07-2017, tome 114,  2, 2017, p. 215-235 - Marie-Cécile Soulier - La Quina « aval » (Gardes-le-Pontaroux, Charente). Nouvelles données sur les comportements de subsistance à l'Aurignacien ancien

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07-2017, tome 114, 2, 2017, p. 215-235 - Marie-Cécile Soulier - La Quina « aval » (Gardes-le-Pontaroux, Charente). Nouvelles données sur les comportements de subsistance à l'Aurignacien ancien

La Quina « aval » est un site de référence pour l’Aurignacien ancien du fait des importantes opérations de fouilles qui se sont succédées dans ce gisement depuis le début du xxe siècle. Bien que le matériel issu des fouilles Henri-Martin (père et fille) soit exceptionnel de par sa quantité et sa composition, le gisement de la Quina « aval » reste peu mobilisé dans les discussions concernant les modalités d’émergence du Paléolithique supérieur en raison des biais générés par les méthodes de fouille alors en vigueur. Les restes fauniques figurent parmi les vestiges les plus affectés par ces biais, ce qui rend ce matériel peu compatible avec les exigences d’une étude archéozoologique moderne. Les dernières opérations en date (par V. Dujardin, années 1990) ont permis de mettre au jour un grand nombre de restes fauniques très bien conservés. Ce matériel constitue ainsi une opportunité pour conduire une analyse fine des modalités d’acquisition et de traitement du gibier pratiquées à la Quina « aval » et, par extension, de mieux appréhender les modes de vie au début du Paléolithique supérieur. Grâce à l’application de nouveaux outils méthodologiques, l’étude détaillée des traces de boucherie permet de reconstituer la chaîne opératoire de traitement des carcasses et de mieux appréhender les activités pratiquées à la Quina « aval ». Dans les grandes lignes, les données issues de l’analyse des restes fauniques de la Quina « aval » font écho à ce qui est documenté pour cette période dans le nord du Bassin aquitain : le renne, chassé sur une grande partie de l’année, domine le spectre faunique. Toutefois si on se réfère au poids de viande fourni par l’ensemble des ongulés chassés, on voit que les grands ongulés tiennent une place majeure dans l’alimentation des occupants de la Quina « aval ». Les traces de boucherie sont très abondantes et illustrent les activités classiquement observées dans les sites aurignaciens : éviscération, retrait de la peau, décharnement, désarticulation, retrait des tendons et récupération de la moelle. À la Quina « aval », un grand nombre d’indices de fracturation sont présents sur les os à cavité médullaire de cheval et pourraient témoigner d’un intérêt particulier pour la moelle riche en acides linoléiques de ce taxon. La présence de brûlures distales indique que certains quartiers de viande ont été consommés grillés. Plusieurs éléments suggèrent également une récupération de la graisse contenue dans les tissus spongieux des ossements. Certaines pratiques plus originales ont aussi été observées, comme le prélèvement de la cervelle et des sabots, et potentiellement une consommation de bois et de velours. Les caractéristiques des traces laissées par le retrait de la peau, associées au type de population chassée et aux saisons de capture, convergent par ailleurs vers la conduite d’activités liées au traitement de peaux à la Quina « aval », hypothèse soutenue par les autres données de la culture matérielle. Ces nouvelles données contribuent à une meilleure compréhension des modalités d’exploitation du gibier à l’Aurignacien ancien et permettent d’intégrer pleinement le gisement de la Quina « aval » dans les discussions entourant l’émergence du Paléolithique supérieur et l’apparition de l’homme moderne en Europe.

 

Mots-clés : Paléolithique supérieur ancien, Aurignacien, archéozoologie, boucherie, subsistance, ongulés.

 

La Quina ‘aval’—located at Gardes-le-Pontaroux in the Charente region of France—is one of the key sites for the Early Aurignacian. Much of the research at the site was conducted during the 20th century, first by Dr. Léon Henri-Martin between 1906 and 1936, and subsequently by his daughter Germaine between 1953 and 1971. Large quantities of lithic tools, faunal remains, bone tools, objects of adornment, and human remains were recovered during these two sets of excavations. Despite this, La Quina ‘aval’ remains fairly marginal in discussions surrounding the emergence of the Upper Palaeolithic, mostly due to concerns about recovery distortion related to 20th-century excavation standards. The faunal remains, for example, were not fully recovered and are therefore unsuitable for modern zooarchaeological studies. V. Dujardin undertook new excavations in 1994, 1995, and 1998: the stratigraphic sections of two survey-pits from the Henri-Martin excavations were cleaned and a new trench was opened. A large quantity of faunal remains, very well preserved, was recovered during the recent interventions. This material provides the basis for examination of carcass-processing activities that took place at La Quina ‘aval’ and, more broadly, provides further insights into ways of life at the beginning of the Upper Palaeolithic. More than 5,300 remains have been analysed; in addition to recording in a standard database, each element that could be precisely positioned on a complete bone has been drawn on Illustrator templates along with any marks observed on the surfaces (carnivore damage, cut marks, impact notches, etc.), which allowed for a detailed analysis of carcass-processing.

Overall, the data obtained on the faunal remains from La Quina ‘aval’ are consistent with those documented for the Early Aurignacian elsewhere in the northern Aquitaine Basin. Reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) dominates the faunal spectrum (95.6% of the NISP), with smaller numbers of horse (Equus caballus), bovids (Bovinae), and red deer (Cervus elaphus) represented. The presence of carnivores and small game (Vulpinae, Canis lupus, Lepus sp., Mustela putorius, Bubo scandiacus) is also attested. The people who occupied La Quina ‘aval’ exploited all these species except the polecat and red deer, whose remains do not bear any butchery marks. One important observation is that the bovids and horses provided as much meat as the 19 reindeer identified, which means that large ungulates constituted a considerable component of the diet. The seasonal data indicate that hunting was practised during most of the year. It is possible that the different prey species were hunted on a seasonal basis to complement the diet in periods when the primary species were scarce, but because seasonality could not be determined for species other than reindeer, such seasonal complementarity could not be evaluated. Incomplete carcasses were brought to La Quina ‘aval’, and there is a clear preference for portions of the carcass that provided both large amounts of meat and bone marrow. The high number of cut marks (36.8%) and breakage evidence (29.4%) indicates that the butchery process was intensive. All the classic butchery steps are documented: evisceration, skinning, defleshing, dismembering, sinew removal and marrow extraction. Defleshing was especially intensive, as nearly half of the long bones bear cut marks; the meat acquired was sometimes grilled. Although articular extremities are rare in the assemblage, those that occur frequently show evidence of dismemberment. Except for some mesial phalanges, all bones with a medullar cavity show evidence of fracture for marrow extraction. Horse is the species that shows the highest frequency of impact-notches. Although particularly rich in linoleic acids, horse marrow occurs in small quantities and is difficult to extract without heating. This, along with the energy required to break the thick cortical bone, indicates that the Aurignacian people at La Quina ‘aval’ were particularly interested in horse marrow. Additional atypical activities, with regard to other Palaeolithic assemblages, have also been recorded. Cut marks observed on the internal face of a parietal bone indicate that the brain was removed with a sharp tool. Evidence of hoof-extraction has also been inferred from cut marks on some distal phalanges. Several fragments of reindeer antler bear cut marks that seem to indicate velvet removal; the ethnographic literature tells us that antlers can be consumed roasted or after fermentation, but can also used for medicinal purposes or as ornamentation. Several faunal elements can also be considered as evidence for exploitation of the grease contained in cancellous bone (crushing marks, impact notches on articular extremities, straight breakage patterns, the morphology of certain elements). However, these spongy elements might have had multiple uses, as some burnt remains are consistent with the use of these greasy parts as fuel. Numerous skinning marks have been observed, and their location indicates meticulous care in this activity. The skin has been removed in its maximum dimensions, including the skin from the skull. Evidence of delayed skinning of the lower legs has also been recorded. These data, along with the prey hunted (age and season), the presence of tools dedicated to skin-treatment, and the large quantities of ochre observed during the excavations, indicate that hide-processing was a major activity at La Quina ‘aval’. Skeletal parts were also used for making tools such as spear points, awls, smoothers, etc. The presence of waste products indicates that part of this equipment was produced on-site. As a rule, retouchers are the most frequent type of bone tool. Though bovid remains recovered at La Quina ‘aval’ are relatively few, most of them have been used as retouchers, indicating that the Aurignacians preferentially selected fragments with thick compact tissue. Aligned impact notches observed on several pieces may result from working methods aimed at controlling the morphology of the blank. A recurrence of the areas exploited as retouchers indicates that the blanks were carefully selected and not simply gathered opportunistically from food waste. Finally, the teeth and antlers of mammals were used to make ornaments and the presence of unfinished pendants indicates that at least part of the fabrication sequence was conducted at La Quina ‘aval’.

The new data obtained from La Quina ‘aval’ faunal remains contribute substantially to our understanding of game exploitation during the Early Aurignacian, and makes it possible to bring evidence from the well-known site of La Quina ‘aval’ into discussions of the earliest evidence of the Upper Palaeolithic and the arrival of modern humans in Europe.

 

Keywords: Early Upper Palaeolithic, Aurignacian, zooarchaeology, butchery, subsistence, ungulates.