A Teppa di U Lupinu Cave (Corsica, France) – human presence since 8500 years BC, and the enigmatic origin of the earlier, late Pleistocene accumulation
The A Teppa di U Lupinu Cave (Haute-Corse, France), about 15 m deep and 2 m high, is a remnant of a very ancient karst. It contains a large volume of sediments (8±1m3) in the deepest part of the southern diverticulum, comprising millions of fossil remains of small vertebrates, extinct and extant, including a small proportion of burnt bones, and abundant charcoal fragments and ash. Faunal associations and absolute (14C) dates allow us to assign most of the fossil accumulation to latest Pleistocene (17,000-13,500 BC) and earliest Holocene dates. Archaeological materials, remains of recently established mammals, and radiocarbon dates attest to reworking of the accumulation during the Holocene. Here we present the results of the paleontological study of this accumulation, and propose interpretations for its formation. Four dates obtained on the shed deer antler, charcoal fragments and burnt bone, yielded results ranging from ca 8500 years BC through to the middle Holocene. We demonstrate that their origin is anthropic, which points to the presence of man in the early Holocene, in line with what is known in other localities. However, the origin of the main accumulation of small vertebrates, dated to the latest Pleistocene, remains enigmatic, with two plausible scenarios. In the first one, it would be an accumulation by owls (Tyto alba ernesti, Bubo insularis). Man-made fires would have later produced charcoal, ash and burnt bones, which were subsequently mixed with the bulk of fossils by massive reworking. However, some taphonomic characteristics are inconsistent with this origin, such as the anatomical representation of amphibians, and the lack of evidence for sufficiently profound reworking. This leads us to favour a second hypothesis, where man would have cooked, consumed and accumulated most of the vertebrates in the earlier period, including the abundant shrews. Charcoal fragments, ash and burnt bones would have been mixed initially with the bulk of fossils (unburnt bones), and more moderate reworking would have followed until modern times. Such a diet for prehistoric man, although odd, cannot be excluded on the basis of present-day arguments. However, dating evidence for older fires is lacking so far. Therefore, continued investigations will be needed to confirm one or the other scenario. A late Pleistocene human presence in the cave would be one of the earliest in Corsica. Roughly contemporaneous presence of humans is known in nearby Sardinia, which was contiguous during cold periods of the Pleistocene. This hypothesis would also be consistent with some recent results in population genetics.
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Document Type: Research Article
Publication date: July 1, 2008
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