Palaeoenvironment and palaeoclimate of the Mousterian–Aurignacian transition in northern Iberia: The small-vertebrate assemblage from Cueva del Conde (Santo Adriano, Asturias)
The transition from the Middle Palaeolithic (Mousterian) to the Upper Palaeolithic (Aurignacian) has been one of the prominent themes in the archaeology of the European Palaeolithic for more than 20 years. One of the most controversial questions concerning this period is the extinction of the Neanderthals and their replacement by modern humans. In this context, Cueva del Conde, located in the northern part of the Iberian Peninsula, is an archaeo-palaeontological site that records the Mousterian to Aurignacian transition. It has been excavated since the beginning of the 20th century, first by the Conde de la Vega del Sella and systematically by a team from the University of Oviedo since 2001. Three main zones have been identified: the External Zone, dated to approximately 39 110 ± 520 BP (level N104); the Entrance Platform, dated between 38 250 ± 390 BP and 34 730 ± 500 BP; and Gallery A with a radiocarbon date of approximately 31 540 ± 400 BP (level N2a2). The small-vertebrate assemblages recovered from the water-screening of all sediment from the excavation campaigns represent at least 21 small mammal, amphibian and squamate taxa. The small-vertebrate associations in the three zones suggest a patchy landscape, dominated by humid meadows and woodland areas with the existence of water in the vicinity of the cave. The climate shows a more continental pattern during the Mousterian, though it was milder during the Aurignacian. The small vertebrates of the Cueva del Conde Mousterian and Aurignacian levels suggest a climate that differed from modern day temperatures, between −1.1 and −4.4 °C (mean annual temperature), placing these assemblages during Interstadials 9 to 7 (Is9 to 7).