A researcher from the Rovira i Virgili University (URV) has developed a solution that makes it possible to establish the temporal relationships between artefacts within archaeological complexes. He has linked the lifestyle and behaviour of the Neanderthals of the Mid Palaeolithic with archaeological remains deposited over the period. This is the best way of understanding the history of stones.
According to Manuel Vaquero, author of the study and a researcher in the Prehistory Department at the URV, the time dimension of archaeological complexes is “crucial in order to be able to understand changes in hominid behaviour”. In addition, characterising these sites from only a behavioural point of view without taking the time aspect into account “can mask the variations in behaviour over time”.
The article, which has been published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, studies how temporal differences can distort behavioural inferences if the period over which the archaeological complex was formed is not taken into account. In order to reach his conclusions, the researcher focused on the area of behaviour related to the use of stone.
Manuel Vaquero is clear on the issue. “The use of ethnographic models on archaeological palimpsests (deposits yielding a mixture of strata) without the time factor being taken into account can give rise to errors in interpretation.” Archaeological complexes are formed from remains in the same strata and have been deposited over time. During this long period there will have been an indeterminate number of episodes of occupation.
“The totality of remains corresponding to different episodes may result in a ‘behavioural average’, which does not correlate to any episode that actually existed,” Vaquero tells SINC. In order to make behavioural inferences, we need to bring the archaeological and ethnographic timescales as close together as possible, “working with archaeological complexes formed over time periods that covered, as near as possible, the ethnographic period”.
Case of the Abric Romaní deposit in Barcelona
The research focused on the Mousterian deposit of Abric Romaní in Capellades, Barcelona, which is 52,000 years old and one of the most important in the world in terms of understanding the lifestyle of Neanderthal groups. Level L of Abric Romaní has a series of accumulations of spatially-differentiated archaeological remains.
“These accumulations are associated with hearths, and reveal a pattern of activities concentrated around them,” says Vaquero. By studying lithic material, and making connections between two or more stone artefacts or bone remains coming from the same carved item or bone, it can be seen that these accumulations are not contemporaneous, but “correspond to occupation episodes separated by time” with specific stone provision strategies, and reflecting significant changes in behaviour. For example, the recycling of abandoned lithic remains can be seen in the later stages of the occupation, while in earlier periods these resources were accumulated on a massive scale.
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