Neanderthal Notes for the Weekend

I recently posted a brief article regarding the latest themed edition of Current Anthropology, but at the time of writing I hadn’t noticed another paper in the same issue, namely Sleeping Activity Area within the Site Structure of Archaic Human Groups – Evidence from Abric Romaní Level N Combustion Activity Areas, which begins with this:


The identification of different prehistoric activity areas and Neanderthal behavior is one of the main research goals at the Abric Romaní site, which is a well‐preserved and microstratified Mousterian archaeological site. A conspicuous occupation surface excavated in level N yielded a remarkably preserved set of aligned combustion activity areas in the inner zone of the living surface.

This set of combustion activity areas suggests analogy with sleeping‐and‐resting activity areas of modern foragers. Multidisciplinary analyses suggest (1) diachronic occupation and (2) similar use of the inner zone of the living floor. The sleeping area comprises five combustion activity areas, spaced at approximately 1 m distance from each other.

A large wood imprint of travertine was found near the inner zone, suggesting an architectural remain of a prehistoric dwelling. Descriptions of archaic human sleeping activity areas are very few in Paleolithic archaeology. This identification is a proxy for estimating the number of individuals of Mousterian groups that occupied the Abric Romaní rock shelter around 55 kyr BP.

There’s an excellent review of the paper by Julien Riel-Salvatore over at his blog; I’d intended to write the paper up here, especially as it makes for a nice contextual introduction to another paper I’ve (still) yet to finish covering, on spatial organisation in archaic humans at Gesher Benot, going back 790, 000 years. Spatial organisation is yet another behavioural facet that offers the potential for clearer insights into the past than merely interpreting human evolution through lithic assemblages, morphological analyses and the remains of ancient meals around extinguished hearths.

As his report on Abric Romaní is online already and covers all the salient points with great clarity, I’d suggest heading over Julien’s blog, for a rare insight into how Neanderthals organised themselves for sleep, some 50kya. I’ll refer to this further in another post, but moving slightly further forward in time to around 47,600 kya, comes more news of Neanderthal activities in Europe before the arrival of AMH.

At Common Sense Atheism there’s podcast #14, ‘Prehistoric Religion’ featuring archaeologist Brian Hayden – rather than review the entire interview just now, I’d like to point readers to an especially interesting section about 40 minutes in, where we hear Hayden describe his explorations within Bruniquel Cave.

Here’s a quote from an essay ‘Palaeolithic Art and Religion’ by Jean Clottes and David Lewis-Williams, from within a post I wrote back in 2007:

“In the depths of the Bruniquel Cave, in the Tarn-et-Garonne, broken stalactites and stalagmites were piled and arranged in a kind of oval roughly 5 metres by 4 metres, with a much smaller round structure next to it. The structures themselves cannot, of course, be directly dated, but a fire was made nearby, and a burnt bone from it was dated to more than 47,600 bp.

If this date also applies to the arrangement of stalagmites, it, puts the structures well within the Mousterian, the local Neanderthal cultural period (Rouzard et al. 1996). No practical purpose can be suggested for these constructions: the people who made them did not live that far inside the cave, as the absence of the kind of remains so common on habitation sites testifies. The only hypothesis that makes sense is the delimitation of a symbolic or ritual space well inside the subterranean world.”

Again, fascinating stuff, and once I’ve had a chance to address the remainder of the hour-long podcast, I’ll try and add a few thoughts on that as well.

Abric Romaní – site description.

Image: Abric Romaní from cited paper: Figure 2.  a, Imprint of the wooden trunk of the Abric Romaní level N. b, Detailed view of the travertinic wood imprint. c, General view of the archaeological level N with the travertinic wood imprint, hearths, and the travertine dripping dome (down to the right). © 2010 by The Wenner‐Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research. All rights reserved.


Sleeping Activity Area within the Site Structure of Archaic Human Groups  – Evidence from Abric Romaní Level N Combustion Activity Areas (Abstract)

Josep Vallverdú,  Manuel Vaquero,  Isabel Cáceres,  Ethel Allué,  Jordi Rosell,  Palmira Saladié,  Gema Chacón,  Andreu Ollé,  Antoni Canals,  Robert Sala,  M. A. Courty, and  Eudald Carbonell  IPHES (Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social), Plaça Imperial Tarraco, 1, 43005 Tarragona, Spain ( 5 II 09

Current Anthropology Volume 51, Number 1, February 2010 © 2010 by The Wenner‐Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research. All rights reserved. 0011-3204/2010/5101-0021$10.00 DOI: 10.1086/649499

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