Project

NEANDERKULT (Neandertal Cultures in Eastern Cantabrian Region)

Goal: We are trying to understand the nature of changes in behavior and culture lived by neandertal populations in a well defined region, the East of the Cantabrian Region. Using this regional approach we can test how changes in demography, climate or resource availability influenced cultural change (technology, subsistence practices, settlement dynamics,...).
We are combining the re-analysis of classic sites, as Axlor or Amalda, with the exploration and excavation of new sites as Arlanpe or Aranbaltza. Grace to this we are covering a wide timespan from MIS7 to MIS3, including Early Middle Paleolithic, Classic and Late Mousterian, and Chatelperronian sites.
Up to now we have shown that neanderthal cultures varied considerably through time, incorporating in this process some relevant innovations as the use of tipped spears or the production and use of microlithic tools. Also we have demonstrated that neanderthals were not highly dependent from local resources, as they put in practice sophisticated strategies to assure the supply of preferred raw materials, to hunt concrete preys, or to create shelters.

Methods: Paleontology, Geographic Information Systems, Radiometric Dating, Archaeological Excavation, Raw Materials, Lithic Analysis, Lithic Technology, OSL Dating, Luminescence Dating, Taphonomy, Experimental Archaeology, Use-Wear Analysis

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Joseba Rios-Garaizar
added 3 research items
This chapter presents the first collective synthesis of Late Middle Palaeolithic lithic technology (MIS 4–3, ≈ 70-40 ka) from the Altai mountains to the Atlantic coast of Western Europe and the Mediterranean regions of Europe and the Levant. As early as the first half of the twentieth century, archaeological debates focused on characterising and interpreting Mousterian techno-typological variability. In recent decades, new data concerning several specific aspects of this question have modified our understanding of Neanderthal technology in terms of lithic economy. This chapter presents the main characteristics of Late Middle Palaeolithic lithic technologies, raw material management, tool forms and artefact transport patterns. This extensive overview reveals that it is still largely unclear whether spatio-temporal trends in the mosaic of reduction strategies exist, at least during MIS 4–3. Furthermore, disparities in available data from the different geographical areas currently precludes exhaustive inter-regional comparisons and introduces biases for identifying which variables reflect local adaptations or potentially more general trends. Currently, the degree to which lithic assemblage variability, including retouched stone tools, results from adaptations to different factors remains difficult to reliably assess. These factors include environmental constraints and the influence of local contexts, including the characteristics and accessibility of raw materials and the duration of site occupation. Stone tools assemblages may equally reflect specific traditions of certain Neanderthal populations or groups and communities-of-practice. Differences in assemblage composition and tool types most likely result from the combined influences of these aspects in association with subsistence strategies and other ecological factors, as well as social structure and other cognitive and behavioural features. Finally, the possibility that the specific dynamics between different Neanderthal populations and between Neanderthals and other human groups affecting aspects of technology cannot be ruled out.
En el transcurso de una intervención arqueológica en el solar nº 6 de la calle Artekale 6 de la villa de Plentzia (Bizkaia) se localizó un conjunto lítico sobre el sustrato rocoso y bajo un depósito de arcillas de 40 cm de espesor. En este trabajo se describe este conjunto de núcleos y lascas, y se propone una atribución del conjunto al Paleolítico Medio, probablemente reciente. Además, se discute el papel de estos breves asentamientos en las estrategias de asentamiento de los Neandertales en esta región.
Laura Sánchez-Romero
added a research item
The Châtelperronian open-air site of Aranbaltza II presents a set of very particular characteristics, such as the large number of well-preserved lithic materials in a small area and the presence of lobular accumulations that represents the 33% of different size and shape of lithic materials of the whole assemblage. Through the application of density, hotspots, and 3D-fabric analysis, in combination with sedimentological data, we discuss the factors responsible of the accumulation of these archaeological materials. The main goal of this work is inferring the formation processes from a geoarchaeological perspective and the spatial organization of this site, unraveling the high-density accumulations of this site and therefore the activities carried out. The complexity of site formation processes has not traditionally been taken into account, leading to explanatory proposals in terms of human behavior disconnected from the sedimentary context. In this work, we highlight the need to analyze site formation processes before making assumptions about human behavior. Thus, the difficulties of dismantling and interpreting high density concentrations of materials in reduced areas are addressed, as it is also observed in other Châtelperronian open-air sites, like Vieux Coutets, Les Bossats at Omersson, Canaule II, or Le Basté, which show concentrations of lithic materials that have been interpreted as waste accumulations in knapping areas, where other activities also took place. The results obtained have revealed that some materials could have suffered a short-distance displacement followed by a rapid burial that protected them and their spatial integrity, thus allowing a preservation of the main zones of accumulation of materials and therefore the type of actions performed at Aranbaltza II.
