Testing the Roc de Marsal Neandertal “Burial” with Geoarchaeology

Abstract

The question of intentional Neanderthal interment continues to be debated in paleoanthropology. Among the criteria that can be used to investigate the intentionality of a burial, many of them rely on geoarchaeological data that speak to the context of the human remains. In this paper, we revisit the original attribution of the Roc de Marsal Neandertal infant as an intentional burial by evaluating the sedimentary context, pit structure, and taphonomical aspects of the remains and their integration with data from the most recent excavations at the site. From a geoarchaeological point of view, no clear anthropogenic ritual signature was found. On the contrary, all the available evidence points towards natural formation processes associated with the initial deposition and subsequent burial of the Roc de Marsal Neandertal infant.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5
Fig. 6
Fig. 7

References

  1. Akazawa T, Muhesen S, Kondo O, Dodo Y, Moneda M, Griggo C, Ishida H (2002) Neanderthal burials of the Dederiyeh Cave. In: Akazawa T, Muhesen S (eds) Neanderthal burials. Excavations of the Dederiyeh Cave, Afrin, Syria. Research Center for Japanese Studies, Kyoto, pp 75–90

    Google Scholar 

  2. Aldeias V, Goldberg P, Sandgathe D, Berna F, Dibble HL, McPherron SP, Turq A, Rezek Z (2012) Evidence for Neandertal use of fire at Roc de Marsal (France). J Archaeol Sci 39(7):2414–2423

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Angelucci DE (2008) Geoarchaeological insights from a Roman age incineration feature (ustrinum) at Enconsta de Sant'Ana (Lisbon, Portugal). J Archaeol Sci 35(9):2624–2633

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Bordes F (1975) Le gisement du Pech de l'Azé IV: Note préliminaire. Bull de la Societé Préhistorique Française 72:293–308

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Bordes F, Lafille J (1962) Decouverte d'un squelette d'enfant mousterien dans le gisement du Roc de Marsal, commune de Campagne-du-Bugue (Dordogne). C R Hebd Seances Acad Sci 254(4):714–715

    Google Scholar 

  6. Chase PG, Dibble HL (1987) Middle Paleolithic symbolism: a review of current evidence and interpretations. J Anthropol Archaeol 6:263–296

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Cohen C (2008) Sépultures, rituels et religions. In: Vandermeersch B, Cleyet-Merle J-J, Jaubert J, Maureille B, Turq A (eds) Première humanité: gestes funéraires néandertaliens. Réunion des Musées nationaux, Paris, pp 53–58

    Google Scholar 

  8. Couchoud I (2001) Processus géologiques de formation du site moustérien du Roc de Marsal. DEA, Université de Bordeaux I, Talence

  9. Couchoud I (2003) Processus géologiques de formation du site moustérien du Roc de Marsal (Dordogne, France). Paléo 15:51–68

    Google Scholar 

  10. Courtaud P, Duday H (2008) Qu'est ce qu'une sépulture? Comment la reconnaître? In: Vandermeersch B, Cleyet-Merle J-J, Jaubert J, Maureille B, Turq A (eds) Première humanité : gestes funéraires néandertaliens. Réunion des Musées nationaux, Paris, pp 16–24

    Google Scholar 

  11. Defleur A (1993) Les Sépultures Moustériennes. C.N.R.S. Éditions, Paris

    Google Scholar 

  12. Duday H, Courtaud P, Crubezy E, Sellier P, Tillier A-M (1990) L'anthropologie “de terrain”: reconnaissance et interprétation des gestes funéraires. Bull Mém Soc Anthropol Paris 2:29–50

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Gargett RH (1999) Middle Palaeolithic burial is not a dead issue: the view from Qafzeh, Saint-Caesaire, Kebara, Amud, and Dederiyeh. J Hum Evol 37(1):27–90

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Goldberg P, Macphail R (2006) Practical and theoretical geoarchaeology. Blackwell, Oxford

    Google Scholar 

  15. Goldberg P, Dibble H, Berna F, Sandgathe D, McPherron SJP, Turq A (2012) New evidence on Neandertal use of fire: examples from Roc de Marsal and Pech de l'Azé IV. Quat Int 247(1):325–340

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Goring-Morris N, Belfer-Cohen A (2003) More than meets the eye. Studies on Upper Palaeolithic diversity in the Near East. Oxbow Books, Oxford

    Google Scholar 

  17. Henshilwood CS, Marean CW (2003) The origin of modern human behavior: critique of the models and their test implications. Curr Anthropol 44(5):627–651

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Hollenback KL (2010) Ritual and religion. In: Schiffer MB (ed) Behavioral archaeology. Principles and practice. Equinox, London, pp 156–163

    Google Scholar 

  19. Karkanas P, Dabney MK, Smith RAK, Wright JC (2012) The geoarchaeology of Mycenaean chamber tombs. J Archaeol Sci 39(8):2722–2732

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Lafille J (1961) Le gisement dit “Roc de Marsal”, commune de Campagne du Bugue (Dordogne): note préliminaire. Bull de la Soc Préhistorique Française t 11–12:712–713, 58, fasc

    Google Scholar 

  21. Macphail RI, Cruise GM, Mellalieu SJ, Niblett R, Bond S, Dormor I, Reeves K (1998) Micromorphological interpretation of a “turf-filled” funerary shaft at St. Albans, United Kingdom. Geoarchaeology Int J 13(6):617–644

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Madre-Dupouy M (1992) L'enfant du Roc de Marsal, étude analytique et comparative. Cahier de Paléoanthropologie. Presse du CNRS, Paris

    Google Scholar 

  23. McBrearty S, Brooks AS (2000) The revolution that wasn't: a new interpretation of the origin of modern human behavior. J Hum Evol 39(5):453–563

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. McPherron P (ed) (2007) Tools versus Cores: alternative approaches to stone tool analysis. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, Newcastle

  25. Peyrony D (1921) Les Moustériens inhumaient ils leur mort? Bull de la Société Historique et Archéologique du Périgord t XLVIII:132–139

    Google Scholar 

  26. Piveteau J, . (1963) La paléontologie humaine en Dordogne. Centenaire de la préhistoire en Périgord (1864–1969) Numéro spécial Bulletin de la Société Historique et Archéologique du Périgord, pp. 91–97

  27. Sandgathe DM, Dibble HL, Goldberg P, McPherron SP (2011) The Roc de Marsal Neandertal child: a reassessment of its status as a deliberate burial. J Hum Evol 61(3):243–253

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Sommer JD (1999) The Shanidar IV ‘Flower Burial’: a re-evaluation of Neanderthal Burial Ritual. Camb Archaeol J 9(1):127–137

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Tillier AM, Arensburg B, Vandermeersch B, Rak Y (1991) L'apport de Kébara à la Palethnologie funéraire des Néanderthaliens du Proche-Orient. In: Bar-Yosef O, Vandermeersch B (eds) Le squelette moustérien de Kébara 2. Cahiers de Paléoanthropologie. C.N.R.S, Paris, pp 89–95

    Google Scholar 

  30. Turq A, Dibble H, Faivre J-P, Goldberg P, McPherron SJ-P, Sandgathe D (2008) Le Moustérien du Périgord Noir: quoi de neuf? Mém Soc Préhistorique Fr XLVII XLVII:83–93

    Google Scholar 

  31. Van Campo M, Bouchud J (1962) Flore accompagnant le squelette d'enfant moustérien découvert au Roc de Marsal, commune du Bugue, (Dordogne) et première étude de la faune du gisement. CR Acad Sci Paris 254:897–899

    Google Scholar 

  32. Van Keuren S, Roos CI (2013) Geoarchaeological evidence for ritual closure of a kiva at Fourmile Ruin, Arizona. J Archaeol Sci 40(1):615–625

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Vandermeersch B (2008) Origine et diffusion des premières sépultures. In: Vandermeersch B, Cleyet-Merle J-J, Jaubert J, Maureille B, Turq A (eds) Première humanité: gestes funéraires néandertaliens. Réunion des Musées nationaux, Paris, pp 60–65

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgments

We have made note in the text of this article that Isabelle Couchoud (2001, 2003) was the first to suggest that the context of the Roc de Marsal child was possibly a natural phenomenon. This should have been made clear in an earlier publication (Sandgathe et al. 2011) that also dealt with the question of the context of this particular Neanderthal skeleton. Excavations at Roc de Marsal had the financial support of the US National Science Foundation (grants no. 0917739 and 0551927), the Leakey Foundation, the University of Pennsylvania Research Foundation, the Service Régional de l'Archéologie, and the Conseil Général de la Dordogne.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Paul Goldberg.

Electronic supplementary material

Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.

ESM 1

(DOCX 5.26 MB)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Goldberg, P., Aldeias, V., Dibble, H. et al. Testing the Roc de Marsal Neandertal “Burial” with Geoarchaeology. Archaeol Anthropol Sci 9, 1005–1015 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12520-013-0163-2

Download citation

Keywords

  • European Neanderthals
  • Paleoanthropology
  • Roc de Marsal Neandertal
  • Taphonomy
  • Neanderthal Burials
  • Geoarchaeology