Posts Tagged ‘Middle Paleolithic’

Archaeological excavations at Aranbaltza, site located in the Basque Country coast, have revealed several episodes of neandertal occupations with preserved wooden remains. The fieldwork is leaded by Joseba Rios-Garaizar, archaeologist from the Spanish National Research Centre on Human Evolution (CENIEH). In 2015, the excavation revealed the presence of waterlogged sediments preserving wooden remains in an extraordinary state of preservation. The assemblage includes including two wooden tools, and one of them is a 15 cm long digging stick which has been published in PLOS ONE.

Figura Macro

Aranbaltza digging stick made. Left, actual morphology after excavation. Right, slightly deformed morphology after restoration

The detailed analysis of this tool and the OSL dating of the sediment that bears the wooden remains indicate that the objects were deposited around 90.000 years and thus, they were made by neandertals. The Micro-CT analysis and a close examination of the surface have shown that a yew trunk was cut longitudinally into two halves. One of this halves was scraped with a stone-tool, and treated with fire to harden it and to facilitate the scraping to obtain a pointed morphology. Use-wear analysis revealed that it was used for digging in search of food, flint, or simply to make holes in the ground.

figura MicroCT

Cross-section images of the internal structure obtained with Micro-CT

The preservation of wooden tools associated to neandertals is very rare because wood degrades very quickly. Only in very specific environments, like the waterlogged sediments from Aranbaltza, it has been possible to find evidence of wooden technology. As it was suggested by indirect evidence, this type of technology was relevant in neandertal daily life. In the Iberian Peninsula wooden tools associated to neandertals have been found only in the travertine from Abric Romaní (Catalonia), and in the rest of Europe only four sites (Clacton on Sea, Schöningen, Lehringen and Poggeti Vechi) have provided wooden tools associated to neandertals or pre-neandertals. Therefore, findings like the one from Aranbaltza are crucial to investigate the neandertal technology and use of wood.

The archaeological project at Aranbaltza started in 2013 to investigate the last neandertals from Western Europe, who were responsible of the Chatelperronian culture. The ongoing excavations have revealed different neandertal occupation events spanning from 100 to 44.000 years. This makes of Aranbaltza an exceptional site to investigate neandertal evolution and behavioral variability.

Piezas US4 y 5

Stone-tools recovered from US4 (1) and US5 (3-4), the stratigraphic units that preserve wooden remains.

This archaeological project is coordinated by the CENIEH and INRAP and funded by Heritage Center of the Bizkaia Regional Government (2013-2017) and Basque Government (2014-2015). Researchers from the following institutions have participated in this publication: CENIEH, Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona, Universidad de Burgos, INRAP, Universidad del País Vasco and Universidad de Cantabria.


Joseba Rios-Garaizar, Oriol López-Bultó, Eneko Iriarte, Carlos Pérez-Garrido, Raquel Piqué, Arantxa Aranburu, María José Iriarte-Chiapusso, Illuminada Ortega-Cordellat, Laurence Bourguignon, Diego Garate, Iñaki Libano (2018), A Middle Palaeolithic wooden digging stick from Aranbaltza III, Spain. PLOS ONE. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0195044

3D models


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A new paper titled “A chrono-cultural reassessment of the levels VI–XIV from El Cuco rock-shelter: A new sequence for the Late Middle Paleolithic in the Cantabrian region (northern Iberia)” has been published in Quaternary International (Gutierrez-Zugasti et al. 2017). In this work, we propose a new chrono-cultural attribution for the lower part of El Cuco’s archeological sequence, which is now attributed to the Middle Paleolithic. This change demanded a new lecture of the entire site, which nowadays is the first site in the Bay of Biscay, atributed to neandertals, with clear evidence of marine resource consumption. Also, the new sequence is relevant to understand the end of the Middle Paleolithic in the region.

El Cuco rock-shelter is located on the north coast of Spain, in the coastal village of Castro Urdiales. In 2005 the site was excavated under the direction of P. Rasines and a sequence of 2.5 m deep, composed of 14 levels, was revealed (Muñoz et al. 2007). Initially, levels VI to XIV were attributed to the Evolved Aurignacian mostly because level XIII was dated to ca. 30,000 BP.

Recently the entire sequence has been reassessed, the new dates obtained from carbonate samples of Patella vulgata remains, have dated level X to ca. 43,000 BP, and level XIII to ca. 46.000 BP. These dates were contradictory with the attribution to the Evolved Aurignacian, and for this reason, we conducted a reanalysis of the level VII’s lithic assemblage. This analysis revealed a clearly Mousterian industry characterized by the use of Levallois technology, with a special incidence of small Levallois cores and flakes. These technological features were similar to those described at Axlor or Amalda (Rios-Garaizar et al. 2015), and are typical from the Late Mousterian of the Cantabrian Region (Rios-Garaizar 2017). Similar features have been also identified in levels VIII-XIII assemblages.



Level VII lithic assemblage (Gutierrez-Zugasti et al. 2017)


One of the most interesting conclusions of this new analysis is that shell assemblages are quite rich in levels X, XI and XII (Gutiérrez-Zugasti et al., 2013). Two of the most represented species, limpets (Patella) and sea urchin (Paracentrotus lividus), were brought to the site and consumed there by neandertals, representing the first clear evidence of marine resource exploitation in the Bay of Biscay. Probably, the absence of this kind of evidence in this region is due to the scarcity of caves and rock shelters with preserved Middle Paleolithic deposits located close to the current coastline. In fact, El Cuco is one of the closest sites (<500 m), and there, specifically, we find clear evidence of shellfish consume.


Gutiérrez-Zugasti, I., Cuenca-Solana, D., Rasines del Río, P., Muñoz, E., Santamaría, S., Morlote, J.M., 2013. The role of shellfish in hunter–gatherer societies during the Early Upper Palaeolithic: A view from El Cuco rockshelter, northern Spain. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 32, 242–256. doi:10.1016/j.jaa.2013.03.001

Gutierrez-Zugasti, I., Rios-Garaizar, J., Marín-Arroyo, A.B., Rasines, P., Maroto, J., Jones, J., Bailey, G.N., Richards, M., (2017) A chrono-cultural reassessment of the levels VI-XIV from El Cuco rock-shelter: a new sequence for the Late Middle Paleolithic in the Cantabrian Region (northern Iberia). Quatenary International. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.quaint.2017.06.059

Muñoz, E., Rasines, P., Santamaría, S., Morlote, J.M., 2007. Estudio arqueológico del Abrigo del Cuco, in: Muñoz, E., Montes, R. (Eds.), Interveciones Arqueológicas En Castro Urdiales. Tomo III. Arqueología Y Arte Rupestre Paleolítico En Las Cavidades de El Cuco O Sobera Y La Lastrilla. Excmo. Ayuntamiento de Castro Urdiales, Concejalía de Medioambiente y Patrimonio Arqueológico., Santander, pp. 15–160.

Rios-Garaizar, J., Eixea, A., Villaverde, V., 2015. Ramification of lithic production and the search of small tools in Iberian Peninsula Middle Paleolithic. Quaternary International 361, 188–199. doi:10.1016/j.quaint.2014.07.025

Rios-Garaizar, J., 2017. A new chronological and technological synthesis for Late Middle Paleolithic of the Eastern Cantabrian Region. Quaternary International 433, Part, 50–63. doi:10.1016/j.quaint.2016.02.020



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