Joseba Rios-Garaizar
added a research item
Multiple factors have been proposed to explain the disappearance of Neandertals between ca. 50 and 40 kyr BP. Central to these discussions has been the identification of new techno-cultural complexes that overlap with the period of Neandertal demise in Europe. One such complex is the Châtelperronian, which extends from the Paris Basin to the Northern Iberian Peninsula between 43,760–39,220 BP. In this study we present the first open-air Châtelperronian site in the Northern Iberian Peninsula, Aranbaltza II. The technological features of its stone tool assemblage show no links with previous Middle Paleolithic technology in the region, and chronological modeling reveals a gap between the latest Middle Paleolithic and the Châtelperronian in this area. We interpret this as evidence of local Neandertal extinction and replacement by other Neandertal groups coming from southern France, illustrating how local extinction episodes could have played a role in the process of disappearance of Neandertals.
Laura Sánchez-Romero
added a research item
The site of Amalda was excavated in the 1980’s by a multidisciplinary team led by J. Altuna (Altuna, 1990). Amalda I has been object of controversy about the nature of the material accumulations in the level VII (Yravedra, 2006), but recent studies highlighted the importance of the analysis of Neanderthal occupations and the role of the carnivores in the accumulation of materials (Rios-Garaizar, 2012, Sánchez_Romero et al., submitted). A new project started in 2016, with the aim of reviewing the studies carried out in Amalda I and Amalda III. In this way, the intrasite study of the caves and the landscape information are being key elements for understanding the site formation, as well as occupation and mobility patterns by Neanderthals. In the framework of this project, studies of spatial analysis, taphonomy, lithic, dating (OSL and 14C AMS) and sedimentology have allow inferring that multiple occupation episodes by humans and carnivores occurred from ca. 48 ka to ca. 31 ka BP. At the same time, the current research team made a first approach to the study of Amalda III, located ca. 5 meters above Amalda I. It this small cave a ca. 2 m. sequence with several Middle Paleolithic occupations was recovered in the 1980’s. In 2019 in the framework of this project the first Middle Paleolithic unit was excavates. It has provided a rich lithic and faunal assemblage, also all the sequence has been sampled for establishing a good chronological framework for this occupations, and for defining the processes that originated the deposit. Amalda I and Amalda III are key sites for investigating the evolution of neandertal societies in the Eastern Cantabrian region, considering the settlement patterns, subsistence practices and technological developments.
Joseba Rios-Garaizar
added an update
We just published a new paper in Anthropological and Archaeological Sciences (Springer) about the lithic technology in Peña Miel e. This site is located in a mountainous area between the Ebro valley and the Northern Meseta. The site was excavated by Lartet and more recently by P. Utrilla.
Level e is one of the latest Middle Paleolithic occupations in Northern Iberian Peninsula. The lithic technology reveals a use of different local raw materials to fulfill the immediate necessities of the group, which are combined with imported flint, coming from more than 25 km far away. Some of the identified flints come from Treviño, a source often used by late Neandertals in the eastern Cantabrian region.
The technological choices reveal similarities with the late Middle Paleolithic from Northern Iberian Peninsula and Western Pyrenees, and maybe an attribution to the Vasconian is possible. On the other hand, this technology is rather different from the LMP from the Mediterranean region. These differences possibly express different adaptations to different ecological conditions.
We interpret level e as the result of several occasional occupations (maybe seasonal) for the exploitation of the rugged landscape that surrounds the cave. Interestingly these occupations took place in a moment when the last MP occupations of the Cantabrian Region occurred.
A big question remains, are these neandertal groups the same that abandoned the Cantabrian Region by ca. 45.000 cal BP? We do think that this is a very likely possibility that will demand further investigations
This investigation has been done grace to a Jacoby Bursary by the Lithic Studies Society
the kind collaboration of Museo de la Rioja and the advice of P. Utrilla, L. Montes and C. Mazo
 
Joseba Rios-Garaizar
added a research item
En este trabajo se hace una presentación de las investigaciones arqueológicas desarrolladas en el yacimiento de Aranbaltza (Barrika, Bizkaia), uno de los escasos yacimientos paleolíticos al aire libre conservados en la región cantábrica. Su registro es especialmente rico en ocupaciones realizadas por grupos de neandertales, desde finales del Pleistoceno medio hasta el Chatelperroniense. Destacan las ocupaciones de Aranbaltza III, en las que se ha recuperado un registro excepcional con numerosos restos vegetales conservados, incluyendo el utensilio de madera más antiguo de la península ibérica. Además, en Aranbaltza I hay restos de ocupaciones estables de finales del Paleolítico medio, y en Aranbaltza II disponemos de un registro excepcional, único en la península ibérica, con ocupaciones chatelperronienses al aire libre. Por último, cabe señalar que en Aranbaltza II hay registros mesolíticos de principios del Holoceno y evidencias de ocupaciones durante el Calcolítico-Bronce inicial.
Laura Sánchez-Romero
added a research item
The Level VII of Amalda I cave (Gipuzkoa, Spain) represents one of the latest Middle Palaeolithic occupations in the Cantabrian Region. It is characterized by the presence of Middle Palaeolithic lithic industry and animal remains, with clear evidences of anthropic and carnivore manipulation. At this site, the Neanderthal presence has been questioned in relation to the role of carnivores in the accumulation of large, medium-sized and small mammals. It has also been proposed that the Neanderthal occupation could have consisted of short-term occupations, where different activities took place in a structured space within the cave. However, all hypotheses lacked any integrative analysis of the site formation processes. With the aim of understanding these processes, a combination of spatial techniques, based on GIS and inferential statistics (density analysis, hotspots tools and palaeotopographic reconstruction), along with the taphonomic study of identifiable and non-identifiable macromammals remains, were employed. This study has revealed distinct use of the cave space by Neanderthals and carnivores. The major concentrations of lithics and medium-size mammal remains were clearly accumulated by humans at the cave entrance, while the small-size mammals were gathered by carnivores in an inner zone. The activities of the Neanderthals seem to be distinctly structured, suggesting a parallel exploitation of resources.
Joseba Rios-Garaizar
added a research item
The cave of Hornos de la Peña contained one of the most relevant stratigraphic sequences for the study of the Middle and Upper Paleolithic in the Cantabrian Region, northern Iberia, as well as an important group of Paleolithic rock art. The site was discovered in 1903 and excavated during 1909–1910. Those excavations did not take place in the main hall of the cave because it was already emptied for modern phosphate extraction. At that time, in the preserved deposits, the archeological excavations revealed an interesting sequence with Mousterian, Early Upper Paleolithic, Solutrean and Magdalenian cultural remains. Since then, the site has received little attention owing to the difficulties of interpreting the sequence and the biased nature of the preserved collections. In 2016 and 2017 a limited area of the preserved section was excavated to document its archeological sequence, obtain samples for dating and achieve some insights about the cultural attribution of the identified units and their correlation with Obermaier’s sequence. The results show that there is a coarse correlation between both sequences. More interestingly, this work has revealed the good preservation and interest of the Mousterian occupation, the presence of Early Upper Paleolithic, the indefinite nature of the Solutrean and the existence of a Middle Magdalenian occupation. These results provide new insights about the human presence at the site and allow to incorporate it into the new debates about the Middle and Upper Paleolithic in the Cantabrian Region.
Joseba Rios-Garaizar
added a research item
El Cuco level X has yielded the most striking evidence of shellfish consumption by Neandertals on the Atlantic seaboard. Dated to the end of the regional Middle Paleolithic, this level has also yielded a small lithic assemblage abandoned by Neandertals in a small number of occupations at the site. This assemblage is characterized by its microlithic nature. The microlithic blanks and tools were obtained from Levallois, Discoid and blade productions using a combination of local, distant and very distant flints. How the technology was managed at El Cuco indicates that it served to supply tools to a Neandertal group with high residential mobility that exploited a broad spectrum of resources, including shellfish. We interpret this as further evidence of Neandertal population decrease in the region after 50,000 BP, probably driven by a shortage of resources, that ultimately led to the untangling of social networks and to their temporary disappearance from the Cantabrian Region.
Joseba Rios-Garaizar
added 2 research items
Se hace un estado de la cuestión del conocimiento del hábitat paleolítico al aire libre en Bizkaia. Para ello se analizan los principales retos de este tipo de contextos y se describen los yacimientos más significativos. Esto nos lleva a plantear una serie de ideas acerca de este tipo de poblamiento a lo largo del Paleolítico y a proponer una serie de vías por las cuales puede discurrir esta investigación en los próximos años. We present the state of art about the open air paleolithic settlement in Bizkaia. To do this we analyze the main obstacles for these contexts and we describe the main sites. These results allow us to propose some ideas about open air settlement in this region, and to make some suggestions for the future research. Bizkaian, Paleolito Garaian, eman ziren aire zabaleko giza okupazioei buruzko ikerketen egoera aurkezten da. Horretarako aztarnategi nagusiak deskribatzen dira eta testuinguru hauek dauzkaten oztopoak aztertzen dira. Eskuratutako ideiei esker, aire zabaleko giza okupazioei buruzko ideaia batzuk proposatzen dira eta etorkizunerako bideak identifikatzen dira.
Joseba Rios-Garaizar
added a research item
Objectives: We provide the description and comparative analysis of all the human fossil remains found at Axlor during the excavations carried out by J. M. de Barandiarán from 1967 to 1974: a cranial vault fragment and eight teeth, five of which likely belonged to the same individual, although two are currently lost. Our goal is to describe in detail all these human remains and discuss both their taxonomic attribution and their stratigraphic context. Materials and methods: We describe external and internal anatomy, and use classic and geometric morphometrics. The teeth from Axlor are compared to Neandertals, Upper Paleolithic, and recent modern humans. Results: Three teeth (a left dm2 , a left di1 , and a right I1 ) and the parietal fragment show morphological features consistent with a Neandertal classification, and were found in an undisturbed Mousterian context. The remaining three teeth (plus the two lost ones), initially classified as Neandertals, show morphological features and a general size that are more compatible with their classification as modern humans. Discussion: The combined anatomical and stratigraphic study suggest that the remains of two different adult Neandertals have been recovered during the old excavations performed by Barandiarán: a left parietal fragment (Level VIII) and a right I1 (Level V). Additionally, two different Neandertal children lost deciduous teeth during the formations of levels V (left di1 ) and IV (right dm2 ). In addition, a modern human individual is represented by five remains (two currently lost) from a complex stratigraphic setting. Some of the morphological features of these remains suggest that they may represent one of the scarce examples of Upper Paleolithic modern human remains in the northern Iberian Peninsula, which should be confirmed by direct dating.
Joseba Rios-Garaizar
added a research item
In this contribution we present the results of a detailed technological analysis of Late Middle Palaeolithic lithic assemblage from Peña Miel site, which are located between Iberian plateau and Ebro valley. The study of the lithic assemblages allow us to discuss about the last technological features of Neanderthals populations. Applying an integral lithic analysis approach we can address its technological variability in relation to raw materials, specially quartzite, knapping methods and tooling. The results show how the dominant use of the discoid strategy allows the systematic exploitation of resistant materials to obtain immediate blanks with a great functional potential.
Joseba Rios-Garaizar
added a research item
Microlithization in the Middle Paleolithic is an important aspect to consider as a means to understand Neanderthal technology, economic organization and cognitive and psychomotor capacities. Small tool production has been related to the economy of high-quality raw materials or to the planned production of tools for precision tasks. The objective of this investigation is to evaluate if there are differences in precision depending on the size of the flake used. To achieve this, we carried out an experimental test in a group of 50 individuals to measure the relationship between the size of the tool and the precision achieved. The experiment consisted of tracing different lines using standard Levallois (> 4 cm) and micro-Levallois (< 3 cm) flakes. Then, the error of each tracing was measured using GIS software, to analyze statistically the relationship between variables. The results show that there are no significant differences in precision between standard flakes and small flakes. Therefore, we reject the hypothesis that the production of small flakes was driven by a specific need for precision tools, and accordingly, we propose alternative scenarios to explain the relevance of their production in certain assemblages.
Carlos Pérez-Garrido
added 5 research items
3D reconstruction of the other wooden tool from U4 (.obj file with texture). (ZIP)
Lithic assemblages from Aranbaltza III sequence. (PDF)
Stratigraphy and sedimentology of Aranbaltza III sequence. (PDF)
Joseba Rios-Garaizar
added an update
Entrada en el blog Arkeobasque:
En el año 2016, en el transcurso de una revisión sistemática de la fauna del yacimiento, el paleontólogo del instituto Ikerbasque (EHU) Asier Gómez Olivencia, reparó en la posible presencia de huellas de manipulación antrópica en restos de carnívoros y de aves. Inmediatamente se organizó un equipo de investigación formado por paleontólogos, tafónomos y arqueólogos, con el objetivo de contrastar estas evidencias que de confirmarse serían las primeras de esta naturaleza en la Región Cantábrica. La relevancia de este descubrimiento radica en que permite reconocer unas estrategias de subsistencia complejas en las que aves y carnívoros son consumidos para obtener carne, pieles y posiblemente plumas. Este tipo de interacciones con animales difíciles de capturar como las aves, o directamente peligrosos como los lobos, son poco frecuentes entre los neandertales y evidencian un control exhaustivo del medio y de las posibilidades que este ofrece. Curiosamente, hace pocos meses publicamos las primeras evidencias incontestables de consumo de moluscos marinos por neandertales en yacimiento de El Cuco, también el la Región Cantábrica (Gutiérrez Zugasti et al. 2018). Todos estos descubrimientos ayudan a matizar la imagen de los neandertales como simples cazadores y consumidores de herbívoros de tamaño grande y medio, y muestran que consumían un espectro más amplio de recursos.
Los resultados de este trabajo se acaban de publicar en la prestigiosa revista Scientific Reports de Nature, donde además de describir de manera pormenorizada los restos de aves y carnívoros con huellas de consumo humano, se sitúan estos restos en el contexto del yacimiento, de la Región Cantábrica y de la Europa Neandertal (Gómez-Olivencia et al. 2018). Gracias a esta contextualización hemos podido certificar que las evidencias de Axlor se asocian a un complejo tecnocultural muy particular, el Musterienses de tipo Quina, que según los datos más recientes en Axlor tiene más de 50.000 años de antigüedad (Marín-Arroyo et al. 2018).
Los de Axlor son los primeros restos identificados de aves y carnívoros consumidos por Neandertales de la Región Cantábrica y unos de los pocos de la Península Ibérica, entre los que destacan los de las cuevas de Gibraltar (Blasco et al. 2016) o Bolomor (Blasco & Fernández Peris 2009). En Europa el panorama es mucho más complejo, existiendo evidencias dispersas en numerosos yacimientos de Francia y de Italia, con algunos ejemplos realmente notables como el yacimiento de Taubach (Bratlund 1999) en el que hay evidencias de un consumo sistemático de osos de las cavernas, el de Fumane en el que se apunta a que las aves se cazaban para obtener plumas para usar como adorno (Peresani et al. 2011), o el yacimiento de Krapina en el que se identificaron talones de águila para ser usados como colgantes (Radovčić et al. 2015).
Los restos identificados en Axlor son tres restos de ave (dos pertenecientes al águila real y un tercer resto perteneciente a un cuervo) y un cánido (lobo) y un félido de pequeño tamaño (lince). Las marcas de corte en los restos de águila real y lince son muy probablemente el resultado de la obtención de carne, mientras que en el caso del lobo el objetivo pudo ser tanto la la carne como la piel.
 
Joseba Rios-Garaizar
added a research item
Neandertals were top predators who basically relied on middle- to large-sized ungulates for dietary purposes, but there is growing evidence that supports their consumption of plants, leporids, tortoises, marine resources, carnivores and birds. The Iberian Peninsula has provided the most abundant record of bird exploitation for meat in Europe, starting in the Middle Pleistocene. However, the bird and carnivore exploitation record was hitherto limited to the Mediterranean area of the Iberian Peninsula. Here we present the first evidence of bird and carnivore exploitation by Neandertals in the Cantabrian region. We have found cut-marks in two golden eagles, one raven, one wolf and one lynx remain from the Mousterian levels of Axlor. The obtaining of meat was likely the primary purpose of the cut-marks on the golden eagle and lynx remains. Corvids, raptors, felids and canids in Axlor could have likely acted as commensals of the Neandertals, scavenging upon the carcasses left behind by these hunter-gatherers. This could have brought them closer to Neandertal groups who could have preyed upon them. These new results provide additional information on their dietary scope and indicate a more complex interaction between Neandertals and their environment.
Joseba Rios-Garaizar
added 4 research items
Microlith production is usually related to Upper Paleolithic and Mesolithic technology (Kuhn, 2002), however, small tools have been documented since the Lower Paleolithic (Bur- dukiewicz and Ronen, 2003; Parush et al., 2015). Recent studies have emphasized the relevance of microlithic productions in Middle Paleolithic, so this seems to be an important aspect to understand Neanderthal adaptations, technological evolution and economic organization (Kuhn, 1995; Kuhn y Elston, 2002; Dibble y McPherron, 2006; Rios-Garaizar, 2010; Villaverde et al., 2012; Lemorini et al., 2015; Rios-Garaizar et al., 2015; Pati ̃no et al., 2017). The production of small flakes in Middle Paleolithic has been interpreted as a simple technological solution to cope with difficulties to access good quality raw material (Kuhn, 1995). However, new investigations suggest that the emergence of these types of tools could be part of planned behavior by Neanderthals, and that the objective was to produce precision tools (Dibble and McPherron, 2006; Rios-Garaizar, 2010; Villaverde et al, 2012; Lemorini et al., 2015; Rios-Garaizar, 2015). The link between size and precision has been invoked several times but almost no empirical evidence was available. The objective of this investigation is to evaluate, from an experimental perspective, if there is a link between precision and size of flakes. The results of this experimentation will allow us to corroborate or falsify the existence of such link, and will give us new empirical arguments to discuss the reasons of microlith production in Middle Paleolithic.
The relevance of small tool production during the Middle Paleolithic in the Cantabrian Region has been highlighted in the last years grace to several publications (Cuartero et al. 2015, Lazuén and González-Urquijo 2015, Rios-Garaizar et al. 2015). In these works the small tool production has been described as a planned method to provide tools for high mobility populations or groups inhabiting areas poor in good quality raw-materials (Rios-Garaizar et al. 2015), it has been also pointed out the use of this kind of tools in precision activities (Rios-Garaizar 2010). However, in a recent experimental work this link has been questioned, suggesting a more complex explanation for these industries (Bilbao Malavé 2017). Also, in some sites more opportunistic small flake productions have been identified (for example in Amalda level VII or in El Cuco level X), and interestingly small flake production also played a role in the technology of groups inhabiting areas close to raw material sources (for example in Aranbaltza I). It is also interesting to note that such productions are not relevant in Early Middle Paleolithic assemblages (Rios-Garaizar 2017), suggesting that in this region they are a typical product of Late Middle Paleolithic. In this presentation we want to explore the reality of small flake production in Cantabrian Middle Paleolithic to see differences between small flake production systems, to ascertain the different roles played by these small tools in the different assemblages, and to see if this variability can be interpreted in terms of chronology, site function, general technological features, etc. To do so we are going to present updated technological, functional and experimental data.
The eastern part of the Cantabrian region is characterized by the presence of several Middle Paleolithic sites, most of them located in caves and rock-shelters (Axlor, Amalda, Arlanpe, Arrillor, Lezetxiki, El Cuco, Ventalapera). The chronology of these sites ranges from ca. MIS6 to MIS3. The ongonig research on some of these sites reveals a high degree of variability in lithic provisioning and subsistence strategies that can be tracked through time (Rios-Garaizar 2017, Rios-Garaizar and Garcı́a-Moreno 2015). Nevertheless, this vision is biased by the practical absence of open-air sites of this age with good preservation of archaeological materials and spatial relationships (Arrizabalaga et al. 2015). The open air site of Aranbaltza III (Barrika, Northern Iberian Peninsula) is located near Bilbao, close to the current shoreline, and it is one of the rare examples in the Cantabrian Region of well preserved archaeological record in open air. The site is located in a big ar- chaeological complex where MIS3 Middle Paleolithic (Aranbaltza I), and Chatelperronian (Aranbaltza II) occupations have been also identified (Rios-Garaizar et al. 2012).
Joseba Rios-Garaizar
added 2 research items
A large number of sites dated to the Late Middle Paleolithic and the Early Upper Paleolithic have been recorded in the Cantabrian region (northern Iberia), making this area a key location to investigate the lifeways of the last Neanderthals and the first anatomically modern humans. The stratigraphic sequence from El Cuco rock-shelter was originally attributed to the Early Upper Paleolithic based on radiocarbon dates measured on bone apatite. However, new radiocarbon dates on shell carbonates from the lower levels produced inconsistent dates with those previously published. In order to clarify this anomaly, a reassessment of the chronology of levels VI to XIV was undertaken. The review was based on new radiocarbon dates performed on bones and shells, and a re-evaluation of the lithic assemblages. Bone samples did not produce radiocarbon dates due to a lack of collagen preservation but radiocarbon dating of shell carbonates provided dates ranging from 42.3 to 46.4 ka BP. These dates are significantly older than that previously obtained for level XIII using biogenic apatite from bones (∼30 ka uncal BP), suggesting that the bone apatite used for radiocarbon dating was rejuvenated due to contamination with secondary carbonate. Lithic assemblages, defined in the first place as Evolved Aurignacian, have now been confidently attributed to the Mousterian techno-complex. These results suggest a Middle Paleolithic chronology for this part of the sequence. The new chronology proposed for El Cuco rock-shelter has significant implications for the interpretation of Neanderthal subsistence strategies and settlement patterns, especially for coastal settlement and use of marine resources, not only in northern Iberia, but also in Atlantic Europe.
