Mauran Bison Profile

Successive age classes

Figure 7.24 Estimated age distribution of the remains of aurochs from La Borde (upper) and remains of Bison from Mauran (lower), based on crown-height measurements of molar teeth. Allowing for the selective destruction of the youngest and most fragile teeth, both patterns seem to reflect a 'catastophic age profile, similar to that to be expected in a living herd. After Slott-Moller (1990) and David & Farizy 1994.

1. There can be no doubt that the composition of the faunal assemblages recovered from the four sites provides a powerful if not conclusive argument for the deliberate hunting of large bovids in these particular contexts, as opposed to opportunistic scavenging. As noted earlier, the extraordinarily specialized character of the faunal assemblages (comprising between 93 and 100 percent of one or other of the two main species of bovid) would seem virtually irreconcilable with a hypothesis of purely scavenging activities. To account for these patterns in terms of scavenging, one would have to assume either that the natural animal populations in these particular locations consisted almost entirely of a single herbivorous species or alternatively that the human groups practised an extraordinarily selective pattern of scavenging the remains of these particular species from the total range of local carnivore kills. Both scenarios seem unlikely. The same conclusion is reinforced by the overall age profiles of the animals documented at two of the sites (La Borde and Mauran), which appear to reflect an unselective, 'catastrophic' profile, similar to that of a living herd (Fig. 7.24) (Slott-Moller 1990: 47; David & Farizy 1994).

Again, this conflicts with the kind of 'attri-tional' age profile (focused mainly on the youngest and oldest age classes) that would normally be expected from the scavenging of either natural death carcases, or the residues of carnivore kills (Fig. 7.13). Overall, the arguments against a purely scavenging hypothesis to account for the faunal assemblages from these four sites would seem virtually conclusive.

2. Jaubert and Brugal go on to offer some interesting speculations as to the specific methods of hunting large bovids in these particular locations. Their suggestion is that the kind of aven or collapsed-cavern localities documented at La Borde and Coudo-ulous could have served as natural traps or pit-fall locations into which the animals could have been deliberately driven as part of a systematic cliff-fall hunting strategy (Jaubert & Brugal 1990: 137-8). One of the direct implications of this suggestion of course is that most of the faunal remains from these sites are derived from animals that were killed and butchered on the spot. As discussed below, my own impression is that certain aspects of the composition of the bone assemblages may be rather difficult to reconcile with this hypothesis. Nevertheless the possibility remains that at least some of the carcases represented at La Borde and Coudo-ulous were derived from this kind of hunting strategy. As discussed earlier, broadly similar cliff-fall hunting strategies could well be envisaged for many other Middle Palaeolithic sites in southwestern France, including both Mauran and La Quina, as well as many of the other cliff-side locations within the various river valleys of the Perigord and adjacent areas.

3. The questions of the size and character of the human groups who occupied the sites and the duration of individual episodes of activity on sites are inevitably much more difficult issues to approach from the perspective of the archaeological data. As Jau bert, Brugal, Farizy and others have pointed out, there can be no doubt whatever that all the sites must represent the products of numerous, repeated visits to the same location, probably extending over periods of several decades if not several centuries (Jaubert & Brugal 1990; Girard & Leclerc 1981; Farizy & David 1992). This can be seen in both the stratigraphic depth of the occupation levels recorded in the different sites (ranging from ca 30 to 60 cm of apparently continuous deposition) and the enormous quantities of bone remains and lithic artefacts introduced into the sites. As Jaubert and Brugal (1990: 139) have pointed out, it seems unlikely that remains of over 40 individual aurochs and almost 100 kilograms of lithic remains were introduced into the La Borde deposits during a single episode of occupation! Once this point is accepted, then it becomes almost impossible to make any reliable estimate of the sizes of the human groups present during individual episodes of occupation. Even at Mauran - estimated to extend over at least 100 square metres - it is impossible to assess whether the site represents the activities of relatively large human groups or simply the compounded products of numerous, widely dispersed occupations by very small groups. Based on the evidence for the highly intensive processing of the carcases at Mauran, and the large amounts of food that even a single bison carcase would provide, Farizy has recently suggested that the site may have been visited by groups of perhaps 30 or more individuals (Farizy et ah 1994: 241).

One point which is clear is that many of the individual episodes of occupation must have covered a sufficiently long period to allow a relatively intensive and varied pattern of economic and technological activities to be carried out. Occasional fragments of heavily burned bone, for example, have been recorded from at least three of the sites, leaving no doubt that fires were frequently lit on the sites. And at Mauran and Coudoulous there are reports of at least one clearly defined hearth within the occupation levels (Jaubert 1984; Farizy et al. 1994: 235). In addition, there is evidence from all the sites for intensive butchery and fragmentation of animal bones, for the extraction of marrow, and for the in situ flaking of cores and other nodules for the production of stone artefacts (Jaubert & Brugal 1990; Farizy & David 1992; Farizy et al. 1994). However the data are interpreted, they suggest that the sites represent something more than ephemeral stop-over locations devoted purely to rapid extraction of principal meat-bearing bones from carcases of butchered animals. Assessed in these terms, Jaubert and Brugal suggest that the sites are likely to represent at least several hours of intensive industrial and food-processing activities during individual episodes of occupation. Farizy has envisaged individual episodes of occupation at Mauran of up to a month or more (Farizy et al. 1994: 241).

