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Research Focus

Research Focus - Faunal Analysis


zooarchaeological pic 01The goal of our zooarchaeological research is to reconstruct Late Pleistocene hominin ecology by analyzing the patterns of variation found in faunal assemblages. Currently, our research focuses on two distinct geographic areas and ancient populations. In each of these areas we are investigating Palaeolithic subsistence behaviors, hunting strategies, patterns of land use, population density, palaeoenvironments, and taphonomy. We are particularly interested in understanding shifts in hominin subsistence dynamics across the Middle to Upper Palaeolithic transition.


1) Mousterian Faunas of France

We are working on the faunal remains from the excavations at Jonzac (Charente-Maritime), in conjunction with researchers at the Université Bordeaux 1. The site is incredibly rich in fauna, particularly large bovids, horse, and reindeer, providing a good opportunity to further our understanding of Neanderthal ecology and make comparisons with the early Upper Palaeolithic.

excavation photo
bone photo
excavation of reindeer bonebed in 2006
mandible of wolf recovered from Jonzac

Also under investigation is the archaeofauna from Pech de l’Azé IV (Dordogne). Containing a long sequence of Middle Palaeolithic occupations, an excavation campaign with colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania between 2000-2003 recovered extensive faunal and lithic assemblages. In the lowermost level, several in situ hearth features were preserved, allowing us a chance to explore Neanderthals’ use of fire. Red deer, roe deer and smaller amounts of horse or large bovid are typical in most find horizons, with the exception of the latest Mousterian in which reindeer replaces red deer as the predominant cervid. We also see evidence that Neanderthals occasionally exploited small game such as beaver and hare as well as birds. A major focus of this study involves investigating the relationships between changes in lithic technology and faunal exploitation throughout the archaeological sequence at Pech IV.

Pech IV excavation
Profile of Pech IV at the end of excavations
in 2003, including the burned layer 8
Butchery traces on red deer bone
from Layer 8 at Pech IV


2) The Mousterian and Aterian of Morocco

We will be identifying and analyzing the faunal remains from renewed excavation at Jebel Irhoud. This site has yielded important human fossils, yet little is know about their archaeological context; zooarchaeological analyses are especially lacking. For comparison, we will study the faunal remains from Rhafas Cave, in eastern Morocco. This site preserves both Mousterian and Aterian elements, providing a good assemblage for assessing the ecology of the makers of these two industries.


3) Virtual Faunal Comparative Collection

We are currently scanning complete skeletons of species that are frequently encountered in archaeological work.  We anticipate that researchers will be able to consult these virtual skeletons in their own work, and they will be able to download and print (in 3D) their own comparative collections.  more


In addition, we are working closely with the biomolecular archaeologists to investigate ancient diets, climate, and migration.