The latest issue of PaleoAnthropology is out, and it's a good one... it contains not one, not two but three papers about whether or not claims that there is an Aurignacian-Châtelperronian interstratification at Grotte des Fées de Châtelperron (Gravina et al. 2005, Mellars et al. 2007), the type-site of the Châtelperronian technocomplex. Since PaleoAnthropology is an open-access journal, all these papers are available as freely downloadable PDFs, along with another one and several book reviews, including one by yours truly.
The first is a long and detailed paper by Zilhão and colleagues that builds on their prior short rebuttal of Gravina et al.'s case (Zilhão et al. 2006) . In this new publication, they provide a detailed history of research at the site, an in-depth assessment of the stratigraphy documented at the site by prior researchers, as well as a review of the archaeological material recovered from both the Châtelperronian and the Mousterian deposits at the site (Zilhão et al. 2008a). This is accompanied by a reply by Mellars and Gravina (2008), in which they criticize what they consider to be Zilhão et al.'s unnecessarily complex and convoluted arguments against the presence of an interstratification. The series concludes with a reply by Zilhao et al. (2008b) entitled "Like Hobbes' Chimney Birds" in which they accuse Mellars and Gravina of not paying sufficient attention to the substance of the arguments which they raised in their refutation of the interstratification thesis at Grotte des Fées de Châtelperron.
I've been doing more thinking about this issue lately myself, so I'll probably have more to say about these papers in short order. In any case, mark my words when I say that this will not be the last exchange about this issue, especially since the wording of all three papers leaves no doubt about the unfortunately unsurprising fact that neither camp has been swayed by the other's arguments. While there are other ways of looking at the relevant data, these papers focus on the 'nitty gritty' of identifying relevant artifacts and their position within the deposits. Not that there's anything wrong with that, quite the opposite, but at this point of the debate it might also be important to start thinking a bit more about how to actually identify interstratifications 9so people can agree on the baseline criteria necessary to define them) and, if they do exist, what they might mean beyond the fact that people making different artifacts were occupying the same spots over timespans of several thousand years. I've already blogged about some of these issues before (and also here), but there definitely remains much to be done on that front.
Gravina, B., Mellars, P., and Bronk Ramsey, C. 2005. Radiocarbon dating of interstratified Neanderthal and early modern human occupations at the Chatelperronian type-site. Nature 438: 51–56.
Mellars, P.A., Gravina, B., and Bronk Ramsey, C. 2007. Confirmation of Neanderthal/modern human interstratification at the Chatelperronian type-site. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 104: 3657–3662.
Mellars, Paul, and Brad Gravina. 2008. Châtelperron: Theoretical Agendas, Archaeological Facts, and Diversionary Smoke-Screens. PaleoAnthropology 2008: 43-64.
Zilhão J., d’Errico, F., Bordes, J.-G., Lenoble, A., Texier, J.-P., and Rigaud, J.-Ph. 2006. Analysis of Aurignacian interstratification at the Châtelperronian-type site and implications for the behavioral modernity of Neandertals. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 103: 12643–12648.
Zilhão, João, Francesco d'Errico, Jean-Guillaume Bordes, Arnaud Lenoble, Jean-Pierre Texier, and Jean-Philippe Rigaud. 2008a. Grotte des Fées (Châtelperron): History of Research, Stratigraphy, Dating, and Archaeology of the Châtelperronean Type-Site.
PaleoAnthropology 2008: 1-42.
Zilhão, João, Francesco d'Errico, Jean-Guillaume Bordes, Arnaud Lenoble, Jean-Pierre Texier, and Jean-Philippe Rigaud. 2008b. Like Hobbes' Chimney Birds PaleoAnthropology 2008: 65-67.