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Open Access Publications from the University of California

A Late Magdalenian Landscape: Spatial and Technological Production at Les Eglises

  • Author(s): Griffin, Andrew Marc
  • Advisor(s): Conkey, Margaret W.
  • et al.

This study examines the spatial and technological practices of hunter-gatherers in the Late Magdalenian period at the central Pyrenean cave site of Les Eglises (c. 11,800 BP). The site is a palimpsest of four main stratigraphic levels for this period of occupation and is thought to represent a relatively short time span for a Paleolithic site (years or possibly decades). Because excavation was carried out in the 1960s and 1970s and spatial coordinates were noted for many of the finds, the site provides an opportunity for fine-grained spatial analysis. It also has the potential to inform with regard to the technological practices associated with stone tool production and whether those may have changed over a probable narrow period of time. In order to explore the technological side, an analysis of the majority of stone tools was carried out and is presented here. The spatial data are analyzed using a Geographic Information System (GIS) and a method used to identify clustering called Kernel Density Estimation. In theoretical terms, my concern here is to link the production of technology and space with the practices that produced them, in part by drawing on the spatial theory of Henri Lefebvre, the practice theory of Pierre Bourdieu, as well as the work of André Leroi-Gourhan and of Actor-Network Theory.

Les Eglises is typically considered to be a specialized ibex hunting camp, but much less attention has been paid to the fact that the Magdalenians hunted other species – primarily birds and fish – and what that might imply about the occupants of the site and the specific composition (age/gender of individuals) of the group or groups who visited it. Additionally, the areal extent of the occupation changed between the stratigraphic levels and at times those changes were relatively dramatic.

In service of the goal of providing a more nuanced account of the site, special attention is paid to the small scale practices of manufacturing stone tools, their spatial clustering, and their relation to the location of faunal remains, as well as the location of “formal tools” made of both stone and bone. Based on multiple lines of evidence, it is argued that the site is in fact more complex than generally assumed, and that at least in the most spatially extensive stratigraphic level, was an aggregation site, even if a smaller example of such a site. On a higher level, for mobile hunter-gatherers like the Magdalenians at Les Eglises, every site implicates the wider landscape in that it aggregates materials that include both humans and non-humans (e.g. raw materials for stone tools, gathered plants, and hunted animals) from localities near and far, drawing disparate elements into close association and thus producing new spaces.

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