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Late Neanderthal shell fishers in the Cantabrian coast

A new study published in Quaternary International proposes a new chrono-cultural attribution for the lower part of El Cuco’s archaeological sequence, which is now attributed to the Middle Palaeolithic. This change demanded a new interpretation of the entire site, which nowadays is the first site in the Bay of Biscay, atributed to neanderthals, with clear evidence of marine resource consumption. Also, the new sequence is relevant to our understanding of the end of the Middle Palaeolithic in the region.

Late Neanderthal shell fishers in the Cantabrian coast
Patella vulgata specimens from Altamira [Credit: WikiCommons]
El Cuco rock-shelter is located on the north coast of Spain, in the coastal village of Castro Urdiales. In 2005 the site was excavated under the direction of P. Rasines and a sequence of 2.5 m deep, composed of 14 levels, was revealed. Initially, levels VI to XIV were attributed to the Evolved Aurignacian mostly because level XIII was dated to ca. 30,000 BP.

Late Neanderthal shell fishers in the Cantabrian coast
Level VII lithic assemblage [Credit: Gutierrez-Zugasti et al. 2017]
Recently the entire sequence has been reassessed, the new dates obtained from carbonate samples of Patella vulgata remains, have dated level X to ca. 43,000 BP, and level XIII to ca. 46.000 BP. These dates were contradictory with the attribution to the Evolved Aurignacian, and for this reason, a reanalysis of level VII’s lithic assemblage was undertaken. This analysis revealed a clearly Mousterian industry characterized by the use of Levallois technology, with a special incidence of small Levallois cores and flakes. These technological features were similar to those described at Axlor or Amalda (Rios-Garaizar et al. 2015), and are typical from the Late Mousterian of the Cantabrian Region (Rios-Garaizar 2017). Similar features have been also identified in the assemblages of levels VIII-XIII.

Late Neanderthal shell fishers in the Cantabrian coast
Map with the location of El Cuco Rock-shelter [Credit: Sciencedirect]
One of the most interesting conclusions of this new analysis is that shell assemblages are quite rich in levels X, XI and XII (Gutiérrez-Zugasti et al., 2013). Two of the most represented species, limpets (Patella) and sea urchin (Paracentrotus lividus), were brought to the site and consumed there by neanderthals, representing the first clear evidence of marine resource exploitation in the Bay of Biscay. Probably, the absence of this kind of evidence in this region is due to the scarcity of caves and rock shelters with preserved Middle Palaeolithic deposits located close to the current coastline. In fact, El Cuco is one of the closest sites (<500 m), and there, specifically, we find clear evidence of shellfish consumption.

Source: ArkeoBasque [July 25, 2017]

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