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Grave Markers - Middle and Early Upper Paleolithic Burials and the Use of Chronotypology in Contemporary Paleolithic Research

Grave Markers - Middle and Early Upper Paleolithic Burials and the Use of Chronotypology in Contemporary Paleolithic Research

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449
Current Anthropology
Volume
42
, Number
4
, August–October
2001
2001
by The Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research. All rights reserved
0011-3204/2001/4204-0001$3.00
Grave Markers
Middle and Early UpperPaleolithic Burials and the Useof Chronotypology inContemporary PaleolithicResearch
1
by Julien Riel-Salvatore andGeoffrey A. Clark
Comparison of mortuary data from the Middle and Early UpperPaleolithic archaeological record shows that, contrary to previousassessments, there is much evidence for continuity between thetwo periods. This suggests that if R. H. Gargett’s critique of al-leged Middle Paleolithic burials is to be given credence, it shouldalso be applied to the “burials” of the Early Upper Paleolithic.Evidence for continuity reinforces conclusions derived fromlithic and faunal analyses and site locations that the Upper Pale-olithic as a reified category masks much variation in the archae-ological record and is therefore not an appropriate analytical tool.Dividing the Upper Paleolithic into Early and Late phases mightbe helpful for understanding the cultural and biological processesat work.
julien riel-salvatore
is currently a graduate research fel-low at the Archaeological Research Institute, Department of An-thropology, Arizona State University (Tempe, Ariz.
85287
-
2402
,U.S.A. [julienrs@asu.edu]). Born in
1977
, he was educated at Mc-Gill University (B.A., Honours,
1999
) and at Arizona State Uni-versity (M.A.,
2001
). He has conducted fieldwork in Spain and It-aly, and his research interests include the symbolic capacities ofEurasian Paleolithic hominids, lithic technology and classifica-tion, rock art, and research frameworks and traditions.
geoffrey a. clark
is Distinguished Research Professor ofAnthropology at Arizona State University. Born in
1944
, he waseducated at the University of Arizona (B.A.,
1966
; M.A.,
1967
)and the University of Chicago (Ph.D.,
1971
). His recentpublications deal with the logic of inference in modern-human-origins research (e.g., with John Lindly, “Modern Human Originsin the Levant and Western Asia,”
American Anthropologist
91
:
962
85
, and “Symbolism and Modern Human Origins,”
currentanthropology 31
:
233
61
) and applications of neo-Darwinian ev-olutionary theory in archaeology and human paleontology (e.g.,with coeditor Mike Barton,
Rediscovering Darwin
[Washington,D.C.: American Anthropological Association,
1997
]).The present paper was submitted
20 iii 00
and accepted
2 i 01
.
1.
We are grateful to many friends and colleagues for helping usbring this work to fruition. We thank Bill Kimbel (Institute of Hu-man Origins, Arizona State University) for incisive comments onan earlier draft; we have tried to incorporate his suggestions when-everpossible.We alsoacknowledgetheusefulremarksoftwoanon-
Since it was recognized in the early
20
th century thatUpper Paleolithic humans buried their dead (Defleur
1993
:
17
18
), debate has raged over whether the practicealso existed in the Middle Paleolithic. Although oftenimplicit, this controversy is linked to perceptions of therespective cognitive capacities of Middle and Upper Pa-leolithic hominids and thus deeply imbedded in the con-troversy over the origins of modern humans. Althoughmany archaeologists and physical anthropologists work-ing with Paleolithic material have come to accept theexistence of Middle Paleolithic burials, their meaning inbehavioral terms is still much discussed (Chase andDib-ble
1987
, Hayden
1993
).In
1989
, Robert Gargett proposed that
all
of what hadtypically been acceptedasevidenceofMiddlePaleolithicburials could be explained in terms of natural processes.For him, burials first appeared in the Upper Paleolithic,presumably as part of a “symbolic explosion” heraldingmodernbehaviorclaimedbysomearchaeologiststohavetaken place at the Middle–Upper Paleolithic transition,roughly
35
,
000
years
b.p.
(see, e.g., White
1989
a
,
b
). Al-though his view was met with much skepticism (e.g.,Belfer-Cohen and Hovers
1992
, Hayden
1993
, Defleur
1993
, Gargett
1989
, Louwe Kooijmans et al.
