The exploitation of mid- and large-sized herbivores (ungulates) was central to hominin subsistence across Late Pleistocene Europe. Reconstructing the paleoecology of prey-taxa is key to better understanding procurement strategies, decisions and behaviors, and the isotope analysis of faunal bones and teeth found at archaeological sites represent a powerful means of accessing information about past faunal behaviors. These isotope zooarchaeological approaches also have a near-unique ability to reveal environmental conditions contemporary to the human activities that produced these remains. Here, we present the results of a multi-isotope, multitissue study of ungulate remains from the Middle Paleolithic site of Abri du Maras, southern France, providing new insights into the living landscapes of the Rhône Valley during MIS 3 (level 4.2 = 55 ± 2 to 42 ± 3 ka; level 4.1 = 46 ± 3 to 40 ± 3 ka). Isotope data (carbon, nitrogen) reveal the dietary niches of different ungulate taxa, including the now-extinct giant deer (Megaloceros). Oxygen isotope data are consistent with a mild seasonal climate during level 4.2, where horse (Equus), bison (Bison), and red deer (Cervus elaphus) were exploited year-round. Strontium and sulfur isotope analyses provide new evidence for behavioral plasticity in Late Pleistocene European reindeer (Rangifer) between level 4.2 and level 4.1, indicating a change from the migratory to the sedentary ecotype. In level 4.1, the strong seasonal nature of reindeer exploitation, combined with their nonmigratory behavior, is consistent with a seasonally restricted use of the site by Neanderthals at that time or the preferential hunting of reindeer when in peak physical condition during the autumn.
This research was funded by the Leverhulme Trust (RPG-2017-410 and PLP-2019-284 to K.B.), Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle, and the Max Planck Society. K.J. thanks ERC Grant ARCHEIS (grant number 803676) and E.L.J. thanks Belspo BRAIN-be ICHIE for salary support during production of this manuscript. Thanks to Ciara Gigleux (Aberdeen), Juan Marin (Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle), Sven Steinbrenner (MPI-EVA), and Kerry Sayle (SUERC) for assistance during sample selection, preparation, and analysis.
- Middle Paleolithic
- 65 Paleotemperature
- Dietary niche