The present project focuses on the Neanderthal-Modern Human transition, based on the excavation of the site of Vale Boi, Algarve, Southern Portugal. The main objectives of the project are 1) to date the time and mode of the extinction of Neanderthals and the emergence of Modern Humans in southern Iberia; 2) characterize the elements of modern human cognition, including differences in raw material acquisition and use, lithic and bone technology, use of fire, body ornaments, and portable art; 3) to determine if the modern traits are unique to Upper Paleolithic or if they are present in the Mousterian; 4) to establish if the appearance of those traits are pre or post use of dietary marine resources; and 5) to investigate the relation between the use of marine resources and the biological human development reflected in complex cognition. Southern Iberia is marked by the late radiocarbon dates of Neanderthal contexts in Portuguese Estremadura (sites of Figueira Brava, Gruta Nova da Columbeira, and Foz do Enxarrique), Gibraltar (Gorham's Cave and Vangard cave), and Andalusia (Bajondillo cave). There are close to 100 absolute dates ranging between 50 and 25 kyr BP (Mousterian, Aurignacian, and Gravettian) from about 30 sites in southwestern Iberia. There are two main explanatory models for the cultural and physical changes within this timeframe: 1) the region is characterized by a very late Mousterian, that lasted up to after 32 kyr cal BP (Finlayson et al., 2006; Finlayson, 2008); there is scant evidence of Aurignacian in Spain, but none that holds to scrutiny in Portugal (Bicho, 2005; Straus et al, 2000), while the Gravettian arrived in the area at least 32 kyr cal BP and replaced the Middle Paleolithic and Neanderthals, with possible genetic admixture. 2) There is a hiatus between the Middle and Upper Paleolithic; the Mousterian lasted to c. 37 kyr cal BP and the first Upper Paleolithic was the Aurignacian that arrived around 34 kyr cal BP and was later replaced by the Gravettian some 30 kyr (Aubry, 2011; Zilhão, et al., 2010b). Zilhão also believes in genetic admixture based on the Lagar Velho child remains (Zilhão and Trinkaus, 2002).
The present project intends to open up a larger excavation area to be able to compare lithic artefacts and faunal remains, as well as spatial organization between the Mousterian level and the Upper Paleolithic levels. In SW Iberia where good long stratigraphic sites with fauna are extremely rare, the site of Vale Boi is perfect for this study since it has great faunal preservation, both marine and terrestrial, allowing simultaneously dating of bone, shell and charcoal. It has also a very wide diversity of archaeological materials, including both chipped and ground stone tools, shell, teeth and bone ornaments, bone tools, mobile art, and pigments.