1989
), Gar-gett has recently published another paper on the issue(
1999
). In this latest salvo he attributes more cases, in-cluding some recent ones thatwere excavatedmore“sci-entifically,” to natural depositional and taphonomicprocesses.While his call for a more rigorous examination of al-ternative explanations for Middle Paleolithic burials iswelcome,wesuggestthathisviewistooextreme.Belfer-Cohen and Hovers (
1992
) have convincingly argued thatif Gargett’s criteria for Middle Paleolithic burials wereto be applied to the Natufian burials of the Near East,we would still fall short of conclusive evidence of pur-poseful burial in that region. This suggests that Gargettis selective in the application of his principles—an ap-proach that he never adequately justifies. We argue herethat the only way in which his approach could be jus-tified would be to submit the earliest, if not all, UpperPaleolithic burials to the same critical scrutiny. We pro-pose to test some of the implications of Gargett’s posi-tion by comparing the Middle Paleolithic evidence withthat for the Early Upper Paleolithic. If, as Gargett (
1999
:
30
) argues, burial practices developed only in the UpperPaleolithic, no Upper Paleolithic burials from any periodshould share any significant patterns with putative bur-ials from the Middle Paleolithic.
ymous referees. Filippo Salvatore (Concordia University) and SteveSchmich(ArizonaStateUniversity)readearlierversionsoftheman-uscript and provided useful comments. We thank Alexandra deSousa (George Washington University) for stimulating discussionson the nature of Paleolithic burial, the subject of her B.A. honorsthesis at Arizona State University. We are, of course, responsiblefor all errors of fact or omission.
 
450
F
current anthropology
Volume
42
, Number
4
, August–October
2001
The Question of the Early Upper Paleolithic
Recent work in various areas of the Old World has pro-vided scholars with “hard” evidence that what is ofteninterpreted as typically Middle Paleolithic behavior, no-tably subsistence strategies and tool making, shifted totypically Upper Paleolithic patterns only after about
20
,
000
years ago (Lindly and Clark
1990
, Duff, Clark,and Chadderdon
1992
, Stiner
1994
, Kuhn
1995
). In fact,observable patterns often show a great deal of continuityacross “cultures” and over time (Clark
1992
). Recentclaims of a possible Neanderthal/
Homo sapiens sapiens
hybrid dating to the latter part of the Early Upper Pa-leolithic (Duarte et al.
1999
, Trinkaus, Zilha˜o, andDuarte
1999
) also suggest that the simplistic equationof “cultures” with hominid types, a correlate of tradi-tional interpretive frameworks of Paleolithic research,isseriously flawed and probably counterproductive for anunderstanding of the transition.Recognition of distinct Early and Late Upper Paleo-lithic periods has not been unanimously accepted. Somescholars have insisted that the Upper Paleolithic is acoherent temporal and cultural unit (see White
1989
b
and various papersin Knecht,Pike-Tay,andWhite
1993
).This period, they claim, was associated exclusively withmodern humans and a very few acculturated Neander-thals and was defined by an unmistakable “symbolic ex-plosion”thatincludedasasinglepackageart,symbolism(including burials), bone and antler technology, complexsocial structures, and perhaps even language (Noble andDavidson
1991
,
1993
,
1996
). This point of view, whichignoresmuchoftheevidenceforMiddlePaleolithicsym-bolism (e.g., Marshack
1989
), agrees well with Gargett’sperception of the differences between theMiddleandtheUpper Paleolithic. Indeed, his view effectively “dehu-manizes” Neanderthals and implies that they were, forall intents and purposes, evolutionary dead ends.Both positions, however, appear to acceptthatculturaldiversity intensified in the course of the Upper Paleo-lithic. This being the case, we can assume that the ear-liest phases of that chronotypologically defined periodwould be characterized by simpler forms of the samebehavior found in its later phases. Thus, if we are to takesome fraction of the Upper Paleolithic as a basis for po-tential behavioral comparisons with the Middle Paleo-lithic, it appears sensible to take the allegedly behavior-ally “incipient” portion of that period as that baseline.The first three Upper Paleolithic “technocomplexes”(Chaˆtelperronian, Aurignacian, and Gravettian) will bethe ones characterized by the earliest and presumablysimplest manifestations of symbolic behavior, includingpurposeful burial. If Gargett is right and intentional in-terment begins only with the earliest Upper Paleolithic,the patterns derived from this limited sample shouldshow no qualitative similarities whatsoever to those de-rived from a sample of alleged graves from the MiddlePaleolithic.By trying to discern how burial practices in the EarlyUpper Paleolithic differed from or resembled those sug-gested for the Middle Paleolithic,this paperwillalsotestthevalidityoftheUpperPaleolithicasananalyticalunit,since it will show whether an unambiguous Middle/Up-per Paleolithic division existsin a bodyofevidenceotherthan stone tools.Byextension,thevalidityoftypologicaland etic approaches to the dynamic cultural and biolog-ical processes of the Paleolithic will also be assessed.
