Friday, February 10, 2012

Mammoth used as food and building resources by Neanderthals

Zooarchaeological study applied to a layer 4, Molodova I (Ukraine)

Laëtitia Demay, Stéphane Péan, Marylène Patou-Mathis


"Considering Neanderthal subsistence, the use of mammoth resources has been particularly discussed. Apart from procurement for food, the use of mammoth bones as building material has been proposed. The hypothesis was based on the discovery made in Molodova I, Ukraine (Dniester valley). In this large multistratified open-air site, a rich Mousterian layer was excavated. Dated to the Inter-Pleniglacial (MIS 3), it has yielded 40 000 lithic remains associated with ca. 3000 mammal bones, mostly from mammoth. Several areas have been excavated: a pit filled with bones, different areas of activities (butchering, tool production), twenty-five hearths and a circular accumulation made of mammoth bones, described as a dwelling structure set up by Neanderthals. Attested dwelling structures made of mammoth bones are known in Upper Paleolithic sites, from Ukraine and Russia, attributed to the Epigravettian tradition."

"This paper presents a zooarchaeological study of large mammal remains from Molodova I layer 4, to understand the modalities of acquisition and utilization of mammoth resources for food and technical purposes, especially to test the hypothesis of using bones as building elements. The number of mammoths is estimated to at least fifteen individuals of all age classes and both sexes, which died during several episodes, near or on the site."

"The taphonomic modifications due to weathering, water percolation and plant roots indicate the location of bones in holes, such as the pit and the basement of the circular accumulation. Secondary actions of carnivores, especially of hyaenid type, are rare on bones, showing that the assemblage was not accumulated by these predators. The anatomical preservation, the age and sex features and the taphonomic data indicate several modalities of mammoth acquisition by hunting, scavenging and collecting."
"Based on anthropogenic marks, mammoth meat has been eaten. The presence of series of striations and ochre on mammoth bones are associated with a technical or symbolic use. Furthermore, mammoth bones have been deliberately selected (long and flat bones, tusks, connected vertebrae) and circularly arranged. This mammoth bone structure could be described as the basement of a wooden cover or as a wind-screen. The inner presence of fifteen hearths, lithic artifacts and waste of mammal butchery and cooking is characteristic of a domestic area, which was probably the centre of a residential camp recurrently settled. It appears that Neanderthals were the oldest known humans who used mammoth bones to build a dwelling structure."

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