Hunting strategies

Finally, what evidence do we have for the actual techniques or strategies of hunting in Middle Palaeolithic contexts? The evidence is admittedly limited, but may provide some critical insights into behavioural patterns.

1. First, there is now strong evidence for the use of some forms of heavy-duty thrusting or penetrating spears in certain Middle Palaeolithic contexts, and apparently even from the later stages of the Lower Palaeolithic. The best documented examples are the yew-wood spear with a carefully shaped and fire-hardened tip recovered from the earlier Hoxnian deposits (? ca 350,000 BP) at Clacton on Sea (Essex) (Oakley et al. 1977), and the similar specimen recovered from deposits of probably last interglacial age from Lehringen in Germany (Movius 1950; Adam 1951) (Fig. 7.17). The interpretation of these artefacts as hunting weapons has occasionally been questioned but the evidence seems generally persuasive. Clive Gamble's (1988) suggestion that they could represent snow probes for locating the carcases of animals buried beneath deep snow drifts is intriguing and ingenious but perhaps not entirely convincing. As Chase (1988) has pointed out, the fact that the Lehringen spear was found apparently lying beneath the bones of an adult elephant would seem to pose obvious difficulties for this interpretation.

The arguments for and against interpreting various forms of Mousterian points as hafted tips of spears or other hunting weapons have been discussed in Chapter 4. Clearly, not all these pointed forms can be interpreted with any confidence as weapon tips, and many probably served simply as hand-held or hafted butchery or skinning knives. Nevertheless, the evidence for characteristic impact

Figure 7.17 Points of wooden spears recovered from the Hoxnian interglacial deposits (?ca 350,000 BP) at Clacton on Sea, England (left), and last interglacial deposits (ca 110-130,000 BP) at Lehringen, northern Germany (right). The former spear is of yew, while the latter is of unknown wood. The Lehringen spear is said to have had an original length of 2.4 m, and was found associated with the skeleton of a straight-tusked elephant. After Oakley et al. 1977 and Jacob-Friesen 1959.

damage apparent on the tips of several typical Mousterian points from the penultimate glacial age occupation levels at the Cotte de St Brelade (see Fig. 4.17) appears to support the weapon-tip interpretation (Callow 1986a). Similar arguments have been ad

Figure 7.18 Schematic section of the Mousterian deposits at La Quina (Charente), showing the position of the bone accumulations (in layers f and e) at the foot of a limestone cliff, which may have served as a cliff-fall hunting location. After Jelinek et al. 1988.

vanced on the basis of micro-wear studies for many of the classic Levallois point and related forms from Middle Palaeolithic sites in the Middle East (Shea 1989; but see Holdoway 1989 for a different view). It is also worth recalling in this context the early discovery of an apparently typical Levallois point lying amongst the bones of a mammoth skeleton at Ealing in the Thames Valley (Wymer 1968: 261).

Even if the existence of these spears provides clear evidence for the deliberate killing of game in certain Middle Palaeolithic and even earlier contexts, this in itself tells us little about the actual techniques or strategies of hunting. Binford has argued that thrusting spears are only viable in very close-range encounters with animals and could well have been used for the final despatching of ani mals that were already in some way disadvantaged - such as sick or injured animals, or those just born or partially disabled by carnivore attacks. Use of short-range thrusting spears need not imply hunting on any very enterprising scale, and as yet there is no convincing evidence for use of throwing spears or other long-range weaponry in Middle Palaeolithic contexts (despite the occasional, speculative claims for the use of bolas slings or similar devices: Henri-Martin 1923). On balance it is more likely that these long-range projectiles developed much later in the Palaeolithic sequence - perhaps not until the appearance of spear throwers and associated barbed bone and antler points in the later stages of the Upper Palaeolithic sequence (Sonneville-Bordes 1960; Peterkin 1993).

2. Some of the most persuasive evidence for the actual strategies of hunting have come from a number of sites which appear to reflect some form of collective hunting techniques, involving the use of cliff-fall locations. At the site of La Quina, for example, excavations by Henri Martin (recently resumed by Jelinek and Debenath) revealed a massive accumulation of bones of horses, large bovids and reindeer extending over a distance of at least 100 metres along the base of a steep cliff, which represents the only such topographic feature within several kilometres of the site (Fig. 7.18). Jelinek et al. (1988) have argued that this could have acted as a typical 'jump' or cliff-fall hunting location where individual animals or small herds were driven over the cliff face and subsequently dismembered and butchered effectively on the kill site (see also Chase 1989). At the site of Mauran in the Pyrenean foothills a massive accumulation of bison bones again occurs in close proximity to a steep riverside escarpment (Fig. 7.20) (Girard et al. 1975; Girard & David 1982; Farizy & David 1992; see below), and at Puycelsi in the Tarn a large accumulation of remains of horse, bison and other species occurs in a similar cliff-side location (Tavoso 1987). More reliable interpretation of all these sites will be possible when the current studies of the composition and taphonomy of the bone assemblages have been completed and published.

Probably the most convincing case for deliberate cliff-fall hunting techniques has been advanced by Kate Scott (1980, 1986, 1989) from material recovered from two of the later 'Rissian' (isotope stage 6) levels at Cotte de St Brelade (Jersey). Here, Scott was able to document remains of at least twenty individual mammoths and five woolly rhinos, all concentrated in two separate levels in the cave filling (Fig. 7.19) lying immediately at the foot of the steep rock face which drops sharply into the cave from the headland above. The clear patterns of cut marks on the bones and the organized way in which the remains had been piled into heaps (Fig. 7.19) leaves no doubt that the remains reached this position by deliberate human action. As Scott points out, the presence of at least seven complete mammoth skulls (each weighing 300-400 kg) makes it highly unlikely that the remains were deliberately carried into the cave from kill and butchery locations elsewhere. The strongest argument for the deliberate driving of the game into the cavern rather than accidental falls over the cliff face is that the remains were restricted entirely to these two specific points in the stratigraphic sequence and were totally lacking at other points in the succession (Scott 1986, 1989). From this and other evidence, arguments for deliberate fall-hunting strategies in this particular site would seem to be highly persuasive, if not virtually conclusive.

3. Finally, some further insights into the character and organization of hunting activities may be provided by studies of the age-structure of particular species in Middle Palaeolithic sites. As noted earlier, Levine's studies (1983) of the age profiles of horse remains from three separate levels at Combe Grenal appear to indicate an essentially 'catastrophic' pattern similar to that in a living herd (Figs 7.12, 7.13). As she points out, these age profiles would conform best with some kind of unselective mass-killing strategies, such as the deliberate driving of family groups or small herds over cliff faces or similar obstacles, or unselective ambush hunting of herds during seasonal migrations. Similar patterns are seen in Slott Moller's (1990) study of the age distribution of aurochs remains from the site of La Borde and David's analysis of the bison remains from Mauran (Fig. 7.24) (Jaubert & Brugal 1990; David & Farizy 1994). Similar arguments have recently been advanced by Mary Stiner (1990, 1991b) for the age profiles of red deer and aurochs remains from a number of later Mousterian sites (notably San Agostino and Grotta Breuil) in west-central Italy (Fig. 7.16).

Layer 3

Layer 3

site north

Layer 6

Layer 6

Figure 7.19

Norte of these patterns can provide more than a hint of the actual hunting strategies involved but nevertheless suggest that in some contexts the hunting of game by Middle Palaeolithic groups may have been carried out to some degree on an organized and socially cooperative basis.

A very different pattern of age structure has been postulated by Binford for reindeer remains in several of the later Würm II levels at Combe Grenal - notably those from the main sequence of Quina Mousterian levels in layers 21-25. As noted above, initial studies by Binford of the cranial and postcranial remains suggest that the majority of these animals seem to have been killed either as very young calves, shortly after birth, or as yearlings at the end of the first year of life. This is taken by Binford to suggest systematic culling of the young deer, together with the associated females, probably within their late spring and early summer calving grounds, very close to the Combe Grenal site. As he points out, the killing of young deer under these conditions could have been a remarkably easy activity. To Binford this is precisely the kind of strategy that one might anticipate in the earliest stages of the development of deliberate hunting and would have involved very little monitoring or prediction of herd movement, or any other systematic strategies in the pursuit and killing of game.

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment