P200 Introduction to Prehistoric Archaeology

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P200 Spring 2000

Essay 3

An archaeological dig with FOX TV's Simpson Family

10% of your grade will be based on this written assignment.

It is DUE on Monday, March 27

The goal of this assignment is to help you review and summarize aspects of what is known about the archaeological record in western Europe during the time when both neanderthals and modern humans were alive. Refer to chapter 3 and our class notes and activities to help you answer this assignment.


Following her newfound interests in archaeology, young Lisa Simpson recently convinced her family to let her leave Springfield, and do an archaeological dig in northern Spain. (She thought going to Spain would help her learn Spanish, so that she could understand more of what her brother Bart talked about.) Her excavations in a cave site called "Cueva de la Copa" unearthed many layers of artifacts and fossils, and sent charcoal samples off to a C-14 lab to get dates. She sketched the excavation plots and maps. Unfortunately, because she still can't write well, she had to dictate her excavation reports to her family members when they came to visit, and her father, Homer Simpson, managed to lose most of her maps, and took incomplete notes, "D'oh!"

Help Lisa out by looking through the following materials that Homer brought back home, and help prepare a ~ 4 page report for her class at Springfield Elementary, to answer the following questions about what she found.

Write a 3-4 page essay that addresses the following questions:

1) When did these two occupations take place? Explain your reasoning.

2) What evidence is there for activities that took place at the site during each occupation? How similar or different were they? Is there any evidence, for example, for different degrees of symbolic behavior that took place in the two levels? What archaeological "cultures" or prehistoric peoples might they be representative of? Explain your reasoning.

3) What can Lisa conclude about the diet and subsistence strategies of the cave occupants? (e.g. specialized? opportunistic? dietary range or diversity? hunters? scavengers?) How did they relate to the environments around the site? Would the environments around the site have been similar or different during the two occupation levels? (Explain why.)

4) Is there evidence to suggest how intensively the cave was used at each level? (e.g. was it actually lived-in, or just occasionally visited?)

5) Overall, what conclusions could Lisa draw from such evidence for the lifestyles typical of the peoples who used the cave during different times?


(transcripts by Homer S.)

Site is in a cave in Northern Spain (Sketch 1) .

Lisa found it in a cliff overlooking the Rio Cerveza, a big in the region which drains the local mountains and the higher inland plateau and flows, frothing, down to the coast and the north Atlantic. Today the the hills around the site are covered with dry scrubby bushland, and a few oak trees, and the river valley is filled with oak woodland. Fortunately for us, however, the site is very close to the beaches of the north Atlantic (probably the only reason I was willing to the site, and certainly the main reason I lost most of the maps of her dig... I'm sure they're still there in the sand somewhere).(CURRENT MAP). This is what the site would have looked like during interglacial times too.

Lisa says that during Glacial times in the past, sea levels would have been much lower, and the site would have been over 30 kilometers from the paleo-Atlantic, on the edge of a broad, flat, coastal plain. Bad news for Cueva de la Copa party animals, I think. Silly girl. (Maybe they just moved down to the beach for serious tanning? Lisa made sketches of environmental reconstructions -- what it might have looked like around the cave during glacial times. Even without a good beach, it would have been a rich environment, especially with all the extinct animals that used to live near the Rio Cerveza.

The coastal plain would have been grass covered, and an excellent habitat for the large grazing animals such as Woolly Rhino, Ox and Horse. Elk would have been found in low densities in the oak tree woodlands in the foothills, along with Boar, Fox, and birds like the Pheasant. Ibex, the mountain goats, would have stayed in the craggy highlands and evergreen (pine) forests Many of these animals, like the Rhino, Wild Ox, and the boar, would have been quite dangerous animals, not to mention the largt carnivores like Cave Bears and Hyaenas, that ranged widely, but probably had lairs in the rocky hills, or in the cliffs by the Rio Cerveza. So I am altogether glad that the modern beach wildlife was limited to bipeds on mopeds.

Bart: "Ay Caramba!"

Two migrant herd animals would have also roamed the area. Reindeer would have been common during Glacial times. They probably found winter grazing on the coastal plain, and then moved to the cooler uplands in the summer (fording the Rio Cerveza on the way and then weaving on...). In fact, one of the easier places to cross the Rio Cerveza is located right below Cueva de la Ccpa.. Red Deer, which browse on shrubs and herbs, could have lived in the area during glacial or interglacial climates, summering in the uplands, but spending winters in wooded higher country, rather than down on the grassy plains.

Lisa's excavations in the cave uncovered a thick accumulation of deposits, with over 20 separate levels. Lisa sketched a colorful cross section of the cave stratigraphy. Some of the layers were archaeologically sterile (contained no stone tools). Many of these sterile layers contained the bones of small animals such as mice, and some of them contained the bones of large carnivores, such as Hyaena and Cave Bear,.and a few chewed bones of large mammals. 0ther layers had no bones or tools and consisted largely of rockfall debris accumutated on the cave floor as the roof eroded through time. But many of the deposits contained good archaeological remains, including stone tools, animal remains, some bits of poorly preserved plant remains, and some charcoal and ashes. She sent samples of some of the charcoal off for dating, and got the following set of C-14 dates back. The strat she collected these samples from are marked on the stratigraphic cross section.

 Charcoal SAMPLE
 C-14 DATE (years before present)
  9,600 +/- 400 b.p.
 11,900 +/- 450 b.p.
 14,900 +/- 600 b.p.
 14,200 +/- 425 b.p.
 17,850 +/- 500 b.p.
 18,400 +/- 600 b.p.
 37,600 +/- 700 b,p.
 >48,000 +/- 900 b.p.
 >50,000 +/- 800 b.p.

She also collected samples of stalagmites from different layers for O-18 isotope analysis, and the isotope guys sent her back a graph of changing climate.

The site was dug in one-meter squares, with the excavated area smaller (stepped down) in the lower layers to protect from the dig walls collapsing. No sense burying good party animals, dudes!

Level 9

This deposit averaged about 20 cm thick and extended from the back of the cave out onto an apron of debris sloping down from the cave mouth. Because this level was close to the top of the layers, Lisa was able to excavate it over a large area. The fun part was watching Bart lift the larger slabs of rock out of the excavation unit just above this level. I half expected to find a flattened body underneath the rocks, but they must have left before the roof caved in.

The positions of the major artifacts and feature Lisa found in this level are marked on the Level 9 plot. We were particularly excited to find the hominid burial, which extended from this level into underlying deposits, and contained perforated beads made out of freshwater snail shells and two flint projectile points.

Level 9 Artifacts:

We haven't had a chance to analyze the artifacts yet, but this level was packed with artifactual materials. The artifacts found in this level are shown in the Excavation Plan: Level 9. Due to the number of artifacts found, each symbol represents the presence of several individual specimens. Most stone artifacts are made from the local flint, but 15% are made from an exotic pink flint that came from Southern France. Within the modern human burial were a number of marine shell beads, a bone harpoon point, and a flint spear point.

 Stone Artifacts (total)  2390
 flakes & fragments  1949
 blades (unretouched)  132
 blade cores  37
 other cores  2
 retouched tools (total)  270
 awls  13
 endscrapers  85
 burins  17
 knives  56
 points  71
 others  28
 Other Artifacts (total)  78
 bone harpoons  17
 bone points  3
 antler spearthrower  2
 antler needles  24
 antler reindeer figurine  1
 shell beads  31


Level 9 Animal Remains:

We found over 1700 bone fragments in this level; they are so smashed up that only a small proportion appear to be identfiable to species. None of them looked like they had been chewed up or anything.

 red deer  80 bone fragments (from at least 4 carcasses)
 ibex  62 bone fragments (at least 3 carcasses)
 reindeer  205 bone fragments and 3 antlers (at least 18 carcasses)
 wild boar  3 tusks
 wild horse  12 teeth (probably 1 carcass)
 fox  7 foot bones (at least2 carvasses)
 pheasant  13 bones (probably 2 carcasses)
 salmon  92 bones (mostly vertebrae... at least 10 fish)
 trout  3 vertebrae (1 fish)

Level 16

This level averaged about 20 cm thick, and was confined to the area within the cave itself. Level 16 Plot. Occupied at an early phase in the erosional history of the cave, the cave chamber was smaller than during subsequent occupations. To excavate down to this level, Lisa had to dig a smaller area, so that the walls wouldn't collapse (or Homo sapiens simpsonii would have been buried with ancient humans!) As a result, she uncovered fewer square meters in this level than previous levels. It also meant that we had to rig up a bucket system to lift stuff out of the dig. My buddies at Moe's back home suggested that we use the buckets to send samples of the Rio Cerveza back down to the excavation team.

Level 16 Artifacts

The artifacts from this level are shown in the Excavation Plan: Level 16. All artifacts (other than 3 beach cobbles) were made from locally occuring flint. This level was much less dense than Level 9, so each symbol represents 1 to 3 actual specimens. There were no artifacts found with the hominid remains.

 Artifact type number
 Flint flakes and fragments  123
 flint miscellaneous cores  2
 Flint Levallois cores  1
 Flint flake scrapers  6
 Flint Mousterian points  4
 Other retouched flake tools (flint)  6


Level 16 Animal Remains

We found about 450 bone fragments in this level, of which the following have been preliminarily identified. Some of these, like the giant elk and rhino bones, had some interesting chew marks on them.

 Wooly Rhino  2 ribs, 1 humerus fragment
 Giant Elk  fragments of 2 left femurs (at least 2 carcasses)
 Red Deer  17 limb bone fragments (at least 2 carcasses)
 Wild Ox  part of mandible, and fragments of 1 tibia
 Wild Horse  3 femurs, 1 rib (at least 2 carcasses)
 Cave Bear  most of 1 skeleton
 Hyaena  humerus + 1 coprolite (fossil dung)
 Owl  most of 1 skeleton
 15 leg bones and 94 teeth (at least 10 carcasses)


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Last updated: 8 February, 1999
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Copyright Jeanne Sept 1998 : do not cite without permission