninsula (above) and the village of Mladezhko (below).
The position of the Leyarna cave complex is indicated by arrows. Figure by David Strait.
. 14. Google Earth ( )
(). .
.

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Preliminary Findings of the Balkan Paleo Project: Evidence of Human Activity at the Gateway ...

Fig. 15. Test trench in Malkata Leyarna. Figure by S. Ivanova


. 15. . .

Fig. 16. Malkata Leyarna, section profile with layers 1 4 labeled. Figure by S. Ivanova
. 16. . .

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S. Ivanova, M. Gurova, N. Spassov, V. Popov, J. Makedonska, Ts. Tzankov, D. S. Strait


subsequently increased by 0.5 meters in the northwestern direction (Fig. 15). On the surface
of the cave floor there are numerous indications of past human activity, including pottery
sherds from the Copper, Bronze, Iron and Medieval periods. Numerous pre-existing pits
have disturbed and displaced the upper part of the sediments. In places, these disturbances
reach the bedrock (in the north-eastern profile). The BPP pit was dug to a depth of 160 cm.
In the southeastern part of the pit (close to the bottom of the cave), an uneven bedrock was
revealed. Close to the entrance of the cave (northwest), the dip of the bedrock is almost 40
degrees and the thickness of the cave sediments gradually increases.
Four lithostratigraphic units were distinguished during the excavation (Fig. 16). Layer 1 consists of loose sediment formed by the mixing of prehistoric and recent deposits. This
layer contained numerous bones and ceramic fragments. Layer 2 is a dark red-brownish
fine clay. It is possible that the dark coloration has an organic origin. This layer was sterile.
Layer 3 is beige-brown compact clay containing a small quantity of limestone fragments/blocks of various sizes. Lighter facies of Layer 3 can be observed in the northwestern
and southwestern profiles. This layer contains an assemblage of microfauna characteristic
of the Upper Pleistocene (Table 2). A long flint flake was found in the northwestern part of
the excavation, which may have been detached from a double platform core (Fig. 17). This
artifact is consistent with an Upper Paleolithic technology.
Table 2. Microfauna from Malkata Leyarna, Layers 3 and 4.
Species
Layer 3:
Mesocricetus newtoni (Romanian, or Dobrudja hamster)
Eolagurus luteus (Yellow steppe lemming)
Terricola subterraneus (Subterranean European pine vole)
Microtus arvalis agrestis (Common or short-tailed vole)
Chionomys nivalis (European snow vole)
Layer 4:
Bufo sp. (Frog)
Lepus sp. (Hare)

Layer 4 is compact, gray-greenish clay that is calcified at places. The remains of macromammals are found in this layer (Table 3), particularly in proximity to the northwestern
profile. This layer also yielded a flint flake with Middle Paleolithic characteristics that is
likely to have been detached from a discoidal core. This artifact is consistent with a Middle
Paleolithic technology.
Table 3. Macrofauna from Malkata Leyarna, Layer 4.
Species
Equus cf. germanicus transilvanicus (Eastern European broad-hoofed horse)
Crocuta spelaea (Cave hyena)
Ursus spelaeus (Cave bear)
Ursus cf. ingressus (Eastern cave bear)
Capra ibex? (Alpine ibex)
Vulpes vulpes
Cuon sp.? (Red wolf )

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Preliminary Findings of the Balkan Paleo Project: Evidence of Human Activity at the Gateway ...

