Summary

The problems inherent in any analysis of the spatial organization of Middle Palaeolithic

Figure 9.30 Cast of the post-hole recorded by Bordes in one of the later Mousterian levels (layer 14, containing a Denticulate Mousterian industry) at Combe Grenal. The stake was approximately 4 cm in diameter, and penetrated for a depth of at least 20 cm into the underlying deposits. After Bordes 1972.

Figure 9.30 Cast of the post-hole recorded by Bordes in one of the later Mousterian levels (layer 14, containing a Denticulate Mousterian industry) at Combe Grenal. The stake was approximately 4 cm in diameter, and penetrated for a depth of at least 20 cm into the underlying deposits. After Bordes 1972.

sites, or indeed those of most periods in prehistory, have been emphasized in the introduction to this chapter - the virtual inevitability of occupational palimpsests, incomplete or biased patterns of survival of different kinds of occupation material in different areas of the living surfaces, the effects of natural and human disturbance of the occupation residues etc. - all combined with the limitations of the particular excavation and recording techniques employed in the original excavations. Making allowance for all these potential sources of distortion of the original spatial patterns, it might seem unrealistic to expect to discern any coherent patterns in the distributions documented for specific sites. In fact, the data which has emerged from the studies described above provide much more information on several of these issues than might have been anticipated. The available sample of sites is of course extremely limited, and one should be cautious of offering generalizations from such limited case studies. Certain patterns, nevertheless, seem reasonably clear.

1. One of the clearest and possibly most significant patterns is the way in which the distributions of occupation residues can often be seen to occupy relatively restricted and sharply defined areas of the available occupation surfaces. This seems to be clearly reflected in the distributions recorded in at least three of the sites discussed above -Grotte Vaufrey, Grotte du Lazaret and Les Canalettes. The obvious implication is that the human groups who utilized these sites must have been relatively small, and can hardly have comprised more than five or ten individuals. As discussed in Chapter 11, it would be premature to assume that all Middle Palaeolithic social groups were of similar size and it is possible that some of the larger and more intensively occupied sites reflect the activities of much larger social aggregations. Nevertheless, the clear documentation of these small, restricted occupation areas in several Middle Palaeolithic sites is one of the most positive contributions to have emerged from recent spatial studies of Middle Palaeolithic sites.

2. The distribution and location of hearths on well-defined occupation surfaces reveals some equally interesting patterns. As noted above, various forms of hearths are relatively common features in many Middle Palaeolithic sites and are often distributed widely over the occupation areas. At least two well defined hearths were identified at the Grotte du Lazaret, apparently two similar features at the Grotte Vaufrey and, according to the studies of Binford, equally if not more frequent hearths in several of the Würm I levels at Combe Grenal. Equally frequent hearths have been reported, though not yet fully described, in the excavations of Bordes in sites I and II at Pech de l'Aze (Bordes 1954-55, 1972). The positions of the hearths, however, appear to be extremely variable. In some cases (as at Combe Grenal and, apparently, at the Grotte du Bison at Arcy-sur-Cure and the Grotte-a-Melon) they may be located in a fairly central position, with respect to the total space available in the sites (Figs 9.23, 9.24: Binford 1992; Farizy 1990a; Debenath 1973). More commonly, however, hearths seem to be distributed in more marginal areas of the sites - for example against the rock wall of shelters, close to the estimated drip line, or (as at the Grotte du Lazaret [Fig. 9.13] and, apparently, at Pech de l'Aze II) relatively deep inside the cave interiors (de Lumley et al 1969; Bordes 1972). What seems to be lacking in most of the sites is a tendency to place hearths in a consistent location during different, successive episodes of occupation. Some of the patterns reported by Binford (1992) in the Würm I levels at Combe Grenal may be an exception to this, but the lack of a repeated, regular location of hearths may be a general feature of Middle Palaeolithic sites. Interestingly, a similar pattern was reported in the much discussed mammoth-bone 'structure' in the Ukranian site of Molodova V, where traces of hearths are reported from at least eight or nine separate locations in the most densely occupied area of the site (Päunescu 1989; Soffer 1989a).

