Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences

, Volume 9, Issue 8, pp 1715–1743 | Cite as

Using lithic assemblage formation to approach Middle Palaeolithic settlement dynamics: El Salt Stratigraphic Unit X (Alicante, Spain)

  • Jorge Machado
  • Francisco J. Molina
  • Cristo M. Hernández
  • Antonio Tarriño
  • Bertila Galván
Original Paper


The superposition of anthropogenic remains usually results in archaeological palimpsests, hindering an accurate characterization of the behavior underlying such remains. Aimed at facing this methodological constraint in the study of Palaeolithic contexts, we present a contextual approach to Neanderthal settlement dynamics based on an understanding of lithic assemblage formation processes. We focused on a set of lithic artifacts from the Middle Palaeolithic site of El Salt. With the goal of isolating temporally constrained units of behavioral analysis, we analyzed the spatial distribution of lithic, faunal and combustion remains. Then, the lithic records from each of the resulting units were analyzed from a genetic and technical perspective. This goal was achieved by identifying lithic Raw Material Units (RMU) through observations on reduction processes, refits and their spatial distribution. Our results suggest that El Salt SU X lithic remains represent several diachronic human occupation episodes and different site functions. This study illustrates the benefit of investigating lithic assemblage formation processes to alleviate the palimpsest problem in Palaeolithic contexts.


Middle Palaeolithic Neanderthals El Salt Settlement dynamics Palimpsest Lithic assemblage formation 



Archaeological research at El Salt is funded by the Spanish Government project ‘La Desaparición de los grupos neandertales en la region central del Mediterráneo Ibérico. Una propuesta metodológica de aproximación al proceso histórico y al marco paleoambiental’ (HAR2012-32703, MICINN-FEDER) and Direcció General de Cultura (Consellería de Educació, Cultura i Esports. Generalitat Valenciana). We thank the members of the University of La Laguna ‘Palaeolithic Hunter-Gatherer Research Group’ for their participation in field and laboratory tasks. We are also thankful to the Alcoy Archaeological Museum and the Town Hall of Alcoy for their support and the anonymous reviewers who helped improve earlier versions of this paper.


