Never before had the mobility patterns and management of lithic resources in the Upper Palaeolithic been determined so accurately. The study of flint remains discovered in the open-air Ametzagaina site in the Donostia-San Sebastian has determined the economic territory of the human groups that resided there for approximately 2000 years. The paper entitled: Where to and What for? Mobility Patterns and the Management of Lithic Resources by Gravettian Hunter-Gatherers in the Western Pyrenees has been published in the Journal of Anthropological Research.
The first inhabitants of Donostia-San Sebastian lived approximately 25,000 years ago in the area known today as the Ametzagaina Park. Cro-Magnons of the Upper Palaeolithic resided there for a couple of millennia, as revealed by the remains in the open-air site. Sites of this type are much more difficult to locate than those found in places such as caves and, what is more, “in theory they are not a good basis for drawing conclusions as they tend to provide little more than the remains of lithic industry,” explained Alvaro Arrizabalaga. On this site, the oldest in the Donostia-San Sebastian area, however, a large set of flint items were discovered. Despite the fact that the area has changed drastically, this find was made possible by the fact that the lines of attack and defence of Donostia-San Sebastian during the Carlist Wars (1833-1876) were located in this area, there were parts of the site that had been buried and protected under earth banks beside the trenches. Various flint tools were discovered while taking samples under these banks. The rock is gifted with excellent properties for carving, an art mastered by those human groups. In fact, in the Gravettian culture that the Cro-Magnons of Ametzagaina belonged, clear technological progression took place in this sphere.
These groups were nomads: they did not reside in permanent settlements; rather they stayed in temporary camps and moved around the territory indefinitely. “Determining where they obtained the flint makes it possible to establish their economic territory. The cultural territory, that of art, is much broader, it would cover the whole of Western Europe,” explained the Arts Faculty lecturer. “Flint was their steel, but it was not abundant, they had to know the locations where there were seams, they made their way there, they rough-hewed it on the spot and returned to their camps just with whatever they could make use of,” he added.
The researchers also compared the remains found in this site with others discovered in nearby sites, they discovered that outcrops of peninsula flint were worked in 90% of the sites in the Peninsula Basque Country, and that outcrops of the Continental Basque Country were worked in 90% of the sites in the Northern Basque Country. In other words, the exploitation of the area tended to be radial and cover approximately 100km2. However, this is not the case in Ametzagaina. “They exploited the outcrops on both sides of the Pyrenees, their territory was shaped like a sandglass because it gets thinner across the Bidasoa pass,” said the researcher. In fact, flint from Chalosse, in the south of Les Landes, was discovered on the site; it was used to create arrowheads and spears as the minerals obtained were of an exceptional quality and large format. They also found flint from Kurtzia on the Biscay coast to the north of Bilbao, and from the Urbassa ridge, in the northwest of Navarre, as well as what they collated at the nearby Donostia-San Sebastian site of Gaintxurizketa. But, as Arrizabalaga pointed out, “it was more than their flint territory, it was the area where they hunted, gathered and fished. It was their economic territory.”
Contributing Source: The University of the Basque Country
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