Reindeer hides and Neandertals

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In reference to the post below about Quina Mousterian and reindeer specialization (“Paleoclimate and shifting Neandertal strategies”), let me add this great quote from Mark White. He addresses himself to the question of what kinds of strategies Neandertals employed against the cold of the MIS 4 winter in Britain and France.

Aiello and Wheeler hypothesize a very conservative 1 clo of insulation. The pelts of exploited Pleistocene mammals would have greatly exceeded this level (cf. Stenton 1991: 11), meaning that a clothed Neanderthal could have remained comfortable at temperatures far below those outlined above. Reindeer hides are particularly valued by modern arctic peoples because they are lightweight and their fur has excellent insulatory properties (clo value = 7: ibid.). The best time to procure reindeer hides is in the late summer, prior to the development of the heavy winter pelage and after the skin had repaired the damage caused by any summer parasites (ibid.: 6), which adds another interpretative dimension to the autumn mass killing of reindeer at Salzgitter-Liebenstedt (Gaudzinski and Roebroeks 2000); especially if Bocherens et al. (2005) are correct in their assertion that northern Neanderthals ate a lot of mammoth and rhino, but little reindeer (the reverse being true for hyenas). One wonders whether some species were targeted as much for their hides and sinews as for their meat value (see Burch (1998) for caribou), and whether the classic scavenging pattern of heads and lower limbs found in Middle Palaeolithic sites is in fact a signature testifying to the preferential transport of hides away from the kill sites (cf. Chase 1986; Mellars 1996). Indeed, such patterns find obvious parallels in medieval tanneries (Serjeantson 1989; Gidney 2000). The broad association of scraper-rich Quina assemblages with colder environments and reindeer bones is highly suggestive in this regard (cf. Mellars 1996: 329; Dibble and Rolland 1992).

The quote is from a 2006 paper with an awesome title, “Things to do in Doggerland when you’re dead”. White adds that in Britain a a major limitation on Neandertals may have been the lack of wood – not only for fire, but also for construction of long implements such as spears. The evidence for woodworking at some sites suggests they may have been located near stands of trees that persisted during the spread of periglacial steppes. All in all, it’s a very interesting paper.