There is a new paper by L. Slimak and Y. Giraud in the "in press" section of the Comptes Rendus Palevol about raw material exploitation patterns in the Mousterian assemblage from Champ Grand, in the Loire Valley (France). Slimak and Giraud use lithotype characterization (visual id, microscope and SEM) to establish that the assemblage contains pieces made on lithic raw materials available 250km to the north and 180km to the south as the crow flies, meaning that the effective distances were probably even greater as these straight lines cover some relatively difficult terrain to cross on foot. While these exotic raw materials account for only about 1% of the assemblage, the fact that such distant sources were exploited during the Mousterian (and, by extension, by Neanderthals) suggests:
"... a contact between different basins, the Loire and the Rhone ones, and therefore between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. It is certain that these diffusions, whether they proceed directly or are the result of exchanges between populations, do not agree with the image of societies isolated in a territory. Indeed, the displacement of objects at such distances can only suggest the existence of networks structured between human groups and the existence of specific complex frames to these Middle Palaeolithic societies. The complexity of these behaviours also applies to the relationship with the raw material, in the suggested management of these mobile materials. This analysis documents circulations of lithic raw materials on geographical spaces as vast as those recognized during the Upper Palaeolithic..." (Slimak and Giraud 2007: 2-3).
Exotic raw materials were found in the assemblage mainly as retouch flakes, retouched tools and exhausted cores. The retouched tools - especially limaces - appear to have served both as tools with usable edges and as portable packages of raw material, as indicated by ventral thinning of those pieces in addition to clear retouch on the edges. This is in keeping with how exotic, prized lithotypes are managed among 'modern' hunter-gatherers.
An interesting discussion in the French part of the paper is that the Mousterian raw material procurement territory at Champ Grand is similar to that of nearby Magdalenian assemblages (i.e., much later and clearly made by modern humans), even if the frequency of exotic stone differs between the two periods is dissimilar. As the authors argue, "the differences between [the Middle and Upper Paleolithic] are to be found in the technological behavior and how lithic production was operationalized, as opposed to differences in the extent of their respective territories" (Slimak and Giraud 2007: 9; my translation).
This is a nice, succinct article that provides a nice counterpoint to typical assessments of Mousterian raw material procurement patterns and derived discussion of the smaller social geographies of Neanderthals relative to Homo sapiens sapiens (e.g., Féblot-Augustins 1997). Further proof that 'one-size fits all' characterizations of Neanderthal behavior are generally unwarranted.
Féblot-Augustins, J. 1997. La circulations des matières premières au Paléolithique. Synthèse des données. Perspectives comportementales. Liège, ERAUL 75.
Slimak, L., Y. Giraud. 2007. Circulations sur plusieurs centaines de kilomètres durant le Paléolithique moyen. Contribution à la connaissance des sociétés néandertaliennes, C. R. Palevol , doi:10.1016/j.crpv.2007.06.001