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Micro-PIXE studies on prehistoric chert tools: elemental mapping to determine Palaeolithic lithic procurement

Abstract

This paper contributes to an understanding of the distances and choices involved in raw material procurement strategies by Upper Palaeolithic communities through a Pyrenean geo-archaeological case study. Methodologically, it involved using Particle Induced X-ray Emission (PIXE) with a focused proton beam to determine the concentration and distribution of elements in geological samples from three natural primary outcrops belonging to two geological formations outcropping in the French side of the Pyrenees. While it was not possible to distinguish the formation through reference to major and minor elements, some variations were revealed at the trace elemental level. With the aim to determine if these elements were associated with the Si matrix or to a specific inclusion, elemental maps were acquired, and the elemental composition of the identified inclusions were also determined. These chemical signatures were then compared to those generated from archaeological artefacts from sites in northern Spain as a means of reconstructing the catchment areas used by prehistoric groups for their chert procurement. The results indicate the existence of trans-Pyrenean long distance procurement strategies during the Magdalenian (13,700 to the 18,800 cal BP).

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Notes

  1. The calendar age for all the radiocarbon dates presented in the paper have been calculated by Online Calpal (quickal2007). CalCurve: CalPal_2007_HULU. 68% range cal BP.

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Acknowledgements

Authors are indebted to Drs. X. Mangado, J.M. Fullola, O. Mercadal, P. Utrilla and C. Mazo for allowing the analysis of archaeological samples from Parco Cave, Montlleó open-air-site and Forcas I Shelter. Authors are indebted to Dr. Tristan Carter for the English revision of the manuscript.

Funding

This study is financially supported by the Access to Research Infrastructures activity in the Horizon 2020 Programme of the EU (IPERION CH Grant Agreement n. 654028) for projects ChertPixe (The geochemical characterisation of chert by PIXE: a key to understand human mobility in the Pyrenees during the Prehistory) and ChertPixe 2.0 (Characterising the geochemical features of Magdalenian chert tools by PIXE. Tracing prehistoric human mobility in the Pyrenees) (MR: M. Sánchez de la Torre). M. Sánchez de la Torre was also funded by a postdoctoral grant from the Initiative d’Excellence de l’Université de Bordeaux and a Prestige - Marie-Curie (PRESTIGE-2016-2-0022) and now is funded by a postdoctoral Juan de la Cierva contract from the Spanish Government (FCJI-2016-27911).

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Correspondence to Marta Sánchez de la Torre.

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Sánchez de la Torre, M., Angyal, A., Kertész, Z. et al. Micro-PIXE studies on prehistoric chert tools: elemental mapping to determine Palaeolithic lithic procurement. Archaeol Anthropol Sci 11, 2375–2383 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12520-018-0668-9

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Keywords

  • Micro-PIXE
  • Chert
  • Provenance
  • Mapping