Context, curation, and bias: an evaluation of the Middle Paleolithic collections of Combe-Grenal (France)
The site of Combe-Grenal is arguably the reference site for the Mousterian of southwest France. Bordes excavated the site over a period of 13 years and generated a large collection of lithics and fauna from a deep series of 64 Lower and Middle Paleolithic levels. Though Bordes only partially published his work at the site, its long stratigraphic sequence and particularly its collections have been subjected to numerous studies over the years and have figured prominently in several long-running debates concerning the Mousterian. Recently, the authors undertook a project to inventory and analyzed these collections along with the documentation of their archaeological context. In so doing, however, a number of serious problems became apparent with the collection in its current state, problems that cannot easily be resolved given the state of the available documentation. These problems have important implications not only for results of studies based on these collections, but more generally, they also point to problems in terms of how archaeological collections are curated.