Journal of World Prehistory

, Volume 25, Issue 2, pp 45–79 | Cite as

Neanderthal Shell Tool Production: Evidence from Middle Palaeolithic Italy and Greece

Article

Abstract

The vast majority of tools recovered from Palaeolithic sites are made of stone varieties. Only rarely do non-lithic implements come to light, let alone tools produced on marine mollusc shell. Interestingly, a good number of shell implements made on Callista chione and Glycymeris sp. valves have been reported from 13 Middle Palaeolithic (Mousterian) sites in southern peninsular Europe. Of these, more than 300 specimens display evidence of deliberate edge retouch. They are all considered products of Neanderthals and date from ~110 ka BP to perhaps ~50 ka BP. In this paper, we review the evidence for Mousterian shell tool production in Italy and Greece—the only two countries in which such tools have been securely identified—and present experimental results obtained in the effort to understand the production process and typo-functional role(s) of the artefacts. We examine the general provisioning pattern of raw materials, as well as the typological, species-related and chronological data pertinent to the production of shell tools by Neanderthals. The data suggest that the Mousterian shell scrapers are a response to poor availability of lithic raw material in the areas of occurrence, and may be best described as an extension of chipped stone technologies to specific types of marine shell, their form defined by an existing mental template. As such, they constitute evidence for refined adaptation strategies and advanced provisioning of resources amongst Neanderthals, and may lend further support to the idea that these hominids displayed a degree of complex behaviour.

Keywords

Shell tools Scrapers Neanderthals Marine shell Callista chione Middle Palaeolithic Italy Greece 

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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Research Laboratory for Archaeology and the History of ArtUniversity of OxfordOxfordUK
  2. 2.Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary AnthropologyLeipzigGermany

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