Burials and Modern Human Origins
Almost everyone involved in modern-human-origins re-searchacceptsthathumanshadstartedtoburytheirdeadby the earliest phases of the Upper Paleolithic. The issuebefore us, then, is whether purposeful burial also existedin the Middle Paleolithic.One group of researchers, spearheaded by Gargett(
1989
,
1996
,
1999
), argues that geological or nonhumannatural processes alone can accountforallapparentMid-dle Paleolithic hominid burials recovered so far. Thisimplies that they view Upper Paleolithic graves in gen-eral as radically different from all the material claimedinsupportofintentionalburialintheMiddlePaleolithic.A major difficulty with this point of view is the unlike-lihood that the geological processes at work in MiddlePaleolithic sites would not also have affected those ofthe Upper Paleolithic. The presence of proportionallygreater numbers of Upper Paleolithic graves should beperfectly explicable by such processes. Indeed, besidesthe fact that Early Upper Paleolithic sites were morenumerous and widespread than Middle Paleolithic ones(White
1985
:
57
), bodies buried
100
,
000
years ago aremuch less likely to have been preserved to the presentthan those buried a “mere”
25
,
000
years ago. This per-spective suggests that modern humans, who were, afterall,presentformostoftheMiddlePaleolithic,eventuallycrossed some kind of cognitive threshold beyond thereach of the “symbolically challenged” Neanderthals,who were destined to be replaced. It is not surprising,therefore, to see proponents of this interpretationinvok-ing the extreme replacement scenario of Stringer(Stringer, Hublin, and Vandermeersch
1984
, Stringer andAndrews
1988
; but cf. Clark and Willermet
1995
) andMellars (
1989
,
1996
; but cf. Clark and Lindly
1989
a
,Clark
1997
b
).Another group of researchers accepts the existence ofMiddle Paleolithic graves butseesthemasdifferentfromthose of the Upper Paleolithic. Chase and Dibble (
1987
;Chase
1991
) argue that Middle Paleolithic burial is ev-idenceofalevelofcaringandemotionalattachmentwellabove that of any other higher primates but that “thereare no other obvious signs of ritual” (Chase and Dibble
1987
:
276
). In other words, Middle Paleolithic hominidswere gregarious, emotional, socially complex, and adeptat hunting but had no ritual or symbolic behavior toorganize their sociality. (Exactly how emotion is de-tached from “humanness” is never made clear.) This po-sition has the notable advantage of being able to accountfor the very limited number of apparent gravesrecoveredfrom Middle Paleolithic contexts, since it implies that
 
riel-salvatore and clark
Grave Markers
F
451
burial was not a regular part of the Neanderthal behav-ioral repertoire and was, therefore, likely to have beensporadic. It is handicapped, however, by evidence thatMiddle Paleolithic modern humans also sporadicallyburied their dead for no symbolic reason. This observa-tion can be interpreted as suggesting that modern hu-mans and Neanderthals were the same species andshared a behavioral repertoire—a view that is supportedby lithic (Boe¨da
1988
) and faunal (Chase
1989
) evidencestrongly suggesting that the two hominids had similarlifeways for an interval of at least
60
,
000
years (Lindlyand Clark
1990
). The alternative interpretationpreferredby Chase and Dibble (
1987
:
285
) is that Neanderthalsandmodern humans were two distinct species and that onlymodern humans would eventually develop the capacityfor symbolic behavior, or “neoculture,” giving them acompetitive advantage over “paleoculturalNeander-thals, who were driven to extinction. Despite a lack ofconcrete evidence, most of the proponents of the non-symbolic-burial interpretation adhere to this view.Others in this group see both kinds of Middle Paleo-lithic hominids as having the capacity for symbolic be-havior,butwhatthismeansisdebated.Someresearchersargue that despite their ability to act symbolically, Ne-anderthals apparently never “refined” this capacity tothe same degree as modern humans and were thereforecondemned to be replaced by them (Defleur
1993
; Mel-lars
1996
). A broadly similar expression of this viewbased on the analysis of stone and bone tools and per-sonal ornaments has recently been proposed by someEuropean workers (d’Errico et al.
