With National Science Foundation support Drs. Harold Dibble and Shannon McPherron will conduct four seasons of archaeological excavation and analysis at the site of Pech de l'Aze IV located in the Dordogne region of France. First excavated by the (now deceased) French archaeologist, Francois Bordes, the site has played a major role in controversies surrounding the development of human culture in Western Europe. The site contains multiple levels of Mousterian materials which include abundant lithic and faunal remains. Attributable to Neanderthal people, the site documents behavioral variation over a significant period of the Upper Pleistocene and numerous researchers have attempted to interpret this variability in terms of tribal movement, activity differentiation and directional change over time. This debate is important because of divergent scientific views on the basic cognitive abilities, the social organization and ultimately the fate of European Neanderthal peoples. While the Bordes' excavated material is massive in amount and well documented - an excavation of similar scale today would likely be prohibitively expensive today - relevant stratigraphic and environmental data were not collected. Drs. Dibble and McPherron have analyzed the excavated materials and shall now return to the site to collect the necessary remaining information. Through carefully controlled excavations, they will collect fresh dating samples, undertake full sedimentological and geophysical studies, asses site formation processes and possible post-depositional disturbances and also evaluate the nature and degree of possible excavator bias during recovery. They will use the information collected not only to provide a richer contextual setting for the original materials but also to answer specific research questions: what is the nature of Mousterian assemblage variability and what factors explain the changes observed over time? What is the role of raw materials on Mousterian assemblage variability? What is the nature of Mousterian subsistence economy?

This research will provide data of interest to many archaeologists and shed light on the early prehistory of Europe.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences (BCS)
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John E. Yellen
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University of Pennsylvania
United States
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