The Chatelperronian is a lithic industry that springs up for several thousand years during the transition from Middle to Upper Paleolithic industries. Its precise age is debated, but it clearly is associated with this interval. One of the reasons the Chatelperronian is the subject of so much debate is because, since the discovery of a Neanderthal in a Chatelperronian level at the site of
St. Césaire in 1978, it has widely been believed that Neandertals were the makers of this industry. This is important because up to that point, the Chatelperronian had been considered a true 'Upper Paleolithic' culture. Since the Upper Paleolithic had been thought to correspond to the arrival of modern Homo sapiens in Europe, the St. Cesaire discovery - and the association of Neanderthals with the Upper Paleolithic - meant that this association needed to be rethought. This has led to two main perspectives: those who see the Chatelperronian as an independent development by Neanderthals (d'Errico et al. 1998), and those who see the Chatelperronian as the result of the acculturation of Neanderthals by modern humans (Mellars 2005). The key thing here is that, in spite of much acrimonious debate between the two perspectives, both fundamentally attribute the Chatelperronian (and other coeval 'transitional' industries like the Uluzzian and Szeletian) to Neanderthals.
This may be about to change. In a short paper in press in the Journal of Human Evolution, Bar-Yosef and Bordes (2010) question this fundamental association in light of a revision of the two sites on the Neanderthal-Chatelperronian association is based: Grotte du Renne at Arcy-sur-Cure, and St. Césaire at La Roche à Pierrot, both in France. At Grotte du Renne, the authors suggest that the Neanderthal remains were incorporated into Chatelperronian deposits as a result of that layer's occupants digging into the Mousterian layer when they first settled into the cave. Thus, the Neanderthal bits would come from the Mousterian levels below. To them, such mixing is indicated by 1) the position of the remains (near the cave mouth) where dug up dirt would have been dumped, 2) the presence of a dug hearth indicating digging did take place, 3) a decrease in the number of teeth from the bottom to the top of the Chatelperronian levels, and 4) dicrepancies between radiocarbon dates and the stratigraphy of the late Mousterian and Chatelperronian layers.I think this is a fair argument, especially considering that the site was excavated prior to the establishment of the complete excavation methods used today, as the authors also underline.
At St. Césaire, where the the secondary burial of a Neanderhal was found in the Chatelperronian, Bar-Yosef and Bordes argue that the presence of distinct 'Mousterian' and 'Chatelperronian' components of the lithic industry and the fact that not all artifacts show a similar state of preservation suggest caution is needed before we can accept that it was not a mix of Mousterian and Chatelperronian levels. Because the burial is found in the upper (of two) Chatelperronian level, they argue that it was probably not deposited by occupants of the site anyway, implying that Neanderthals who did not make Chatelperronian tools might have buried one of their deceased at St. Césaire, perhaps in an effort to mark the site as theirs following the arrival of whoever made the Chatelperronian.
In my view, Bar-Yosef and Bordes' case is much stronger for Grotte du Renne than it is for St. Césaire, especially since bone refitting at St. Césaire has recently demonstrated that mixing between the Mousterian and the Chatelperronain was a negligible occurrence at the site (Morin et al. 2005). The need to invoke an explanation that doens't depend strictly on stratigraphic of artifactual data also weakens their overall argument. I say this because if their argument is followed to its logical end, it would mean that, even if you found that unheard of goody that would be a site containing only Chatelperronian layers and thus could exclude stratigrpahic mixing as an explanation, the presence of Neanderthal remains (or at least of a secondary Neanderthal burial) could still be explained away as a result of self-affirming Neanderthals claiming a stake to a given bit of territory. That's not to say that it's impossible, of course, and I will concede that the St. Césaire burial is the only relatively undisputed case of a Neanderthal secondary burial, so the practice was never common and who knows what it really might have meant, as the authors concede. Given that this is the case, though, you wouldn't expect a very unusual behavior to be the preferred manner in which Neanderthals would have marked their territories in the context of encounters with new groups of hominins.
In any case, Bar-Yosef and Bordes raise the specter that Neanderthals may not have been the makers of the Chatelperronian. They're circumspect in their conclusions of what this might mean, suggesting that archaeologists "should therefore start afresh, testing hypotheses about the hominins responsible for the formation of Chatelperronian contexts" rather than assume anything about their makers based on the potential unfounded assumption that they were Neanderthals. This is a view that I have a lot of sympathy for, having myself argued for the need for a similar perspective when interpreting the Uluzzian 'transitional' industry of southern Italy (Riel-Salvatore 2009, 2010 - go ahead, treat yourself and click, you'll find free pdfs). Ultimately, though, the revision proposed by Bar-Yosef and Bordes needs to be taken cautiously, especially as it concerns the St. Cesaire remains. One thing it doesn't do is associate the Chatelperronian with modern humans, though that's certainly one of the possible correlates of their paper, especially when they rail against 'continuity models' of human evolution in their conclusion. That said, if this revision and others like it have the beneficial result of getting people to carefully excavate and document new sites bearing 'transitional' assembalge, I'm all for them!
Bar-Yosef, O., & Bordes, J.G. (2010). Who were the makers of the Châtelperronian culture? Journal of Human Evolution DOI: 10.1016/j.jhevol.2010.06.009
d'Errico, F., Zilhao, J., Julien, M., Baffier, D., & Pelegrin, J. (1998). Neanderthal Acculturation in Western Europe? A Critical Review of the Evidence and Its Interpretation Current Anthropology, 39 (S1) DOI: 10.1086/204689
Mellars, P. (2005). The impossible coincidence. A single-species model for the origins of modern human behavior in Europe Evolutionary Anthropology: Issues, News, and Reviews, 14 (1), 12-27 DOI: 10.1002/evan.20037
Morin, E., Tsanova, T., Sirakov, N., Rendu, W., Mallye, J., & Lévêque, F. (2005). Bone refits in stratified deposits: testing the chronological grain at Saint-Césaire Journal of Archaeological Science, 32 (7), 1083-1098 DOI: 10.1016/j.jas.2005.02.009
Riel-Salvatore, J. (2010). A Niche Construction Perspective on the Middle–Upper Paleolithic Transition in Italy Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory DOI: 10.1007/s10816-010-9093-9
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