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Homes for hunters?: Exploring the concept of home at hunter-gatherer sites in upper paleolithic Europe and epipaleolithic Southwest Asia

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In both Southwest Asia and Europe, only a handful of known Upper Paleolithic and Epipaleolithic sites attest to aggregation or gatherings of hunter-gatherer groups, sometimes including evidence of hut structures and highly structured use of space. Interpretation of these structures ranges greatly, from mere ephemeral shelters to places “built” into a landscape with meanings beyond refuge from the elements. One might argue that this ambiguity stems from a largely functional interpretation of shelters that is embodied in the very terminology we use to describe them in comparison to the homes of later farming communities: mobile hunter-gatherers build and occupy huts that can form campsites, whereas sedentary farmers occupy houses or homes that form communities. Here we examine some of the evidence for Upper Paleolithic and Epipaleolithic structures in Europe and Southwest Asia, offering insights into their complex “functions” and examining perceptions of space among hunter-gatherer communities. We do this through examination of two contemporary, yet geographically and culturally distinct, examples: Upper Paleolithic (especially Magdalenian) evidence in Western Europe and the Epipaleolithic record (especially Early and Middle phases) in Southwest Asia. A comparison of recent evidence for hut structures from these regions suggests several similarities in the nature of these structures, their association with activities related to hunter-gatherer aggregation, and their being “homes” imbued with quotidian and symbolic meaning.

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