Fig. 17. Lithic artifacts recovered from Layer 3 in Malkata Leyarna. Figure by S. Ivanova
. 17. 3. .
The faunal remains from the site yield important chronological and ecological information. The microfauna from Layer 3 unambiguously indicates an Upper Pleistocene age
(Table 2). These species are characteristic of open, steppe habitats and of a dry and cold
climate; they are not encountered in this region today. The presence of Eolagurus luteus
is notable. This is a steppe or semi-desert species, which at the present time is present in
Central Asia. During the cold and dry episodes of the Pleistocene, this species dispersed
into Eastern Europe. In Bulgaria, it is extremely rare in Pleistocene deposits, being found
only in northern Bulgaria. It had been thought that during the otherwise cold periods of the
Pleistocene, the climate in Strandzha was comparatively mild and wet, and that this part of
Europe was a refugium for warm-adapted species (Spassov, Popov 2007). The microfauna
from the Leyarna caves contradict this view. Apparently, in the region of Strandzha, as in
the rest of Bulgaria, steppe habitats were widespread, under the influence of a dry and
cold climate during glacial periods, especially in the terminal Pleistocene. Refugia probably
existed in Western Asia, from where, during the Holocene, warm- and humid-adapted species of plants and animals (many of which are relicts from the Tertiary), dispersed to the
west, mainly in Strandzha and the eastern Balkans.
The macrofauna from Layer 4 is also indicative of an Upper Pleistocene age (Fig. 18).
The presence of Ursus ingressus (see Rabeder et al. 2004) is suggested by a vestigial first
premolar alveolus in a mandibular specimen. This tooth is lost completely in late populations of the more common U. spelaeus (Bonifay 1966). This specimen may be indicative either of an archaic population of cave bear within the U. spelaeus lineage, or most probably of
overlapping ranges between different species of bear in the Late Pleistocene of the Balkans.
The origin of U. ingressus is possibly related to the Transcaucasian region. It could be the
typical cave bear of the beginning of the Late Pleistocene of the Balkans, where it probably

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S. Ivanova, M. Gurova, N. Spassov, V. Popov, J. Makedonska, Ts. Tzankov, D. S. Strait


coexisted in the upper levels of the Late Pleistocene with the western immigrant U. spelaeus. Moreover, Cuon may be present (based on the presence of a third upper incisor, smaller
than the one of the wolf and similar in size to that of C. familiaris) as well as Capra ibex. The
presence of the latter is unexpected given that this taxon is typically found in habitats with
greater topographic relief than is characteristic of the Strandzha region.
Given the biochronological dates provided by the fauna, the artifacts from Layers 3
and 4 probably constitute the first evidence for the presence of humans in the Strandzha
region during the Upper Pleistocene.

Mechata Dupka
The BPP very briefly collected fossils from the known paleontological locality of Mechata Dupka near the village of Stoilovo. The species composition of this sample (Tables 4,
5) corresponds to results from previous investigations of this cave, which yielded several
thousand identifiable bones. The uppermost layers of the cave appear to correspond to the
late Middle Pleistocene or to the Upper Pleistocene. The species composition indicates the
presence of a mosaic landscape of forests and open habitats, which existed in a cooler and
dryer climate compared to the present day. The sediment likely accumulated during a climatic episode that was slightly warmer than that of Malkata Leyarna.
Table 4. Microfauna from Mechata Dupka.
Species
Crocidura leucodon (Bi-colored white-toothed shrew)
Myotis blythii (Lesser mouse-eared bat)
Lepus europaeus (European brown hare)
Ochotona pusilla (Steppe pika)
Glis glis (Fat dormouse)
Apodemus flavicollis (Yellow-necked mouse)
Mesocricetus newtoni (Romanian, or Dobrudja hamster)
Terricola subterraneus (subterranean European pine vole)
Microtus arvalis (Common vole)

Table 5. Macrofauna from Mechata Dupka.


Species
Crocuta spelaea (Cave hyena)
Ursus spelaeus s. l. (Cave bear)
Bison aff. priscus (Long-horned bison)

Conclusion
To date the BPP has expanded the number of Paleolithic sites known from Bulgaria, and expanded the geographic scope of this knowledge. These activities have revealed
greater ecological complexity than anticipated, and have documented the first in situ Upper
and Middle Paleolithic assemblages from southern Bulgaria. In order to meet the ultimate

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Preliminary Findings of the Balkan Paleo Project: Evidence of Human Activity at the Gateway ...

Fig. 18. Cave bear mandible


in situ in Layer 4 of Malkata
Leyarna.
Figure by S. Ivanova
. 18.

4.
.
objectives of the BPP regarding hominin biogeography and ecology, it will be necessary to
identify further sites suitable for long term excavation that sample time periods throughout
the Pleistocene. There is no reason to doubt that Bulgaria will continue to yield sites that
will ultimately prove critical to understanding the dispersals of Pleistocene humans into
and out of Europe and how those dispersals were influenced by ecology.

Acknowledgements
The Balkan Paleo Project gratefully acknowledges the financial support of the America for Bulgaria Foundation, the American Research Center in Sofia, and the University at
Albany (State University of New York).

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