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1The interdisciplinary approach favoured in the PCR and the decision to start with the trace, that is, with a small-scale observation in order to subsequently move away from the object and understand the Neanderthal societies of South-West Europe, enables us to take an objective view of the strategies employed by these societies for the exploitation of the resources available within a given territory. By freeing oneself from the technological straitjacket, it avoids assigning – consciously or unconsciously – technical or economic behaviours to a group already associated with a technocomplex. As highlighted in the introduction, Neanderthal societies are complex entities whose socio-economic organization and the technical solutions adopted to respond to a need were influenced by many interconnected factors, such as the environment, knowledge and technical activities or even cultural traditions. In order to identify and characterize Middle Palaeolithic societies, it was therefore necessary to distance ourselves in advance from the technocomplexes proposed by our predecessors (Soressi, 2002; Bourguignon, 1997; Delagnes, Meigen, 2006; Delagnes et al., 2007; Jaubert et al., 2011). In doing so, we aimed to understand on the one hand the weight of these various factors on stone tool manufacture, and on the other hand the exploitation and processing strategies of animal and plant resources adopted by these groups. Thus, despite the biases attributable to the imperfect preservation of a number of the assemblages studied, our approach enables us to partly estimate the influence of specific needs or groups’ technical skills and traditions on technical innovations and functional adaptations of tools, as well as the role played by the environment. Ultimately, the contribution of this publication goes well beyond the use-wear results obtained, whether in terms of the substantial reference document of use-wear traces now made available to researchers (Part I) or the use-wear results obtained from a large number of sites (Part II, chapters 2 and 3).

2Echoing ethnographic observations (see in particular Kropotkine, 1902; Mauss, 1950; Victor, Robert-Lamblin, 1989; Cashdan, 2001; Collard, Folley, 2002) and some prehistorians (Depaepe, 2009), our results show that the environmental factor appears to have played a leading role in settlement strategies (see Part II, chapter 4.5). The abundance and type of resources available influenced the modes of procurement and processing of animal resources: the type of hunting, linked with the behaviour of the available animals, but also the varied intensity of carcass processing and the necessity to create food reserves related to the nutritional needs of the group, which themselves depended on the climate. Hence, sites specialized in butchery are associated with cold climates and open environments such as tundra and steppe (Mauran, Coudoulous, Les Pradelles, Saint-Césaire, Les Fieux) with clear evidence of storage. Quite similar butchery practices, such as the removal of strips of meat for drying and storage, were employed by groups that showed different technical characteristics (Discoid sensu stricto at Saint-Césaire and Quina side scrapers at Les Pradelles). A more logistical mobility would have therefore developed in cold climates, without necessarily being associated with a particular debitage concept or tool type. In contrast to the hypothesis put forward by N. Rolland (1981, 1990, 2001), climate and a group’s mobility strategy do not appear to have been factors responsible for the diversity of tool types and blanks produced (Part II, chapter 4.5). We have also observed that different technical choices were made in order to adapt to the nomadism of Neanderthal populations and to enable extensive group mobility (the resharpening of bifaces or Quina side scrapers versus the recurrent production of Levallois blanks or pseudo‑Levallois points). Similarly, the favoured mobility pattern does not appear, amongst Neanderthals, to indicate varying abilities to plan their activities and predict their needs, but was rather linked to the type of resources available. It does not appear to result from behavioural patterns either, as has been proposed by A. Delagnes and W. Rendu (2011). We also wish to note that, while the environment influenced the needs of a group, the responses of Neanderthals in terms of modes of resource exploitation did not greatly affect the diversity of tools produced. The functional objectives of tools that were technologically significantly different were very often similar (Part II, chapter 4.4). Convex side scrapers, which were tools favoured for working hides, and flake cleavers, which were assigned to a very specific mode of action (percussion), are the only tools which had a specific functional status. Notches were limited by their own morpho-functional attributes to scraping actions, but this function could also be carried out by other tool types. This observation, based on use-wear results obtained on several assemblages, enables us to free the production of different tool types from functional determinism. Thus, in contrast to certain hypotheses (Binford, Binford, 1966; Binford, 1973), a tool’s function played a rather insignificant role in the technical choices favoured by knappers (debitage modes and methods, type of retouch). Similarly, while the quality and varied graininess of a tool’s raw material may have presented limitations for certain activities, this does not appear to have been a determining factor for the function of the tool, with the exception of flake cleavers (Part I, chapter 2.9). Once we have evaluated the influence of the environmental and economic aspects and the functional objectives, we may explore the role played by the skills and cultural traditions of knappers in the choice of techniques and the methods employed in tool production. It may be easier to show that a technical object had a cultural value when we have previously demonstrated that other, simpler, choices would have been possible (Pelegrin, 1995; Mourre, 2003b). Nevertheless, we must not forget that the choice of a concept that appears simple but that possesses a large adaptability to diverse environments and activities may also be the result of a cultural choice (Thiébaut, 2013). Beyond the complexity of a debitage concept and the constraints in terms of raw materials, which it entails, the decision to favour a particular debitage concept, or perhaps even a particular method, appears to reflect the technical traditions of human groups (Part II, chapters 4 and 5). However, these incorporate technical variations (retouched or shaped tool types), which may stem from the knowledge or the preferential use of certain techniques (hard hammers for notches and denticulates versus soft hammers for side scrapers), from conducting specific activities (the importance of convex side scrapers for working hide, for example), technical innovations and their spread, linked with strategies of exploitation and processing of the resources available in a particular environment (flake cleavers), or the spread of a tool type with a particular functional, or even symbolic status (biface).

3This new vision of some Middle Palaeolithic tools allows us to question the reality of several technocomplexes such as MTA and the Discoid-denticulate. It can only encourage us to develop this type of approach on a greater number of assemblages, in particular those that are most lacking in this work, that is, those characterized by the different Levallois debitage methods and those which include Quina side scrapers. Such an approach will enable a better understanding of their potential cultural value and will help to characterize their internal variations by identifying the factors at the root of these variations.

4The results that we have provided in this work and the interpretations proposed are yet another piece added to the puzzle, to which each study contributes. This will lead to a deeper understanding of the technical diversity observed in the Middle Palaeolithic and to better characterize the ways of life of our distant ancestors.

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Céline Thiébaut, Émilie Claud et Sandrine Costamagno, « Conclusion »Palethnologie [En ligne], 10 | 2019, mis en ligne le 01 novembre 2019, consulté le 21 juin 2021. URL : ; DOI :

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Céline Thiébaut

Université Toulouse Jean Jaurès, UMR 5608 – Traces

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Émilie Claud

Université de Bordeaux, UMR 5199 – Pacea / INRAP

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Sandrine Costamagno

Université Toulouse Jean Jaurès / CNRS, UMR 5608 – Traces

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