Searching for the lost pieces: unravelling the role of small game in the Iberian Palaeolithic

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The Iberian Peninsula is an important region for the study of prehistoric human behaviour. It is an area composed of many different ecosystems. Many researchers suggest that, because of its situation, it has particular conditions that during cold phases in the past acted as a refuge for human populations. Because of its particular ecology and climate, Iberia is an important place for the proliferation of particular taxa such as leporids (rabbits and hares). It is also an area located at a stop-over point in the migration of birds between Africa and Europe. Thus, these animals are commonly found in archaeological sites. However, evidence of human exploitation of these resources is not always evident, as carnivores could also originate small prey accumulations. Here lies the importance of differentiating occupational events and determining their relationship with humans.

This project aims to identify possible patterns of bone alteration observable on small prey and to distinguish accumulations generated by human and/or non-human predators in Iberian archaeological assemblages. Particular interest will be focused on birds, as they are normally underestimated. To this end, small prey bones from different Middle and Upper Palaeolithic archaeological sites of Iberia will be analysed using methods from the disciplines of zooarchaeology and taphonomy, and special emphasis will be placed on the characterization of specific taphonomic signatures. The characterization of the accumulations will help to understand the role of small prey in ancient human populations, and it will contribute to the comprehension of complex human behaviour.

The analysis of small prey remains will deliver information regarding different questions. First, it will find out the distinction of accumulations of anthropogenic origin from those from carnivores in the studied archaeological sites. Secondly, it will provide a general perspective about small prey consumption over time, identifying continuities and discontinuities in their exploitation and possible causes. Third, it will study how did ecological diversity impact the availability of certain animals in the past and the influence it could have had on human populations.

This project is developed in four main phases, including the selection of the samples, their analysis, the inter-and intra-sites comparison, and the dissemination process. The results of these analyses will enable a greater understanding of the variability and capacity of adaptation of human groups depending on the conditions they are subjected to and of human and small prey relations throughout Prehistory.

FUNDING INSTITUTION FUNDAÇÃO PARA A CIÊNCIA E TECNOLOGIA (PORTUGAL) - Stimulus of Scientific Employment, Individual Support (CEECIND) - 3rd Edition.
DURATION 6 years (15/09/2021-14/09/2027)