The Neanderthals of the Cantabrian coast used quartzite as raw material

The Neanderthals of the Cantabrian coast used quartzite as raw material

Basque researchers have carried out a study that demonstrates the use of a stone, called quartzite, by the Neanderthals who inhabited the Cantabrian coast to make tools in areas where there was little flint.

The scientific community knows quite well the use of flint by paleolithic societies. Now, a study carried out by the University of the Basque Country UPV / EHU highlights the use of quartzite as a second raw material by the Neanderthals who inhabited the Cantabrian coast. The results have been published in the review Archaeometry.

The article establishes a methodology to be able to indicate in the future what is the source of supply of quartzites by prehistoric groups in regions where there was little flint.

"As this methodology spreads, we will know the characteristics of each outcrop of this raw material and we will be able to enrich the economic map of the Paleolithic", comments Alejandro Prieto, co-author of the study.

The presence of a quartzite characteristic of an outcrop in a distant valley hundreds of kilometers, for example, would reveal this displacement by the human groups that carried it. By multiplying the number of observations, it is possible to map the movements of prehistoric populations between the outcrops of raw material and the deposits in which these worked remains were left, after their amortization, the study indicates.

In the geographical area in which the work is circumscribed, the Cantabrian coast, quartzite is the second lithic raw material in quantity. The importance in the archaeological record is even greater in the central and western areas of the Cantabrian region, as well as in ancient times of the Paleolithic, specifically in the lower and middle.

Therefore, the characterization of this material opens a new window to the knowledge of Paleolithic societies, from the understanding of the mechanisms of provisioning, transformation and use of one of the most important resources of that period.

To understand and characterize archaeological quartzite, 17 samples of materials from the El Habario and El Arteu deposits have been selected. The two collections of lithic industry are characterized as Mousterian, clearly associated with the Middle Paleolithic (150,000-40,000 BP) and carved by Neanderthal populations.

Area of ​​high geological variability

The two deposits are located in the west of the current province of Cantabria, in an area of ​​high geological variability. The first is located in a flat area in the northeastern foothills of the Picos de Europa and is adjacent to small conglomerates with quartzite edges. The second is located in the Desfiladero de la Hermida, in an area with steeper orography, surrounded by strata of limestone, and is relatively close to the Deva River.

The methodology used has been based on the application of petrography, digital image analysis, and X-ray fluorescence. These three techniques have made it possible to characterize the textures of the thin sheets and the quartz grains that make up the quartzite; know the sizes, shapes and orientation of quartz grains; know the minerals that make up these quartzites together with quartz; and characterize the geochemical composition of quartzites.

“The results of this work have allowed us to understand the genetic, creative and formative processes of quartzites and detect different formative environments. These range from the purely sedimentary (accumulation of quartz grains) to others clearly metamorphic (creation of new quartz grains through recrystallization), passing through a gradation of more advanced diagenetic and deformation mechanisms ”, explains the researcher.

Tool transport

The understanding of these processes, as well as their contextualization, has made it possible to establish six types of quartzites, which have been used to partially understand the record of both deposits and verify complex mechanisms for the acquisition and management of quartzite. Thus, the dual acquisition (in conglomerates and fluvial deposits) of lithic resources makes it possible to observe mechanisms of mobility and use of diverse media (mid-mountain and valley bottoms), which suggest patterns of interannual movements that still persist today in rural and livestock areas.

The mobility of Neanderthal populations and the transport of tools, as well as the use of a multitude of quartzite types by Neanderthals, has been corroborated. On the other hand, the preferential uptake and use of highly deformed or metamorphic quartzite types, due to their favorable aptitudes for carving and use, leads us to think about modern and complex behavior patterns of these populations.

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Video: Upper Paleolithic