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A taphonomic and spatial distribution study of the new levels of the middle Pleistocene site of Notarchirico (670–695 ka, Venosa, Basilicata, Italy)

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Abstract

New excavations in the lower part of the sequence dated between 670 and 695 ka by 40Ar/39Ar and ESR-U-Th at Notarchirico revealed layers with lithic and bone remains attesting several phases of human occupations. Some of these occupations are located at the top of residual pebble/cobble lags along former water channels, while others are more disturbed. All the layers yield faunal and lithic remains. Here, we aim to discuss the interpretative limits of traces of hominin occupations in such Early Palaeolithic sites through a multidisciplinary approach focusing on depositional and post-depositional processes in sedimentary units applied on the micro/macro-mammal remains, artefacts (surfaces, micro-wear traces), and spatial distribution of the archaeological material. These data are then compared with those from M. Piperno’s previous excavations in the upper part of the sequence (610–670 ka). As is often the case in open-air deposits and wetland environments, the majority of the bone surface modifications are related to natural abrasion caused by trampling and water flow. By contrast, the lithic material provides more relevant results both on taphonomic processes before and after the hominin occupations and function of the site. Despite the strong impact of post-depositional processes on archaeological material, evidence of hominin activities can nonetheless be inferred, shedding light on early hominin occupations of western Europe at the MIS 17/MIS 16 transition. The discussion takes penecontemporaneous open-air sites into consideration.

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Data Availability

The material is stored at the Museum of Venosa (Basilicata, Italy) and available by permission of the superintendency of Basilicata.

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Acknowledgements

We thank R. Gallotti and J-P. Raynal for their advice in the field, and Pierre Voinchet for his help for the map of Europe. Thanks also to Pasquale Acquafredda and Nicola Mongelli for technical support with the SEM analysis. This study benefited from instrumental upgrades of “Potenziamento Strutturale PONa3_00369 - Università degli Studi di Bari Aldo Moro, entitled ‘Laboratorio per lo Sviluppo Integrato delle Scienze e delle TEcnologie dei Materiali Avanzati e per dispositivi innovativi (SISTEMA)’”. We thank the Soprintendenza of Basilicata (Italy) for their scientific support, especially Dr. T.E. Cinquantaquattro, Dr. F. Canestrini, Dr. R. Pirraglia, and Dr. S. Mutino. We also thank the Venosa Museum, the city of Venosa and the mayor, Dr. A. Mantrisi and Dr. R. Calabrese for their assistance. Many thanks to the editor and the two anonymous reviewers that enriched the paper by their useful and judicious comments.

Funding

Fieldwork was carried out with the financial and scientific support of the Leakey Foundation (“Early Evidence of Acheulean bifacial technology in Europe” grant, 2015–2016 and 2019–2021), the National Museum of Natural History, Paris, France (ATM Action Transversale du Muséum, 2016–2018), and the ERC-Adv. LATEUROPE n°101052653.

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MHM, conceptualization of the paper. MHM, CL, GE, GF, CD, AC, CB, BH, AP, VR, MC, BS, MA, BM, AI, and RS wrote the manuscript. MHM, CL, GE CB, AP, and VR prepare the figures. MHM, AP, MC, BM, and AI made the fieldworks. CD, AC, CB, AP, BM, IA, BS, and RS worked on the faunal material. GE and GF worked on the raw materials. CL made the micro-wear analyses. MHM, MC, and MA worked on the lithic assemblages. VR made the spatial distribution maps. All authors reviewed the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Marie-Hélène Moncel.

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Moncel, MH., Lemorini, C., Eramo, G. et al. A taphonomic and spatial distribution study of the new levels of the middle Pleistocene site of Notarchirico (670–695 ka, Venosa, Basilicata, Italy). Archaeol Anthropol Sci 15, 106 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12520-023-01809-1

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