Under the supervision of Dr. Lawrence G. Straus, John Rissetto will examine the geographic mobility and territoriality patterns of Magdalenian (17,000-11,500 B.P.) hunter-gatherers from Cantabria, Spain. It is currently hypothesized that these groups, who existed at the end of the last Ice Age and created the famous Altamira cave paintings, maintained small, regional-based territories. However, because of the diverse artistic and technological similarities shared between these groups and other groups from north of the Pyrenees, it is also assumed that there was a great deal more trans-Pyrenean contact and interaction than originally interpreted through the existing archaeological record. It is the goal of this research to investigate the actual size of Spanish Magdalenian hunter-gatherer territories though the tracking of transported stone materials as they moved from their original geologic outcrop to their eventual archaeological context.

This research will focus on the collection, use, and discard of stone artifacts made of chert raw material from five Magdalenian sites located in the Ason River basin in eastern Cantabria, Spain. Chert, which is a hard, fine grained, sedimentary rock, was used by Magdalenian hunter-gatherers for the production of >90% of their everyday and specialized stone tools. The ubiquity of this raw material type within Magdalenian sites, across Western Europe, makes it ideal for identifying artifacts that people may have carried substantial distance from their original geologic outcrop. Because of the heterogeneous nature of chert formation, there is no single "silver-bullet" analytical technique that can exactly trace an individual piece of chert back to its original geologic formation. But, when the analytical evidence from various techniques is combined, a compositional "finger-print" can be established that accurately represents the structural characteristics of individual chert artifacts or entire chert outcrops. This research program will use a three-tiered analytical methodology that incorporates macroscopic, petrographic, and trace element analyses to geological source discarded chert artifacts in order to better understand and identify the geographic movements of Magdalenian hunter-gatherers.

This research, which is associated with the NSF co-funded, Spanish-American excavation of El Miron Cave in the Ason Valley, will help to promote teaching and training, . In northern Spain and in the United States, public outreach associated with this research will be incorporated into the existing local, regional, and nation outreach campaign currently in place for El Miron. This campaign includes public and professional presentations, website development, museum and interpretative displays, and the publication of existing research in both English and Spanish language refereed journals. In addition, the funding of this research will assist greatly in the author's continued graduate training and the timely completion of his doctoral dissertation. Through this research Spanish society will directly benefit from a greater understanding of its prehistoric past, while the global community will benefit from an increased understanding of how past human groups used geographic movement, much like we do today, as a means of dealing with social or ecological change or adversity.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences (BCS)
Standard Grant (Standard)
Application #
Program Officer
John E. Yellen
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
University of New Mexico
United States
Zip Code