Substantial biases affecting Combe-Grenal faunal record cast doubts on previous models of Neanderthal subsistence and environmental context

Publication date: Available online 4 April 2017Source:Journal of Archaeological Science
Author(s): Emmanuel Discamps, Jean-Philippe Faivre
This short contribution presents faunal data from new fieldwork at the Middle Palaeolithic site of Combe-Grenal (Dordogne, France). This important sequence continues to serve as both a reference sequence to which other Western European Middle Palaeolithic sites are often compared and the basis of several models of Neanderthal subsistence and environmental context. However, several researchers have highlighted the likelihood that skeletal part profiles were biased as a consequence of the incomplete recovery methods used during previous excavations at Combe-Grenal. A comparison of faunal remains recovered during new excavations with data from the original collections allows recovery bias induced by previous excavation protocols to be quantified. The unreliability of the original skeletal part profiles is confirmed by our study, while, more importantly and unexpectedly, radical biases in species frequencies were equally identified. These results cast doubts on several interpretive models held to account for variability in Mousterian industries, the evolution of Neanderthal hunting strategies, as well as Pleistocene environmental changes. Furthermore, Combe-Grenal provides an instructive example to archaeologists working on sites with less than ideal recovery methods of faunal material. In such cases, recovery biases may be so substantial than even basic faunal data, such as species lists, prove unreliable.