Paleoclimate and shifting Neandertal strategies

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A new paper by Guillaume Guérin and colleagues in the Journal of Archaeological Science Guerin:2012 provides a detailed chronology for the Neandertal site of Roc de Marsal (near Les Eyzies, France).

The paper includes an interesting discussion, which focuses on the emerging picture of Neandertal technological strategies to a changing climate. In short, during the middle of Marine Isotope Stage 4 (around 60,000 years ago), the regional environment in southwestern France shifted. Before this time, the Neandertals in the area made Denticulate and Typical Mousterian industries and hunted a variety of large fauna including red deer, roe deer, reindeer and horse. After the shift to a mix of steppe and some boreal forest, the Neandertals hunted mainly reindeer, some horse, and made Quina Mousterian tools. As they discuss, this picture is now consistent with the stratigraphies of many sites in the region that preserve Quina Mousterian:

In southwest France, Roc de Marsal Layers 79 are not an exception, as similar faunal patterns have been observed in other archaeological sites. It is striking to see that for sequences that span both Quina and Typical Mousterian, a number of similar features have been observed: first, Quina Mousterian layers are always on top of Typical Mousterian layers (Jaubert, 2010); second, Quina Mousterian is, in Dordogne, always associated with faunal remains dominated by reindeer; third, in the layers underlying Quina industries, fauna exhibits singular patterns combining forest-adapted (red deer and/or roe deer) and cold open-air species (reindeer).

There is some more in the discussion about the palynological record and other regional climate indicators. The meta-archaeological perspective would point out that this is a perfect synthesis of the Bordes-Binford debate: There really were different cultural groups of Neandertals and they really did use these technofacies for different activities. What was necessary is the kind of systematic comparison among sites that shows Quina Mousterian systematically overlying the Typical/Denticulate wherever they occur, along with the evidence of climatic and faunal change across sites.