Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Recent developments in the study of the Upper Paleolithic of Vasco-Cantabrian Spain

Lawrence Guy Straus
Quaternary International
4 June 2014
(Link) (not open access)


This is an updated review of recent (post-2004) developments in the study of the rich Upper Paleolithic (40–10 uncal. ka) record from the Spanish “wing” of the classic Franco-Cantabrian culture area, composed of the provinces of Asturias, Cantabria, Vizcaya, Guipúzcoa and northern Navarra. Numerous new/ongoing excavations, radiometric dating assays, paleoenvironmental, artifact and faunal analyses are summarized here and their implications for understanding the Middle–Upper Paleolithic transition and the succession of anatomically modern human adaptations in this narrow, mid-latitude strip bounded to the north by the Gulf of Gascony and to the south by the Cantabrian Cordillera. Constants in this record are the balance between regionally distinctive characteristics (in terms of ecology, faunas, artifacts, subsistence and art) and the reality of connections to the Upper Paleolithic cultures of France and the rest of Iberia; the role of the region as a glacial-age refugium; the fundamental continuity of human settlement with movements between the coastal lowlands and the adjacent montane interior; the intensification of subsistence through situational specialization and overall diversification, with periods of intensive demographic and environmental stress; underlying facts of lithology and the differential availability and utilization of flints and non-flint raw materials for different types of tools; the demographically critical role of intra- and extra-regional social networks within the context of valley-defined local band territories. The review proceeds along the lines of traditionally defined cultural traditions: Aurignacian sensu lato, Gravettian, Solultrean, Magdalenian and Azilian, although it is recognized that these are archeological constructs and that there is both considerable variability within each of these concepts and a considerable degree of similarity cross-cutting all of them.

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