Cave and the 'Red Lady' A definitive Report. Edited by Stephen Aldhouse-Green.
In January 1823, William Buckland discovered an ancient human burial at Goat's Hole, Paviland, on the Gower Peninsula (Wales). The body was stained with red ochre and was found in association with stone tools, bone tools and animal bones. Buckland believed the skeleton to be that of a young woman and as an adherent of the prevailing diluvial theory of human antiquity, assigned it to a relatively recent period. Today, we know this find as the Red Lady, in fact a male burial of Early Upper Palaeolithic age, one of the most celebrated finds in the British Palaeolithic record. The present volume offers, if such a thing is possible, 'a' definitive report that summarises the past 175 years of research on this site. It is divided into 12 chapters and several appendices, each by different authors and each dealing with a different aspect of the site.
In the first chapter Aldhouse Green introduces us to the various caves in the Paviland area - Hound's Hole, Foxhole and, most importantly, Goat's Hole - and provides details of the 1997 excavation, survey and assessment, along with a resume of the stratigraphy remaining in the caves. Concentrating on Goat's Hole, Green explains how the cave was gradually filled by colluvial processes over a period extending back into the Middle Pleistocene (a beach deposit within the sequence is suggested to relate to high sea level conditions during the last interglacial), but that human occupation was limited to the last 60kya or so.
While providing essential background, this first chapter rather hits the ground running and assumes quite a high level of prior knowledge. The relatively uninitiated can sometimes find themselves floundering in a sea of new information. This is not an issue with Chapter 2 (by Swainston and Brookes), for although very detailed and introducing a huge cast of characters, it provides a very interesting summary of the history of the site, giving a timetable of who was involved and what contribution they made; a list that includes such luminaries as Buckland, Vivian, Sollas & Breuil. The chapter concludes with a neat consideration of the various biases that have affected the archaeological materials from the site. Remarkably, several collectors obtained large numbers of very small-sized finds; these are generally absent from most early Palaeolithic collections, partly due to taphonomic processes but also because of collector and excavation biases towards larger finds - clearly not a problem when looking for small blade tools.
In Chapter 3 Lowe details the geological setting & development of the Paviland Caves, the recent evolution of which is a combination of marine and karstic dissolution processes, with today's caves representing only a portion of original system. This paves the way for Chapter 4, a multi-authored work dealing with the various 'hard-science' undertaken during the preparation of the present volume. In it, Bowen reviews the dating evidence, correlating the radiocarbon sequence with the Grip and Gisp2 ice core data. He argues that the classic date of the Last Glacial Maximum (21ka calendar years) is not strictly applicable at the local scale & provides evidence that in South Wales this event occurred earlier, ~23 ka, corresponding with Heinrich event 2. This provides the context for his contention that human occupation fluctuated according to climate and that the human occupation at Paviland falls within Greenland interstadial 4. The calibrated radiocarbon date of ~29.9 kya for the Red Lady is only 61 years too old to be in this interstadial, which given the resolution is practically contemporary. Pettitt follows this with a summary of the wider c14 dating program carried out on organic materials from the site. This reveals intermittent human presence during the period 29-21ka (uncalibrated), and shows that a number of the famous bone & ivory personal ornaments are much younger than the celebrated burial. He also uses the C14 data to question some recent attempts to provide mammalian bio-zones for the later Upper Pleistocene. The chapter concludes with the results of two currently sexy techniques. Richards summarises the results of his isotopic work, which reveals a 10-20% marine component in the 'Red Lady's' diet, while Sykes's describes the DNA analysis on the skeleton. Sikes reaches the key conclusion that modern Europeans have a Palaeolithic pedigree and do not all descend from a handful of Neolithic migrant farmers from the East.
Chapters 6 & 7 return to more traditional archaeological pursuits, the finds. In 6, Swainstone describes the lithics, an exercise somewhat hampered by the lack of detailed contextual information from many of the collections. On typological grounds she identifies periodic human presence from the Middle Palaeolithic onwards, with diagnostic artefacts testifying to Aurignacian, Gravettian and Late Upper Palaeolithic occupations. I personally found some of the technological conclusions less than convincing (for example, the lack of cortex on the discoidal cores does not provide prima facie evidence that they were introduced partly worked) but Swainston has valiantly tried to make the best a less than ideal lot. In Chapter 7, Aldhouse-Green discusses the ivory and bone tool assemblages. These too show an intermittent human presence, with tools dating from 29-21kya, including the famous ivory pendant and spatulae; some pieces, including broken ivory rods and broken bracelets' were apparently associated with the burial. Aldhouse-Green suggests that the spatulae, shaped to resemble elements of the female body, have an encoded meaning, much like the better known East European figurines, and that their presence at Paviland symbolically reflects 'a commonality of social discourse set against the backdrop of climatic downturn' (p129). That Upper Palaeolithic societies had extensive social networks, with trade links extending over 700km or more, is well established, but the recent push to turn this into evidence for a Eurasian communications network perhaps wishes the coca-cola age of globalisation onto the Palaeolithic.
The bone remains from Goat's Hole are dealt with in the following two chapters. In 8 Turner describes his analysis of 350 mammalian remains, a mere fraction of what was originally collected. Based on such evidence the danger of over-interpretation is high. Turner refutes the previously claims for extensive human damage (Sollas), and treats the evidence for burning and smashing for marrow with similar caution. Carnivore activity is rather better represented, however, leaving the impression that while a variety of agents were responsible for accumulating the bone assemblage, the cave was not a major domestic site for humans. Chapter 9 deals with the human remains, 3 individuals 2 of which are Holocene in age, and essentially forms the core of the whole report (perhaps this is the definitive bit). The Red Lady is confirmed as a gracile young male, slightly more tropically adapted than recent Europeans, but more cold adapted than recent Africans. All interesting enough, but at 76 pages plus rather overdoing it.
Chapter 11 provides Aldhouse-Green's final interpretation of the site, an overview of human occupation and a very useful summary of the evidence for Early Upper Palaeolithic burials throughout Europe. Green sees the site as mainly being used by carnivores until 29k, essentially hyenas, but their decline around this time led to an increase in bears and subsequently modern humans. The first modern humans to visit carried an Aurignacian tool kit, their entry into Britain late in European terms and probably reflecting Britain's liminal position in the UP world, followed by a series of periodic Gravettian visits (including the burial at 26 kya). He sees humans using the cave as a sacred place visited only on ritual occasion, replete with magic wands, shamanistic ceremony and bear-worship. Neanderthals had a limited presence prior to 30kya, and unlike modern humans were apparently not deterred by the presence of hyaena shit in the cave. The final chapter is intended to provide some perspective on the previous one, being a review of social & ritual life among Australian hunter-gatherers. It is an interesting and useful chapter, but its inclusion as the final chapter of this book might raise a few eyebrows.
Overall, this is a very good and highly detailed study of a key Palaeolithic site. It contains a wealth of new and old information, a useful bibliography, and, crucially, situates the site within a modern interpretative framework. Once again Mary Earnshaw and WASP have done a fine job, with great production values, a neat format and copious illustrations. At £40 for a hardback report it represents fairly good value for money and anybody interested in learning more about this important cave could do a lot worse than starting here.
Review Submitted: October 2002
The views expressed in this review are not necessarily those of the Society or the Reviews Editor.
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