Methodological advances in dating the Middle to Upper Paleolithic transition provide a better understanding of the replacement of local Neanderthal populations by Anatomically Modern Humans. Today we know that this replacement was not a single, pan-European event, but rather it took place at different times in different regions. Thus, local conditions could have played a role. Iberia represents a significant macro-region to study this process. Northern Atlantic Spain contains evidence of both Mousterian and Early Upper Paleolithic occupations, although most of them are not properly dated, thus hindering the chances of an adequate interpretation. Here we present 46 new radiocarbon dates conducted using ultrafiltration pre-treatment method of anthropogenically manipulated bones from 13 sites in the Cantabrian region containing Mousterian, Aurignacian and Gravettian levels, of which 30 are considered relevant. These dates, alongside previously reported ones, were integrated into a Bayesian age model to reconstruct an absolute timescale for the transitional period. According to it, the Mousterian disappeared in the region by 47.9–45.1ka cal BP, while the Châtelperronian lasted between 42.6k and 41.5ka cal BP. The Mousterian and Châtelperronian did not overlap, indicating that the latter might be either intrusive or an offshoot of the Mousterian. The new chronology also suggests that the Aurignacian appears between 43.3–40.5ka cal BP overlapping with the Châtelperronian, and ended around 34.6–33.1ka cal BP, after the Gravettian had already been established in the region. This evidence indicates that Neanderthals and AMH co-existed <1,000 years, with the caveat that no diagnostic human remains have been found with the latest Mousterian, Châtelperronian or earliest Aurignacian in Cantabrian Spain.
Joseba Rios-Garaizar
added an update
28, March, 2018
Archaeological excavations at Aranbaltza, site located in the Basque Country coast, have revealed several episodes of neandertal occupations with preserved wooden remains. The fieldwork is leaded by Joseba Rios-Garaizar, archaeologist from the Spanish National Research Centre on Human Evolution (CENIEH). In 2015, the excavation revealed the presence of waterlogged sediments preserving wooden remains in an extraordinary state of preservation. The assemblage includes including two wooden tools, and one of them is a 15 cm long digging stick which has been published in PLOS ONE.
 
Joseba Rios-Garaizar
added a research item
Aranbaltza is an archaeological complex formed by at least three open-air sites. Between 2014 and 2015 a test excavation carried out in Aranbaltza III revealed the presence of a sand and clay sedimentary sequence formed in floodplain environments, within which six sedimentary units have been identified. This sequence was formed between 137–50 ka, and includes several archaeological horizons, attesting to the long-term presence of Neanderthal communities in this area. One of these horizons, corresponding with Unit 4, yielded two wooden tools. One of these tools is a beveled pointed tool that was shaped through a complex operational sequence involving branch shaping, bark peeling, twig removal, shaping, polishing, thermal exposition and chopping. A use-wear analysis of the tool shows it to have traces related with digging soil so it has been interpreted as representing a digging stick. This is the first time such a tool has been identified in a European Late Middle Palaeolithic context; it also represents one of the first well-preserved Middle Palaeolithic wooden tool found in southern Europe. This artefact represents one of the few examples available of wooden tool preservation for the European Palaeolithic, allowing us to further explore the role wooden technologies played in Neanderthal communities.
