Sunday, February 12, 2012

Mousterian Hunting Patterns in the Northwestern Caucasus and the Ecology of the Neanderthals

Map of the Caucasus and Surrounding Regions

John F. Hoffecker, Naomi Cleghorn


"The northwestern Caucasus contains a group of cave and open-air sites occupied by Neanderthals during the early and middle phases of the Last Glacial (OIS 4–3). These sites vary widely in terms of topographic setting, elevation, artifacts, and associated faunal remains. Both medium and large mammals (goat, sheep, and bison) were probably hunted at Mezmaiskaya Cave (1300m above sea level), as indicated by the number and location of tool marks on the bones and prime-dominated age mortality profiles. Medium and large mammals (bison and other ungulates) may have been hunted at Il’skaya (100 m above sea level) and Barakaevskaya Cave (900 m above sea level), which also yield prime-dominated mortality profiles. There is no compelling evidence for hominid scavenging. The sites appear to exhibit variations in function and seasonality, and may reflect scheduled exploitation of seasonally abundant resources in different altitudinal zones on the northern slope of the Caucasus Mountains."


"The northwestern Caucasus sites also provide good evidence for Neanderthal hunting of both medium and large ungulates during the Last Glacial. By contrast, there is no compelling evidence for scavenging during this period.  Hunting of medium and large bovids appears especially likely at Mezmaiskaya Cave, where prime-dominated age profiles and widely distributed stone tool marks are documented for bison, sheep, and goat.  Hunting seems most likely to account for the prime-dominated age profiles at Il’skaya I and Barakaevskaya Cave,  but there are less supporting data at these sites."

"Regular hunting of medium and large mammals and a diet high in meat is hardly surprising among the European Neanderthals of the Last Glacial, whose caloric requirements must have been high—possibly comparable to that of modern arctic peoples. Their apparent lack of technological adaptations to cold temperatures, such as tailored clothing and insulated shelters, may have placed further stress on their energy budget (Coon, 1962; Hoffecker, 1999)."

"On the basis of the northwestern Caucasus data, there would appear to have been significant niche overlap and potential resource competition between the Neanderthals and their modern human successors, who probably entered the region between 35000 and 32000 years BP (Golovanova et al., 1999). Despite this probable niche overlap, Neanderthal ecology almost certainly differed from that of modern humans in several ways. There is evidence from various regions, including the northwestern Caucasus, that the Neanderthals might have lived in smaller groups and foraged in smaller home ranges than modern humans (Mellars, 1996; Hoffecker & Baryshnikov, 1998). There are also indications that the Neanderthals may have enjoyed a different relationship with the larger carnivores in their range, although the contrast with modern humans is often not apparent until after 20000 years BP (e.g. Straus,1982)."

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