Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Multimillennial Neanderthal occupation at La Cotte de St. Brelade

The BBC has a brief news story about some of the results of new excavations conducted at the site of La Cotte St. Brélade (Jersey, Channel Islands). The site is perhaps most famous for having yielded clear evidence for the systematic slaughter of mammoths and wooly rhinos by Neanderthals, which prompted a reevaluation of their hunting abilities (Scott 1980). That analysis, however, suggested that these animals were accumulated at the site over brief timespans.

The question of how long Neanderthals occupied La Cotte is where the overview of this new research project gets especially interesting:

"La Cotte's collapsed cave system contains intact ice age sediments spanning a quarter of a million years, revealing a detailed sequence of Neanderthal occupation and occasional abandonment, against a background of changing climate.

"The site is the most exceptional long-term record of Neanderthal behaviour in North West Europe," says Dr Matt Pope from the Institute of Archaeology at University College London.

"At La Cotte, we get to see far more than a glimpse of their behaviour, we get to see generation upon generation of Neanderthals returning to the same place under lots of different environmental conditions."

In other words, this new fieldwork (including investigations at other sites, btw) is shedding very interesting new light on how Neanderthals occupied the sites under different conditions, and - most importantly - why their behavior varied over time. As someone who's argued for a long time for the need to develop methods that allow us to develop long-term diachronic perspectives in order to understand the full range of Paleolithic lifeways (e.g. Riel-Salvatore and Barton 2004, Riel-Salvatore et al. 2008), I'm very excited about such reports. It'll also be extremely interesting to see how the artifacts collected in older excavations compare to those found by the new project. This new project, incidentally, has a nifty little web site that provides a lot of pertinent information about the new project at La Cotte and nearby sites, as well as other components of their research agenda, including some underwater survey. Check out The Quaternary Archaeology and Environments of Jersey project (which includes one team member who's commented on this blog before).


Riel-Salvatore, J., & Barton, C. (2004). Late Pleistocene Technology, Economic Behavior, and Land-Use Dynamics in Southern Italy American Antiquity, 69 (2) DOI: 10.2307/4128419

RIEL-SALVATORE, J., POPESCU, G., & BARTON, C. (2008). Standing at the gates of Europe: Human behavior and biogeography in the Southern Carpathians during the Late Pleistocene Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, 27 (4), 399-417 DOI: 10.1016/j.jaa.2008.02.002

Scott, K. (1980). Two hunting episodes of middle Palaeolithic age at La Cotte de Saint-Brelade, Jersey (Channel Islands) World Archaeology, 12 (2), 137-152 DOI: 10.1080/00438243.1980.9979788


Geoff Smith said...

Thanks for the piece on our project. Please check back to see the website updated throughout the year. Also have a look at my site about all things Palaeolithic!



Julien Riel-Salvatore said...

Geoff - glad to help spread the word! Your team's doing some incredibly interesting work, so please keep me updated, too. Also, I'll definitely check out your blog.