Skip to main navigationSkip to main content
The University of Southampton
ArchaeologyPart of Humanities

Research project: Food storage in Palaeolithic hunter-gatherer societies

Currently Active: 
Yes

The technology underpinning food-storage is thought to have originated in Europe at least 30,000 years ago, during the strongly seasonal climates of the Upper Palaeolithic. However, food storage has never been convincingly demonstrated from the archaeological evidence. This project investigates the seasonal mobility of Gravettian-era hunter gatherers and their main prey in an attempt to demonstrate securely whether or not food storage was practised and address the key question: Was the presence of stored animal foods necessary for the complex settlements, art and social identities seen at the Gravettian sites of Dolní Věstonice-Pavlov and Kostenki?

Seasonal shifts in climate dominated the lives of Europe's hunters during the coldest part of the last ice age. Notably, seasonality determined the availability of their food supply; a problem potentially solved by food storage in one season for use in another. The technology underpinning food-storage is thought to have originated in Europe at least 30,000 years ago, during the strongly seasonal climates of the Upper Palaeolithic. As such, storage is postulated as one element in a suite of technological adaptations and innovations that appeared at this time, assisting the expansion of Homo sapiens into new, unfamiliar environments very different from our African Homeland. However, archaeologists have struggled to demonstrate this adaptive breakthrough, with food storage primarily discussed only in theoretical terms.

This project will focus on the site clusters of Dolni Vestonice-Pavlov and Kostenki and seeks to demonstrate food storage using scientific methods by bringing together (1) strontium and oxygen isotope data that reveals the seasonal migration patterns of prey species, (2) dental cementum studies that reveals the season in which the animals died and (3) data from charcoal remains revealing the season in which the wood was harvested and therefore the season of human occupation. While faunal isotopic data have been used widely in archaeological studies to reconstruct animal mobility and seasonality, the use of charcoal to infer the seasonality of human occupation represents an innovative approach that will be developed and evaluated as part of this research. The rationale for using charcoal assumes that Gravettian-era hunters occupied a wood-scarce landscape and would have managed their wood supplies by deliberately creating dead wood to burn, ensuring continued availability of wood fuel.

Comparing human and animal movements against seasonality measures will provide the context to demonstrate food storage with archaeological data: the key indicator for food storage will be human presence at a site during a season when major prey animals were not being killed (figure 1).

 

Interpreting seasonal distributions of fauna and charcoal
Figure 1
Drawn by Pavel and Pavla Dvorští, published in Svoboda 2010
Base campu Svoboda
Share this research project Share this on Facebook Share this on Twitter Share this on Weibo
Privacy Settings