Spotlight on the Iberian Mousterian

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This is a convergent and small ( 3,5 cm long) scraper from the Jarama VI site in Central Spain and the first Iberian Middle Paleolithic lithic artefact displayed within the blog.

Unfortunately, the wealth of Middle Paleolithic sites in Iberia is not accompanied by a solid chronostratigraphic framework. Anyhow, Atapuerca TD 10.1. was dated to ca. 350 k.a. and could represent the earliest evidence of Middle Paleolithic technology in the peninsula, comparable to the age of other Early Middle Paleolithic industries in Europe. Its large lithic and fossil assemblage shares some elements of continuity with the Acheulean (e.g., handaxes), but cores and retouched flakes indicate more diversified knapping systems typical of the Mousterian.

A more complete cultural succession from the latter part of the Middle Pleistocene is that from Bolomor, in eastern Spain. Here, radiometric dates bracket between OIS 9 and OIS 5e more than a dozen archaeological units in which denticulate and sidescraper-rich layers alternate and no handaxes are recorded. The earliest levels of Bolomor (XVII–XV) are positioned between 347 and 242 k.a. and are considered as early Middle Paleolithic, which is in agreement with the Atapuerca TD

During the last glaciation, using Bordesian description, Denticulate Mousterian, Charentian, Typical Mousterian, MTA, and a Mousterian with cleavers (the last two entities only in the north) have described. Technological the Quina, Levallois and Discoid system were present but without any clear diachronic trends.

The “transition” between the Middle and Upper Paleolithic was for a long time within the focus of research. Since the early 1990s, it has been widely acknowledged that the region south of the Ebro River and Cantabrian Cordillera in Iberia provided a refugium for the final Neanderthals. In this view, the Mousterian persisted south of the Ebro until ca 32 k.a., while the earliest stages of the (Proto) Aurignacian, tentatively linked with an AMH authorship, were absent from Southern Iberia. This “Ebro Frontier” model was not really questioned until recently. In contrast, in northern Iberia the Aurignacian appeared around 42 ka calBP, shortly after the disappearance of the Mousterian, a Middle Paleolithic industry usually associated with Neanderthals.

It has to be remembered, that two-thirds of C-14 dates from the south are “old” conventional radiocarbon dates, and sampling and pretreatment protocols do not meet modern requirements.  Recently advanced C-14 AMS techniques combined with rigorous pretreatment protocols were for the first time used in the evaluation the reliability of chronologies of eleven Southern Iberian Middle and early Upper Paleolithic sites, including the Mousterian from Jarama VI and Zafarraya.

Using improved pretreatment protocols, the existing Paleolithic chronologies at sites such as Fumane, Italy, Abri Pataud, France, and Geissenklösterle, Germany have lengthened by several millennia ( It therefore is not surprising that this advanced technique now puts the Mousterian from Jarama VI and Zafarraya to a pre-42 k.a. date. It seems that the demise of the last Neanderthals in Iberia happened before Homo sapiens reached larger parts of the Iberian Peninsula.

The Upper Jarama Valley is located on the southern slope of the eastern part of the Spanish Central Ridge. Here, the rock shelter of Jarama VI is located on the left bank of the Jarama River. First controlled excavations were carried out between 1989 and 1993 and revealed the presence of three archeological units. The industry in level 1 has been identified as Mousterian, as have the assemblages in levels 2.1, 2.2 and 3. A human metatarsal (H. sapiens?, H. Neanderthalensis?) was recovered from level 2.2. The Jarama VI site contains evidences of settlement during OIS 3 and the last OIS 4. The lithic industry is not described anywhere, but according to what I have seen, mainly non-Levallois techniques were used for the production of scraper rich ensembles. Most artifacts are heavily reworked by intensive retouches indicating a considerable length of stay of their makers at the site.

A view to the Jarama Valley. Note the carstic environment in the background


The Battle of Jarama (February 1937) was an attempt by General Francisco Franco’s Nationalists to dislodge the Republican lines along the river Jarama, just east of Madrid, during the Spanish Civil War. Elite Spanish Legionnaires and Moroccan Regulares from the Army of Africa forced back the Republican Army of the Centre, including the International Brigades, but after days of fierce fighting no breakthrough was achieved. Republican counterattacks along the captured ground likewise failed, resulting in heavy casualties to both sides (source: Wikipedia).

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