Recovered a container excavated on a Neanderthal occupation floor from 60 000 years ago

The Abric Romaní provides 10 000 new fossil remains about the domestic activity of Neanderthals

The diversity of the stone raw materials used for the lithic industry and also the variety of the animals hunted show long-term occupation of this specie in this territory.

The distribution of the hearths and the archaeological remains from level Q reinforce the division of the occupation surfaces into sleeping, animal processing, tool knapping and rubbish areas.

PHOTOSCATALÀESPAÑOL

The Neanderthals of the Abric Romaní (Capellades, Barcelona) site excavated a concave hole on the ground of 40x30x10 cm. It could be a container excavated with a digger stick with a finality of heat water. This hole is located near the wall of the rockshelter and is enclosed of a high quantity of hearths, limestones and speleothemes with thermical fractures. The discovery took place during this month’s excavation managed by the IPHES (Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social); it started on August 7th and finished on August 28th. This fieldwork supplied new 10 000 archaeological remains whose provide very important information about the domestic activities of Neanderthals.

The concave hole - Palmira Saladié/IPHES
The concave hole – Palmira Saladié/IPHES

The archaeological excavation have been mainly focused on the archaeological assemblage from unit Qa with an age around 60 000 years ago. The deposit is very thin with a surface of 180 m2 and it is very rich on archaeological materials. This archaeological level shows a very intense occupation by Neanderthals which could be demonstrated by the high quantity of archaeological remains associated to hearths that delimitated the living areas. They are the result of the different domestic activities that Neanderthals developed in this strategic place.

The lithic stone and the faunal remains

The lithic stone tools have been made by using a great variety of stone raw materials. The main used are flint, limestone and quartz and the retouched artefacts are essentially denticulates and notches.

Related to the faunal remains have been recovered horses, reed dear, aurochs and wild goats. These remains show a high level of fracturation to obtain of the marrow. The bones have also a lot of cutmarks produced with the stone tools during the butchering process of the animals hunting. The preliminary interpretations indicate that probably the faunal remains belong to 15 individuals, all of them hunted, dismembered and consumed by Neanderthals.

A visual map

In August, during the fieldwork season a new photographical methodology has been applied to register the archaeological surfaces. The goal is to obtain images with the archaeological remains in situ and to insert this graphical documentation in the frame of a great digital composition of the excavated surfaces. This information has a great interest to explain the spatial settlement pattern of the site and to allow to have a visual map of the areas where Neanderthals developed their subsistence activities. These reconstructed surfaces will be exhibit in the future in the Neanderthals Museum of Catalonia in Capellades. Precisely, the Minister of Culture from the Generalitat the Catalunya, Ferran Mascarell, visited the field where the Museum will be constructed. He also visited the Passeig of Cinglera del Capelló – not already opened for the public – and the Abric Romaní archaeological site.

A residential camp

The fieldwork season of this year confirms that Neanderthals realized their subsistence activities around the hearths near the wall of the shelter, how have been already observed in other archaeological levels. In this inner part of the rockshelter the archaeological remains show a lower density than in other areas of the site and the remains are mainly of small size. This pattern shows similar analogies with the sleeping areas and allows us to propose the preliminary interpretation of level Q as a residential camp.

The existence of Neanderthals sleeping areas is a singularity in the world archaeological record. This type of record is only similar at some archaeological sites belongs to the Homo sapiens populations. This behaviour has been also recognized through the ethnological and ethnographical studies focused on the actual hunter-gatherer groups in different parts of the world. We would point out that the sleeping areas have been also identified before in the level N of the Abric Romaní site (dated around 50 000 years ago) and published in the Current Anthropology revue in 2011.

At the same time, the recent fieldwork excavation at the Abric Romaní have been provided areas in the outer  part of the site where the hearths are bigger and show a higher density of remains. These areas could be interpreted as rubbish domestic areas.

The excavation team of this year was formed by 50 persons divided in two fieldwork shifts of 10 days. This groups were mainly formed by students of the Master’s Degree in Quaternary Archaeology and Human Evolution (Erasmus Mundus) of the University Rovira i Virgili (Tarragona). There were also participate doctoral students from other countries, mainly from other parts of Spain, France, Italy, Czech Republic, Venezuela and Chile.

This archaeological fieldwork is realized into the frame of the Cinglera del Capelló research project. This is supported and funded by the Servei d’Arqueologia (Department of Culture) of the Generalitat de Catalunya and the City Council of Capellades.

A Neanderthal hunting station

The discovery of more than twenty spear points of about 50.000 years ago makes Teixoneres Cave (Moià, Barcelona) the archaeological site with the highest number of this kind of weapon in Catalonia.

An entire cave bear skull of an adult male has been recovered at Toll Cave. This individual has been named Pyros in honour of the oldest bear known so far from the Pyrenees.

An agreement between IPHES and the Moià Municipality with the objective of promoting research, teaching and outreach in the field of the Archaeology and Cultural Heritage will be signed on August 23th, 2015.

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50.000 years ago, a group of Neanderthals settled at Teixoneres Cave (Moià, Barcelona) with a singular focus: hunt. This hypothesis is corroborated by the discovery of more than twenty spear points, recovered during the ongoing archaeological season at this site under the direction of IPHES (Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana I Evolució Social).

Several of these points show diagnostic fractures typical of impacts over hard surfaces, probably over the prey bones. This discovery makes Teixoneres Cave an authentic hunting station and the Catalonian archaeological site, and probably one of the Iberian Peninsula, with the highest number of these weapons. In concomitance of the presentation of these finds an agreement has been signed between IPHES and the Moià Municipality with the objective of promoting research, teaching and outreach in the field of the Archaeology and Cultural Heritage.

The diversity of Neanderthal prey, living around Teixoneres Cave about 50.000 years ago, suggests that these groups of hunter-gatherers were not focused on specific animals. In fact, remains of horses, aurochs, red deer, wild asses, roe deer, goat, chamois, rhinos and rabbits are very abundant and were found on the cave surface showing clear evidences of intensively roasting and consumption.

Spear points
Spear points of about 50.000 years ago

This evidence indicates a significant change in the occupational dynamic of the cave. The previous layers pointed out that Teixoneres Cave was used as a den by large carnivores, mainly by hyenas, and occasionally by Neanderthals during their displacements through the territory. This hypothesis is supported by the archaeological record showing clear differences regarding the origin and the uses of the raw materials. The toolkit of the travelling Neanderthals was mainly composed by exogenous chert, sandstone, etc, whereas in the current level the most utilized raw material is the quartz that could be found in shape of rounded cobbles in the neighbouring of the cave.

At the same time, the archaeologists also worked at Toll Cave. This site is known for having one of the best cave bears collection in the Iberian Peninsula. This year the work was focused in a layer dated about 50.000 years ago, the same chronology of the hunting camp from Teixoneres Cave. The number and the quality of the recovered finds are spectacular (around 300 remains of cave bear). Among them stand out a skull and several limb bones from an adult male, that has been named Pyros, in honour of the oldest bear known so far from the Pyrenees. These finds will contribute to understand the behaviour of these animals that many time could have competed with Neanderthals for the use of the caves.

International scientific impact

The continuity and the quality of the results of more than 10 years of research in these caves by the archaeologists from IPHES have left a significant number of scientific publications in internationals peer-review journals. The current ratio is about two publications per year consolidating this research project as one of the most productive in Catalonia. These caves are included in the projects founded by the AGAUR and Catalonian Government  “Compartint l’espai: interaccions entre homínids i carnívors als Nord-est Peninsular” (Sharing space: interactions between hominids and carnivores in the northeast of the Peninsula) and “Group of analysis of socio-ecological processes, cultural changes and population dynamics in Prehistory (GAPS)” and by the project funded by the MINECO of the Spanish Government “Momentos de la vida neandertal: Patrones de comportamiento y arqueología de alta resolución” (Snapshots of Neanderthal lifestyles: Behavioural patterns and high resolution archaeology) and “Comportamiento ecosocial de los homínidos de la Sierra de Atapuerca durante el Cuaternario III” (Ecosocial behavior of the hominids of Atapuerca during the Quaternary III).