Settlement and Site Location in the Middle and Upper Paleolithic of the VÇ¸zÇùre Valley, France
Sisk, Matthew L.
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Human settlement is guided by a suite of economic and social decisions. Hunter- gatherer populations are not restricted by extensive ownership and often focus settlement on important resources. Analysis of settlement patterns left by these groups reveals key information about subsistence and sociality. Patterning among modern groups is extremely varied and represents a dynamic and adaptable land-use strategy. The antiquity of this adaptability is unknown, but comparisons with the patterns left by other hominin species often show it as a derived trait of Homo sapiens However, most of these settlement models are built at a species-level resolution and encompass great chronological and environmental variation. Also, the dense record of recent Homo sapiens populations makes the chance of recognizing settlement variability higher than for preceding hominin species. This project addressed these issues by testing aspects of species-level models for late Middle Paleolithic (Neanderthal) and early Upper Paleolithic ( Homo sapiens) sites in the Middle VÇ¸zÇùre Valley (Dordogne, France). This region has the advantages of diverse environmental characters, and a well-understood archaeological chronology representing several subdivisions of these broad periods. Using tools from Geographic Information Systems, taphonomic biases in the sample were investigated and site locations correlated with relevant landscape characters. This revealed patterning complimenting and refuting aspects of species-level settlement strategies. Upper Paleolithic sites are found significantly closer to the river and at low elevation sheltered locations. They are more likely to be near natural fords in the river and have a good view of these areas. Middle Paleolithic sites, in contrast, are more often found on the higher elevation plateau and within a short distance from multiple biomes. The final distillation of these correlations reveals a pattern of Middle Paleolithic focus on heterogeneous environments where diverse resources would be available. Upper Paleolithic settlement is instead focused on intense exploitation of a single resource, often places where migrating herd animals would be at a disadvantage, like river crossings and narrow valleys. In this small region there is a clear settlement difference between Middle and Upper Paleolithic populations, but more focused studies must be undertaken before these results can be broadly extended.