Neanderthal Behaviour and Stone Tool Function at the Middle Palaeolithic Site of la Quina, France

By Hardy, Bruce L. | Antiquity, September 2004 | Go to article overview
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Neanderthal Behaviour and Stone Tool Function at the Middle Palaeolithic Site of la Quina, France


Hardy, Bruce L., Antiquity


Introduction

Despite the volume of literature devoted to the Middle/Upper Palaeolithic transition, the fate of the Neanderthals, and the rise of modern humans, the behaviour of Neanderthals and modern humans on either side of this transition is still not fully understood. Neanderthals have been variously portrayed as outcompeted and replaced by modern humans (Brauer & Stringer 1997; Stringer 1992; Stringer & Andrews 1988; Stringer & Gamble 1993; Tartersall 1998), acculturating with modern humans (d'Errico et al. 1998), or interbreeding with modern humans (Brace 1995, 1997; Wolpoff 1992, 1997; Wolpoff & Caspari 1997; Clark 2002). These arguments rely on a combination of archaeological and paleontological information that is interpreted differently by different authors. Reconstructions of Neanderthal behaviour range from obligate scavenging (Binford 1981, 1984, 1985) to mixed scavenging and hunting (Stiner 1991, 1994; Stiner & Kuhn 1992; Conard & Prindiville 2000) to hunting (Chase 1989; Berger & Trinkaus 1995; Burke 2000; Shea 1993; Vaquero et al. 2001; Grayson & Delpech 2002). The large quantities of animal bones typical of many Middle Paleolithic sites attest to the inclusion of meat in the diet and this has contributed to a focus on flesh-eating in discussions of Neanderthal subsistence (Madella et al. 2002). Neanderthal postcranial robusticity has been attributed to high activity levels, possibly in the pursuit and capture of large prey animals (Berger & Trinkaus 1995). Furthermore, stable isotope analyses of bones suggest that Neanderthals occupied a high trophic level, with the majority of their protein coming from meat sources, at least in western Europe (Bocherens et al. 1999; Richards et al. 2000).

The evidence for a high incidence of meat-eating among Neanderthals, however, may be at least partly an artefact of preservation; faunal remains are much more common than floral remains at Middle Paleolithic sites. Furthermore, Neanderthals occupied a wide geographic range from the Middle East to western Europe for more than 100 000 years. Efforts to generalise about Neanderthal diet may mask local subsistence adaptations (Clark 2002). When plant remains do survive, they are generally microscopic rather than macroscopic (Mason et al. 1994). Plant microremains have been detected in sediments and on stone tools (Anderson-Gerfaud 1990; Hardy et al. 2001; Hardy & Kay 1998; Madella et al. 2002; Mason et al. 1994), and point to the microscopic examination of stone tools and sediments as an avenue of research that may provide evidence of otherwise invisible behaviours (Mason et al. 1994; Hardy et al. 2001).

Stone tools provide a potentially valuable source of behavioural information, particularly when subjected to functional analysis. Functional studies of Middle Paleolithic tools, involving both use-wear and residue analyses, have demonstrated that tools were used for a variety of different tasks, including exploitation of animal, plant and avian resources, as well as hafting of a variety of different tool types (Beyries 1988a, 1988b, 1988c; Beyries & Walter 1996; Anderson 1980; Anderson-Gerfaud 1981, 1986, 1990; Shea 1988, 1989, 1993, 1998; Boeda et al. 1996; Boeda et al. 1998; Plisson & Beyries 1998; Hardy 1994, 1998; Hardy & Garufi 1998; Hardy & Kay 1998; Hardy et al. 2001; Shea 1988, 1989, 1998; Texier et al. 1998). This varied use of tools suggests that Neanderthals were broad-based foragers who were capable of exploiting a wide range of resources rather than focusing solely on the acquisition of large mammals as some researchers have suggested. In an attempt to better understand Neanderthal adaptations to local environments, microscopic use-wear and residue analyses were applied to a sample of 300 stone tools from the Middle Paleolithic site of La Quina, France.

The site at La Quina

La Quina is located in the Charente region of south-western France, approximately 5 km from the village of Villebois-Lavalette (Figure 1).

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