Neanderthal plant use and pyrotechnology: phytolith analysis from Roc de Marsal, France



Publication Details

Wroth, K., Cabanes, D., Marston, J. M., Aldeias, V., Sandgathe, D., Turq, A., Goldberg, P. & Dibble, H. L. (2019). Neanderthal plant use and pyrotechnology: phytolith analysis from Roc de Marsal, France. Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences, 11 (8), 4325-4346.


The plant component of Neanderthal subsistence and technology is not well documented, partially due to the preservation constraints of macrobotanical components. Phytoliths, however, are preserved even when other plant remains have decayed and so provide evidence for Neanderthal plant use and the environmental context of archaeological sites. Phytolith assemblages from Roc de Marsal, a Middle Paleolithic cave site in SW France, provide new insight into the relationship between Neanderthals and plant resources. Ninety-seven samples from all archaeological units and 18 control samples are analyzed. Phytoliths from the wood and bark of dicotyledonous plants are the most prevalent, but there is also a significant proportion of grass phytoliths in many samples. Phytolith densities are much greater in earlier layers, which is likely related to the presence of combustion features in those layers. These phytoliths indicate a warmer, wetter climate, whereas phytoliths from upper layers indicate a cooler, drier environment. Phytoliths recovered from combustion features indicate that wood was the primary plant fuel source, while grasses may have been used as surface preparations.

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