Emilie Guillaud, Philippe Béarez, Camille Daujeard, Alban Defleur, Emmanuel Desclaux, Eufrasia Rosello-Izquierdo, Arturo Moraes-Muniz, Marie-Hélène Moncel. Neanderthal foraging in freshwater ecosystems: A reappraisal of the Middle Paleolithic archaeological fish record from continental Western Europe. Quaternary Science Reviews, Elsevier, 2020, pp.106731. (10.1016/j.quascirev.2020.106731). (hal-03070896)
The prevalence of large game found in association with Middle Paleolithic tools has traditionally biased our ideas of Neanderthal subsistence practices. Studies document the exploitation of small mammals, birds, and plants by Neanderthals, whereas data on aquatic resources are still scarce and data on ﬁsh are almost non-existent. This article presents a review of ﬁsh remains from 11 Middle Palaeolithic ﬁsh bone assemblages from well contextualized sites in Belgium, France and Spain. It explores the nature of the evidence in order to determine whether Neanderthal ﬁshed and if so, whether ﬁshing was a casual, opportunistic activity or a systematic practice. The ﬁrst issue to address is whether archaeological ﬁsh remains at any given site represent human activity or not. Our study tests that assertion while enhancing our understanding of the diversity of food alternatives available to Neanderthals at any given site, and their ability to adapt to them. Methodological protocols include quantiﬁcation, body mass and length estimations, and, whenever possible, spatial distribution of ﬁsh remains, taphonomic analyses and inference of the season of death. This methodology constitutes an analytical protocol to assess the contribution of ﬁsh to the human diet during the Paleolithic and set apart human-generated ﬁsh deposits from those generated by alternative ﬁsh accumulators. The evidence gathered so far points essentially to circumstantial ﬁshing by Neanderthals, and the question must necessarily remain open for the moment. Nevertheless, some of the evidence, in particular the presence of large (>1 kg) ﬁsh in anthropogenic deposits and the absence of animal digestive traces and gnawing marks on ﬁsh bones in such deposits, seems compelling and suggests that Neanderthals could have played a role in the accumulation of some of these remains.