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quiros, maillo, neira - the place of unit 18 of el castillo cave

quiros, maillo, neira - the place of unit 18 of el castillo cave

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Published by: bladelet on Nov 19, 2009
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Eurasian Pre history, 5 (2): 53\u201366.
Federico Bernaldo de Quiros1, Jose Manuel Maillo2 and Ana Neira3
1 Area de Prehistoria, Universidad de Leon, Spain; f.bquiros@unileon.es
2 Departamento de Prehistoria y Arqueolog\u00eda, Universidad Nacional de Educaci\u00f3n a Distancia, Ma drid;
3 Area de Prehistoria, Universidad de Leon, Spain; ana.neira.cam pos@unileon.es

The in terpre tative difficulties under lying discus sions of the site of El Castillo Cave (Cantabrian Spain) are to a large de gree based on the charac ter of the as semblages themselves and their place within the Middle to Upper Paleolithic tran si- tion of the region than to the accu racy of the radiocar bon dates. Unit 18 at El Castillo contains evidence for the early pres- ence of Up per Paleolithic ele ments along side a strong Middle Paleolithic \u201cmatrix\u201d, thus justify ing the assignment of the as semblage to an \u201cAurigna cian of Transition\u201d. Nev er theless, the stratigra phy of the site, the in tegrity of the assemblage, and the charac ter of some of the worked bone items have been repeatedly criticized. Here, we pres ent argu ments that weaken these criti cisms and re af firm the impor tance of El Castillo in the con text of the Middle to Up per Paleolithic tran si- tion.


El Cas tillo Cave is lo cated in the munici pal ity of Puente Viesgo (Cantabria, Spain), on a hillside of the same name that dominates the Pas river val - ley (Fig. 1). The moun tain is markedly conical in shape and thus forms a point of ref erence for all routes be tween the coast and the Me seta. The pres ence of a series of fault lines has given rise to closed valleys such as Puente Viesgo, so that, from the cave, both the previously mentioned routes and the movement of herds of animals can be seen (Fig. 2).

The site of El Castillo pro vides a unique op - por tunity to study the Middle to Up per Paleolithic tran sition within the region. It contains 26 stra- tigraphic units that alter nate between ster ile and archaelogical, reaching a to tal depth of 18\u201320 m at some points. This is in ac cord with ear lier es ti- mates made by H. Obermaier dur ing his initial ex - cavations, car ried out by the In stitute of Human Paleon tology (IPH) between 1910 and 1914. Fol- lowing the work of V. Cabrera (1984), El Cas- tillo\u2019s stra tigraphic sequence con tains three Early

Mid dle Paleolithic units (26, 25, and 24), two Mousterian units (22, 20), two Aurignacian units (18, 16), two Upper Perigordian units (14, 12), a Mid dle So lutrean unit (10), two Mag dalenian units (8, 6), and an Azilian unit (4).

Early excavations car ried out at the beginning of the twen tieth cen tury lacked present- day ex ca- va tion methods. Nonethe less, the layers were ana - lyzed horizontally, as docu mented in the field notebooks, and in the drawings, sketches and photographs made at the time, where each \u201can - thropo genic\u201d layer was con sidered a cultural unit (Ca brera, 1984). The stratifi ca tion in El Cas tillo is very clear, and the cul tural units, which are black color, can easily be distin guished from the reddish ster ile beds with which they al ter nate. To day, with refined methods, it is possible to distin guish dif fer ent oc cu pations within the dif fer ent ar chae- lo gical find ho ri zons.

V. Cabrera (1984) assigned the stratigraphic levels currently in use, and compiled all of the stra tigraphic in for ma tion gath ered ini tially by Obermaier (Obermaier, 1925). Since 1980, hori-

zon tal excava tions have been cen tered on the area directly in front of the cave en trance. Here, Unit 18 (of Obermaier and Cabrera) is exposed over a to tal area of 40 m2. However, ow ing to the mor - phology of the cave (Fig. 3) only 24 m2 of the most distal part of Unit 18, furthest away from the cave en trance, have been ex ca vated. Ad di tion ally, 3 m2 along the longitudinal section of the pro file wall left by Ober maier were also ex ca vated. De - spite the fact that the pres ent area of ex cava tion is re stricted, the re sults ob tained are similar to those

of Ober maier, al low ing for the sub di vision of Unit 18 into three lev els (from top to bottom: 18a, 18b and 18c).

Level 18a is sterile and over lies level 18b. In the ex terior area, where only level 18b is present, a large concentration of bones has been found in as so cia tion with a lithic in dus try that is pre domi- nantly made on limestone (cursorily knapped), rather than on quartzite or silicates. Dis persed fragments of carbon and abundant animal cranial remains \u2013 principally jawbones \u2013 have been found

F. B. de Qui ros et al.
Fig. 1.Loca tion of \u201cEl Castillo\u201d in regional context

together with the ax ial parts of the skeletons and show nu mer ous marks of dis member ment (Pu- marejo and Cabrera Vald\u00e9s, 1992; Dari, 2003). This area can thus be con sidered to have been the primary area for butch ering animals, using large, ex pe dient cutting tools which can easily be re - placed (Cabrera, Lloret and Bernaldo de Quir\u00f3s, 1996). For such tasks, limestone appears to be the ideal raw mate rial as it is abun dant in larger pieces at the site and it is eas ily worked, whereas flint and fine- grained quartzite are avail able only as small- sized nod ules.

Level 18c is best documented in the longitu- di nal cut and con tains abun dant con cen trations of char coal. Thin layers of char coal ( cm) can be ob - served, and are rich in lithic ar tifacts and burned bone, but the structural proof that these concen- trations represent in situ hearths, is lack ing. In- stead they could equally rep re sent ref use ar eas (Leroi-Gourhan, 1972: 239 and Fig. 172; O\u2019Con- nell, Hawkes and Jones, 1991) where waste mate- rials from liv ing zones within the site were depos- ited fol low ing suc ces sive clean- ups car ried out in the cen tral habi ta tion area. This lat ter in ter pre ta - tion is also sup ported by the location of these ex -

ter nal ar eas in the cave: beside a large block, to one side of the cave\u2019s en trance. In addition, the work shop residues are sur prisingly nu mer ous compared to the number of tools found. Thus, we surmise that the tools were worked close to the hearths, and that when these ar eas were cleaned; work shop and char coal resi dues were col lected and deposited together in this part of the cave.

Results ob tained since 1980 have led to the pro posal of a model of tran sition from the Middle to the Up per Pa leo lithic at a lo cal scale, with the presence of an in dustry that we called \u201cAurig na- cian of Transition\u201d in the lev els corresponding to Unit 18. This \u201cAurig nacian of Transition\u201d, which could be re lated to the Ne an der tals, is sand wiched be tween the Char en tian Mid dle Pa leo lithic of the un derlying Unit 20 and the Archaic Aurig nacian with Du four bladelets from the over lying level 16.


A large number of radiocarbon and ESR dates have been made (Rink et al., 1997) from Unit 18 at El Cas tillo, with a to tal of ten AMS ra - diocarbon dates measured by three different labo-

Castillo Cave
Fig. 2.View of the mountain of \u201cEl Castillo\u201d

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