3. Despite the variable location of hearths, there may be some regularities in the specific kinds of occupation and industrial residues found in association with them. At both the Grotte Vaufrey and Grotte du Lazaret it can be seen that the major concentrations of lithic flaking debitage (apparently resulting from in situ flaking of nodules) are associated closely with the areas immediately adjacent to the hearths (Figs 9.2, 9.12), indicating that these areas served as major locations for both certain stages of primary flaking and the subsequent stages of tool production. It seems that here and also at the Grotte-a-Melon and in several of the more centrally located hearths at Combe Grenal the same areas tend to contain the highest concentrations of small bone splinters (Figs 9.9, 9.14), suggesting that they were also used extensively for the extraction of marrow from the long bones of exploited animals (Debenath 1973; Binford 1992). Similar concentrations of animal teeth in close association with hearths at Combe Grenal, Grotte Vaufrey, the Grotte du Bison (Fig. 9.24) and Grotte-a-Melon may suggest that the same areas frequently served for the systematic breakage and processing of animal skulls - presumably to extract the brains and tongues. These patterns suggest that the places immediately adjacent to hearths habitually served as major centres both for various industrial activities and for the intensive processing of at least certain kinds of food.

However, these patterns are not invariable. In certain instances there are indications that intensive flaking of cores and nodules was carried out well away from the most central zones of occupation, either close to the talus region of rock-shelters (as at La Ferrassie) or adjacent to large stone blocks around the edges of the most centrally occupied areas (as at the Grotte du Lazaret and apparently in certain levels at Combe Grenal).

4. Some further general patterns seem to emerge from the distribution of the larger and more complete fragments of animal bones on sites. In general, most kinds of faunal debris tend to be fairly widely distributed over occupation surfaces, and are usually less tightly concentrated than those of lithic flaking debitage - with the possible exception of bone splinters and heavily fragmented parts of skulls and jaws. At several sites, however, most of the larger bone fragments seem to be distributed mainly in the more marginal areas of occupation, well away from the most intensively used parts of the site. At both Les Canalettes and Grotte de l'Hyene (Arcy-sur-Cure) it is reported that most of the large bone elements were concentrated mainly towards the walls of the shelters (Meignen 1994; Farizy 1990a; de Lumley & Boone 1976b), while at Grotte Vaufrey and Grotte du Lazaret it seems that they are fairly dispersed over most of the marginal areas. Two possible explanations could be advanced to account for these patterns. One possibility is that it was these marginal areas of the occupation surfaces that were reserved for the 'primary' or heavy duty butchery of animal carcases, from which certain selected parts of the carcases were removed for more intensive processing in adjacent areas. The alternative is that these peripheral areas served simply as general refuse disposal zones, where the bulkier and cumbersome elements from the butchered animal carcases were deliberately discarded well away from the central 'domestic' or industrial areas. Whatever the explanation, there does seem to be a significant contrast between the distribution of larger bone elements as opposed to fragmented bones and teeth in many Middle Palaeolithic sites.

5. Finally, what patterns can be documented in the distribution of different categories of retouched stone tools on the occupation surfaces? Unfortunately, most of the individual occupation levels in which these distributions have been recorded in detail (as at Vaufrey and Lazaret) have yielded far too small samples of the individual tool categories to provide any secure basis for analysis. Binford (1992) has suggested that some general patterns of this kind can be detected in various occupation levels at Combe Gre-nal, with a tendency for most of the simple notched and denticulated forms to be concentrated mainly in the central zones of the occupation surfaces, while various forms of racloirs, points and related types appear to be distributed more frequently in the more peripheral parts. Until the detailed distribution plots to support these generalizations have been published it will inevitably remain difficult to evaluate these patterns. As noted above, however, there may be hints of a similar pattern at the Grotte Vaufrey; according to the spatial plots provided by Rigaud and Geneste (1988: 608-9), it seems that the overall ratios of denticulates and notches to racloirs are perhaps slightly higher in the central zones of the occupation (towards the south wall of the cave) than in the marginal areas towards the north and east (Figs 9.6, 9.7). Even so it would almost certainly be premature to attach too much significance to these patterns until the critical supporting data from Combe Grenal and other sites have been fully analysed and published.

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