4. Seasonality of exploitation is equally crucial to any assessment of the human utilization of animal populations but the available data for the present sites remain rather sparse. In discussing the age structure of aurochs remains from La Borde, Slott-Moller (1990) suggested that these appear to indicate an essentially continuous seasonal pattern, indicating sporadic killing of animals throughout most seasons of the year. Jaubert and Brugal (1990: 135) have contested this, suggesting that if one focuses on the youngest age classes, there may be evidence for a concentration of mortality patterns during two or three specific seasons - around March-June, September and November-December. There are similar hints of seasonality in the bison remains from Mauran. Here, David & Farizy (1994: 180) have suggested that remains of the youngest teeth may point to the existence of two major age classes, concentrated at around 3-5 and 16-18 months. If this pattern is substantiated by further research it may point to a concentration of human activity on this site principally during the late summer and autumn months.

The seasonal patterns therefore remain rather tenuous. Uncertainties are increased by a lack of information on the general seasonal movements of bison and aurochs populations under the varying glacial and interglacial conditions of the Pleistocene and the exact age and palaeoenvironmental context of the different sites. Nevertheless, as Jaubert and Brugal (1990: 135) point out, it is likely that both these species were to some degree migratory in their habits and it seems fair to assume that their intensive exploitation in these locations was related to major seasonal aggregations or migratory movements of the animal herds (Farizy & David 1994: 180).

5. One of the most critical questions concerns the precise character of the processing applied to the animal carcases within the sites. As noted earlier Jaubert and Brugal and Farizy are inclined to regard the sites essentially as primary kill and butchery locations, devoted mainly to the processing of carcases of animals that were killed effectively on the spot (Jaubert & Brugal 1990; Farizy & David 1992). My own impression is that some of the specific features of the bone assemblages recovered from the sites are difficult to reconcile with this interpretation (see Figs 7.25-7.27). At both La Borde and Mauran (the only sites for which detailed anatomical analyses are available) there is a very strong representation of head and teeth remains combined with a striking under-representa-tion of main axial skeleton remains (i.e. ribs and vertebrae) and - perhaps most significantly - from the pelvic region (Jaubert & Brugal 1990: 138; Farizy & David 1992: 95). Even if the poor representation of ribs and vertebrae could be due in part to the reduced survival prospects of these more delicate bones, the virtual absence of pelvic remains can hardly be explained in these terms. One possibility of course is that some of the missing parts of carcases were deliberately removed from the sites by the human groups, in the form of prime meat-bearing bones for

Bison Profile

Figure 7.25 Relative frequencies of the different skeletal elements of bison in the faunal assemblage from Mauran. The percentages express the observed frequencies of the different bone elements compared with those which would be expected if complete carcases had been introduced into the site. After David & Farizy 1994.

Figure 7.25 Relative frequencies of the different skeletal elements of bison in the faunal assemblage from Mauran. The percentages express the observed frequencies of the different bone elements compared with those which would be expected if complete carcases had been introduced into the site. After David & Farizy 1994.

Figure 7.26 Relative frequencies of different skeletal elements of aurochs (Bos primigenius) in the faunal assemblage from La Borde. The percentages shown against each bone express the actual numbers of the different skeletal elements recovered from the site compared with those which would be expected if complete carcases had been introduced into the site. The shading of the different bone elements indicates the relative economic utility of the different parts of the carcase, expressed in terms ofBinford's 'Modified General Utility Index'. After Jaubert & Brugal 1990.

Figure 7.26 Relative frequencies of different skeletal elements of aurochs (Bos primigenius) in the faunal assemblage from La Borde. The percentages shown against each bone express the actual numbers of the different skeletal elements recovered from the site compared with those which would be expected if complete carcases had been introduced into the site. The shading of the different bone elements indicates the relative economic utility of the different parts of the carcase, expressed in terms ofBinford's 'Modified General Utility Index'. After Jaubert & Brugal 1990.

MAURAN (Bison)

LA BORDE (Aurochs)

COMBE GRENAL (All bovids)

Upper jaws/teeth Lower jaws/teeth

MAURAN (Bison)

LA BORDE (Aurochs)

COMBE GRENAL (All bovids)

Upper jaws/teeth Lower jaws/teeth

Metacarpal Radiocubitus

Carpal Bones Bovids

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment