Approaching Neanderthal behavior through the geoarchaeological study of combustion structures: Investigations in soil micromorphology and lipid biomarkers.
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This dissertation seeks to illuminate Neanderthal behavioral variation based on a geoarchaeological approach to analyzing Neanderthal combustion features at the Middle Paleolithic site of El Salt, Spain. This approach involves investigations of Neanderthal combustion features, emphasizing their synchronic and diachronic relationships, in search of clues about pyrotechnology, environmental context, settlement and mobility patterns, and mobility. The investigations are carried out focusing on the organic sedimentary record of combustion structures and using geoarchaeological, microcontextual methodologies at microscopic and molecular scales of analysis. The main techniques applied are micromorphology and lipid biomarker analysis, which were conducted jointly on a comprehensive archaeological and experimental sample set. The findings of this research reveal variability in Neanderthal pyrotechnological behavior. Two major types of combustion structures were documented: Simple, flat combustion structures and complex, pit hearths. They also provide information on specific aspects of pyrotechnology, such as fuel acquisition, which was shown to have been done away from the site while the local trees surrounding the site were not used as fuel. Finally, touching on Neanderthal settlement patterns, the results indicate that human occupation had little impact on the surroundings and that the time intervals between occupations were relatively long. The study also furnished new reference data to advance micromorphology and lipid biomarker research on the topic of fire, including the burning of Weissia moss. This work contributes evidence of high Neanderthal mobility and pyrotechnological variation relevant to advancing our knowledge of Neanderthal behavioral variability. Furthermore, it demonstrates the effectiveness of high-resolution archaeological science approaches to help us build an objective, detailed picture of Neanderthal behavior.