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Elucidate Aurignacian Through Archaeozoological Analysis of Subsistence

Final Activity Report Summary - EAT-2AS (Elucidate Aurignacian through archaeozoological analysis of subsistence)

The EAT-2AS project focuses on a phenomenon unique in human history: the replacement of European archaic humans by incoming modern humans. About 45,000 years ago, Neanderthals lived alone in Europe, making Middle Palaeolithic tools. By about 30,000 years ago, there were no more Neanderthals, only modern humans associated with the Upper Paleolithic culture of the Aurignacian.

The diversity seen in the earliest Upper Paleolithic industries raises the question of whether the Aurignacian had a single origin - and, in this case, why is it so diverse? - or whether the Aurignacian evolved in different places, sometimes from the local Middle Paleolithic. Although this question, mainly addressed from the point of view of physical anthropology and lithic technology, has long been a major topic of prehistoric research, it remains unresolved.

Knowing that sociological and ethnographic studies have shown the value of diet for defining group identity, the EAT-2AS project objective was to illuminate the origins of the Aurignacians through the study of animal remains discovered in archaeological deposits The study of fauna in terms of subsistence behaviour is a classical approach in archaeology, called zooarchaeology. However, I proposed to reconsider its meaning using an economical approach in terms of chaîne opératoire of animal exploitation. It includes the capture of game (hunting techniques), the processing of the carcass (butchering techniques); the exploitation of nutritional resources (culinary techniques) but also the production of bone tools and ornaments and the use of these manufactured implements. The ultimate goal of this comprehensive approach is to gain insight into how Aurignacians conceived the animal world overall; the status and function of specific animal taxa to these people; and how these conceptions influenced the ways in which each taxon was utilised. The combination of all this data corresponds to a "diet code", which is supposed to be characteristic to the Early Aurignacian.

In this perspective I underlined that, during the Early Aurignacian, there was no evident distinction between species exploited for food and those whose remains were used in bone tool manufacture. However in the great majority these species were clearly different from the ones whose remains were used for personal ornaments. On the contrary this dichotomy "eaten vs displayed species" was never observed neither in the Châtelperronian nor the Archaic Aurignacian sites, which immediately predate the Early Aurignacian.

The main achievement of this project is to propose a new way to look at bone remains in order to investigate cultural identity of prehistoric people, here to investigate whether the Aurignacian represents a consistent group of people or if multiple identities can be distinguished.