Domestic Spaces and Modern Human Behavior

Research grant to Susan M. Mentzer, funded by the Baden-Württemberg Stiftung Eliteprogramm für Postdoktorandinnen und Postdoktoranden, April 2014 through March 2016.

Research Goals

This project focuses on understanding the domestic lives of behaviorally modern humans in three geographically distinct regions of Africa and the Levant. With respect to technology, subsistence, and symbolic activities of modern humans, the organization and maintenance of domestic living spaces are relatively understudied. This project aims to address this deficit using geological techniques to study the depositional and post-depositional histories of anthropogenic sediments. Specifically, the work will explore the relationship between changes in the patterning and intensity of domestic activities within Late Pleistocene (MIS 6 through MIS 3) archaeological sites and the appearance of elements of so-called “modern human behavior.” A second aspect of this project is the radiometric dating of the archaeological sequences.

Site 1: Turkey

Üçağızlı Cave I, located on the Mediterranean coast of southern Turkey, is one site targeted in this study. The partially-collapsed cave contains archaeological materials attributed to primarily to the Initial Upper Paleolithic and Ahmarian periods, as well as abundant anthropogenic sediments composed of intact and reworked combustion features. These sediments, which are informative about modern human control and use of fire and site maintenance activities, have been studied by Paul Goldberg and later by Susan Mentzer as part of her dissertation research.

Micromorphological samples were obtained from excavations (right side of image) between 1999 and 2007. Analyses of these samples were completed in 2011.

The cave contains abundant ornaments (pictured here). New analyses at the site, funded as part of this project, will focus on uranium-series dating of calcareous flowstones interbedded with archaeological materials in order to obtain a chronological sequence that can be directly compared to those of the other two sites.

Site 2: South Africa

The second site targeted in this study is Klasies River Main Site, a Middle Stone Age locality in South Africa.

Although Klasies River Main Site has a long history of geoarchaeological investigation, this project will be the first application of micromorphology to the anthropogenic deposits, which include middens and combustion features (pictured above). As at Üçağızlı Cave I, these types of features are important for reconstructing and understanding use of space and intensity of occupation of different areas of the site. Sampling at Klasies began in 2013 and will continue for several field seasons.

Calcareous flowstones interbedded with the archaeological deposits have also been sampled for uranium-series dating.

Site 3: Northwest Africa

Excavations and geoarchaeological analyses at a third cave, an Aterian site located in northwestern Africa, will begin in October 2014.