Tuesday 23 July 2013


Now that I've found a place to live beginning August 1, I can get back to doing what I do best—bringing you the up-to-the-minute scoop on all things archaeological. I have some serious catching up to do!

I'll take the headlines one at a time.

From Fumane Cave, Italy, comes word that a Neanderthal shell ornament has come to light. Here's a closeup photo.
Scale bar = 10000 µm. Reference: Peresani M, Vanhaeren M, Quaggiotto E, Queffelec A, d’Errico F (2013) "An Ochered Fossil Marine Shell From the Mousterian of Fumane Cave, Italy." PLoS ONE 8(7): e68572. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0068572
This elegant trace of the Neanderthal symbolic life was first mined from fossiliferous sediments almost 100,000,000,000 µm from the archaeological deposits in which it was found, deep in Fumane Cave. Then it was evidently truncated. [I can't help but add a personal interpretation to that of the authors. Perhaps the shel was broken apart to represent the binary opposition of 'inside' and 'outside' as a means of resolving the contradiction inherent in the cave:dead animal carcass parts:death inside the cave and the fecund, ever regenerating open-air:live animal:life outside it.] Finally its outer surface was covered in hematitic clay (red ochre) and its inner surface rubbed with an unpigmented silty clay, which left a microscopic patch of minute parallel striations ranging from 1 to 10 µm across.

I'll admit, it's hard to imagine research that could top the Fumane Cave shell ornament. Nevertheless, a group of archaeologists working in southwestern Europe think they've found evidence of Neanderthal housekeeping. Nobody wants a living space cluttered with chunky, smelly remains of large mammals. So, the Gorham's Cave Mousterian inhabitants kept their activity areas and their gendered spaces [me, again, with an idea to enhance the wobbly ladder of inference] free of large leftovers of large animals that had provided sustenance during a cold, hard winter in MIS 4 [or 5—me, again]. Sadly, I've been unable to locate the monograph whence comes these new revelations about Neanderthal's behavioural repertoire. So, I can't show you a figure to give you a graphic that might help you make sense out of such intriguing and provocative findings. Should you have access to the original work, please do flip it on to me and I'll give it its due. However I do have a loverly photo of the cave, which I'll put up down below. The take-home message here is that it's clear from the relative paucity of large mammal remains compared with the remains of smaller animals that the Middle Palaeolithic inhabitants of Gorham's Cave were, as it were, taking out the garbage before bedding down for the night. Reference: Currant AP, Price C, Sutcliffe AJ, Stringer CB (2012) "The large mammal remains from Gorham’s Cave." In Barton RNE, Stringer CB, Finlayson JC, editors. Neanderthals in Context: a report of the 1995–1998 excavations at Gorham’s and Vanguard Caves, Gibraltar. Oxford: Oxford University School of Archaeology. 141–150. 
One of the proponents of the Gorham's Cave Neanderthal ethos, Clive Finlayson, in front of Vanguard Cave. Not quite Gorham's Cave, but it is in the same rock of Gibraltar. Close enough for the girls I go out with! Source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/3/37/Clive_Finlayson_off_Vanguard_Cave.jpg/640px-Clive_Finlayson_off_Vanguard_Cave.jpg
I'll have much more to say in my next installment. Hang in there. More exciting Neanderthal news to come.


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