Meg Conkey: "People created memories and, in doing so, created a home"

Nautilus interviewed archaeologist Meg Conkey about her work, including the “Between the Caves” survey project in France, to establish the pattern of open-air occupation sites in regions mostly known for the ancient remains in caves: “The caveman’s home was not a cave”.

She describes the systematic survey of plowed fields in search of flint artifacts, and notes the rarity of discovery of actual occupation sites:

Then we discovered what we think is an open-air habitation site in Peyre Blanque, also in the Ariège region, on a ridge that’s never been plowed. We found artifacts eroding out of a muddy horseback-riding trail in the woods. The horses had stirred up the mud, and exposed some stone tools; now the site has yielded hundreds of them. We started excavating and found stone slabs, which we believe is a habitation structure in the open-air, probably from the Upper Paleolithic, about 17,000 years ago. We also found yellow, black, and red pigments, meaning ochre—powdered hydrated iron oxide—that early humans used for art and body art.

The interview gives some interesting perspective on what Paleolithic archaeologists mean when they use the term, “home”, and how discoveries in caves have biased our intuition about the ancient landscape.