Case-Study - Seasonal Mobility in the Auvergne

Monday, December 15, 2014

The magnitude of raw material transfers between the Auvergne sites and sources 250-300km further north illustrates a case of continuity in mobility patterns across the Middle/Upper Palaeolithic divide, which is consistent with the cultural ecological paradigm. Considered in a techno-economic perspective, these transfers also reinforce previously stated diachronic differences.


A hilly relief and a globally rough climate characterize the Auvergne, in the central part of France. During colder periods, local glaciers covered the higher altitude zones that border the Loire and Allier valleys, along which there are clusters of sites, both Middle Palaeolithic and Upper Palaeolithic (Gravettian, Protomagdalenian, mostly Badegoulian and Magdalenian). All of the Upper and some of the Middle Palaeolithic sites contain northern flint from the Touraine and the Paris Basin, the former sites in large quantities. In this respect, it is significant that flint is scarce and generally of poor quality in the Auvergne. 

The Auvergne is considered to have been a region of severe seasonal contrasts throughout the Upper Palaeolithic, particularly inhospitable during the winter months. The absence of any winter hunting in the sites further suggests that human occupation was seasonal in the area. Working on this assumption, it is contemplated that in the Upper Palaeolithic the procurement of higher-quality northern flint was embedded in subsistence strategies and occurred in the context of planned seasonal moves. These followed natural routes connecting flint yielding regions and others known to be lacking suitable raw materials.

Northward long-distance winter moves from the Auvergne (France), following natural routes leading to areas yielding highquality flints. Both Middle and Upper Palaeolithic sites contain Touraine and Paris Basin flints, but the procurement of large quantities of such flints is only documented for the Upper Palaeolithic. Figure composed by G. Monthel (UMR 7055 du CNRS).

Long-distance seasonal mobility (ranging between 160 and at least 250km in the Upper Palaeolithic) is a pattern argued to obtain in ECE. Explaining the Auvergne long-distance seasonal moves in terms of adaptive responses to environmental constraints is supported by the enduring northern origin of raw materials across the Middle/Upper Palaeolithic divide. However, the quantities recorded for the Middle Palaeolithic are very small. A similar case of continuity in transport and mobility strategies is documented only in ECE, in Moravia, where northern trans-Carpathian flint systematically occurs in Middle and Upper Palaeolithic sites, conveyed along natural routes (the Moravian Gate). As in the Auvergne only poor quality flint is available in Moravia, and it is also only during the Upper Palaeolithic that trans-Carpathian transfers are associated with large quantities of raw materials, rather than with a few end-products. Indirect Procurement Drawing on ethnographic parallels concerning the exchange of highly valued items by down-the-line trade over extreme distances, special attention has been paid to the longest transfers (300 km) acknowledged in WE, WCE, and ECE. These always involve very small quantities (generally a single item) of end-products, often in remarkable materials, such as obsidian or white-spotted Świeciechów flint in ECE, which account for half these transfers and may have been invested with more than utilitarian properties. 

Eastern Central Europe
In ECE, such very long transfers are recorded throughout the Upper Palaeolithic, beginning with the Szeletian and the Aurignacian, which partly overlap in time. It is argued that three of the four 300 km Szeletian transfers may result from a down-the-line mode of exchange.

Indirect procurement by down-the-line trade through social exchange in the Szeletian and the Aurignacian of ECE (Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic). Figure composed by G. Monthel (UMR 7055 du CNRS).

Items made of eastern materials from the Tokay and Bükk regions (obsidian and felsitic quartz porphyry, 360 and 340 km) are recorded west in Moravia, at Neslovice. Obsidian and felsitic quartz porphyry are abundant in all the Bükk area sites. Felsitic quartz porphyry is also documented at a halfway point in some Váh valley sites, construed as `relay' sites. In addition, the presence of the characteristic raw material of this valley, radiolarite, is recorded in both eastern (Bükk) and western (Moravia) sites. In a similar way, the Świeciechów flint item from northeastern Poland found in Moravia, at Mis¡kovice (360km), alongside with Kraków Jurassic flint, is argued to have been conveyed through the Kraków region sites, where Świeciechów flint items are recorded, as well as items in `chocolate' flint, of similar northern origin. In the Aurignacian, indirect procurement can be contemplated for two of the four 300 km transfers. One is associated with the presence of Świeciechów flint in Moravia, at Urc¡ice-Golštýn (380 km), where Kraków Jurassic flint is also recorded. There again, the Kraków sites, which yield some Świeciechów flint (three items at Kraków-Sowiniec), can be interpreted as `relay' sites. Another transfer is associated with the presence of 10 obsidian items at Nová Ddina I in Moravia (320 km), alongside with radiolarite, and these were possibly conveyed through the Váh valley sites. 

Western Central Europe
In WCE, only one 300km transfer is recorded, in connection with Hohlenstein- Stadel, an Aurignacian site of the Swabian Jura. It is associated with a few end products in Baltic flint from northern Rhineland (400 km). While in the Swabian Jura, all other long-distance transfers are throughout the Upper Palaeolithic oriented eastwards (240 km) and westwards (220 km) along the Danube River, suggesting direct procurement of materials during (seasonal?) group movement, this transfer is oriented north-south. Small quantities of Baltic flint have been found at the Aurignacian site of Wildscheuer in the Rhineland, some 140km distant from the closest source, and the assumption is that down-the-line trade to southwestern Germany conveyed the items recovered at Hohlenstein-Stadel. 

Western Europe
In WE, basically as a reflection of the state of current research, 300km transfers are so far only acknowledged for the French Aurignacian (n = 2 occurrences). These transfers relate to one item each of grain de mil flint conveyed from western Charente to the Ariège (at Tuto de Camalhot) and the Hérault (Régismont-le-Haut). 

Indirect procurement by down-the-line trade through social exchange in the Aurignacian of WE (southern France). Figure composed by G. Monthel (UMR 7055 du CNRS).

Grain de mil flint also occurs at several of the Vézère valley sites in the Périgord, and two types of northern Aquitaine flints (Bergeracois and Fumel) have been identified at the Tuto de Camalhot and Régismontle- Haut. Indirect procurement by down-the-line trade via Périgord `relay' sites is therefore suggested for the 300km grain de mil transfers. In this respect, it is of additional interest that shells of Atlantic coastal species occur both at Périgord sites and at the Tuto de Camalhot. 

It does not necessarily ensue from the above examples that direct procurement is the only underlying mechanism for transfers.

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