Reindeer phalanges from the Gravettian at Abri Pataud / Dordogne


aggsbachsr endeer

The reindeer / caribou (Rangifer tarandus) is a species of deer native to Arctic, Subarctic, and tundra, boreal and mountainous regions. During the cold phases of the Pleistocene, Rangifer tarandus in Europe migrated south, as far as to the Iberian Peninsula.

Wild herds of extant caribou and reindeer include both sedentary and migratory ecotypes, although there may be no significant morphological or genetic differences between these groups. Some modern herds occupy ranges of a few hundred square-kilometers, while others have much larger annual ranges and undertake extensive seasonal movements over thousands of kilometers. Some populations of the North American caribou for example,  migrate the farthest of any terrestrial mammal, travelling up to 5000 km a year, and covering 1,000,000 km2.  The phenomenon of migratory behavior in reindeers is the result of a complex interaction of demographic and environmental influences, including population size, climate, forage abundance, predation avoidance, and insect pestilence.

Strong indications from systematic ambush hunting of reindeer and  systematic and routinized processing of game are known from the Middle Paleolithic sites of Salzgitter Lebenstedt (OIS 3 Micoquian) and Jonzac (OIS4/3 ; Quina Mousterian).

At Salzgitter, the results indicate autumn hunting. After the hunt, carcasses were butchered and in subsequent marrow processing of the bones a selection against young  and sub-adult animals occurred. Adults were clearly preferred, and from their bones, again, poorer marrow bones were neglected. The Salzgitter Lebenstaedt  assemblage displays some remarkable similarities to the Late Glacial reindeer  assemblages from the Ahrensburg tunnel valley sites.

European Palaeolithic reindeer are commonly considered to be a biannually migrating taxon, but their behaviors were extrapolated to the behaviors of modern North American caribous. Therefore direct methods for the reconstruction of reindeer biogeography are required to check this hypothesis. Recently, Strontium isotope data from Jonzac (Chez-Pinaud) showed that three reindeers killed at the site had values indicating a seasonal migration pattern.

During the Upper Paleolithic in the Aquitaine there seems to be an increase in the degree of quantitative specialization in the exploitation of reindeer, extending back to the earliest stages of the Aurignacian and marked by the appearance of faunal assemblages with up to 99% reindeer.  The relative impact of climatic or deliberate human choice in the composition of these virtually monospecific reindeer faunas  remains somewhat unclear.

Pataud clearly fits into this pattern: Faunal remains at Pataud are mainly reindeer and other species including bovines, mammoth, red and roe deer, bear, boar, and chamois  are of minor importance.

Slaughter waste from Pataud:


Wonderful Book:

The Swimming Reindeer (British Museum Objects in Focus)

Suggested Reading:

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About Katzman

During my whole life I was fascinated by stone age artefacts. Not only the aesthetic qualities of these findings, but also the stories around them and the considerations arising from their discovery, are a part of my blog. Comments and contributions are allways welcome! About me: J.L. Katzman (Pseudonym). Born in Vienna. Left Austria in 1974 and did not regret. Studied Medicine and Prehistory at a German University. Member of a Medical Department at a German University. Copyright 2010-2017 by JLK. All Rights Reserved. You are welcome to use material in these posts so long as you cite the work.
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