Intrasite Spatial Organization of Lithic Production in the Middle Palaeolithic: The Evidence of the Abric Romani (Capellades, Spain)

By Vaquero, Manuel | Antiquity, September 1999 | Go to article overview

Intrasite Spatial Organization of Lithic Production in the Middle Palaeolithic: The Evidence of the Abric Romani (Capellades, Spain)


Vaquero, Manuel, Antiquity


Introduction

At present, the subject of spatial occupation strategies in the Middle Palaeolithic (MP) cannot be separated from the broader question of the Upper Palaeolithic (UP) transition and the biological changes that come with such transformation. Several scholars interpret the MP archaeological record as reflecting a behaviour which is substantially different from that which characterizes the UP. This difference stems from the absence in Neanderthals of the cognitive capabilities expressed by anatomically modern humans. Such a qualitative difference is reflected in behavioural domains such as lithic technology, symbolic expression or resource provisioning (Mellars 1996).

Some interpretations have questioned the complexity and variability of MP settlement patterns. From this point of view, the settlement strategies of Neanderthals are characterized by the repetition of a single model, very different from the organizational levels documented in UP sites. Some scholars argue that in MP sites remains often occupy relatively restricted areas (Mellars 1996: 309; Pettitt 1997). According to Pettitt, sites were occupied by small groups briefly and repeatedly, reflecting a behaviour that was limited in variability and habitual in nature. Such a repetitive pattern shows a simple organization, similar to that observed among non-human carnivores. Site constraints and biomechanics may explain the divisions observed in some sites into living and dumping/heavy duty activity zones. A similar viewpoint has been put forward by Mellars (1996); his hypothesis is that organization of activities in MP sites can be interpreted in terms of pragmatic considerations.

We shall examine some evidence on the spatial organization of lithic production at the Abric Romani, where several MP layers have been exposed. The sedimentological characteristics of this deposit, composed mainly of well-bedded carbonate sediments, provide a good framework for documenting the spatial organization of occupations. The speed of this sedimentary process gives high temporal resolution of the different events, thus favouring a synchronic reading of the archaeological levels. The comparison between levels I and Ja will show the settlement variability documented at this site.

Archaeological formation processes and intrasite spatial patterning in Middle Palaeolithic sites

Spatial interpretation needs middle-range research that can give information about the relations between formation processes and material remains. As far as lithic production is concerned, experimental replication of reduction sequences and ethnoarchaeology are the main contributors to such middle-range theory. We can identify three factors which affect the spatial location of artefacts:

1 Location of activities

From this viewpoint, the spatial organization of activities would be indicated by the remains in primary position. Ethnoarchaeological research usually indicates the distinction between a central area, where most domestic activities are carried out, and peripheral areas (Binford 1983; O'Connell 1087). This first level of spatial organization is based on the opposition between activity areas and areas where activities are rarely carried out. A second level of spatial organization differentiates the occupied areas according to the kinds of activity. Specialized areas have been documented in ethnoarchaeological contexts and generally give rise to specific material assemblages. In archaeological contexts, identification of such locations will depend on the stratigraphic resolution of sites and the repetition of spatial criteria.

In some MP sites specific patterns of artefact distribution have been found. In level 16 of Cueva Morin different artefact types are not equally distributed (Freeman 1992), and, in level 17 Sup., an area of intense activity has been identified. At some open-air sites in France, knapping areas are located on the site's periphery, and artefacts were transported to the central zones (e. …

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