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No cave for the caveman?

Is nothing sacred?

Paleoanthropologist Margaret Conkey asks us to use some common sense:

What tells an archaeologist that Paleolithic people spent less time in caves than we imagined in the past?

One big clue is seasonal occupation evidence, something archaeologists infer based on things like animal bones. For example, by looking at found animal teeth, we can tell you at what season of the year the animals were killed. Also, certain animals are only available at certain times—fish that spawn at certain seasons of the year, for example. Almost all caves are described by archaeologists as seasonal, namely as autumn or winter occupations. It’s clear that people were in caves for maybe a couple of months a year at the most.

How would you define home?

Home is a place or places on the landscape that you are somehow connected to. It’s also a conceptual and symbolic notion as to where people are from, where they relate to, and where certain important aspects of their lives take place. Home is a place where you reconnect with people or memories. We found that some of our sites were revisited for thousands of years, again and again. On the same sites, we found artifacts that are characteristic of Neanderthal populations of the Middle Paleolithic era, and artifacts that are characteristic of modern humans from the later, Upper Paleolithic era. We call these sites “Places of Many Generations.”

Interestingly, not all these locations are next to a source of flint, so people intentionally chose to use, and re-use, a location with clear evidence of previous generations, previous peoples, and maybe even previous kinds of peoples. People would recognize the stone tools of other groups, similarly to how we’d recognize this funny thing from the 1800s. We see some tools that were possibly made earlier and then reworked much later with different techniques. I think people of the landscape had social memories of the uses of the landscape, and they understood that people before them used those places too. These Places of Many Generations actually could be places of memory and memory-making. So people of the landscape created memories and, in doing so, created a home. More.

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One Response to No cave for the caveman?

  1. We know from early bronze age sites in Britain that some sites were also a place of Gathering. The “clan” broke up to forage in the spring and summer, and came back together in the fall. Every gathering of the clan was associated with a ritual of some kind. It’s impossible to guess whether first the families gathered together for mutual support and then later devised ceremonies, or whether the bonfires and stargazing and mate choosing was the original reason to Gather.

    But we do know from direct observation that neither the Bushmen nor the Aborigines needed caves as shelter. Part of the problem is that modern archeologists choose to search in caves and nowhere else. So a disproportionate number of discovered sites are associated with caves. There is a similar problem with sites for North American Indians. The archeologists have been looking in the wrong places for more than a century, and only recently started looking at the Great Plains the way a Boy Scout would. And it turns out that the same requirements for a campsite (water, shelter from the wind, some trees for the fire) have been in use for tens of thousands of years.

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