Hunting versus scavenging

The respective roles of hunting versus scavenging - and the criteria by which these can be identified - have largely dominated discussions of Middle Palaeolithic subsistence patterns over the past decade (Binford 1982b, 1984, 1985, 1991; Chase 1986a, 1988, 1989; Klein 1982, 1986, 1989b,c; Stiner 1990, 1991a,b, 1993a). The topic is linked with wider issues of Neanderthal behavioural pat terns, involving the general organization and planning involved in subsistence activities and many related issues of the mobility and settlement patterns of the human groups, the levels of coordination and integration between different individuals or social segments of Neanderthal communities and the kinds of technology involved in the procurement and subsequent processing of animal carcases. The issues of hunting and scavenging are equally central to an understanding of the specific ecological niche which Neanderthal groups occupied within the local ecosystems (Gamble 1986; Stiner 1990), and therefore to the levels of population density which could be maintained, permanently and securely, in different environments. These issues are of course by no means confined to the Middle Palaeolithic and continue to dominate discussions on much earlier periods of the Palaeolithic, reaching back to the earliest stages of the Pleistocene (Binford 1981, 1985; Isaac 1984; Potts 1988).

Much of the discussion has centred on the specific criteria by which these strategies can be reliably identified from the surviving fau-nal assemblages (see for example Binford 1984, 1988, 1991; Klein 1986, 1989b,c; Blu-menschine 1986, 1987; Chase 1986a, 1988; Turner 1989; Stiner 1990, 1991a,b). Poten-tially, several different aspects of faunal evidence can be brought to bear on the issue -including data on the age distribution of exploited animals (Stiner 1990, 1991b), selection of parts of carcases brought back to sites (Stiner 1991a), evidence for specific patterns of butchery or cut marks on bones (Binford 1984, Blumenschine 1986,1987) and evidence for varying degrees of specialization in the species exploited. Many of the relevant aspects of the evidence from the southwestern French sites have already been touched on in the earlier discussions. Since the whole question of hunting versus scavenging remains in many ways central to an understanding of behavioural patterns in the Middle Palaeolithic, the most critical data are worth reviewing more closely.

As regards the evidence from southwestern France, it seems universally agreed that systematic hunting must be accepted at least for the remains of reindeer recovered from the majority of the Würm II levels at Combe Grenal. This point is now accepted by both Chase (1986a, 1988) and Binford (1991), and seems to be clearly reflected in patterns of bone-element frequencies for this species - with a strong emphasis on the main meat-bearing bones and an under-representation of heads and terminal limbs. Binford has suggested that the hunting was targeted principally on young and probably female reindeer, probably within their late spring and early summer calving grounds, closely adjacent to the Combe Grenal site. As he points out, the hunting technology involved need not have been impressive/and may have amounted to little more than that involved in the clubbing of young seals.

Binford's views on the exploitation of red deer have yet to be spelled out in detail, although from a few scattered comments in the literature he would appear to opt for predominantly scavenging for the majority of the red deer bone assemblages at Combe Grenal. Chase (1986a, 1988), by contrast, has argued specifically for the hunting of this species. The major debate at present hinges on patterns of exploitation of the largest herbivore species - the large bovids (either Bos primigenius, or Bison priscus) and horse (Equus caballus). In this case we are confronted by two sharply opposed alternatives: whereas Binford (1982b, 1984, 1991) has argued strongly for purely scavenging of these species, Chase (1986a, 1988, 1989) has argued equally forcefully for deliberate, systematic hunting. The respective arguments may be summarized as follows:

1. In at least some samples of horse remains at Combe Grenal, upper meat-bearing limbs are more strongly represented than lower limbs. Chase sees this as a powerful argument against simple scavenging of residues from left-overs of carnivore kills. In fact, the samples on which these generalizations are based are all rather poor and the patterns described by Chase perhaps not as clear cut as he has implied (Figs 7.6, 7.27). Nevertheless, the general validity of this observation has apparently been endorsed by Bin-ford (1991) based on his own analyses of the Combe Grenal material and receives some support from the composition of faunal assemblages recovered from other sites in the southwestern French region (for example, large bovids in layers G and H at Le Moustier and horses from layer 12 at Pech de l'Aze IV and the Gare de Couze: Laquay 1990).

2. The second argument relates to the clear patterns of butchery marks which can be documented on many of the major limb bones of horses and large bovids at Combe Grenal. Two points in particular have been emphasized by Chase (1986a, 1988, 1989): first, the lack of evidence of heavy chopping or hacking through the limb bones, which he argues would be predicted for the scavenging of residual meat supplies from remains of partially desiccated or frozen carcases; and second, the frequent occurrence of cut marks and incisions concentrated around either the main joints or along the shafts of long bones, which point to the dismemberment and removal of meat from carcases while the bodies were still in a relatively fresh condition (Fig. 7.11). In support of these arguments, Chase quotes partly from recent studies of modern carnivore predation patterns reported by Blumenschine (1986, 1987) and partly from similar arguments advanced by Binford himself (1984) in his analysis of the faunal remains from the Middle Stone Age site of Klasies River Mouth in South Africa. How far these arguments can be seen as providing a categorical case for hunting is perhaps more debatable. Presumably if human groups were able to gain access to animal carcases shortly after death, there is no reason why the butchery strategies employed in dismembering them and removing any remaining meat should differ significantly from those employed in the processing of deliberately hunted animals. The data cited by Chase are therefore suggestive, but hardly conclusive.

3. Possibly a more forceful argument in favour of the hunting hypothesis is provided by recent studies of age-mortality profiles of horses and large bovid remains from French Middle Palaeolithic sites. From a study of the crown-height profiles of horse teeth recovered from three separate levels at Combe Grenal (layers 14, 22 and 23), Levine (1983) has argued that these appear to reflect an essentially catastrophic age profile, analogous to that expected in the natural age composition of a living herd (Figs 7.12, 7.13). Jaubert and Brugal (1990; also Slott-Moller 1990) have recently advanced the same interpretation for aurochs remains recovered from the open-air site of La Borde, in the adjacent Department of the Lot, and for bison remains from the site of Mauran in the Haute Garonne (Farizy et al 1994) (Fig. 7.24). As both Levine (1983) and Chase (1988, 1989) have pointed out, none of these age profiles conforms to the patterns which would be predicted for simple scavenging of material either from natural death carcases or the remains of carnivore kills. The latter would normally be expected to show a preponderance of either the youngest or oldest age classes (i.e. the most vulnerable components in the herds) or alternatively a dominance of larger and more mature animals, whose remains would be most likely to survive the effects of predation by carnivores and therefore remain available for the longest periods to human scavengers (Chase 1988). Both Chase and Levine argue that these age profiles would be more consistent with some kind of large-scale, unselective hunting strategies involving, for example, driving or stampeding animals over cliff faces or similar natural obstacles.

Living structure mortality profile

Living structure mortality profile

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