University of Bristol Spelæological Society

' Pursuing a rabbit in Burrington Combe': New Research on the Early Mesolithic burial cave of Aveline's Hole (UBSS Proceedings v.23(3))

Proceedings » Volume 23 » Sub-volume 3

Schulting,R.J., 2005. ' Pursuing a rabbit in Burrington Combe': New Research on the Early Mesolithic burial cave of Aveline's Hole. UBSS Proceedings, 23(3) , pp 171-265 Download PDF.

Abstract: The main focus of this paper is the re-analysis of the fragmentary human skeletal assemblage from Aveline's Hole. A brief history of the site's discovery and excavation is presented. A minimum of 21 individuals can be identified in the extant collection, including both sexes and a wide range of ages from neonatal to older adult. Some stress markers are evident in the form of cribra orbitalia, linear enamel hypoplasia and Harris lines. Evidence for other pathologies is very limited, in part no doubt due to the poor preservation and representation of articular ends of longbones and vertebrae. Dental pathology is also low, with caries occurring on only one individual in the surviving assemblage. Interproximal grooves are present on a number of molars, and striations are also seen on some anterior teeth relating to non-dietary activities. Dental microwear analysis examines the occlusal wear on a number of molars in greater detail, provisionally suggesting a softer diet and more important role for plant foods than might have been expected for hunter-gatherers in a north-temperate environment. Stable carbon and nitrogen isotope analysis of 18 individuals shows no secure evidence for any consumption of marine foods, with implications for seasonal and lifetime mobility of the population using Aveline's Hole. In apparent contradiction to the microwear findings, stable nitrogen values are high relative to contemporary fauna and suggest high consumption of animal protein. However, the two methods of palaeodietary analysis operate at very different time-scales, and also may emphasise different foods. Strontium isotope analysis suggests that most individuals interred at the site were drawn from the Mendips and its surrounding area, though some movement to the Chalk Downs may be indicated. AMS dating results further confirm an Early Mesolithic (10000-8500 BP) attribution to the burials, and in fact place the use of the site as a cemetery within a surprisingly brief period, between 8460 and 8140 cal BC, with a good probability that use was concentrated within a period of only 70-180 years. A brief discussion of the surviving faunal assemblage is also presented, including some new findings not noted in the original reports. Attempts to extract pollen from sediment in the medullary cavities of four long bones were partly successful, and the results consistent with an open pine-birch woodland in the area near the time of burial. The same sediments were analysed to determine their origin, which was found to be local to the cave environment. Finally, the wider significance of the site is discussed, with a tentative proposal that increased territoriality relating to rapidly rising sea levels in the early Holocene may be implicated.

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