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Towards a comprehensive characterisation of the Neolithic societies through their graphic expressions: cultural identities and contacts in the Western Mediterranean

Final Report Summary - NEOSOCWESTMED (Towards a comprehensive characterisation of the Neolithic societies through their graphic expressions: cultural identities and contacts in the Western Mediterranean)

The main result of this project has been to reach a better comprehension of the identity and social and economic dynamics of Iberian Neolithic societies during the Neolithisation process and the ulterior expansion of the “Neolithic package”. The development and application of a new holistic approach- theoretical and methodological – taking into account graphic and archaeological record have provided rich and useful information.

This new approach has also proved that parietal and portable graphic depictions could be a decisive tool in order to better characterize prehistoric societies: social and economic organisation and activities; material culture; territorial dynamics; social networks, etc.

- Concerning identity, territorial dynamics and social networks, I have assessed the analysis of the very first phases of the “chaîne opératoire” of Spanish Levantine parietal paintings. On the one hand, the gesture sequence in the process of depiction has allowed me to explore the structural elements of social identity and the technical “know-how”. The characterisation of a recurrent gesture sequence in the depiction of several stylistic Levantine horizons has allowed to: a) do an accurate first characterisation of the territory boundaries of every stylistic horizon; b) to do a critical approach to “style”, distinguishing between structural and minor traits; c) to explore the construction of identity, social networks and territorial boundaries in Neolithic societies.

On the other hand, the chemical characterisation of prehistoric pigments by means of Raman spectrometry and EDXRF spectroscopy has showed the existence of cultural guidelines in the use and in the preparation of pigments, at least during some phases of the Levantine sequence. One of the most important results is the identification of carbon-based black pigments in Spanish Levantine rock art that opens the prospect to obtain absolute dates (C14-AMS). In order to have a better understanding of both raw materials and the preparation process of these pigments I have developed a multi-proxy approach combining spectroscopy, spectrometry, MEB analyses, Anthracology and experimental archaeology. By means of this new approach I have assessed the process of preparation and application of pigments and I have got three main conclusions: a) the identification of the vegetal species (angiosperms) used as raw material to prepare carbon-based black pigments in the area of Valltorta-Gassulla (Castellón); b) I have proved the use of binders such as animal fat or honey; c) I have showed that an intensive grinding process was performed to obtain the pigments. This research has proved both that Levantine pigments were not just the result of a simple water dissolution, as it was believed so far, and the probably existence of “recipes” that changed throughout time and along the territory.

Finally, both variables of analysis – gesture sequence and composition and preparation of pigments- have allowed me to advance to the definition of regional social networks.

- Concerning social and economic organisation, the development of a new archeo-anthropological approach to the thematic content of scenes and the use of new variables of analyses taking into account temporal and geographical variations and the data provided by archaeological record have allowed me to shed new light on the vertical and horizontal social organisation as well as on the symbolic value of some economic activities in Neolithic societies. The mayor conclusions issues from my research are:
a) we can argue for inequalities in the horizontal organisation – gender roles- of Neolithic societies. As Levantines scenes show there is a sublimation of masculine activities (hunting and warfare) and an evident distinction between men and women depending on the activities performed or the material culture associated (weapons, personal ornaments, clothes, etc.).
b) Vertical social inequalities are also evident in Levantine panels since it is possible to identify the emergence of individuals leading battles or squads. We cannot defend the existence of hierarchies but we can argue for incipient inequalities depending mostly on leadership or warfare qualities.
c) Hunting was a very relevant social activity among Neolithic societies, probably linked to prestige or masculinity sublimation; its relevance as economic resource was minor, as archaeological context shown but the remarkable depiction of hunting scenes in Levantine rock art points out a social relevance.
d) Depiction of honey hunting activities prove the exploitation of the beehive products, which residues are difficult to identify in pottery. As big game hunting, these activities are not only remarkable by their economic role but specially but their social relevance. e) Conflicts and social/economic tensions had not the same intensity throughout the time. The changes in the number of scenes of violent content and the different strategies showed point out an increase of conflicts throughout the time with two special geographical centres in Northern regions (Valltorta-Gassulla) and in Central-Southern regions (Nerpio-Taibilla).

In sum, my research has demonstrated that the changes that I have characterized in the thematic content of Levantine scenes could be symptomatic of the social and economic variations so their analysis is notably relevant to evaluate deeper changes in societies as well as to complete the data provided by archaeological record.

-From a wider geographical scale and regarding the Neolithisation process of the Western Mediterranean, the analysis of the figurative depictions of Early Neolithic pottery has allowed me to provide new data about the cultural links between Mediterranean coast of France and Spain during the very first phases of Neolithic package diffusion.

The important achievements of this project have been also possible due to the use and improvement of new technologies regarding rock art recording – multispectral images, 3D, digital tracings, microfading spectrometry...-. These new recording protocol has allowed me to obtain an accurate rock art documentation preserving simultaneously both paintings and rock walls. I have also implemented new techniques- microfading spectrometry- in order to evaluate the stability of pigments that could be very useful for Heritage purposes.