Eemian subsistence patterns

Gaudzinski (2004) reviewed evidence from four sites from the German Eemian, to see what conclusions could be drawn about Neandertal subsistence. The interest of this time period is that it was relatively stable, allowing a consistent occupation of northern central Europe. Because it is temporally bounded, the Eemian sites might allow reconstructions of subsistence, as the same population must have been exploiting different types of sites.

There are details from all four sites, but I want to quote from the conclusion:

For this period, the presence of single-carcass find spots is striking. At Neumark-Nord the remains of a bovid carcass were found. The sites of Lehringen and Gröbern display remains of isolated elephants in varying stages of disarticulation associated with lithic artefacts and deposited under low energy conditions. The hunting weapon identified as a lance at Lehringen indicates that this animal, at least, was hunted. The fact that the P. antiquus from Lehringen was of relatively old age, and that the Gröbern elephant suffered from disease, suggests that Neanderthals might have focused on weak individuals of a pachyderm population. This is further suggested by the presence of mainly juvenile elephant specimens at Taubach. With a focus on the exploitation of S. kirchbergensis [i.e., rhinoceros] and U. arctos [brown bear], evidence from Taubach indicates that the exploitation of megafauna constituted an important element of subsistence strategies during the Eemian Interglacial (Gaudzinski 2004:208).

She goes on to suggest that these sites indicate a continuous focus on "high nutritional resources" -- which I take to mean big animals -- which was necessitated by high exploitation costs for "small size" plant food.

These sites are among the few that have solid environmental (i.e., palynological) evidence, but there are still reasons to hesitate to reach conclusions, which Gaudzinski lists in her conclusion. Since they mostly came from mining sites, animal kills may be biased toward megafaunal remains that would be noticed. The paleoenvironmental data suggest dense forest in this region during the Eemian, but the faunal remains are a mix of closed forest species (pigs, deer) and open country species (horse, hamsters). Also, although the paleoenvironmental evidence points to closed forest, the sites themselves represent open swatches such as lakeshore.

Gaudzinski (2005) discusses several sites with large faunal sets dominated by single species. Among these is Taubach, and she presents the species list and MNI for major elements including the rhino (Stephanorhinus kirchbergensis, MNI=76), bear (Ursus arctos MNI=51), bison (MNI=17) and beaver (MNI=10). The rhino assemblage is heavily biased toward juveniles, many with cutmarks.

Another Eemian site with juvenile rhinos is Krapina. Gaudzinski (2005) also mentions some older sites with single-species dominated fauna, including the mammoth-dominated fauna of La Cotte de St. Brelade.


Gaudzinski S. 2004. A matter of high resolution? The Eemian interglacial (OIS 53) in north-central Europe and Middle Palaeolithic subsistence. I J Osteoarch 14:201-211. DOI link

Gaudzinski S. 2005. Monospecific or species-dominated faunal assemblages during the Middle Paleolithic of Europe.