New Article by Aldeias, V., Sandgathe, D., McPherron, S. J. P., Bruxelles, L., Turq, A., & Goldberg, P., in Journal of Paleolithic Archaeology.

The Paleolithic site of La Ferrassie (Dordogne, France) has contributed significantly to the understanding of Middle and Upper Paleolithic technocomplexes, as well as Neanderthal skeletal morphology. Excavations at the site have spanned more than a century and uncovered rich archaeological assemblages associated with the Mousterian, Châtelperronian, Aurignacian and Gravettian technocomplexes. Renewed excavations exposed a sequence spanning both Middle and Upper Paleolithic occupations in the Western Sector and low-density Mousterian deposits and Châtelperronian in the Northern Sector. Here, we report on an extensive geoarchaeological study of deposits at the western end of the site to reconstruct and interpret both the depositional history of the sediments and associated human occupations in this poorly documented part of La Ferrassie. Our results point to the nature of the site as originally a karstic cave, with the Western Sector located in what would have been the cave’s mouth. The stratigraphic sequence comprises first fluvial deposition (Phase I) followed by soliflucted deposits and accretion cones that emanate from an elevated platform situated several meters above the modern road next to the site (Phase II) and, finally, spatially restricted channeling (Phase III). Most archaeological assemblages are associated with Phase II and reflect an interplay between occupations directly in this area and bones and artifacts sliding down the slope from the upper platform. Unlike in the Western Sector, in the Northern Sector — situated along the north wall and several meters inside the footprint of the cave — cold features dominate the entirety of the sequence; we interpret these as being linked to microenvironments specific to this location of the karst rather than to general (external) climatic conditions. Relevant is the identification of patterned ground formation in this area, which can be clearly linked to the “monticule” features first reported by Capitan and Peyrony and erroneously interpreted as anthropogenic in origin. Our geoarchaeological results point to a large and complex karst system, with distinct depositional sources and often locally independent sedimentary histories throughout its extent. These formation pathways have differently impacted the main occupation areas and resulted in distinct degrees of preservation of the archaeological assemblages throughout the different areas of the site.

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