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Testing population hiatuses in the Late Pleistocene of Central Iberia: a geoarchaeological approach

Final Report Summary - HIATUS LPLEIS IBERIA (Testing population hiatuses in the Late Pleistocene of Central Iberia: a geoarchaeological approach)

Main aim of the project was to investigate human-environment interactions and population dynamics in the central area of the Iberian Peninsula during the Late Pleisto-cene. A crucial shortcoming faced by any model dealing with Late Pleistocene population dynamics in the interior regions of the Iberian Peninsula is the poor quantity and quality of the archaeological, geomorphological, chronometric and palaeoecological data available. Based on the scarce archaeological record known in these interior territories, traditional interpretations have assumed the existence of a prolonged human population hiatus starting after the end of the Middle Paleolithic and lasting until the late phases of the Upper Paleolithic. The main factors argued for this lack of settlement in interior Iberia have been the purported harsh environmental and climatic conditions of the upland regions of the Spanish plateau during the coldest stages of the last glacial cycle. According to classical models, permanent human set-tlement of the area would have been only possible after the retreat of the Last Glacial Maximum, during Magdalenian times.
Our main working hypothesis when devising this project was that new fieldwork would show that classical models have been biased by the lack of research in interior Iberia compared to the coastal regions of the peninsula. Although we considered the probable existence of population breakdowns in wide areas of interior Iberia, we also thought that the existence of ecological refuges in some areas, suitable for human occupation even during cold stages, should be tested. We also hypothetisied that studying the regions of interior Iberia in their own cultural and ecological terms, and not as subsidiary regions of the coastal areas, would contribute to produce a more realistic view of population dynamics and human-environments interactions in the Iberian Peninsula.
The specific and inter-linked objectives of the project can be summarized as follows:
(1) To show new cultural, geological and chronometric data that can improve the current min-imal information concerning the Late Pleistocene of Central Iberia.
(2) To know the evolution of population dynamics for the study area in the context of Late Pleistocene climate change, and specifically investigate when, how, and under what ecological circumstances population gaps were produced.
(3) To test the currently questioned late survival of Middle Palaeolithic and associated Neandertal populations in Central Iberia, and its association to the arrival of Anatomically Modern Humans to the peninsula.
(4) To test the classic model of Central Iberia as a depopulated region during MIS 2.
(5) To discuss results obtained in Central Iberia at a wider European scale.
In order to achieve these objectives and test our working hypotheses, we conducted new field and laboratory geoarchaeological works on three Palaeolithic sites located in Central Iberia, between the southeastern foothills of the Central System Range and the Iberian Range (Guadalajara province). These sites are the rock shelters of Peña Cabra (Middle Paleolithic) and Peña Capón (Upper Palaeolithic) and Los Casares cave (Middle Palaeolithic).

In all these three sites we conducted a similar set of field and laboratory methods:
1) Study of the site formation processes (micromorphology, sedimentology and taphonomy).
2) Chronometric analysis of the human occupations (14C, OSL and U/Th dating).
3) Study of the environmental and climatic setting of the area during the Mousterian period (pollen, phytolith, microfaunal and sedimentological analyses).
4) Study of human-environment interactions and techno-economic and social behaviors (lithic technology, zooarchaeology and integrating all data).
Fieldwork at the three sites were carried out during 2015, while laboratory works were per-formed in different labs of Germany and Spain during 2015 and 2016. Although research is still ongoing, important results are already available. These can be summarized as follows:
1. Micromorphological and sedimentological analyses have shown that the three sites contain mostly in-situ geoarchaeological deposits, although some reworking processes have been detected in specific areas.
2. Despite some problems experienced in the dating of some samples, chronometric analyses (14C, OSL and U/Th) have been successful in the three sites. Thus, we have recorded an important presence of Neandertal and Modern human occupations in Central Iberia during MIS 3 and MIS 2.
3. Pollen, charcoal, micromammals and phytolith evidence have provided an important record for the environmental and climatic study of the area. Palynological and microfaunal analyses have resulted especially resolute as markers of possible ecological refugia during some episodes.
4. Techno-economic studies on lithic and faunal assemblages have shown interesting subsist-ence strategies, such as the production of small tools by means of micro-Levallois exploitations at Peña Cabra, the Neandertal use of the deep interior of caves for specialized activities in Los Casares, or the presence of a specialized quartz production during pre-Solutrean times at Peña Capón.

Overall, although a relevant part of results is still to come out, and only preliminary scientific articles and presentations have been produced so far research conducted under this project is being proved relevant for enhancing our knowledge of Late Pleistocene population dynamics in Central Iberia. During the next months we expect to publish several papers showing groundbreaking results and stimulating discussions. On them we will propose to reassess some classic interpretations, such as those positing a total or virtual depopulation of interior Iberia during Late Pleniglacial times (MIS 2), we will contribute to the discussion of heated topics, such as the purported late Neandertal survival south of the Ebro basin, and we will show unprecedented data on the human-environment interactions in Central Iberia during the Late Pleistocene.

Alcaraz-Castaño M. 2016. El Paleolítico Superior pre-Magdaleniense en el centro de la Pe-nínsula Ibérica: hacia un nuevo modelo. ARPI (Arqueología y Prehistoria del interior peninsu-lar) 04, Extra. Homenaje a Rodrigo de Balbín Behrmann: 34-48.

Alcaraz-Castaño M., Alcolea-González J.J. Weniger G.-C. Baena-Preysler J.J. Balbín-Behrmann R., Cuartero F., Kehl M., López-Sáez J.A. Piqué R., Yravedra J. 2016. Neandertal adaptations in Central Iberia: a multi-proxy investigation of the Middle Paleolithic site of Peña Cabra. In Proceedings of the European Society for the study of Human Evolution 5. Europe-an Society for the Study of Human Evolution, Alcalá de Henares (Madrid): 31.

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Alcaraz-Castaño M., Weniger G.-C. Alcolea J.J. Kehl M., Baena J., Yravedra J., López-Sáez J.A. Balbín R. de, Cuartero F. 2015c. New Insights for the Understanding of the Middle Palaeolithic Settlement of Central Iberia: Los Casares Cave Revisited. In Proceedings of the European Society for the study of Human Evolution 4. European Society for the Study of Human Evolution, London: 28.

Cuenca-Bescós G., Alcaraz-Castaño M., Alcolea-González J.J. Weniger G.-C. 2016. Datos preliminares de los micromamíferos del Pleistoceno de la Cueva de Los Casares. En G. Me-léndez, A. Núñez y M. Tomás (eds.): Actas de las XXXII Jornadas de la Sociedad Española de Paleontología. “Cuadernos del Museo Geominero” 20. Instituto Geológico y Minero de Es-paña, Madrid: 321-326.