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Tracking the hunters: geochemical profiling of Middle Palaeolithic stone artefacts to reconstruct neanderthal landscape use in the La Manche region

Mills, Josephine Rose; (2020) Tracking the hunters: geochemical profiling of Middle Palaeolithic stone artefacts to reconstruct neanderthal landscape use in the La Manche region. Doctoral thesis (Ph.D), UCL (University College London). Green open access

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Abstract

Flint is a raw material that has been used by humans for millennia and lithic artefacts are ubiquitous throughout the hominin record. Their significance is not limited to form and function but how and where raw material was collected from. Reconstructing these pathways in the landscape brings a human perspective to the deep past, shedding light not just on the areas moved through but also economic and organisational choices. This thesis is concerned with understanding how Neanderthal populations made stone procurement decisions in the La Manche region, specifically the Normano-Breton Gulf, which is located between Brittany and Normandy. This area was occupied repeatedly by Neanderthals during the Middle Pleistocene but is now mostly submerged due to Holocene sea levels. The archaeological material studied is from La Cotte de St. Brelade a site where preserved deposits provide a record of hominin behaviour from 238-40 thousand years (kya). This site was chosen due to its central location within the research context and the potential provided by the lithic record, which amounts to more than c. 95,000 stone artefacts. This thesis employs a lithic sourcing framework to propose changes in the raw material acquired by Neanderthals and concludes that differences in climate and environment affected the presence and absence of certain types of flint through time. It achieves this by the study of c.500 lithic artefacts from three archaeological layers, Layer E, A and 5, using a combination of macroscopic, technological and geochemical analysis. The results indicate the presence of a specific geochemical and macroscopic flint type dominant in Layer E, a temperate occupation, which becomes less frequent as sea level falls during cooler Layer A and 5. There is also evidence of flint with a different visual and elemental profile that is more common in Layer 5. This implies that Neanderthals at the site used several types of flint, and access was likely affected by the changing environments of the Continental Shelf. The overall conclusions are important for understanding more about hominin behaviour in the La Manche area, although they are limited as modern geological survey was impossible and artefacts could not be compared directly to sources. In this way the study is unusual as it adopts an artefact-centric methodology where patterns in the data collected are used to infer flint types. Due to this artefact-centric nature a large lithic assemblage was analysed, this required the use of non-destructive portable x-ray fluorescence (pXRF), which has clear advantages as it does not damage lithics and is portable. The geochemical data generated successfully permitted the identification of trends in flint use, however employing pXRF to analyse flint is still in development. Therefore steps were taken to optimise the analytical process, for example a bespoke calibration was used to improve the accuracy of the results. Concerns were also encountered regarding flint as it’s geochemistry is not well understood and a geological case study was performed in order to establish data for 40 elements using ICP-MS, an accurate and precise technique. This process revealed that the Upper Cretaceous flint outcrops sampled did possess unique chemical signatures and provided an important comparison with the pXRF data. Overall this thesis combines archaeological and scientific data to provide new information about how Neanderthals were procuring raw material in this challenging context whilst also considering the technical and theoretical questions raised when provenancing flint.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Qualification: Ph.D
Title: Tracking the hunters: geochemical profiling of Middle Palaeolithic stone artefacts to reconstruct neanderthal landscape use in the La Manche region
Event: UCL
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
Additional information: Copyright © The Author 2020. Original content in this thesis is licensed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) Licence (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/). Any third-party copyright material present remains the property of its respective owner(s) and is licensed under its existing terms. Access may initially be restricted at the author’s request.
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS > Institute of Archaeology
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS > Institute of Archaeology > Institute of Archaeology Gordon Square
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10110628
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