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You are here: Home / Library / RBINS Staff Publications 2019 / Human exploitation of birds during the late Magdalenian at the Trou de Chaleux, Belgium

Quentin Goffette, Mietje Germonpré, Christine Lefèvre, Jonathan Brecko, Eric Goemaere and Veerle Rots (2019)

Human exploitation of birds during the late Magdalenian at the Trou de Chaleux, Belgium

In: Proceedings of the european Society for the study of Human evolution, ed. by European Society for the study of Human Evolution, vol. 8, pp. 71.

In last decades, scholars have highlighted the usefulness of birds, as part of the small game, to help understanding complex human behaviour and choices during the Prehistory. While the exploitation of birds has been documented in several sites in eastern or southern Europe, what happened in north-western Europe is still largely unknown due to a lack in the preservation and in the study of bird material. In this context, archaeological assemblages from Belgium offer a great opportunity to better understand the exploitation of birds in this part of Europe, because of the good conditions of preservation offered by its partially karstic subsoil. Here, we present the results of the study of the bird material from the largest Late Magdalenian assemblage of Belgium, the cave site of the Trou de Chaleux. Archaeological excavations at the Trou de Chaleux at the end of the 19th century yielded a vast assemblage of lithic and bone material as well as figurative art, characteristic of the Late Magdalenian. AMS dates with calibrated ages range from 15,733 cal BP to 14,134 cal BP, situating the main archaeological deposit from the Trou de Chaleux at the transition of Greenland Stadial-2 to Greenland Interstadial-1 (Bølling-Allerød Interstadial). Among the archaeozoological material, more than 500 bird bones have been isolated, which had never been studied. We performed the taxonomic and skeletal identification of the material and we examined in detail the surface of the bones in search of human modifications such as tool marks, fire traces or pigment deposits. Surface alterations were investigated based on a macro- and microscopic analysis, including an analysis of wear traces and elementary composition. More than 30 bird bones display traces of human intervention, mainly tool marks. The traces observed indicate an intense exploitation of birds for food, technical but also symbolic purposes. Ptarmigans, ducks, snowy owl and northern raven were consumed. The bones of the largest taxa such as geese, swan or loon were used as raw material to produce tubes and needles. Feathers were also extracted. Finally, talons of golden eagle, northern raven and snowy owl have been sought after for non-utilitarian purposes. The study of the bird material from the Trou de Chaleux helps precising exploitation patterns of animal in north-western Europe and allow comparisons with other regions. The strong interest observed for geese could be a regional particularity.
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