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Keywords:

  • late Pleistocene;
  • Neanderthals;
  • palaeoenvironment;
  • small vertebrates;
  • Spain

Abstract

Coastal areas as reservoirs of resources for hominid groups have been widely studied in recent years. These areas combine marine with terrestrial and wetland resources and would have been optimum sites for hominids, including Neanderthals. This is the case with the Cova del Gegant, a cave that today opens directly onto the Mediterranean Sea and is located in the north-eastern Iberian Peninsula. The geomorphological evolution of the Massis del Garraf has provided evidence that during the late Pleistocene there was a littoral platform between 8 and 13 km wide in front of the Cova del Gegant. Within this framework, the data derived from analysis of the small vertebrates and large mammals recovered from Cova del Gegant, including taxa currently absent from the Massis del Garraf, suggest that the landscape surrounding the cave provided a richer terrestrial ecosystem for Neanderthals than is available in this zone today. Analysis of the small-vertebrate association from the cave reveals that the landscape surrounding the cave was dominated by woodland-edge and open environments and that the climate was Mediterranean. The results have been compared with the only Iberian site with similar characteristics to the Cova del Gegant, Gorham's cave (southern Iberia, Gibraltar), revealing differences and similarities in the landscape and climate on the basis of the small-mammal assemblages as well as the differences in the accessibility to terrestrial mammalian resources for the Neanderthal groups. The landscape and the climate were reasonably similar at the two sites, but the differences in the accessibility of resources for the Neanderthals are directly related to the location of the sites and the coastal position. Whereas the Cova del Gegant was on a route of mammal migration (between the Ebro Valley and France) suited for securing terrestrial resources, Gorham's cave is located on a small peninsula with a lower abundance of terrestrial mammal resources. This is probably why the Neanderthal groups at Gorham's cave exploited marine resources, whereas there is no evidence of marine resources having been exploited at Cova del Gegant, even though the seashore was nearby. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.