Settlement Dynamics of the Middle Palaeolithic and Middle Stone Age. Edited by N. J. Conard
Tubingen, Kerns Verlag. 2001; 611 pages; ISBN 3-935751-00-1.

         This volume represents the fruits of the second meeting of Commission 27 of the International Union of Prehistoric and Protohistoric Sciences (UISPP) at the University of Tübingen in early 1999. The idea for this commission - certainly an admirable one - came from Nicholas Conard and Fred Wendorf, who, as Conard notes in the preface, recognised that '…too much attention was being paid to sites in caves and rockshelters while more attention needed to be directed to the systematic study of open-air settings and the use of the landscape by late pre-modern people.' As Conard rightly argues, only through settlement studies can existing data on technology, subsistence, mobility and social organisation be brought into clearer focus. Settlement dynamics can indeed be seen as the heuristic glue that links these disparate areas of study, with which it may be possible to make general statements about pre-modern human Middle Palaeolithic/MSA adaptations overall.

         This is a good start. Most of the 27 papers address these aims fairly clearly. The geographical coverage is, however, uneven to say the least. Five chapters cover Africa, only three cover Asia (two on the Near East - China is the only other Asian region covered), and the greater majority (19) are (largely Central and Western) European. In an Old World Middle Palaeolithic/MSA context therefore more is omitted than included. The editor, however, makes no claims that this is a comprehensive survey, and the volume's considerable strength is that a number of regional (sometimes site-specific) surveys address its remit clearly. Overall, most of the contributions are well-focussed on the issues at hand, and in this sense Commission 27 is producing useful knowledge, although should be encouraged to open its intellectual doors to wider geographical coverage.

         Conard discusses advances and problems in this field in a useful introduction. Advances over the last decade or so include a greater concentration on open-air sites, particularly in non-karstic regions, with accumulations of low and high density materials. And the contributions certainly reflect the data that have come to light in this sense. In addition to sites excavated some time ago for which information is poor (e.g. China: Keates) problems that still remain include our inability to ascertain the number of occupational episodes for many archaeological horizons or indeed the intensity and duration of occupation, both of which are crucial to an understanding of regional settlement. Heuristic systems to link together regional studies are lacking too. Indeed, this volume would have benefited considerably from a theoretical overview attempting just that, although presumably Commision 27 is cautiously working towards this goal.

         Some interregional generalisations are apparent. Sites are predictably located around two pivotal resources in the landscape, water and lithic raw materials, although Clark notes that sources of haematite may have determined group activity in the MSA also. Most sites in the Maghreb are located by springs and wadis (Wengler), and the concentration of South African MSA sites probably reflects the utilisation of hippos at springs (Brink and Henderson). In some regions water sources are few and far between and played an overwhelming role in the organisation of territorial activity, e.g. in the arid steppe of Central Syria (Le Tensorer et al.). By contrast, some lithic sources show repeated use of long periods of time and probably reflect 'traditional' quarries as suggested for the Crimea by Marks and Chabai. As Vermeersch notes, the location of water and raw material sources were the defining poles around which certain points on the landscape received repeated occupation. Occasionally, brief visits were made to high points offering 360 degree vantages, such as the Rhineland volcano tops (Conard), and vertical migration seems to have been an important adaptation to the circumalpine piedmont zone which was possibly driven by the seasonal hunting of fur-bearers (Thillet). By contrast, dry valleys were often the occupational focus in northern France (Tuffreau, Swinnen), and Zilhão notes that specialised occupation of the Portugese mountain zone by Neanderthals is unknown.

         Ambrose suggests that MSA groups in the Kenyan Central Rift Valley occupied a relatively restricted range of habitats, utilizing higher residential mobility than in the LSA. Small, highly mobile groups also seem to characterise the southern German Middle Palaeolithic (Çep and Waiblinger), and the Nubian Complex of the Nile Valley, which may represent the first anatomically modern humans in North East Africa (Van Peer). High mobility is seen as a requirement of settling the contours of the circum-Alpine region (Thillet) and high, but restricted and predictable mobility can be seen in the Crimea (Marks and Chabai). Richter demonstrates how shifting patterns of circulating and radiating settlement correlates with lithic change in a case study of Sesselfelsgrotte.

         The importance of ecotones is stressed generally for the MSA by Clark, and specifically by Ambrose for the Kenyan MSA, and open sites in the Maghreb clustering on terraces probably reflect the same in the context of a settlement system organised on the migration between two distinct ecosystems - forest to the north and steppe to the south (Wengler). Hovers points to the highly diversified environments of the southern Levant, parts of which such as the northern coastal plains could probably have been occupied year-round, and the complex topography of China was settled by groups which were nevertheless drawn to water and raw material sources (Keates). Tuffreau emphasises that northern French settlement occurred in the context of mixed forest-steppe, and the isolated situation of the Canalettes rockshelter in a rich ecotonal region of the French Grandes Causses indicates the use of plateau, valley and cliff resources is OIS5a/4 which facilitates long seasonal stays (Meignen and Brugal). Boyle notes that several southeast French sites occur in cliff and plateaux areas in the context of mixed steppe, tundra and woodland pockets.

         Some papers emphasise hunting as an important economic activity (e.g. Brink and Henderson, Van Peer, Clark, Le Tensorer et al., Tuffreau, Thillet, Berhard-Guelle and Bressy, Boyle) although Hovers points to the importance of plant resources in the Levant, the ecotones of which were probably similar to those of the present day. The seasonal fluctuations of such therefore probably had a greater determining effect on settlement than fauna. Peresani notes the importance of fish, birds and beaver furs at San Bernardino cave in northeast Italy in a region in which high biodiversity was probably central to the success of Neanderthal occupation, and Boyle suggests the possible used of dried fish at Bagnoles.

         Some papers discuss intra-site spatial patterning, much of which is predictable. Hovers, for example, notes the redundancy of spatial patterning in the Middle Palaeolithic of the southern Levant, epitomised clearly by her case-study of Qafzeh Cave. This repetition is also observed by Zilhão for the Portugese Middle Palaeolithic. Brink and Henderson note that South African MSA sites typically reflect short-lived events organised around a hearth, separating out into disarticulation and consumption areas. Vaquero et al. note the importance of hearths as foci for activity at the Abric Romani, although most levels of the sites do not show an overall spatial organisation of the entire occupied site. By contrast activities did not seem to be grouped around hearths at sites in the Maghreb, which presumably reflects the milder conditions in North Africa (Wengler). Van Peer notes that Nile Valley Nubian Complex sites reflect the various combinations of different spatial modules resulting from distinct activity zones. With the exception of knapping 'hotspots' however, spatial patterning is not visible in the volcano top sites of the Rhine (Conard), nor in the Middle Palaeolithic of some northern French sites (Locht), and Otte et al. could not recognise any clear patterning at the well-understood Belgian site of Sclayn. Depaepe notes that lithic production occurred in areas away from those in which tools were used on three sites on the edge of the Paris Basin, the location of which on hilly slopes was determined by raw material source.

         It is impossible to do justice to this publication in the space available. Many of the papers are useful sources of information on raw material movement, altitudinal location of sites, topographic and ecological settings and more. While it doesn't pretend to offer a comprehensive picture of settlement similarities and variability across a huge swathe of the Old World, it goes a considerable way into beginning such an enterprise, and is a most valuable resource for those engaged in the study of the Middle Palaeolithic and MSA.

P. B. Pettitt
Keble College,
Oxford OX1 3PG.

Review Submitted: November 2002

The views expressed in this review are not necessarily those of the Society or the Reviews Editor.

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