A rallying point for different predators: the avian record from a Late Pleistocene sequence of Grotte des Barasses II (Balazuc, Ardèche, France)
The presence of processed birds in the archeological faunal record is considered key to assessing human dietary evolution. Taphonomic studies on birds from sites older than Marine Isotope Stage (MIS) 2 have become relevant in the last few years, leading to the proposal of more complex scenarios of human subsistence. Several works have demonstrated direct evidence of bird consumption by Homo prior to anatomically modern humans in Europe; however, others support the hypothesis of non-anthropogenic bird accumulations. This has led to the necessity of determining what elements or factors cause the human exploitation of birds in some archeological sites before the end of the Pleistocene. The Grotte des Barasses II site is located within this framework. Short-term human occupations have been attested by the presence of lithic tools and processed macrofaunal remains. Additionally, a small assemblage of bird bones has also been recovered. Here, we present a detailed taphonomic study with the aim of exploring possible relationships between these avian taxa and human occupations. Despite the fact that Neanderthals inhabited the cave, avian specimens show damage pointing to different causative agents. Direct evidence (digestion, gnawing) indicates that mammalian carnivores and nocturnal raptors were mainly involved in the accumulation of bird bones. We propose some factors that might determine whether or not small game was exploited in this specific locality and emphasize the importance of such analytical approaches in the general interpretations of the Pleistocene sites.