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Du matériel au spirituel.

Réalités archéologiques et historiques des « dépôts » de la Préhistoire à nos jours
XXIXe rencontres internationales d’archéologie et d’histoire d’Antibes
Sous la direction de S. Bonnardin, C. Hamon, M. Lauwers et B. Quilliec
Éditions APDCA, Antibes, 2009

NPO : compléter les numéros de pages en biblio

The range of caching behavior among
the past hunter-gatherers of Europe
Marco Peresani

Caches are an important component of archaeological record, providing useful information about mobility and logistic organisation, but also cultural and even spiritual practises of the hunter-gatherers of the past. These extremely rare structures usually contain
selected and unexploited flint cobbles collected either elsewhere or nearby the cache
itself. As far as the information available is concerned it reveals that flint caches were
already present in Europe in the Middle Palaeolithic and that their number increased
during the late-glacial and post-glacial, a time in which global climatic improvement
ultimately caused significant changes in human behaviour and in economic strategies.
Colonisation of virgin territories, broadening of the range of prey species, modifications
in hunting practices, may be related to mobility, planning and organisational skills and
caching may therefore be one of the consequences of this increased mobility and therefore deserves a closer look when studying the human societies of the past.
Les réserves sont une composante importante des contextes archéologiques et peuvent
fournir d’utiles informations sur la mobilité, l’organisation logistique et les activités des
chasseurs-cueilleurs du passé, même sur le plan spirituel. Très rarement observées, ces
structures contiennent en général des silex sélectionnés et non taillés, prélevés autant
dans des lieux lointains qu’à proximité des réserves. Il ressort des données disponibles
que les réserves de silex étaient déjà utilisées en Europe au Paléolithique moyen, mais
que leur fréquence augmente durant la période tardi- et post-glaciaire, au moment où
l’adoucissement global du climat permet des changements radicaux dans les stratégies
économiques. La colonisation de territoires vierges, l’élargissement de l’éventail des
animaux chassés, la modification des pratiques de chasse, peuvent être liés à la mobilité
et à la capacité de programmer et d’organiser. C’est pourquoi le stockage peut représenter une des pratiques liées au développement de la mobilité et, pour cette raison,
réclamer davantage d’attention dans l’étude des sociétés humaines du passé.

* Università di Ferrara, Dipartimento di Biologia ed Evoluzione, Sezione di Paleobiologia, Preistoria
e Antropologia, Corso Ercole I d’Este 32, I-44100 Ferrara. <marco.peresani@unife.it>


Caching passive gear insures that tools are available for processing par- 88 . 2002). Binford (1979) for the interpreting of Palaeolithic record. For example. finished tools or containers.Marco Peresani Resources in the landscapes of Western Eurasia during the Pleistocene and early Holocene were patchy. Being excluded some ambiguous applications of this definition to the archaeological record. this volume). Testart. time stress and location of specific resources. distance from the next campsite. caching decisions within their primary and peripheral use-area depend on several economically-based factors (Close. the long-term storage of specialized tool-kits or generalized tool chests constitutes a part of the site contents fundamentally different from the logistical reserves of raw or partially reduced resources (Lintz. One way of solving the obvious problems caused by significant distances between the lithic sources and subsistence needs was through caching. Lewis Binford (1979) observed caches consisting of passive and insurance gear. forcing prehistoric people to move over large areas to access food and raw materials for tools. Caching. caches are typically regarded as an accumulation of goods placed in storage or hiding for future recovery and utilization. Chiotti et al. caches have also been interpreted as evidence of anticipatory behaviour. Caches of this type are more likely to occur at residential or repeatedly used camping localities. The first use of this term by L. raw materials. since their contexts clearly indicate that the objects were removed from other places. 1979). authors consider that caches can include food reserves. anticipated activities to be performed at the next camp. remnant use-life of the implements. a curational behaviour considered as a mean of lessening inequalities among raw material availability. were hoarded and not stored for future retrieval and use. time and labour investment involved with material replacement costs. partially reduced preforms. in fact. Through his ethnographic work with the Nunamiut hunter and gatherer groups in the 70s. then the preparation and movement of goods beyond the primary territory may reflect investment decisions involving long-distance transport costs. Therefore. However. 1982): degree of mobility/rate of site abandonment. Furthermore. Accumulation of goods may also legitimately reflect ritual behaviour in burials or at places used for ceremonies like caves or specific landmarks (i. has been identified as a key strategy among logistically oriented (or collector-oriented) hunter-gatherer groups aiming to reduce time stress in critical situations.e. Dockall. mortuary objects and burial articles are not herein regarded as caches. the final composition of these caches is the outcome of a number of decisions made in determining what was to be left in the cache. indicating a certain degree of depth in tactical planning and operating within the strategic framework of the settlement/subsistence system (Binford. if inter-group exchange occurs. 1996. anticipated return to the vicinity. Employed seasonally and hidden for the rest of the year. resource bulk of artefact size and weight. Among nomadic hunter-gatherers.. passive gear is used on specific resources that are temporally and spatially predictable. From this perspective.

