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Oldowan stone knapping and percussive activities on a raw material reservoir deposit 1.4 million years ago at Barranco León (Orce, Spain)

Abstract

Barranco León (Orce, Andalusia, Spain) provides the oldest case of knapping and percussive activities on an ancient raw material reservoir deposit. This site has already proven to be one of the oldest and most significant Oldowan open-air sites in Europe (1.4 Ma), with an exceptionally rich flint and limestone lithic assemblage, in association with large and small faunal remains, including a tooth fragment attributed to Homo sp. All of these finds have been discovered after years of excavations from a clear stratigraphic succession, complimented by multidisciplinary analyses of environmental proxies. The analysis of the entire lithic collection presented here describes a tool kit composed of cores flakes and debris, hammerstones, and other macro-tools like heavy-duty scrapers and sub-spheroidal morphologies. This paper combines geological and sedimentological data with archeology, providing a new interpretation of site formation processes and how they shaped hominin activities at Barranco León. We examine the dynamics forming the depositional sequence and document taphonomic alterations of the archeological finds, while also analyzing their distribution over the excavation area. This information is key to understanding the nature of post-depositional phenomena and to evaluate primary versus secondary deposition. The positioning of the refitting items in the site highlights in situ action, reaffirming the importance of the Barranco León site as a raw material repository. The observation of a refitted lithic set provides information about knapping strategies and hominin behavior in this European Oldowan site.

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Acknowledgements

We thank the Junta de Andalucía and the staff of the Archaeological and Ethnological Museum of Granada who facilitated access to the Barranco León lithic collection. We extend gratitude to the Gerda Henkel Foundation (AZ 32/V/19, Lower Paleolithic Spheroids Project (LPSP). We are grateful to Michael B. Toffolo for interesting conversation about sedimentology. We also acknowledge the researchers and students involved in the excavations, recovery, preparation, and study of the archeo-paleontological record from the Barranco León.

Funding

This research was funded by the Junta de Andalucía, Consejeria de Cultura: Orce Research Project “Primeras ocupaciones humanas y contexto paleoecológico a partir de los depósitos pliopleistocenos de la cuenca Guadix-Baza: zona arqueológica de la Cuenca de Orce (Granada, España), 2017–2020” code BC.03.032/17; “Presencia humana y contexto paleoecológico en la cuenca continental de Guadix-Baza. Estudio e interpretación a partir de los depósitos Plio-Pleistocénicos de Orce. Granada. España” B120489SV18BC, 2012–2016; “Primeras ocupaciones humanas del Pleistoceno inferior de la cuenca de Guadix-Baza (Granada, España)” B090678SVI8BC, 2009–2011; MICINN (no feder) “Estudio de las dispersiones faunísticas y humanas durante el Pleistoceno inferior en la cuenca mediterránea,” CGL2016-80975-P, 2017–2019; the Spanish Government Ministerio de Ciencia, Innovaciòn y Universidades (MICINN-FEDER) code CGL2016-80975-P and the Generalitat de Catalunya Research Group “Human Paleoecology of the Plio-Pleistocene” 2017SGR 859. “Comportamiento ecosocial de los homínidos de la Sierra de Atapuerca durante el Cuaternario V,” MICINN-FEDER PGC2018-093925-B-C32 and the Generalitat de Catalunya, AGAUR agency, SGR 859 and SGR 1040. ST is beneficiary of the Provincia Autonoma di Bolzano (Italy) post-master scholarship. OO belongs to research group 2017 SGR 1666. AB has been funded by the program Juan de la Cierva-Incorporación (IJCI-2019-041546-I) from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Action grant agreement PREKARN n° 702584. The research of DB and RSR is funded by CERCA Programme/Generalitat de Catalunya. JMJA belongs to the Research Group HUM-607. The Institut Català de Paleoecologia Humana i Evolució Social (IPHES-CERCA) has received financial support from the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation through the “María de Maeztu” program for Units of Excellence (CEX2019-000945-M).

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Titton, S., Oms, O., Barsky, D. et al. Oldowan stone knapping and percussive activities on a raw material reservoir deposit 1.4 million years ago at Barranco León (Orce, Spain). Archaeol Anthropol Sci 13, 108 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12520-021-01353-w

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Keywords

  • Oldowan
  • Technology
  • Lithic taphonomy
  • Spatial distribution
  • Refitting
  • Raw material sources