1998
, Zilha˜o andd’Errico
1999
a
; see Clark
1997
a
,
1999
a
). Others argue,however,thatthe“embryonicritualbehaviorembodiedin burials postdating
100
,
000
years
b.p.
provides supportfor the hypothesis that the two hominid groups weresimply regional variants within a single, wide-ranging,polytypic species (Brose and Wolpoff
1971
, Wolpoff, Wu,andThorne
1984
,ClarkandLindly
1989
a
,Wolpoff
1989
).In their view, the Middle Paleolithic archaeological rec-ordprovidesevidenceofafairdegreeofsocialcomplexitythat increased at a different rate from that of biologicalevolution (Marshack
1989
, Hayden
1993
). May (
1986
:
157
, translation ours)
2
sums up this position when shestates that “the Upper Paleolithic is in continuity withthe Middle Paleolithic, developing further what it con-tained in germinal form. . . . It is the very principle ofevolution.” This position hasthe advantageofbeingableto indicate some of the elements that should or couldbe found in Early Upper Paleolithic burials, thereby pro-viding the test implications for Early Upper Paleolithicburialthattheotherapproacheshavestudiouslyavoided.In fact, the multiregional hypothesis predicts that ex-tremely robust modern humans showing some Nean-derthal features will be the earliest buried hominids ofthe Upper Paleolithic. It happens that many of the ear-liest recovered hominids from the Upper Paleolithic
2.
“Le Pale´olithique supe´rieur est en continuite´ avec le Pale´oli-thique moyen, de´veloppe ce qu’il contenait en germe. . . . C’est leprincipe meˆme de l’e´volution.
have, in fact, been described as very robust and showingNeanderthal affinities (see Wolfpoff
1997
:
746
58
;
1999
:
761
69
). The problem is that it is impossible to comparethem with Neanderthals as a whole because, despiteclaims to the contrary (see Stringer, Hublin, and Van-dermeersch
1984
), we do not have a list of traits thatunambiguously characterizes Upper Pleistocene homi-nids as Neanderthal or modern (Willermet
1993
, Willer-met and Clark
1995
, Clark
1997
a
). This renders the clas-sification of limitrophe specimens difficult if notimpossible, resulting in a conceptual impasse in whichplayers from multiregional and replacement camps citethe same evidence but interpret it differently. It is in-teresting, however, that the robust modern humans pre-sent in the earliest Upper Paleolithic (see descriptions ofCombe Capelle, Les Cotte´s, and Prˇedmostı´ in May
1986
)are precisely what is expected by continuity advocatesand can be accommodated only with difficulty by thereplacement model. The recentlydiscoveredLagarVelhoNeanderthal/modern “hybrid” (Duarte et al.
1999
, Trin-kaus, Zilha˜o, and Duarte
1999
) is another “aberration”that can be explained more adequately from a continuitythan from a replacement perspective (but see Bra¨uer
1984
,
1989
).We take the position that burials are crucial for un-derstanding both the biological and the cultural transi-tion and that, like stone tools, they can serve as impor-tant sources of information about the origins of what isseen as typically modern behavior. As with stone tools,however, it is quite unwarranted to link burials withspecific hominid taxa. It is very unlikely that intermentwas the only way our Paleolithic forebears had of dis-posing of the dead (Ucko
1969
), and their mortuary prac-tices may not always have left traces in the archaeolog-ical record (e.g., Le Mort
1988
). Therefore, while burialscan certainly be used as a source of evidence in inferringpast lifeways, if we are ever to resolve the issues sur-rounding our origins they cannot be studied in isolationfrom other lines of evidence (e.g., tool technologies, set-tlement and subsistence patterns, etc.).
Some Comments on Burial Analysis
In analyzing mortuary data, regularities orpatternsmustbe identified in grave contexts. Following Binford(
1971
),patternsinthemortuaryrecordcanbeassumedtoreflectsome of the various social personae (statuses occupiedor activated in life) of the deceased (see also Clark andNeeley
1987
). This suggests that, if we can control fortaphonomy and diagenesis, at least some of the patternsin the Middle and Early Upper Paleolithic record couldrepresent or index the social personae recognized by thesocieties in which purposefullyinterredindividualsonceparticipated. As is pointed out by Harrold (
1980
:
196
),however, this approach is based on cross-cultural obser-vations derived from fully modern populations that typ-ically use formal cemeteries to dispose of their dead.Paleolithic burials are much fewer and much morewidely distributed in space and time than those of any

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