CE03 - Interactions homme-environnement

Humans and deer during the Palaeolithic: integrating the variability of prey ecology and ethology in the investigation of past human – environment interactions – DeerPal

Humans and deer during the Palaeolithic: integrating the variability of prey ecology and ethology in the investigation of past human – environment interactions

In the context of an ongoing mass extinction event, wild animals are now facing the double challenge imposed by direct human alteration of their habitat as well as the indirect consequences of climate change. While research on modern populations provides data on the impact of human land use and how to compensate for it, the response of large mammals to climate change is harder to grasp and subsequently predict without a deep-time perspective.

Archaeological and palaeontological records: a unique window of opportunity for investigating the response of wild animals and human populations to environmental change in the long-term

The Palaeolithic is an invaluable source of insight into human – animal – environment interactions, as it provides a deep time perspective of human resilience in the face of changing resources, environmental risk, and catastrophe. In this vein, the DeerPal project hopes to acquire new fundamental knowledge on the palaeoecology of animal communities faced with major and rapid climate changes, as well as increase our understanding of how human societies coped with these changes in the past. It focuses on the history of deer (mainly reindeer, Rangifer tarandus, and red deer, Cervus elaphus, as well as roe deer, Capreolus capreolus), during the Late Pleistocene epoch, prior to the advent of agriculture, when these animals were key resources to hunter-gatherer groups. <br /> <br />At a crossroads between archaeology and palaeoecology, the DeerPal project goals are twofold: <br />1) To document past variability in reindeer and red deer ecological niches and behaviours and test whether variability is higher than what can be inferred from current highly anthropised ecosystems, thus providing a more complete vision of cervid ecology through an evolutionary study of their past adaptations to natural habitats. <br />2) To carry out a deep-time retrospective study on the impact of climatic changes on two wild mammal species that were central resources to hunter-gatherer societies, and thus provide a necessary backdrop for understanding the scale of climate changes and resource variability that human groups had to adapt to, before altering wild animal habitats.

To achieve its objectives, the DeerPal project will test the large-scale and simultaneous application of four state-of-the-art analytical techniques (dental microwear texture analysis, stable isotopic studies, cementochronology and geometric morphometrics) for archaeological assemblage analysis in order to better describe the past ecology and ethology of prey communities. This integrated perspective will allow us to more fully explore human – animal – environment interactions during the Palaeolithic. Two archaeological periods with significant environmental and cultural shifts were selected for study, corresponding to two distinct research angles: the long sequences of the Middle Palaeolithic of southwestern France, for a diachronic approach, and Late Glacial sites from the Pyrenees to the Paris Basin, for a large biogeographical perspective on the response of past cervid communities to climate warming.

The project is still in progress.
By the end of 2020, more than 1900 fossil deer teeth (including 1329 of Reindeer) have been selected from archaeological collections (9 Mousterian sequences and 24 Late Glacial sites), then moulded for dental micro-wear texture analysis (DMTA). This sample is, to our knowledge, the largest archaeological corpus ever constituted for DMTA during the Palaeolithic. Its analysis, currently in progress, has a good chance of providing outstanding results.
Out of the more than 150 individuals selected for destructive analyses, 18 have so far been analysed by cementochronology, allowing the identification of season of death for the animals concerned and the discussion of reindeer seasonal distribution in the territory. The analyses carried out within the framework of DeerPal have contributed to the ongoing methodological development of cementochronology. A book on this method, partly funded by DeerPal, will be published in 2021 (Naji, Rendu, Gourichon, in press. «Dental Cementum in Anthropology«, Cambridge University Press).
For geometric morphometrics on teeth, more than 500 reindeer/caribou from modern populations (Norway, Alaska and Canada) and more than 150 roe deer from 3 French populations were photographed and measured so far. Age and sex are known for the vast majority of individuals. This type of analysis, on such a scale, is unprecedented for deer.