Joseba Rios-Garaizar
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We just went to Amalda cave to refresh the section and collect new environmental and chronometric data from this important Neanderthal site in Eastern Cantabrian region. http://www.cenieh.es/es/sala-de-prensa/noticias/actualidad/el-cenieh-realiza-su-primera-campana-de-excavacion-en-la-cueva-de
 
Joseba Rios-Garaizar
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A new paper titled “A chrono-cultural reassessment of the levels VI–XIV from El Cuco rock-shelter: A new sequence for the Late Middle Paleolithic in the Cantabrian region (northern Iberia)” has been published in Quaternary International (Gutierrez-Zugasti et al. 2017). In this work, we propose a new chrono-cultural attribution for the lower part of El Cuco’s archeological sequence, which is now attributed to the Middle Paleolithic. This change demanded a new lecture of the entire site, which nowadays is the first site in the Bay of Biscay, atributed to neandertals, with clear evidence of marine resource consumption. Also, the new sequence is relevant to understand the end of the Middle Paleolithic in the region. Igor Gutiérrez-Zugasti Ana B. Marín-Arroyo Julià Maroto
 
Joseba Rios-Garaizar
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Nueva entrada en el Blog de Arkeobasque sobre la supuesta falta de capacidades manuales de los neandertales
 
Joseba Rios-Garaizar
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In this chapter we discuss if the behaviour variability of Neanderthal soci- eties is the result of a simple adaptive response to environment transformations or if it reflects changes in the social structure of these societies. We focus on the Mouster- ian record of the rich and variable western Pyrenees region. We propose a hypothet- ical reconstruction of past environments and landscapes, as well as the distribution and availability of specific resources. With this reconstruction we can model the potential resource availability in stadial and interstadial conditions and compare it with the actual resource consumption in the different archaeological levels under consideration. The results of this comparison show that the variability in hunting strategies and tool provisioning strategies are not strictly related with the resource availability in the immediate territory. We interpret this as a result of a planned, con- scious and socially driven selection. Our analysis provides new perspectives in expla
The end of the Middle Pleistocene is an interesting period for investigating the transformation of Neandertal behavior from the early Middle Paleolithic to the late Middle Paleolithic. Few sites in the Iberian Peninsula have sequences corresponding to the last interglacial (MIS5) and even fewer in the Cantabrian Region. One of the best places to investigate this subject is the sequence recently excavated in Arlanpe cave. Several proxies (sedimentology, pollen, small vertebrates, malacofauna, U/Th dating) locate the first phases of this sequence between MIS7 and MIS5, with the important occurrence of temperate environmental evidence. The archaeological record describes populations with high mobility that used the cave as an occasional shelter in the first phases, or as an activity area in the later ones. The characteristics of lithic productions show a combination of Lower (Acheulean bifacial shaping) and Middle Paleolithic (Levallois Technology) traits that justifies an early Middle Paleolithic attribution.
Joseba Rios-Garaizar
added 4 research items
The use of ranged weapons among Neanderthals is an important issue in paleoanthropology, due to its implications for understanding the adaptive advantages of modern humans as opposed to Neanderthals. This debate has been hindered by the existence of some preconceived ideas, such as Mousterian points being too bulky to be used as projectile points. In the last years we have analyzed several Middle Paleolithic assemblages in Northern Iberian Peninsula that included Mousterian points with impact traces. One of the main features of these points was that they were substantially lighter than expected, which made them appropriate as archeological reference to test if Neanderthal groups used these kinds of points as throwing spear tips. We developed an exploratory experiment to test if they were suitable for throwing, and to identify which variables were more important to demonstrate it. Finally we discuss the results from an evolutionary and historical perspective.
This paper explores the nature of the variability noted in the Late Middle Paleolithic lithic technology of the Eastern Cantabrian Region. The sequence at Axlor exemplifies this variability revealing important changes in technology from ca. 55–45 ka BP. A major shift from stable occupations with a Levallois-based technology to shorter occupations with a Quina-based technology is observed. The critical analysis of the available information for the Middle Paleolithic assemblages in the region reveals six major phases: an Early Middle Paleolithic (170–100 ka BP), an undefined Middle Paleolithic (90–60 ka BP), a Vasconian (Discoid technology with cleavers – 60–50 ka BP), a Levallois Mousterian (55–50 ka BP), a Quina Mousterian (50–45 ka BP) and a Late Mousterian (45–40 ka BP). Although the Levallois and Quina Mousterian phases seem to be adaptations to the rapid environmental changes happening during the first phases of MIS3 (between DO16–17 and DO12), there are other factors that also influenced the configuration of these different technological systems, such as the modification of settlement systems or changes in Neanderthal group organization, and the resulting transformation of social needs.
Joseba Rios-Garaizar
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We are working with 3D modeling of lithic collections from Aranbaltza https://t.co/ZrywnMCG4i
 
Joseba Rios-Garaizar
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We are trying to understand the nature of changes in behavior and culture lived by neandertal populations in a well defined region, the East of the Cantabrian Region. Using this regional approach we can test how changes in demography, climate or resource availability influenced cultural change (technology, subsistence practices, settlement dynamics,...).
We are combining the re-analysis of classic sites, as Axlor or Amalda, with the exploration and excavation of new sites as Arlanpe or Aranbaltza. Grace to this we are covering a wide timespan from MIS7 to MIS3, including Early Middle Paleolithic, Classic and Late Mousterian, and Chatelperronian sites.
Up to now we have shown that neanderthal cultures varied considerably through time, incorporating in this process some relevant innovations as the use of tipped spears or the production and use of microlithic tools. Also we have demonstrated that neanderthals were not highly dependent from local resources, as they put in practice sophisticated strategies to assure the supply of preferred raw materials, to hunt concrete preys, or to create shelters.