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A warm and humid paleoecological context for the Neanderthal mountain settlement at the Navalmaíllo rockshelter (Iberian Central System, Madrid)

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Abstract

Neanderthals have been claimed to have had a selective adaptation to rugged, wooded landscapes that would have partially compensate their high basal metabolic rate and locomotor energetic costs through reducing search time and increasing diet breadth. The archaeological site of the Navalmaíllo rockshelter (Pinilla del Valle, Madrid), located in a mountain environment in central Iberian Peninsula, has been interpreted as a repeated short-term occupation hunting camp by Neanderthal groups, mainly focused on primary access to large bovids and cervids. Navalmaíllo rockshelter has also furnished fish, toads, frogs, tortoises, lizards and snakes remains. This association of amphibians and reptiles suggests a much warmer climate (þ2.8 C) for layer F than at present, with similar temperatures during the summer but higher temperatures throughout the remaining months. Rainfall was slightly more abundant (þ180.6 mm) than today, with a more contrasted regime during the year, with rainier winters and drier summers. A two-month period of aridity is observed during summer, representing a similar duration to present-day climatic conditions. Reconstructed landscapes are mainly constituted by open areas with dry grassland and rocky or stony areas, evolving laterally to humid meadows, probably close to the aquatic and peri-aquatic areas, such as rivers or ponds with riverside vegetation. Woodland environments are also well represented around the site, with medium scrublands to forest formations. Fish complete this reconstruction by documenting the presence of a pre-mountain well-developed river system characterized by relatively cold, permanent, oxygen-rich, and running waters. Such reconstruction is in disagreement with previous pollen interpretation for Layer F that suggested a very open and cold environment. Our new interpretation suggests that the Neanderthal occupation of the Navalmaíllo rockshelter occurred during a somewhat temperate and humid period, probably within the later part of the Marine Isotope Stage 5, effectively favouring the presence of a high biodiversity around the site.

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Studying lithic raw material sourcing, processing and distribution is helpful when trying to reconstruct the territory, ecology, and cultural practices of Neanderthal groups. The use of multiple methods in such analyses allows for more refined characterizations to be made, helping to distinguish between materials better than any single method. Although 85% of the raw materials making up the Mousterian assemblage at the Navalmaíllo Rock Shelter (Pinilla del Valle, Madrid Region of Spain) correspond to the available local geological resources, 10% is made of white/beige chert, which is not registered in regional geological cartography. Petrographic and scanning electron microscopy with energy dispersive X‐ray spectroscopy analyses were performed to determine the origin of this white/beige chert and thus shed light on the procurement strategies of the Neanderthal groups that occupied the rock shelter. The results show this chert to correspond to three different types of rock: quartz–kaolinite rocks from dykes, cretaceous marine cherts, and quartz fillings of cavities/fractures. These findings are in accordance with the geological features and formations present in the Lozoya valley, as recorded during a geoarchaeological survey, and indicate that the Neanderthals occupying the center of the Iberian Peninsula possessed a detailed knowledge of the landscape that allowed them to exploit its resources during MIS5a–early MIS4.
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Anurans, such as frogs and toads, are occasionally very abundant in archaeo-paleontological sites and representing >80% of the remains. These accumulations have been linked mainly to human consumption in the European context, by the preferential selection of body parts and by the presence of burning, and to a lesser extent, cut marks (as in Chalain 3, Baume d’Ogens, Kutná Hora-Denemark). However, there are also records of accumulations attributed to natural catastrophic events (Bois-Roche). This research presents a taphocenosis of microvertebrates of reduced dimensions (7.8 × 2.7 × 2.4 cm) containing 2526 bones, from El Mirador cave of Atapuerca (Burgos, Spain) contemporaneous to an adjacent Chalcolithic burial (ca. 4500 BP). The taxonomical study has identified at least 12 different taxa, which include one urodele, two anurans, seven squamates and two rodents. Tree frogs, Hyla gr. arborea (Hyla molleri), constitutes 84% of the assemblage. Quantitative and qualitative taphonomic analyses are focused on Hyla bones and show the presence of breakage and digestion marks associated with animal predation, albeit in low percentages and in light or moderate degrees. Due to its characteristics, El Mirador accumulation has been identified as a pellet accumulation produced by a medium-large owl (category 2). The nocturnal raptor hunted its preys during a wet period in spring, when the reproduction of the tree frogs occurs, showing a possible evidence of opportunistic predation on a seasonal resource. These findings help to understand the importance of anurans in the trophic chains of Prehistoric times, not only among human groups but also among non-human predators.
Article
Hitherto unpublished ¹⁴ C and ²³⁰ Th[sbnd] ²³⁴ U determinations from Carihuela Cave (Granada province, Andalusia, Spain) raise a possibility of late survival here of Neanderthals and their Mousterian technocomplex into an advanced stage of the Late Pleistocene (MIS-3), when anatomically-modern humans with Upper Palaeolithic toolkits were penetrating the region, and when also several carnivore taxa competed for access to the cave. Previous palaeopalynological studies are reinforced by new pollen analyses of samples extracted from coprolites. The palaeoecological and sedimentological records bear comparison with new data from the Padul peat deposits in the Sierra Nevada, and are in line with the view that there was late persistence of the Mousterian in Granada. There is a pressing need for renewed international multidisciplinary research at Carihuela Cave, with up-to-date lithostratigraphical and dating techniques that can expand on results obtained from fieldwork undertaken by a previous generation of researchers. Carihuela Cave continues to hold out great promise for analysing Neanderthal palaeoecology during the Late Pleistocene up to the appearance in southeastern Iberian Peninsula of anatomically-modern Upper Palaeolithic people, particularly with regard to the earlier phases of the Middle Palaeolithic at the cave which await intensive excavation but apparently extend back in time to the last interglacial period.
Article
Optimal foraging theory and diet breadth models often place large mammals in top-ranking positions due to their high-energy return. However, mass collection of small prey can result in comparable return rates, and dietary diversity is nutritionally beneficial on its own right. A growing body of evidence recovered from several sites in the Mediterranean Basin confirms Neanderthal use of small size prey. Slow-moving, tortoises are an easy catch, and human collection and consumption is demonstrated by taphonomic analysis. In Portugal, two key Middle Palaeolithic cave sites, Gruta da Oliveira and Gruta da Figueira Brava, provide pertinent evidence. Based on an improved osteometric method, in which long bone measurements are standardised and analysed together using the Logarithmic Size Index (LSI), it is possible to better gauge the contribution of tortoises to the diet and the human impact on the species’ populations. At inland Gruta da Oliveira, a tendency towards the massive collection of tortoises, affecting the local population more severely, is apparent. At coastal Gruta da Figueira Brava, the data suggest opportunistic collection upon encounter, possibly due to the availability of a more diverse range of resources.
Article
The study of cut marks in archaeological contexts is of great importance for understanding the subsistence strategies of past human groups. Many authors have indicated differences to exist between the cut marks produced by different tools and when the same types of tool have been made from different raw materials. The present work examines the cut marks made during the experimental butchering of a red deer (Cervus elaphus) using simple quartz flakes, with those found on fossilised animal remains at the Navalmaíllo Rock Shelter site (Pinilla del Valle, Madrid, Spain) likely to have been made with similar flakes. The methodology followed was that of Domínguez-Rodrigo et al. (2009), which was originally designed to differentiate between cut marks and trampling marks, but which here was tested as a method of distinguishing between the raw materials from which cutting tools were made. The results were also compared to those made with other types of tool/raw material reported in the literature. The present results confirm the above ideas: the marks made experimentally by the quartz flakes are very similar to those seen on the faunal remains from the level F of Navalmaíllo Rock Shelter site, but different to those made by other tools or by flakes made from other materials. They also show, however, that different cut mark morphologies are largely independent of the size of the animal butchered, and of the anatomical element on which they appear.
Article
Stratigraphic Unit 13 of Oscurusciuto Rockshelter (Ginosa, Taranto, Southern Italy) is a short Mousterian palimpsest representing the first stable occupation of the site soon after the deposition of a thick layer of tephra (Mt. Epomeo Green Tuff - Ischia datable around 55 kya BP). Different activities were identified by integrating the study of lithic finds, faunal remains, and the microarchaeology of combustion features. Additionally, geo-statistical analysis of these data has been carried out using a specifically designed geodatabase within a GIS platform. Our results produced an articulated picture of this Neanderthal site as a tripartite location made of spatially segregated and integrated activity areas. A hearths’ alignment (parallel to the rockshelter wall) divides the settled area into an inner and outer part. The inner part, between the hearths and the shelter wall, displays an abrupt rarefaction of the anthropic finds and was interpreted as a possible sleeping/resting area. In the outer part, several multipurpose activity areas have been identified, mostly associated with the combustion features. The Northern sector of the settlement appears devoted particularly to lithic production (to a lesser degree, activities related with lithic tools use and faunal processing took place). In the Southern sector the main activities carried out represent more intensive production and use of lithic tools and the butchering and consumption of animal resources. Additionally, in this sector evidence of space maintenance behaviour (cleaning up of working areas and refuse dumping) has been attested.
Article
The pattern of the varying climatic conditions in southern Europe over the last million years is well known from isotope studies on deep-ocean sediment cores and the long pollen records that have been produced for lacustrine and marine sedimentary sequences from Greece, Italy and the Iberian margin. However, although relative glacial and interglacial intensities are well studied, there are still few proxies that permit quantitative terrestrial temperature and precipitation reconstruction. In this context, fauna-based climate reconstructions based on evidence preserved in archaeological or palaeontological sites are of great interest, even if they only document short windows of that climate variability, because (a) they provide a range of temperature and precipitation estimates that are understandable in comparison with present climate; (b) they may allow the testing of predicted temperature changes under scenarios of future climate change; and (c) quantitative temperature and precipitation estimates for past glacials and interglacials for specific regions/latitudes can help to understand their effects on flora, fauna and hominids, as they are directly associated with those cultural and/or biological events. Moreover such reconstructions can bring further arguments to the discussion about important climatic events like the Mid-Bruhnes Event, a climatic transition between moderate warmths and greater warmths during interglacials. In this paper we review a decade of amphibian- and reptile-based climate reconstructions carried out for the Iberian Peninsula using the Mutual Ecogeographic Range method in order to present a regional synthesis from MIS 22 to MIS 6, discuss the climate pattern in relation to the Mid-Bruhnes Event and the thermal amplitude suggested by these estimates and finally to identify the chronological gaps that have still to be investigated.
Article
The successive fossil amphibian and reptile assemblages from the Middle to Late Pleistocene sites from the Manzanares and Jarama River Valleys (Madrid, central Spain) permitted the reconstruction of part of the climate instability with high-amplitude and rapid shifts of the last 450 ka and their associated landscapes: Áridos-1 (MIS11b), Valdocarros II (MIS8a/7e), Estanque de Tormentas de Butarque ETB-H02 (MIS7d or MIS6), PRERESA (MIS7/6 or MIS5a) and HAT (MIS5a). This work aims to present a regional synthesis of the palaeoclimatic and palaeoenvironmental data obtained from the herpetofaunal assemblages for these two valleys and their influence on the biodiversity during the Pleistocene. As a whole, these archaeo-paleontological localities document a total of 20 taxa (8 anurans and 12 reptiles) thus representing 76.9% of the modern authochtonous herpetofauna of the southeast of the Region of Madrid. Taking as a reference the modern situation in the area, the successive herpetofaunal assemblages permits a hypothetical landscape reconstruction where three different periods are represented with a glacial landscape (ETB-H02), a landscape of transition from cool to temperate climatic conditions (Valdocarros II), and an interglacial landscape (Áridos-1, HAT, PRERESA, and today). Environment is particularly open during dry periods, independently of if it is cold or warm. The main difference between an interglacial and a glacial period is the opposite representation of woodlands vs. moist environments: the last ones being more represented during cold periods than during warm periods. Finally, as documented by the succession from Valdocarros II, periods of transition between cold and warm climate are more forested but at the expense of humid meadows progressively. According to the relation between richness, biodiversity and climatic and environmental factors, a clear correlation appears between reptile richness and woodlands. In a similar way, mean annual precipitation (MAP) is revealed to be the most influent factor on reptile local diversity certainly because of its implications on vegetal cover extension and ecosystem productivity and resources. For amphibians the MAP does not influence dominancy but species richness: anuran richness being higher for lower MAP. Such an unusual pattern is certainly due to the fact that there are no strict forest-dweller anurans within the archaeological assemblages and that most of the anurans present in the sites are well adapted to arid conditions.
Article
Despite being described in 1993, the skeleton of Rana pyrenaica Serra-Cobo, 1993 has never been investigated. The present publication thus represents the first description of the osteology of the spring-dwelling Pyrenean small brown frog. Its specific status is osteologically supported by some discrete differences. When compared with other Iberian brown frogs, it shows a mosaic of characters that are difficult to interpret. However, according to ecomorphology, R. pyrenaica shares a robust skeleton morphology and various morphological traits with the more terrestrial Rana temporaria (Linnaeus, 1758), but also shares some more aquatic life osteological characters with the aquatic Rana iberica Boulenger, 1879. As well as increasing what is known about R. pyrenaica, this study also aims to facilitate the correct diagnosis of the species in fossil assemblages and its osteological identification as the prey of other vertebrates in trophic studies.
Article
Los denticulados y las muescas son dos de los elementos más frecuentes en la panoplia musteriense. El creciente interés por el estudio de estos tipos permite vislumbrar su complejidad. La aparente estandarización de sus formas no lo es tal a la luz de nuevos estudios tipométricos. Así mismo, la especialización supuesta del denticulado parece encontrarse ahora en entredicho a partir de los nuevos datos revelados por estudios traceológicos que apuntan a que se trata de una pieza en esencia versátil. Presentamos en este artículo los resultados de un estudio funcional realizado sobre una muestra de denticulados y muescas en cuarzo procedente del yacimiento musteriense del Abrigo de Navalmaíllo (Pinilla del Valle, Madrid, España). Las huellas de uso sobre elementos de cuarzo son peculiares dadas las especiales características de la materia prima. Por otro lado, normalmente se conservan mejor que las formadas en materiales de mejor calidad como el sílex. Los resultados del estudio corroboran la versatilidad de dichas piezas para funciones distintas relacionadas, entre otras, con alguna de las actividades implicadas en el trabajo complejo de descuartizado y el trabajo de la madera.
Article
The climate has undergone significant changes since the end of the Last Glacial Maximum and in the course of the Holocene, parallel to important cultural transformations and migrations in the human communities. The faunal record has also suffered the effects of climate change. Amphibians and reptiles in particular have been shown to be highly sensitive because they are very susceptible to temperature alterations due to their ectothermy. This research presents the first approach to the Iberian paleobiogeography of the different species of amphibians and reptiles from the Late Pleistocene (MIS3) to present times, based on a comparative synthesis of the latest research published in recent years and the fossil record of the 58 archaeo-paleontological sites with significant assemblages. The paleoherpetofaunal associations make it possible to establish two major biotic regions during the Late Pleistocene. The first biotic region was located in the center and south of the Iberian Peninsula, with thermophilic species as the most representative taxa. The second biotic region was formed by the Atlantic-Cantabrian facade and the northeast Iberian area, dominated by hygrophilous and Euro-Siberian species, with an absence of Mediterranean species. After the Last Glacial Maximum there was an unprecedented concurrence in the northern Iberian Peninsula of autochthonous taxa from that area with thermophilic species. In the early Holocene, new species with no previous record in the Iberian Peninsula entered northern Iberia from eastern Mediterranean refugia. Finally, the introduction of North African species was the last significant biogeographical change during the Middle-Late Holocene.
Article
Middle Pleistocene sites that document glacials are relatively rare in the Iberian Peninsula, and as such, the composition of cold small-vertebrate assemblages is almost unknown in southwestern Mediterranean Europe. The archaeological site Estanque de Tormentas de Butarque H-02 in Villaverde, Madrid, in central Spain, recently attributed to Marine Oxygen Isotope Stage (MIS) 6, provides new data on cold small-vertebrate assemblages. Quantitative climate reconstruction and habitat weighting methods applied to the herpetofaunal assemblage reconstruct the terrestrial climatic and environmental conditions that prevailed in central Spain during the penultimate glacial (MIS 6). During MIS 6, the climate was colder (−3.0°C) and slightly wetter (+122.8 mm) than present in the study area. This confirms that temperature variations were not extreme and precipitation was sufficient in southern Mediterranean Europe for the persistence of temperate trees. Paleoenvironmental reconstruction suggests a large representation of dry environments on the overlying plateau, together with a probable corridor of humid meadows and woodlands along the river where the site is located.
Article
Predation is one of the most recurrent sources of bone accumulations. The influence of predation is widely studied for large mammal sites where humans, acting as predators, produce bone accumulations similar to carnivore accumulations. Similarly, small mammal fossil sites are mainly occupation levels of predators (nests or dens). In both cases, investigations of past events can be compared with present day equivalents or proxies. Chewing marks are sometimes present on large mammal predator accumulations, but digestion traits are the most direct indication of predation, and evidence for this is always present in small mammal (prey) fossil assemblages. Digestion grades and frequency indicates predator type and this is well established since the publication of Andrews (1990). The identification of the predator provides invaluable information for accurate interpretation of the palaeoenvironment. Traditionally, palaeoenvironmental interpretations are obtained from the taxonomic species identified in the site, but rather than providing direct interpretations of the surrounding palaeoenvironment, this procedure actually describes the dietary preferences of the predators and the type of occupation (nests, marking territory, dens, etc). This paper reviews the identification of traits produced by predators on arvicolins, murins and soricids using a method that may be used equally by taxonomists and taphonomists. It aims to provide the “tools” for taxonomists to identify the predator based on their methodology, which is examining the occlusal surfaces of teeth rather than their lateral aspects. This will greatly benefit both the work of taphonomists and taxonomists to recognize signs of predation and the improvement of subsequent palaeoecological interpretations of past organisms and sites by identifying both the prey and the predator.