Run by three French partner institutions with complementary equipment and expertise (TRACES - University of Toulouse Jean Jaurès, PACEA - University of Bordeaux, and Biogéosciences - University of Bourgogne Franche-Comté), the DeerPal project forms an interdisciplinary consortium that includes palaeoecologists, archaeologists and geochemists from 6 countries and 11 institutions.
2021 and 2022 will be devoted to data acquisition (already well underway), before carrying out, in 2022-2023, inter-proxies comparisons and multidisciplinary syntheses. Specific public outreach activities will provide novel perspectives on the impact of environmental change on humans in the past to the public, dispensing a much-need historical perspective relative to what lies in our collective future.

(Articles in press or in review).

In the context of an ongoing mass extinction event, wild animals are now facing the double challenge imposed by direct human alteration of their habitat as well as the indirect consequences of climate change. While research on modern populations provides data on the impact of human land use and how to compensate for it, the response of large mammals to climate change is harder to grasp and subsequently predict without a deep-time perspective. Nevertheless, the palaeontological and archaeological records provide a unique window of opportunity for researchers seeking to investigate the response of wild animals and human populations to environmental change in the long-term. The Palaeolithic is an invaluable source of insight into human – animal – environment interactions, as it provides a deep time perspective of human resilience in the face of changing resources, environmental risk, and catastrophe.
In this vein, the DeerPal project hopes to acquire new fundamental knowledge on the palaeoecology of animal communities faced with major and rapid climate changes, as well as increase our understanding of how human societies coped with these changes in the past. It focuses on the history of two large mammal species, reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) and red deer (Cervus elaphus), during the Late Pleistocene epoch, prior to the advent of agriculture, when these animals were key resources to hunter-gatherer groups. At a crossroads between archaeology and palaeoecology, the DeerPal project goals are twofold:
1) To document past variability in reindeer and red deer ecological niches and behaviours and test whether variability is higher than what can be inferred from current highly anthropised ecosystems, thus providing a more complete vision of cervid ecology through an evolutionary study of their past adaptations to natural habitats.
2) To carry out a deep-time retrospective study on the impact of climatic changes on two wild mammal species that were central resources to hunter-gatherer societies, and thus provide a necessary backdrop for understanding the scale of climate changes and resource variability that human groups had to adapt to, before altering wild animal habitats.
To achieve its objectives, the DeerPal project will test, for the first time, the large-scale and simultaneous application of four state-of-the-art analytical techniques (dental microwear texture analysis, stable isotopic studies, cementochronology and 3D morphometric methods) for archaeological assemblage analysis in order to better describe the past ecology and ethology of prey communities. This integrated perspective will allow us to more fully explore human – animal – environment interactions during the Palaeolithic. Two archaeological periods with significant environmental and cultural shifts were selected for study, corresponding to two distinct research angles: the long sequences of the Middle Palaeolithic of southwestern France, for a diachronic approach, and Late Glacial sites from the Pyrenees to the Paris Basin, for a large biogeographical perspective on the response of past cervid communities to climate warming. Run by three French partner institutions with complementary equipment and expertise (TRACES - University of Toulouse Jean Jaurès, PACEA - University of Bordeaux, and Biogéosciences - University of Bourgogne Franche-Comté), the DeerPal project forms an interdisciplinary consortium that includes palaeoecologists, archaeologists and geochemists from 6 countries and 11 institutions. Specific public outreach activities will provide novel perspectives on the impact of environmental change on humans in the past to the public, dispensing a much-need historical perspective relative to what lies in our collective future.

Project coordinator

Monsieur Emmanuel Discamps (Travaux de Recherches Archéologiques sur les Cultures, les Espaces et les Sociétés)

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.

Partner

TRACES Travaux de Recherches Archéologiques sur les Cultures, les Espaces et les Sociétés
PACEA DE LA PREHISTOIRE A L'ACTUEL : CULTURE, ENVIRONNEMENT ET ANTHROPOLOGIE
BIOGEOSCIENCES

Help of the ANR 427,772 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: January 2019 - 48 Months

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