Molar microwear pattern and palaeoecology of ungulates from La Berbie (Dordogne, France): environment of Neanderthals and modern human populations of the Middle/Upper Palaeolithic

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Abstract

This study contributes to the characterization of the environment of the Middle/Upper Palaeolithic transition in southwestern France through the reconstruction of ungulate diets. Molar microwear analysis is used to characterize the diets of herbivorous mammals from La Berbie. The data for this study were collected through examination of molar facets using white-light confocal microscopy. The results for 22 fossil specimens (representing four species) are compared with those of 59 living ruminants. Microwear variables of living specimens are used in a principal components analysis. Extinct species are then added to the analysis. Results show that Bison priscus has a microwear signature similar to that of grazers, whereas Rangifer tarandus shares characteristics with both browsers and grazers. The specimens of Equus caballus and Rupicapra rupicapra also display microwear patterns similar to those of grazers. While previous studies have shown an abundance of both C3 plants and herbaceous dicots, the present microwear analysis of fossil herbivores indicates that their last meals contained abrasive graminoids. The results suggest that during the Middle/Upper Palaeolithic transition the habitat of Neanderthals and modern human populations in southwestern France was an open environment dominated by a rich C3-monocot herbaceous layer.

Ancillary