a crucial series of decisions occurs after transporting. The fact that archaeologists discover caches indicates that some were not recovered. the caching of higher utility items occurs with increasing distance from the resource area (B). Recovering a cache is another factor to consider when selecting a suitable location. procured chipped stone material to distant potential cache areas. drop-off points between raw material resource areas are unlikely if a prehistoric group’s territory crosses only one source. In this situation caches discovered at more permanent residential camps may correspond to stock-piles of raw material of logistical groups that were procured resources far from the residential site. One motive for placing a cache in a certain area is the limited and scattered distribution of lithic resources. Differences between passive and insurance gear are measured in terms of diversity. Caches composed of insurance gear serve to limit the risk of unknown future procurement difficulties. However. 1). Insurance gear caches are left as furniture at site locations. To optimise travel costs between resource locations. Changes in topography or identifiable landforms are usable as markers for cache locations. versatility and flexibility. In contrast. insurance gear is made for a variety of anticipated and unknown needs. In this case. 2006). well-known landscape markers. Transport constraints from the quarry location to the residential site thus still play a part in the composition of residential site caches (Hurst. or deliberately built facilities. ticular resources in the future. 2006).The range of caching behavior among the past hunter-gatherers of Europe Lithic source#1 Lithic source#1 Mean distance drop off line between lithic sources Lithic source Max distance drop off line Lithic source#2 A Residential site B C Fig. 1. A different explication may be to consider that these structures were deliberately left/abandoned because of a given ceremony or cultural practice. This occurs if a group’s mobility pattern intersects multiple chipped stone resource areas (A). a dropoff point is established close to the half way point between the lithic sources (fig. Hypothetical effect of the distribution of resource and mobility patterns on cache location (after Hurst. Another scenario is a sedentary group residing in a stone-poor area that sends logistic groups to a quarry location to procure chipped-stone (C). for instance. and this may reflect a failure of prominent landmarks for relocating caches. Being excluded the most striking cases 01-PERESANI 01 89 . Thus. among other reasons.

a large cave in Dordogne occupied during the Middle Palaeolithic (Rigaud. pebbles and nodules of flint or other exploitable stones scattered on the ground and integrated in lithic worksites of several Early and Middle Paleolithic sites. re-examined and framed in the wide socio-economic context of Middle Magdalenian by Angevin and Langlais (this volume). unprocessed flints were discovered in the 20s and 40s inside holes or other man-made structures at the Swiderian sites Swidry Wielke  I. found concentrated at the Fumane Cave in Northern Italy (Broglio et al. 1981) and in central Rhineland at the Federmesser site of Niederbieber. 2005) and at Wiesbaden-Igstadt. 2). two large chalcedony flakes were cached after being taken from sources 40km away (Baales. Duport. 1968). Breuil reports the discovery of more than 400 artefacts cached under a large slab. Sawicki Ludwik.. 1939. the very little evidence worth mentioning refers to Soucy 1. Caching in Late-glacial and post-glacial times Caching behaviour increases at the end of the Upper Paleolithic.. 1963). Advanced studies. the sole evidence of passive gear is provided by the 15 Solutrean leaf-points discovered at the end of the xixth century at Volgu (Aubry et al. Grzybowa Gora and Swidry Mate in Central-Southern Poland (Krukowski. 1988. 1985). this volume). 1976. Germany (Terberger. Five Magdalenian large pre-forms made of local and exogenous flint for long blades were found stacked at the base of the Montgaudier cave wall (Charente) (Bouvier. such as the one carried out by Angevin and Langlais (this volume) may however reverse former interpretations. 1998) and to Grotte Vaufrey. even if it may be interpreted as a result of population growth and of archaeological record visibility (fig. Again. At Swidry Wielke I a pit 90 . Some millennia after. settled on a fluvial bank of the Yonne River and attributed to one of the Interglacial periods of the Middle Pleistocene (Lhomme et al. 1998). Caching in palaeolithic Europe Evidence of caching unexploited flint or other raw materials in the Paleolithic and the Mesolithic of Europe is very rare. Leaving aside the raw blocks. Geneste. H.Marco Peresani where the recovered items for instance the Palaeolithic Venus or the Mesolithic engraved pebbles clearly appear as examples of a non-economic artefacts. consisting of molluscan shells that have not been perforated. Other pre-forms made of local flint slabs collected 5 km from the site were found at Sesselfelsgrotte in Southern Germany (Naber. Again in France. lost caches with customary cobbles or tools destined to subsistence may suggest localities (and territories) changed their meaning within the late-glacial and/ or into the Holocene.. 2006). La Goulaine. The Early Upper Palaeolithic records the first appearance of variability in cached items among the Aurignacians. if not exceptional.

The Val Lastari cache contains a main group of 57 blocks neatly stacked together and others isolated in the surroundings refit with the main heap (Broglio et al. 6. Palughetto. among which there were partially corticated nodules. at press).Niederbieber. 1992. Swidry Wielke I and Swidry Mate. 3. Volgu. thick flakes and pre-cores made of chocolate coloured flint collected some 150 km away. La Goulaine.. Being the site functionally used for producing.Val Lastari. tested or pre-formed flint cobbles compose the caches discovered at Val Lastari and Palughetto. 2. Vale of Pickering. two Epigravettian sites in the Italian Alps. a handful of incompletely exploited blade cores and several thick blades. 9. 4. 2006. 7. 10. 8. Peresani. was filled with scores of artefacts. consuming and exporting blades and bladelets. 01-PERESANI 02 91 . Montgaudier.. At Grzybowa Gora four caches compute pre-forms and cores used to produce blades.The range of caching behavior among the past hunter-gatherers of Europe 1 11 10 6 7 4 2 3 5 89 Fig. Ruffey-sur-Seille. Un-worked. a few were pre-formed or initially exploited for bladelet making via removing just one natural ridge. 5.Sesselfelsgrotte. Peresani et al. 11. The cache from Swidry Mate contained one crested preform. Position of the Late Upper Paleolithic and Mesolithic flint caches mentioned in the text: 1. Grzybowa Gora. 2. Many of them went through a suitability test before being cached.

which has been proved by the discovery of a birch bark container filled with 29 prepared flint blocks at the Russian site of Nizhneye Veretye I (cited by Séara et al. The three caches are attributed to the Early Mesolithic and consist of respectively 12. Peresani. This cache suggests long-term anticipation for further 01-PERASANI 03seasonal occupations.. 2006) collected 25 km away from the plateau and almost all tested before caching. A handful of sites suggest caching was one of the ways Mesolithic people organized lithic provisioning in a given territory.. the site of an ancient lake repeatedly visited by hunter-gatherer groups. 1997). 9 and 5 nodules collected from the till and left untouched. 2003). 2002). Finally in Poland.. 1975. At the early Mesolithic site of Ruffey-sur-Seille the custom of making quality controls before to transport exploitable flint is proved by a cache containing 22 blocks collected 20km away from the site (Séara et al.Marco Peresani 0 10 cm Fig. Blocks and slabs stacked together suggest the existence of the use of a bag for transporting them. European Late-Upper Palaeolithic and Mesolithic caches in most cases thus provide evidence of insurance gear in the frame of repeated visits to the campsite. The Palughetto cache (fig. personal communication). 3. Flint nodules were found cached at the Vale of Pickering (Yorkshire). the cache suggests that a temporary accumulation of selected cobbles was for immediate exploitation. The Palughetto cache (after Bertola et al. 92 .. Królik. 2002). tested or partially worked and stacked (Conneller and Schadla-Hall . again at Grzybowa Gora. five caches with pre-forms and cores have been attributed to the Early and Late Mesolithic (Schild et al. 3) was discovered isolated in a peat-bog containing six blocks (Bertola et al.. the number of which at almost all cases still remains undetermined. 1997.

B.The range of caching behavior among the past hunter-gatherers of Europe Conclusions and implications The more or less customary stocking of tools or raw materials in case of future needs may have had relevant implications on the way humans moved within a given territory. landmarks and inequalities in the raw material available. as for example territory size. M. Du matériel au spirituel : réalités archéologiques et historiques des «dépôts» de la Préhistoire à nos jours. Quilliec (ed. 1992). in: S. a provisioning of places strategy seems to be the most suitable. As regards to provisioning. Langlais M. Bonnardin. Other aspects may influence the degree with which each one of these strategies predominates.– « Caches » et « dépôts » de lames du Magdalénien Moyen et Supérieur. 93 .. C. Hamon. Kuhn (1994) states that in the case of high residential mobility. he admits that the relation between mobility and provisioning is not exclusively mutual. The complexity of the concept of mobility among huntergatherers has often forced archaeologists to oversimplify the significance of the behavioural indexes. At the same time. References Angevin R. Lauwers. p. while when the sites are occupied for longer periods or repeatedly used. octobre 2008. Comparing caching behaviour among the European Late-Glacial huntergatherers with that of the Northern Americans. raw material distribution and time spent in producing and repairing implements.. Acknowledgments The author is indebted to the organizers for the invitation to attend the meeting and to many colleagues for the information provided and the stimulating discussion about the argument treated in my communication.P.. provisioning of individuals becomes more common. High mobility is seen as a factor affecting lithic economy due to the raw material transport cost (Kelly.). we find archaeological evidence is still largely unrepresented for such a complex activity considered as an expression of small and mobile units (“task groups”) crossing territories with their ecothones. 2009. XX-XX. It certainly implies that they expected to return to the cache location as a result of a relatively regular pattern of habitual movement from place to place. The social and geographical implications on cultural and economic entities stable for hundreds of generations requires a more integrated approach to explore the way these populations organized their biological success. the french abstract has been translated from italian by Laurence Mercuri. tool durability. The English text has been revised by Anita Gubbiotti. Réflexion sur la notion d’économie des matières premières dans les industries lithiques du Sud-Ouest de la France entre 15000 et 12000 B. actes des XXIXe  Rencontres internationales d’archeologie et d’histoire d’Antibes. Éditions APDCA.

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