The Identification of Prehistoric Hunter-Gatherer Aggregation Sites: The Case of Altamira [and Comments and Reply]


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Publication Date

October 1980


It is a common assumption that an aggregation-and-dispersion pattern characterizes most of the world's hunter-gatherers, both past and present. A clarification of the pattern is put forth in support of the view that there is more to it than factors of subsistence ecology. Because there are many variants of hunter-gatherer aggregations, in terms of both activities and the factors that promote and effect them, it is clear that there will also be variation in their duration, location, cyclicity, and extent and the number and kinds of personnel involved. The implications of this variability for archeologists are discussed, and the need for establishing specific archeological test implications for the identification of each variant of prehistoric aggregation sites is emphasized. Data from one hypothesized aggregation locale, the Early Magdalenian site of Altamira (Cantabria, Spain), are drawn upon for a better understanding of the kinds of analytical questions we must frame and the kinds of data and analysis we need in the attempt to identify aggregation sites. Specifically, the analysis of engraved Magdalenian bones and antlers is expected to add to extant interpretations of Magdalenian site utilization based on regional faunal and lithic data. Specific test implications are set forth for the view that the Altamira engraved bone-and-antler assemblage was generated by engraving activities different from but related to those of otherwise dispersed engravers or bearers of the portable engraved materials. It is shown that indeed the diversity of engravings at Altamira is statistically greater than at any of the other Early Magdalenian sites studied. Further, although aspects of the design system are present everywhere, there are certain features that are unique to the hypothesized aggregation site and insignificantly few other features that are found elsewhere if lacking at Altamira. The demonstrable diversity of the Altamira engraving repertoire is supportive of the hypothesis that otherwise dispersed engravers contribu


Altamira, Magdalenian, Aggregation Sites




Current Anthropology, Vol. 21, no. 5 (1980-10-01).