Neanderthal selective hunting of reindeer? The case study of Abri du Maras (south-eastern France)

C Daujeard (Corresponding Author), D Vettese, K Britton, P Béarez, N Boulbes, E Crégut-Bonnoure, E Desclaux, N Lateur, A Pike-Tay, F Rivals, E Allué, M G Chacón, M.-A Courty, R Galloti, B Hardy, S Paud, M.-H. Moncel

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Monospecific exploitation of reindeer by Neanderthals is a common behaviour in the Upper Pleistocene of Western Europe. However, reindeer-dominated assemblages have largely been reported from regions of northern Germany and south-western France, with few examples noted in south-eastern France, where faunal assemblages yield most of the time a variety of other large ungulates such as red deer, horse and diverse bovids. Here, we present multi-strand (bio- and eco-) archaeological datasets from the site of Abri du Maras (level 4.1), situated at the mouth of the Ardèche and Rhône rivers, a new example of a reindeer-dominated Neanderthal site in south-eastern France. Dated to the beginning of the MIS 3, the zooarchaeological assemblage is dominated by reindeer (88% of the NISP, representing 16 individuals) but also includes horse, bison, giant deer (Megaloceros giganteus), red deer, ibex and lagomorphs. The combination of zooarchaeological, cementochronological and tooth microwear analyses evidence a single species-dominated spectrum, with catastrophic mortality and repeated autumnal deaths. This integrated approach provides an extensive picture of human subsistence behaviour, pointing to short-term hunting episodes of reindeer herds in an exceptional context of a quasi-exclusive Neanderthal accumulation. The high number of individuals and selective butchery may correspond with a cooperative and planned mass hunting strategy. The multidisciplinary approach undertaken here also incorporating paleontological, charcoal, ecological and isotopic analyses places the archaeological and zooarchaeological data within a broader regional palaeoenvironmental framework, providing valuable landscape-contextual information. The zooarchaeological data suggest a subsistence behaviour different from other Neanderthal reindeer-dominated assemblages often connected with specialised butchery or hunting sites.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)985-1011
Number of pages26
JournalArchaeological and Anthropological Sciences
Issue number3
Early online date19 Dec 2017
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2019

Bibliographical note

Fieldwork was supported by the Regional Office of Archaeology Rhône-Alpes, the French Ministry of Culture and Communication and the Ardèche Department through several scientific programs. M.G.Chacon, F. Rivals and E. Allué research are funded by ‘CERCA Programme/Generalitat de Catalunya’. Thanks to Jean-Jacques Hublin, Annabell Reiner and Steven Steinbrenner from the Max Planck Institute (MPI-EVA) for analytical support (isotope analysis). We are grateful to the two anonymous reviewers for their constructive remarks on this manuscript. The English manuscript was edited by L. Byrne, an official translator and native English speaker.


  • Neanderthal
  • subsistence
  • seasonality
  • monospecific faunal assemblages
  • reindeer predation
  • mass procurement
  • Reindeer predation
  • Seasonality
  • Mass procurement
  • Subsistence
  • Monospecific faunal assemblages
  • MIS 5


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