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Neanderthal foraging in freshwater ecosystems: A reappraisal of the Middle Paleolithic archaeological fish record from continental Western Europe

Abstract : The prevalence of large game found in association with Middle Paleolithic tools has traditionally biased our ideas of Neanderthal subsistence practices. Studies document the exploitation of small mammals, birds, and plants by Neanderthals, whereas data on aquatic resources are still scarce and data on fish are almost non-existent. This article presents a review of fish remains from 11 Middle Palaeolithic fish bone assemblages from well contextualized sites in Belgium, France and Spain. It explores the nature of the evidence in order to determine whether Neanderthal fished and if so, whether fishing was a casual, opportunistic activity or a systematic practice. The first issue to address is whether archaeological fish remains at any given site represent human activity or not. Our study tests that assertion while enhancing our understanding of the diversity of food alternatives available to Neanderthals at any given site, and their ability to adapt to them. Methodological protocols include quantification, body mass and length estimations, and, whenever possible, spatial distribution of fish remains, taphonomic analyses and inference of the season of death. This methodology constitutes an analytical protocol to assess the contribution of fish to the human diet during the Paleolithic and set apart human-generated fish deposits from those generated by alternative fish accumulators. The evidence gathered so far points essentially to circumstantial fishing by Neanderthals, and the question must necessarily remain open for the moment. Nevertheless, some of the evidence, in particular the presence of large (> 1 kg) fish in anthropogenic deposits and the absence of animal digestive traces and gnawing marks on fish bones in such deposits, seems compelling and suggests that Neanderthals could have played a role in the accumulation of some of these remains.
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Contributor : Emmanuel Desclaux <>
Submitted on : Wednesday, March 31, 2021 - 2:40:36 PM
Last modification on : Wednesday, June 16, 2021 - 12:54:03 PM
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Emilie Guillaud, Philippe Béarez, Camille Daujeard, Alban Defleur, Emmanuel Desclaux, et al.. Neanderthal foraging in freshwater ecosystems: A reappraisal of the Middle Paleolithic archaeological fish record from continental Western Europe. Quaternary Science Reviews, Elsevier, 2020, pp.106731. ⟨10.1016/j.quascirev.2020.106731⟩. ⟨hal-03070896⟩



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