  1. Adler DS, Prindiville TJ, Conard NJ (2003) Patterns of spatial organization and land use during the Eemian Interglacial in the Rhineland: new data from Wallertheim, Germany. Eurasian Prehistory 1(2):25–78Google Scholar
  2. Bailey GN (1981) Economic Archaeology. In: Sheridan A, GN B (eds) Concepts, time-scales and explanation in economic prehistory. British Archaeological Reports International Series 96, Oxford, pp. 97–117Google Scholar
  3. Bailey GN (2007) Time perspectives, palimpsests and the archaeology of time. J Anthropol Archaeol 26:198–223CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Binford LR (1980) Willow smoke and dog’s tails: hunter-gatherer settlement systems and archaeological site formation. Am Antiquity 45(1):4–20CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Binford LR (1981) Behavioral archaeology and the “Pompeii premise”. J Anthropol Res 37:195–208CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Burke A (2006) Neanderthal settlement patterns in Crimea: a landscape approach. J Anthropol Archaeol 25:510–523CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Carbonell E (ed) (2012) High resolution archaeology and Neanderthal behavior. Time and space in Level J of Abric Romani (Capellades, Spain). Springer, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  8. Chacón MG, Bargalló A, Gabucio MJ, Rivals F, Vaquero M (2015) Neanderthal behaviors from a spatio-temporal perspective: an interdisciplinary approach to interpret archaeological assemblages. In: Conard NJ, Delagnes A (eds) Settlement dynamics of the Middle Paleolithic and Middle Stone Age 4. Kerns Verlag, Tübingen, pp. 253–294Google Scholar
  9. Conard NJ (ed) (2001) Settlement dynamics of the Middle Paleolithic and Middle Stone Age I. Kerns Verlag, TübingenGoogle Scholar
  10. Conard NJ (ed) (2004) Settlement dynamics of the Middle Paleolithic and Middle Stone Age II. Kerns Verlag, TübingenGoogle Scholar
  11. Conard NJ, Adler DS (1997) Lithic reduction and hominid behavior in the Middle Palaeolithic of the Rhineland. J. Anthropol- Res 53:147–176CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Conard NJ, Delagnes A (eds) (2010) Settlement dynamics of the Middle Paleolithic and Middle Stone Age III. Kerns Verlag, TübingenGoogle Scholar
  13. Conard NJ, Delagnes A (eds) (2015) Settlement Dynamics of the Middle Paleolithic and Middle Stone Age IV. Kerns Verlag, TübingenGoogle Scholar
  14. Conkey M (1987) Interpretive problems in hunter-gatherer regional studies: some thoughts on the European Upper Paleolithic. In: Soffer O (ed) The Pleistocene Old World. Plenum Press, New York, pp. 63–77CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Dorta RJ, Hernández CM, Molina FJ, Galván B (2010) La alteración térmica en los sílex de los valles alcoyanos (Alicante, España). Una aproximación desde la arqueología experimental en contextos del Paleolítico Medio: El Salt Recerques del Museu d’Alcoi 19:33–64Google Scholar
  16. Gabucio MJ, Cáceres I, Rosell J, Saladié P, Vallverdú J (2014) From small bone fragments to Neanderthal activity areas: the case of Level O of the Abric Romani (Capellades, Barcelona, Spain). Quatern Int 330:36–51CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Galanidou N (1997) Home is where the hearth is. The spatial organisation of the Upper Palaeolithic rockshelter occupations at Klithi and Kastritsa in Northwest Greece. British Archaeological Reports, International Series 687, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  18. Galván B, Hernández CM, Mallol C, Machado J, Sistiaga A, Molina FJ, Pérez L, Afonso R, Garralda MD, Mercier N, Morales JV, Sanchis A, Tarriño A, Gómez JA, Rodríguez Á, Abreu I, Vidal P (2014a) Pleistocene and Holocene hunter-gatherers in Iberia and the Gibraltar Strait: the current archaeological record. In: Sala R, Carbonell E, de Castro JM B, JL A (eds) El Salt. The last Neanderthals of the Alicante mountains (Alcoy, Spain). University of Burgos and Atapuerca Foundation, Burgos, pp. 380–388Google Scholar
  19. Galván B, Hernández CM, Mallol C, Mercier N, Sistiaga A, Soler V (2014b) New evidence of early Neanderthal disappearance in the Iberian Peninsula. J Hum Evol 75:16–27CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Garralda MD, Galván B, Hernández CM, Mallol C, Gómez JA, Maureille B (2014) Neanderthals from El Salt (Alcoy, Spain) in the context of the latest Middle Palaeolithic populations from the Southeast of the Iberian Peninsula. J Hum Evol 75:1–15CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Henry DO (2012) The palimpsest problem, hearth pattern analysis, and Middle Paleolithic site structure. Quatern Int 247:246–266CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Higham T (2011) European Middle and Upper Palaeolithic radiocarbon dates are often older than they look: problems with previous dates and some remedies. Antiquity 85:235–249CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Hovers E, Malinsky-Buller A, Goder-Goldberger M, Ekshtain R (2011) Capturing a moment: identifying short-lived activity locations in Amud Cave, Israel. Etudes et recherches archeologiques de l’Universite de Liege 126:101–114Google Scholar
  24. Isaac G (1981) Stone Age visiting cards: approaches to the study of early land use patterns. In: Hodder I, Isaac G, Hammond N (eds) Pattern of the past: studies in honour of David Clarke. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 131–155Google Scholar
  25. Jöris O, Street M (2008) At the end of the 14C time scaled the Middle to Upper Paleolithic record of western Eurasia. J Hum Evol 55:782–802CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Kuhn SL (1995) Mousterian lithic technology. Princeton University Press, Princeton, An ecological perspectiveCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Machado J, Hernández CM, Galván B (2011) Contribución teórico-metodológica al análisis histórico de palimpsestos arqueológicos a partir de la producción lítica. Un ejemplo de aplicación para el Paleolítico medio en el yacimiento de El Salt (Alcoy, Alicante). Recerques del Museu d’Alcoi 20:33–46Google Scholar
  28. Machado J, Hernández CM, Mallol C, Galván B (2013) Lithic production, site formation and Middle Palaeolithic palimpsest analysis: in search of human occupation episodes at Abric del Pastor stratigraphic Unit IV (Alicante, Spain). J Archaeol Sci 20:2254–2273CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Machado J, Mallol C, Hernández CM (2015) Insights into Eurasian Middle Palaeolithic settlement dynamics: the palimpsest problem. In: Conard NJ, Delagnes A (eds) Settlement dynamics of the Middle Paleolithic and Middle Stone Age 4. Kerns Verlag, Tübingen, pp. 361–382Google Scholar
  30. Mallol C, Hernández CM, Cabanes D, Sistiaga A, Machado J, Rodríguez Á, Pérez L, Galván B (2013a) The black layer of Middle Palaeolithic combustion structures. Interpretation and archaeostratigraphic implications. J Archaeol Sci 20:2515–2537CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Mallol C, Hernández CM, Cabanes D, Machado J, Sistiaga A, Pérez L, Galván B (2013b) Human actions performed on simple combustion structures: an experimental approach to the study of Middle Palaeolithic fire. Quatern Int 315:3–15CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Martínez-Moreno J, Mora R, de la Torre I (2004) Methodological approach for understanding Middle Palaeolithic settlement dynamics at La Roca dels Bous (Noguera, Catalunya, northeast Spain). In: Conard NJ (ed) Settlement dynamics of the Middle Paleolithic and Middle Stone Age II. Kerns Verlag, Tübingen, pp. 393–414Google Scholar
  33. Molina FJ, Tarriño A, Galván B, Hernández CM (2010) Áreas de aprovisionamiento de sílex en el Paleolítico Medio en torno al Abric del Pastor (Alcoi, Alicante). Estudio macroscópico de la producción lítica de la colección Brotons. Recerques del Museu d’Alcoi 19:65–80Google Scholar
  34. Moncel M-H, Chacón MG, La Porta A, Fernandes P, Hardy B, Gallotti R (2014) Fragmented reduction processes: Middle Palaeolithic technical behaviour in the Abri du Maras shelter, southeastern France. Quatern Int 350:180–204CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. O’Connell JF (1987) Alyawara site structure and its archaeological implications. Am Antiquity 52(1):74–108CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Ortiz I, Baena J (2015) Experiments around the fire. Discovering human and natural processes in Middle Paleolithic Hearths. Anthropologie LIII/ 3:501–518Google Scholar
  37. Pérez L (2014) La gestión de los recursos animales en los Valles de Alcoy durante el Pleistoceno Superior (MIS 3). Estudio zooarqueológico y tafonómico. Master Thesis. Universitat Rovira i Virgili, TarragonaGoogle Scholar
  38. Pérez L (2015) Aproximación experimental a los indicadores de desocupación humana en yacimientos del Pleistoceno superior a partir de los restos termoalterados de conejos. In: Sanchis A, Pascual JL (eds) Preses petites i grups humans en el passat. Museu de Prehistòria de València, Valencia, pp. 27–46Google Scholar
  39. Ramsey CB, Higham T, Bowles A, Hedges REM (2004) Improvements to the pre-treatment of bone at Oxford. Radiocarbon 46:155–163CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Roebroeks W (1988) Analecta Praehistorica Leidensia 21. In: From find scatters to early hominid behaviour: a study of Middle Palaeolithic riverside settlements at Maastricht-Belvédère (The Netherlands). University of Leiden, LeidenGoogle Scholar
