Processes of Change in Magdalenian Societies in the Pyrenean Isthmus (20-16 Ky Cal BP)

By Langlais, Mathieu | Antiquity, September 2011 | Go to article overview

Processes of Change in Magdalenian Societies in the Pyrenean Isthmus (20-16 Ky Cal BP)


Langlais, Mathieu, Antiquity


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Introduction

In this paper we explore the relationships between humans and their environment in the Pyrenean isthmus at the end of the Late Glacial Maximum (LGM; 20-16 ky cal BP). We analyse how environmental changes in the period of the Heinrich Stadial (after 18 ky cal BP) could have influenced the cultural evolution of Magdalenian societies, evolution which is particularly visible in the transformation of lithic implements. As a corollary, we investigate how changes in hunting strategies and weaponry were adapting to the nature of available game as triggered by climatic and environmental changes.

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A new chronological framework for the first Magdalenian societies

Recent excavations have provided well-dated levels from the earliest phases of the Magdalenian. The definitions of industries in the Lower (c. 20-18 ky cal BP) and Middle (c. 18-16 ky cal BP) Magdalenian periods in the Pyrenean isthmus are based on a comparative study of 21 sites with seven main lithic assemblages and six stratigraphic sequences (Figure 1). In order to place the beginning of the Magdalenian within its environmental context, a group of 89 [sup.14C] AMS dates from 48 sites was calibrated using the OxCal 4.0 program (Bronk Ramsey 1995, 2001; Langlais 2010). These dates, expressed as cal BP, can be compared with palaeoclimatic data originating from glacial, marine and continental records. The IntCal 04 calibration curve (Reimer et al. 2004) indicates the presence of a 14C deviation around 18-18.5 ky cal BP (Figure 2), thus blurring the Lower- Middle Magdalenian transition. These results nonetheless indicate that the Middle Magdalenian was broadly contemporary with the Heinrich Stadial (Langlais 2007a, 2010) and thus raise questions concerning the environmental consequences of this major climatic episode.

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According to the Greenland Ice Core Chronology (GICC05), the period discussed here corresponds to a cold phase designated as GS-2 (Andersen et al. 2006; NGRIP dating group 2006; Rasmussen et al. 2006; Svensson et al. 2006). This signal can be observed in our study zone through surface water temperatures and marine or continental palynological records (Jalut et al. 1992; Sanchez-Goni et al. 2002; Gonzalez-Samperiz et al. 2006; Naughton et al. 2007). These data indicate that the Lower Magdalenian covers the end of the LGM, a cold and humid period with a rather consistent SST stability (Figure 3). Around 18-17 ky cal BP, the marine and continental records show a clear reduction in tree species, which are replaced by steppe landscapes with Artemisia. This climatic change, characterised by a drop in temperatures and humidity, corresponds to the Heinrich Stadial (Grousset 2001; Eliott et al. 2002; Rohling et al. 2003; Heming 2004; Naughton et al. 2009; Sanchez- Goni & Harrison 2010).

Characterising Magdalenian socio-economics by means of lithic industries

Technological studies shed light on the relations between lithic production strategies and the acquisition of raw material or food resources and so report on the economic behaviours of societies in their environmental context. Furthermore, differentiating lithic hunting weapons from domestic tools identifies the segmentation of these different activities in space and time.

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In recent years, new research orientations have focused on the existence of a Lower Magdalenian distinct from the Badegoulian in south-west France (Ducasse & Langlais 2007). Archaeozoological studies (e.g. Costamagno & Laroulandie 2003; Kuntz & Costamagno 2010) and new [14.sup.C] AMS dates now allow a more geographical approach to these first Magdalenian societies, taking into account the local palaeoenvironmental contexts.

In France, only four caves and rockshelters report on the succession of the Lower to Middle Magdalenian. …

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