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Raw materials and Early Mediterranean Neolithic expansion process in the upper Rhône basin: the case of the Gardon cave (Ambérieu-en-Bugey, Ain, France)

Author(s): Jehanne FÉBLOT-AUGUSTINS

Journal: The Arkeotek Journal
ISSN 1961-9863

Volume: 1;
Issue: 3;
Date: 2007;
Original page

Keywords: Early Mediterranean Neolithic | Bugey | raw materials | provenance studies | mobility | colonization

Behavioural perspectives in archaeology routinely incorporate approaches that draw upon the results of raw material provenance studies based on the petrographic characterization of archaeological artefacts. The extent of roved or known territories, lithic procurement and exploitation patterns, and interaction networks are among the most frequently discussed topics. The prerequisite of sourcing studies is a thorough knowledge of regionally available lithic resources. Indeed, the aim of systematic geological surveys and petrographic analyses on collected samples is to develop a database of extant information, used as a baseline for comparison when archaeological assemblages are examined. Once regional materials have been identified in these assemblages, longer transfers can then be suggested for the materials shown not to have a regional provenance.Distances travelled and the plotting on maps of raw material transfers are by themselves highly informative elements, notably in terms of the magnitude of these transfers. They also help to appreciate spatial patterns (multi- or unidirectional transfers) and to trace pathways; in addition, by revealing the recurrent character of certain transfers they are indicative of favored itineraries. The significance of this information needs to be highlighted by technology. Based on the notion of chaîne opératoire, technological categorization enables one to reconstruct the successive stages involved in the reduction of lithic material. As a result, it is possible to recognize the form in which materials were introduced to sites (as unaltered or barely modified blocks, as prepared or partially reduced cores, as blanks and/or tools), to follow the processing stages that subsequently occurred on-site, and to assess the mobility of certain products in terms of import and export. Thus, techno-economic procurement behaviours for distinct raw materials are defined not only by distances and associated quantities, but also by the way these materials are technologically organized. While the appreciation of such elements is straightforward, their interpretation is based on economic, social, cultural, or even symbolic considerations. Over the last twenty years, provenance studies conducted in a techno-economic perspective have allowed various issues to be addressed. These issues are more or less closely linked to the types of socio-economic systems that are considered. For example, in the context of Palaeolithic mobile hunter-gatherer societies, attention generally focuses on the definition of territories exploited for subsistence purposes, and on the way mobility patterns are structured. For the Neolithic, in the context of sedentary societies or societies in process of sedentarization, when other than lithic evidence argues in favour of the development of organized production and distribution networks, emphasis is often laid on the spread of specific materials or products from sources or manufacturing sites. In such sites, investigations bear on the exploitation, production, and diffusion processes, as well as on the function or the status of the products within the techno-economic system. In the same way, very long transfer distances documented for particular products or materials found at recipient sites raises the question of the mechanisms responsible for their presence there: contacts, trade and exchange, underpinned or no by settler migrations? In western Europe, it is in connection with the two major Neolithic currents originating from the Danube basin (Linear Pottery Culture) and the shores of the Mediterranean (Cardial Ware) respectively, that migration is a critically important issue. This issue is more generally addressed via the evidence of pottery, less often so via the evidence of lithic raw material provenances. Thus, for the Linear Pottery Culture, D. Gronenborn (1999) builds, among others arguments, on the wide-ranging westward distribution of trans-Danubian radiolarites, which reaches the Rhine-Main confluence area, to support the migrationist model against the upholders of an adoption of Neolithic practices by native Mesolithic populations, without however denying that Neolithic and Mesolithic people ever interacted. The distribution of radiolarites is seen as the material correlate of exchange networks expected as part of the pioneer Neolithic communities' survival process. In the following paper, the results of a lithic raw material provenance study are also used to develop an example of pioneer mobility, but this time in connection with the Mediterranean Neolithic current, thus putting flesh on the expansion process of the Early Mediterranean Neolithic into the upper Rhône basin.During the last part of the 6th millennium, the picture can be summarized as follows. This is the time when, in the Languedoc, the Early Cardial develops into the Late Cardial and the Epicardial. In the upper Rhône basin - the current study area -, a small number of sites, whose material culture is reminiscent of the Early Mediterranean Neolithic, suggest a northward expansion of this cultural entity along the Rhône River valley, while in the Jura itself there is some evidence of enduring Mesolithic flint-knapping traditions.In fact, in the South Jura Bugey region, the Early Neolithic stratigraphy of the Gardon cave, a major site excavated between 1986 and 2000 by J.-L. Voruz and his team, suggests that the cave was occupied alternately by Neolithic groups (layers 58 and 56) and by groups who still practised Mesolithic-type flint-knapping (layers 57 and 54) (Voruz, Perrin, Sordoillet & coll. 2004). However, layer 58, the first well characterized occupation, dated 5300 to 4900 BC, is unquestionably Neolithic, with no "Mesolithic" overtones. Moreover, this layer is identified with the Early Mediterranean Neolithic, on the grounds of the lithic technology and typology, the presence of a Columbella rustica sea shell, cut marks on human bones, and the very high proportion of hunted animals. Acculturation is a possibility that can be contemplated for layers 57 and 54 - actually, the raw material provenances speak in favour of significant differences between these layers and layers 58 and 56 (Féblot-Augustins 2002, 2005b). On the other hand, it has been suggested that the assemblage of layer 58 was the work of Neolithic agro-pastoralists originating from the Late Cardial of Provence (Voruz 1991, 1993). The results of the provenance study carried out in a techno-economic perspective on the raw materials of this layer fully bear out this theory. They also give the possibility of tracing the actual northbound itineraries followed by these Early Neolithic pioneers, who, after their arrival at the Gardon cave, intensively explored and exploited their surroundings, taking advantage of the available hunting and raw material collecting opportunities.
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