Social and mobility implications of raw material distributions

The most valuable aspect of raw material procurement studies is the insight they provide into patterns of mobility of Neanderthal groups and on their possible social or territorial relationships with other groups. Problems in this context should not be minimized, however. We still have extremely limited information on seasonal occupation in different sites and in the absence of this evidence any speculation on annual movement must remain very tentative. However, a number of patterns which emerge from recent raw material studies, must have some direct implications for the associated patterns of seasonal and territorial movement of human groups.

The tendency for the majority of raw materials in Middle Palaeolithic sites to come from strictly local sources (i.e. from at most 5-6 km) is the easiest pattern to account for. As Geneste (1985, 1989a) and others have argued, this can be seen most economically as reflecting the immediate 'foraging radius' of the sites, which could have been exploited easily and efficiently in the course of at most a few hours movement from the individual site locations. Daily foraging territories of this kind are widely documented amongst

Single group Direct procurement

Single group Direct procurement

Figure 5.17 Three potential models by which raw materials could be imported into archaeological sites, as a result of different patterns of mobility of the human groups. Model A reflects essentially 'direct' procurement from the available raw material sources by a single group; Model B reflects procurement from a.range of more distant sources, in the course of seasonal or annual movements by the same group; Model C reflects the introduction of raw materials into a single site location by a number of different groups, who visited the site at different times.

B Single group Seasonal mobility

Multiple groups Seasonal / annual mobility

B Single group Seasonal mobility

Multiple groups Seasonal / annual mobility

modern hunter-gatherers and to this extent the mobility patterns of Neanderthal groups and associated patterns of 'embedded' procurement of local raw materials need be no different from those recorded in modern contexts. There seems no reason to doubt that the raw materials from the intermediate distances of between 6 and 12 km could have been secured on occasions by similar patterns of embedded procurement during more extended daily foraging.

The most significant and intriguing patterns concern raw materials from much more distant sources, between 20-30 km and 80-100 km from the individual site locations - far beyond the scope of any daily foraging activities. As discussed earlier, four generalizations can be made about the materials from these distant sources. First, they are an almost invariable component of documented lithic assemblages in southwestern France, occurring in at least 80 percent of documented sites; second, the materials invariably occur in very low proportions, rarely exceeding more than 1-2 percent of the total lithic assemblages; third, they tend to occur in very specialized forms, usually as either extensively retouched tools or as large and immediately usable primary flakes; fourth one can usually document their introduction into particular occupation levels from a number of sources, often extending in several directions from the site location (see Figs 5.5-5,8).

As summarized in Fig. 5.17, it is possible to visualize at least three scenarios by which raw materials from these distant sources could have been introduced into Middle Palaeolithic sites. The least likely is that they were introduced into sites as part of a deliberate strategy of direct raw material procurement, involving the movement of either individuals or small groups of Neanderthals over long distances specifically to collect high quality raw material supplies (see Fig. 5.17, Model A). Quite apart from the heavy costs of such long-distance movement in time and energy, the extremely small quantities combined with the technologically specialized forms in which the products were introduced into the sites, would seem to argue against this interpretation. In this context there is a significant contrast with the patterns of procurement of the same raw materials (especially Bergerac flint) by early Upper Palaeolithic groups in the same region, as discussed further below.

Two more plausible scenarios for these patterns of movement are shown in models B and C of Fig. 5.17. Model B represents a situation in which individual Neanderthal groups were involved in a series of far-ranging annual movements, probably in response to shifting seasonal distributions of animal herds or other food resources. Clearly, if these movements extended along several trajectories from a given site location, this could eventually introduce raw materials into the site from a variety of distant and widely dispersed sources. Diagram C, by contrast, models a situation which could lead to almost exactly the same pattern of raw material supplies for any individual occupation level, but which would result from the periodic use of the same site by a number of separate and possibly unrelated human groups, with different patterns of seasonal and territorial mobility. In this case, the variety of raw material sources represented in a particular occupation horizon would be a simple palimpsest phenomenon, resulting from the intermittent use of the same site location by quite disparate Neanderthal groups. It is difficult to see how these two situations could be clearly differentiated in archaeological terms, at least with the levels of stratigraphic and chronological resolution which can be achieved with current excavation techniques.

The fourth possibility is perhaps the most intriguing in social terms, and raises a prospect which has only rarely been considered in earlier studies of Neanderthal behaviour. This assumes that the complex mix of far-travelled raw materials which can now be documented for the majority of Middle Palaeolithic sites could reflect a complex pattern of social relationships between the individual Neanderthal groups, in which the systematic exchange of raw materials, and perhaps other products, was central to the wider social and demographic relationships maintained between these groups. As F├ęblot-Augustins (1993) has recently suggested, such exchange relationships could have extended well beyond the purely economic sphere and been tied into wider social relationships based on the exchange of marriage partners between individual, local territorial groups. While it is hardly possible to do more than speculate on this possibility, closely structured exchange relationships of this kind are not merely plausible in Neanderthal contexts but could well have been essential to ensure the viability of relatively small and territorially dispersed populations as long-term demographic units (cf Wobst 1974; Gamble 1983).

How far the striking diversity of raw material sources encountered on Middle Palaeolithic sites can be used to argue for a high degree of territorial mobility on the part of individual Neanderthal groups must therefore remain open. A similar problem emerges from recent studies of the patterns of raw material distribution in Middle Palaeolithic

Southwest France

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