Distribution of openair sites

1. Arguably the most striking feature of Middle Palaeolithic open-air sites in southwestern France is their abundance. If a site is defined by any occurrence of one or more artefacts which are recognizably Middle Palaeolithic in character, then the total of recorded open-air sites within the Perigord and immediately adjacent regions must run into several hundred and possibly more than a thousand. Within the northern Dordogne region alone (coinciding essentially with the Dronne valley drainage) Duchadeau-Ker-vazo (1982,1986) has recorded over 120 find-spots of apparently Middle Palaeolithic material (Figs 8.5, 8.6), while Rigaud (1982), Le Tensorer (1981), Geneste (1985), Turq (1988a, 1989a, 1992b), Jaubert (1984, 1985) and others have documented similar numbers from areas further south between the valleys of the Isle, Vezere, Dordogne and Lot (Figs 8.10, 8.11). This is an impressive total, which clearly dwarfs the number of Middle Palaeolithic cave and rock-shelter locations in the same areas and greatly exceeds the numbers of open-air finds of Upper Palaeolithic material from the same region (cf. Rigaud 1982; Duchadeau-Kervazo 1982,1986; White 1985) (e.g. Fig. 8.6).

If attention is focussed on the quantities of material recovered from individual sites, then the patterns become rather less dramatic. Thus Duchadeau-Kervazo (1982:

Tables 88-96) has reported that of a total of 129 separate find-spots of apparently Middle Palaeolithic artefacts recorded in her survey of the Dronne valley drainage, 37 are represented by finds of only single artefacts (principally isolated cordiform hand axes or other distinctive tool forms), while only 40 sites are represented by collections of 10 or more artefacts (Fig. 8.7). Only seven sites (less than 6 percent of the total) yielded more than 100 artefacts. Clearly, these are minimal figures, since it is unlikely that the available surface collections from each location represent more than a fraction of the total artefacts originally present on the sites and of course the numbers of sites waiting to be discovered within the same areas (potentially obscured by woodland or later geological deposits) are unknown. Nevertheless, these figures provide a rather more realistic impression of the relative intensity of utilization of open-air versus cave and rock-shelter locations than might be gleaned from a rapid inspection of either total site numbers or the impressive scatters recorded on some distribution maps (see Figs 8.5, 8.6, 8.11). Although no precise figures are available, it is unlikely that the total number of artefacts (or at least systematically retouched tool forms) recovered from the various Middle Palaeolithic open-air sites within the northern Perigord region runs into more than a few thousand, which is much less than that recorded from the aggregated total of cave and rock-shelter sites in the same region (see Geneste 1985; Duchadeau-Ker-vazo 1982). Above all, it should be remembered that while the majority of open-air sites probably represent only a single, or at most a few repeated, visits to the same site, the normal pattern in cave and rock-shelter sites is to find a massive palimpsest of repeated occupational episodes superimposed within the same location. Clearly, we shall never be able to estimate the relative intensity of utilization of open-air versus cave and rock-shelter sites with any precision - granted the limitations on potential field survey tech

Figure 8.5 Distribution of Middle Palaeolithic open-air and cave/rock-shelter sites in the northern Perigord region, as documented by Geneste (1985).

Figure 8.5 Distribution of Middle Palaeolithic open-air and cave/rock-shelter sites in the northern Perigord region, as documented by Geneste (1985).

niques, differential patterns of site destruction and the other factors discussed above. But to assume that open-air sites represent the dominant component of Middle Palaeolithic activity patterns in areas such as the Perigord region - equipped with large numbers of naturally sheltered and intensively utilized cave and rock-shelter sites - would almost certainly be premature with the evidence at present in hand.

2. The overall distribution of Middle Palaeolithic open-air sites shows some obvious similarities to that of cave and rock-shelter sites,

Figure 8.6 Comparison of the overall distributions of Middle Palaeolithic and Upper Palaeolithic sites in the Dronne valley drainage of the northern Perigord region, as documented by Duchadeau-Kervazo (1982,1986). As shown in Fig. 8.5, the Middle Palaeolithic distribution is characterized by a much higher frequency of open-air sites.

Figure 8.6 Comparison of the overall distributions of Middle Palaeolithic and Upper Palaeolithic sites in the Dronne valley drainage of the northern Perigord region, as documented by Duchadeau-Kervazo (1982,1986). As shown in Fig. 8.5, the Middle Palaeolithic distribution is characterized by a much higher frequency of open-air sites.

together with some significant differences (Duchadeau-Kervazo 1982, 1984, 1986; Turq 1989a). From the areas surveyed in detail it is clear that many of the most densely occupied and exploited areas coincide with the major limestone plateaux which separate the major river valleys of the Perigord - for example between the valleys of the Lot and the Dor-dogne, the Dordogne and the Vezere, and the various river and tributary systems of the Isle and Dronne catchments in the northern Dordogne and southern Charente (Rigaud 1982; Geneste 1985; Turq 1988a, 1989a; Le Tensorer 1981; Debenath 1974; Duchadeau-Kervazo 1982,1986) (see Figs 8.5, 8.6,8.10). All of these are essentially interfluvial locations which lie between areas of dense concentrations of cave and rock-shelter sites within major river valleys. But clearly the distribution of open-air sites is much less tightly controlled by the

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