Laser ablation strontium isotopes and spatial assignment show seasonal mobility in red deer (Cervus elaphus) at Lazaret Cave, France (MIS 6)

Sarah Annice Barakat* (Corresponding Author), Mael Le Corre, Malte Willmes, Jessica Cohen, Manon Vuillien, Emmanuel Desclaux, Kate Britton

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Zooarchaeological analysis is an useful means of exploring faunal palaeoecology, paleoclimate and past human behaviours. The Middle Pleistocene archaeological site Lazaret Cave, located near modern-day Nice, France, features a vast assemblage of faunal remains pertinent to the understanding of early Neanderthal subsistence behaviours as well as red deer (Cervus elaphus) ecology during MIS 6. This pilot study examines materials from archaeological layer UA25, a short-term occupation layer at Lazaret dating to~150,000 years ka, which has revealed 28 early Neanderthal remains as well as thousands of faunal bones, of which red deer and ibex (Capra ibex) are most abundant. Molars from three red deer mandibles and a single ibex were analysed for strontium
(87Sr/86Sr) isotopic analysis using laser ablation mass spectrometry to determine animal movements during tooth formation, combined with intra‐tooth oxygen (δ18O) isotope analysis to determine seasonality. The isotope data was modelled within a local 87Sr/86Sr isoscape and computational spatial assignment was undertaken to reconstruct potential summer and winter ranges of red deer.
Results from this pilot study show seasonal mobility within 20km of Lazaret, identifying two possible summer and winter ranges for the red deer excavated from UA25. Both possible summer ranges are located at higher elevations further from Lazaret while winter ranges have been assigned to lower elevations closer to the coastline and closer to Lazaret. The ibex shows no 87Sr/86Sr
variation throughout the first, second and third molar and the spatial assignment indicates it lived proximal to the site during the period of tooth formation. In addition to providing the first evidence of red deer spatial ecology in southern France during MIS 6, we also infer from the faunal isotope data that hominins at Lazaret Cave were likely hunting red deer in autumn and winter
when they were closer to the cave site, while hunting in summer would have required up to 20 km of travel.
Original languageEnglish
Article number988837
Number of pages14
JournalFrontiers in Ecology and Evolution
Early online date24 Feb 2023
Publication statusPublished - 24 Feb 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding statement
This research is part of the collective research project named “Paleoecology of the Lazaret cave: human-environment interactions on the coast of the meridional Alps during the late Middle Pleistocene (MIS6)”, granted by the DRAC PACA (French Ministry of Culture). SB thanks QUADRAT DTP NERC (NE/S007377/1) studentship for stipend support. KB and MLC thank the Leverhulme Trust (RPG-2017-410 and PLP-2019-284) for support during the production of this paper.


  • Spatial palaeoecology
  • Middle Palaeolithic
  • Neandertal
  • Saalian glaciation
  • Isoscape
  • Multi-isotope analysis
  • Southern France


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