  41. Sanchis A, Tormo C, Sauqué V, Sanchís V, Díaz R, Ribera A, Villaverde V (2015) Pleistocene leopards in the Iberian Peninsula: new evidence from palaeontological and archaeological contexts in the Mediterranean region. Quat Sci Rev 124:175–208CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Sañudo P, Blasco R, Fernández-Peris, J (2015) Site formation dynamics and human occupations at Bolomor Cave (Valencia, Spain): an archaeostratigraphic analysis of levels I to XII (100-200 ka). Quatern Int
  43. Schiffer MB (1985) Is there a “Pompeii premise” in archaeology? J. Anthropol Archaeol 41:18–41Google Scholar
  44. Shott MJ (2008) Lower Paleolithic industries, time, and the meaning of assemblage variation. In: Holdaway S, Wandsnider L (eds) Time in archaeology: time perspectivism revisited. The University of Utah Press, Salt Lake City, pp. 46–60Google Scholar
  45. Sistiaga A, Mallol C, Galván B, Summons RE (2014) The Neanderthal Meal: A New Perspective Using Faecal Biomarkers. PLoS One 9(6):e101045CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Stern N (1994) The implications of time-averaging for reconstructing the land-use patterns of early tool-using hominids. J Hum Evol 27:89–105CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Stevenson MG (1991) Beyond the formation of hearth-associated artifact assemblages. In: Kroll EM, Price TD (eds) The interpretation of archaeological spatial patterning. Plenum Press, New York, pp. 269–299CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Sullivan AP (1992) Investigating the archaeological consequences of short-duration occupations. Am Antiquity 57:99–115CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Turq A, Roebroeks W, Bourguignon L, Faivre JP (2013) The fragmented character of Middle Palaeolithic stone tool technology. J Hum Evol 65:641–655CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Vallverdú J, Allué A, Bischoff JL, Cáceres I, Carbonell E, Cebrià A, García-Antón D, Huguet R, Ibáñez N, Martínez K, Pastó I, Rosell J, Saladié P, Vaquero M (2005) Short human occupations in the Middle Palaeolithic level I of the Abric Romaní rock-shelter. J Hum Evol 48:157–174CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Vaquero M (2008) The history of stones: behavioural inferences and temporal resolution of an archaeological assemblage from the Middle Palaeolithic. J Archaeol Sci 35:3178–3185CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Vaquero M, Pastó I (2001) The definition of spatial units in Middle Palaeolithic sites: the hearth-related assemblages. J Archaeol Sci 28(11):1209–1220CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Vaquero M, Rando JM, Chacón G (2004) Neandertal spatial behaviour and social structure: hearth-related assemblages from the Abric Romaní Middle Palaeolithic site. In: Conard NJ (ed) Settlement dynamics of the Middle Paleolithic and Middle Stone Age II. Kerns Verlag, Tübingen, pp. 367–392Google Scholar
  54. Vaquero M, Chacón MG, García-Antón MD, Gómez R, Martínez K, Cuartero F (2012a) Time and space in the formation of lithic assemblages: the example of Abric Romaní Level J. Quatern Int 247:162–181CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Vaquero M, Allué E, Vallverdú J (2012b) High resolution archaeology and Neanderthal behavior. Time and space in Level J of Abric Romaní (Capellades, Spain). In: Carbonell E (ed) Conclusions: landscapes, campsites, time, and Neanderthal behavior. Springer, Dordretch, pp. 389–405Google Scholar
  56. Vermeersch P (2001) Middle Paleolithic settlement patterns in West European open-air sites: possibilities and problems. In: Conard NJ (ed) Settlement dynamics of the Middle Paleolithic and Middle Stone Age I. Kerns Verlag, Tübingen, pp. 395–420Google Scholar
  57. Yellen JE (1977) Archaeological approaches to the present: models for reconstructing the past. Academic Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jorge Machado
    • 1
  • Francisco J. Molina
    • 2
  • Cristo M. Hernández
    • 1
  • Antonio Tarriño
    • 3
  • Bertila Galván
    • 1
  1. 1.“Palaeolithic Hunter-Gatherer Societies” Research Group, Departamento de Geografía e HistoriaUniversidad de La LagunaTenerifeSpain
  2. 2.Departamento de Prehistoria, Arqueología, Historia Antigua, Filología Griega y Filología LatinaUniversidad de AlicanteAlicanteSpain
  3. 3.Centro Nacional de Investigación sobre la Evolución Humana (CENIEH)BurgosSpain

Personalised recommendations