Tracing human mobility in central Europe during the Upper Paleolithic using sub-seasonally resolved Sr isotope records in ornaments
Mobility of people and goods during the Upper Paleolithic has proven difficult to reconstruct given the relative rareness of remains. Nevertheless, archaeological contexts like the Late Pleistocene horizon of Borsuka Cave (Southern Poland) represent a unique opportunity to explore patterns of objects’ transportation across Central Europe. We investigated the origin of four ornaments made of European elk (Alces alces L.) incisors recovered at Borsuka Cave – the oldest known burial site in Poland, possibly a child grave. Laser-ablation plasma source mass spectrometric analyses of trace elements and Sr isotopic compositions revealed that one elk was roaming within a geologically uniform area while the others changed their pastures during their lifetimes. The non-local origin of the elk teeth is inferred from their exotic Sr isotopic compositions and the lack of evidence for the presence of elk in this territory during the Pleistocene. Instead, the elks’ Sr isotopic composition show good agreement with sites near the Austria-Slovakia border region and northern Hungary, ~250 km away from the study site. We argue that the artefacts were most likely brought to Borsuka Cave by humans or by a network of exchange, so far never reported in the time range 32.5–28.8 ka cal BP for Southern Poland.