Measuring spatial structure in time-averaged deposits insights from Roc de Marsal, France

  • Jonathan S. ReevesEmail author
  • Shannon P. McPherron
  • Vera Aldeias
  • Harold L. Dibble
  • Paul Goldberg
  • Dennis Sandgathe
  • Alain Turq
Original Paper


The use of space, both at the landscape and the site level, is considered an important aspect of hominin adaptations that changed through time. At the site level, spatial analyses are typically conducted on deposits thought to have a high degree of temporal resolution. Sites with highly time-averaged deposits are viewed as inferior for these analyses because repeated site visits obscure individual behavioral events. To the contrary, here, we take the view that behaviors that repeat themselves in a spatially structured way through time are exactly the kinds of behaviors that are potentially significant at an evolutionary timescale. In this framework, time averaging is seen not as a hindrance but rather as a necessary condition for viewing meaningful behavior. To test whether such patterning is visible in time-averaged deposits, we use spatial statistics to analyze a number of indices designed to measure lithic production, use and discard behaviors in a multi-layer, late Neandertal cave site in southwest France. We find that indeed some such patterning does exist, and thus sites with highly time-averaged deposits have the potential to contribute to our understanding of how hominin use of space varied through time. This is useful because a great many archaeological sites have highly time-average deposits. Interpreting the spatial patterning will likely require modeling to create expectations in time-averaged and likely emergent contexts such as these.


Time-averaging Paleolithic Palimpsets Roc de Marsal Middle Paleolithic Spatial analysis 



The research at Roc de Marsal had the financial support of the US National Science Foundation (Grants Nos. 09177739 and 0551927), the Leakey Foundation, the University of Pennsylvania Research Foundation, the Service Régional de l’Archéologie d’Aquitaine and the Conseil Général de la Dordogne. The authors thank Jean-Jacques Hublin and the Max Planck Society for supporting this research presented here. JR thanks David Braun and the Center for the Advanced Study of Human Paleobiology at George Washington University for supporting his research. The approach taken here to time-averaged assemblages benefitted from valuable discussions with a number of people including Simon Holdaway, Sam Lin, Željko Režek, and Luke Premo. A special thanks goes to José Ramón Rabuñal Gayo who reviewed the code and code/text consistency. As always, all mistakes remain our own. We note that Harold Dibble participated fully in the research presented here and was able to comment on the nearly final manuscript. The Roc de Marsal team misses him greatly.

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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department for Early Prehistory and Quarternary EcologyUniversity of TübingenTübingenGermany
  2. 2.Department of AnthropologyGeorge Washington UniversityWashingtonUSA
  3. 3.The Center for the Advanced Study of Human PaleobiologyThe George Washington UniversityWashingtonUSA
  4. 4.Department of Human EvolutionMax Planck Institute for Evolutionary AnthropologyLeipzigGermany
  5. 5.Interdisciplinary Center for Archaeology and the Evolution of Human Behaviour, FCHSUniversidade do AlgarveFaroPortugal
  6. 6.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphiaUSA
  7. 7.Centre for Archaeological Science (CAS), School of Earth and Environmental SciencesUniversity of WollongongWollongongAustralia
  8. 8.Institute for Archaeological SciencesUniversity of TübingenTübingenGermany
  9. 9.Department of Archaeology and Human Evolutionary Studies ProgramSimon Fraser UniversityVancouverCanada
  10. 10.Musée National de PréhistoireLes Eyzies-de-TayacFrance
  11. 11.CNRS, University of Bordeaux, MCC, PACEA UMR 5199Musée de Sauveterre-la-LémanceFrance

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