Printer Friendly

Iberia Before the Iberians: The Stone Age Prehistory of Cantabrian Spain.

In Iberia before the Iberians Lawrence Straus has written a synthetic account of the nature of human occupation from the last interglacial to the beginnings of farming in Cantabrian Spain. It is the first synthesis of this important area since the work of Obermaier in the mid 1920s. Much has changed since then, and Straus makes use of the most recent work.

Straus' intention in writing this book is once again to put Cantabrian Spain on the Palaeolithic prehistorian's map, and put an end to the domination of the record of southwest France as the typical region for this period by providing an area of similar complexity with which it can be compared. It is no surprise, therefore, that this work resembles the synthesis of the southwestern French Palaeolithic, Rockshelters of the Perigord by Laville, Rigaud & Sackett (1980). The book follows a chronological as opposed to a thematic structure. After a brief introduction, and a chapter on the research history of the area, a series of six chapters cover the archaeological record and provide interpretations for distinct chronologically defined periods. A short chapter of reflections concludes the book. The one exception to this pattern is a single chapter devoted to Cantabrian cave art, a subject often treated separately by Palaeolithic scholars. The chronological chapters cover the last interglacial and early last glacial (the Lower and Middle Palaeolithic), the Early Upper Palaeolithic, adaptations to the last glacial maximum (the Solutrean), the Magdalenian of the late glacial,the Pleistocene-Holocene transition and finally the arrival of food production at the end of the stone age. Within each chapter there are thematic discussions of chronology, contemporary palaeoenvironments, lithic technology and raw material exploitation, subsistence and seasonality, settlement patterns and mobility strategies, artistic activity and human remains. This leads to interesting anomalies. Solutrean points, the most obviously 'artistic' example of lithic technology, are considered as functional tools and not artistic.

Apart from the earliest and most recent, Straus has made personal contributions to the research of all the other periods and the book benefits from his personal familiarity with the archaeological materials and especially the local topographic setting in which Cantabrian hunter-gatherer life occurred. The meat of the book, therefore, is from the transition from the Middle to Upper Palaeolithic to the beginnings of the Holocene. The influence of the ideas of Lewis Binford is great. Straus notes that there are similarities between the character of the Middle Palaeolithic and that of the Early Upper Palaeolithic, but wonders whether Neanderthals scavenged their food as opposed to hunting it. He also sees a marked difference between the Early Upper Palaeolithic and the Later Upper Palaeolithic. This he interprets as a trend towards both greater specialization and diversification in the subsistence economy and a change from a 'forager' to a 'logistic-collector' settlement pattern. Whilst noting some of the art-historical approaches to the study of cave art (the definition of styles, the identification of individual artists and schools of artists), Straus argues for the utilitarian interpretation that cave art is a survival tool containing information for effective hunting in difficult circumstances. Throughout, Straus relies most heavily on the results from faunal analyses in his interpretations of Cantabrian hunter-gatherer life, especially those of Altuna. He also continues his long-running discussion of the problems caused by the culture-historical approaches relying on the analysis of lithic type fossils. It is perhaps unfortunate, therefore, that he still uses the old culture-historical period names, even though arguing that they are merely for convenience and clear communication. The problems associated with old descriptive culture terms will only die when new ones are used.

There are aspects of the format of the book which would benefit from being changed in the inevitable second edition. (This is the first archaeological book I have come across that makes clear it is the first edition.) At present the data is contained within tables compiled in chapter order in the appendices. Whilst the text may be less visually interrupted, it is annoying always to have to refer to the back of the book. Moreover, if the appendices are to be used as a research tool they would be better arranged thematically with the data on radiocarbon dates, faunal tables and lithic materials together rather than separate. Of the two, I would prefer the data to be integrated into the text. Straus also does not include all of the data he has published previously, some of which would benefit from being included. For example, the faunal data of body part lists from the ibex-hunting sites of the Later Upper Palaeolithic provide good evidence for their interpretation as specialized sites, and support Straus' interpretation of the existence of a logistic-collector pattern of settlement at this time. Another example would be tool type lists. Although Straus provides tables of the tool group indices, actual tool type counts would be useful as well. The book could also benefit from more illustrations, particularly of site locations and pictures of the local topography. For those who are familiar with Straus' many published papers much of the tone and the content of this book will be already familiar, although the present volume does contain the most recent results of excavations from such sites as Amalda and radiocarbon dates such as those for the earliest Aurignacian levels at El Castillo and L'Abreda caves. Having all this work in one volume, even though abbreviated in places, will prove very useful.

Although there are a number of instances where I think Straus argues for an overly utilitarian approach to the study of Palaeolithic hunter-gatherers, he is one of few archaeologists systematically applying the ideas generated by recent developments in archaeological thinking to the record of a specific area. Through previous papers and this book he is significantly' improving our understanding of this key area, and offers what might perhaps be the most

coherent synthesis of any region of Europe during the Palaeolithic, southwest France included.

ANTHONY SINCLAIR Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation

Reference

LAVILLE, H., J.P. RIGAUD & J. SACKETT. 1980. Rockshelters of the Perigord. New York (NY): Academic Press.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Antiquity Publications, Ltd.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Sinclair, Anthony
Publication:Antiquity
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 1, 1993
Words:1009
Previous Article:Sardinia in the Mediterranean: A Footprint in the Sea.
Next Article:Anglo-Saxon Paganism.
Topics:

Terms of use | Copyright © 2017 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters