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Upper Palaeolithic Settlement and Mobility in the Armenian Highlands: Agent-Based Modeling, Obsidian Sourcing, and Lithic Analysis at Aghitu-3 Cave

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Excavations at Aghitu-3 Cave in Armenia revealed stratified Upper Palaeolithic archaeological horizons (AHs), spanning from 39 to 36,000 cal BP (AH VII) to 29–24,000 cal BP (AH III) and from which we identified the sources of 1120 obsidian artifacts. Not only does AH III—deposited at the onset of the Last Glacial Maximum—have the most artifacts from non-regional sources but also the artifacts originate from the greatest variety of sources, including two ≥ 270 km on foot in different directions. The amount of retouch and density of lithics—as expressed by whole assemblage behavioral indicators (WABI)—suggest a trend from more expediency to more curation between the deposition of AHs VII and IV. This was followed by a substantial shift back to expediency during the deposition of AH III, corresponding to greater logistical mobility. Here, we use agent-based modeling (ABM) to interpret these data. Greater interactions between foraging groups are not an unavoidable outcome of a shift from residential to logistical mobility. Some variables (i.e., lithic stock, use intensity, provisioning strategy) can be ruled out, while other variables (i.e., decreased source abundance, a shift to direct procurement) appear inconsistent with the archaeological data. Territory spacing, in contrast, has a clear and predictable effect. A small decrease in territory spacing can yield notable increases in inter-group contact opportunities and can be explained by an increase in population densities as the climate cooled. Following this scenario, we assume that, as AH III accumulated, the cave’s occupants not only moved farther distances but also more frequently encountered neighboring groups.
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Upper Palaeolithic Settlement
and Mobility in the Armenian Highlands: Agent-Based
Modeling, Obsidian Sourcing, and Lithic Analysis
at Aghitu-3 Cave
Ellery Frahm, et al. [full author details at the end of the article]
#Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019
Abstract
Excavations at Aghitu-3 Cave in Armenia revealed stratified Upper Palaeolithic ar-
chaeological horizons (AHs), spanning from 39 to 36,000 cal BP (AH VII) to 29
24,000 cal BP (AH III) and from which we identified the sources of 1120 obsidian
artifacts. Not only does AH IIIdeposited at the onset of the Last Glacial Maximum
have the most artifacts from non-regional sources but also the artifacts originate from
the greatest variety of sources, including two 270 km on foot in different directions.
The amount of retouch and density of lithicsas expressed by whole assemblage
behavioral indicators (WABI)suggest a trend from more expediency to more curation
between the deposition of AHs VII and IV. This was followed by a substantial shift
back to expediency during the deposition of AH III, corresponding to greater logistical
mobility. Here, we use agent-based modeling (ABM) to interpret these data. Greater
interactions between foraging groups are not an unavoidable outcome of a shift from
residential to logistical mobility. Some variables (i.e., lithic stock, use intensity, provi-
sioning strategy) can be ruled out, while other variables (i.e., decreased source abun-
dance, a shift to direct procurement) appear inconsistent with the archaeological data.
Territory spacing, in contrast, has a clear and predictable effect. A small decrease in
territory spacing can yield notable increases in inter-group contact opportunities and
can be explained by an increase in population densities as the climate cooled. Follow-
ing this scenario, we assume that, as AH III accumulated, the cavesoccupantsnotonly
moved farther distances but also more frequently encountered neighboring groups.
Keywords Computer simulation .NetLogo .Hunter-gatherers .Agent-based modeling
(ABM) .Whole assemblage behavioral indicators (WABI)
Journal of Paleolithic Archaeology
https://doi.org/10.1007/s41982-019-00025-5
Electronic supplementary material The online version of this article (https://doi.org/10.1007/s41982-019-
00025-5) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
... This layer was exposed over a small area and yielded only a small lithic collection. The main raw material used at the site was obsidian, transported mostly from a source located ~ 30-40 km north-west of the site, with a few items originating from sources located ~ 110-150 km in the same direction (Frahm et al., 2019;Kandel et al., 2017). At Aghitu-3, levels III-VI display technological characteristics similar to the assemblages from Ortvale Klde and Bondi caves, dominated by a unidirectional reduction sequence for bladelet production and to a lesser extent blades. ...
... There were no ecological or natural barriers between the Southern Caucasus and Armenian Highland sites, and at least one obsidian raw material source (Chikiani) was shared between the two regions (Adler, 2002;Adler et al., 2006;Malinsky-Buller et al., 2021b) . Additionally, inhabitants of the late MP and early UP used the same obsidian sources in the Armenian Highlands (Frahm et al., 2019(Frahm et al., , 2021Kandel et al., 2017;Malinsky-Buller et al., 2021b). ...
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... For data description, see Table 19. Following Clark and Barton (2017: Fig. 1 and Table 1) and Frahm et al. (2019: Fig. 6), extremes of this dataset indicate low-density, more curated assemblages suggesting residential mobility and individual provisioning, and high-density, more expedient assemblages suggestive of logistical mobility with place provisioning (Fig. 18b). The significantly high source diversity observed in the surface assemblage likely reflects biased collection of diagnostic artifacts from a large surface area. ...
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... Over the last decade, the use of portable X-ray fluorescence (pXRF) to analyse the elemental composition of obsidian artefacts and source material has been integrated into MP artefact assemblage analysis (Adler et al., 2014;Frahm et al., 2014aFrahm et al., ,b, 2016aFrahm et al., ,b, 2019aFrahm et al., ,b, 2020Glauberman et al., 2020b;Malinsky-Buller et al., 2020. So far, thousands of obsidian MP artefacts of all type classes (cores, flakes, tools, chips) have been sourced. ...
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