The Mesolithic hunters of the Trentino : a case study in hunter-gatherer settlement and subsistence
This dissertation contributes to the understanding of Mesolithic settlement and subsistence change through a regional case study of archaeological data from the Trentino in northern Italy. It is argued in this thesis that in order to understand this period of hunter-gatherer prehistory, it is necessary to examine both animal bones and lithic material. These represent the main forms of archaeological evidence recorded from a series of valley bottom rock shelter and open air high altitude sites in the Trentino. An interpretative framework using risk based models is broadly applied to these data. Risk management is considered from the perspective of maintaining necessary dietary levels, through maximising the nutritional value of animal resources (animal bone data) and by tool technology (lithic materials). Butchery data are considered as evidence for hunters obtaining important sources of nutrition, including carbohydrates and vitamins, through marrow and bone grease extraction (e.g. Speth 1991). Mesolithic stone tools are examined in terms of the risks of failing to kill or capture hunted animals - through the application of 'maintainable' and 'reliable' aspects of microlithic technology and its residue (e.g. Torrence 1989). The extraction and provisioning of raw materials required to manufacture and repair hunting technology also provides a regional perspective to stone tool using strategies. Broadly, the rock shelters contain long term data-sets of animal bones and lithics. These provide a diachronic perspective to subsistence change. The open air sites offer a contrasting spatial perspective of Mesolithic settlement sites. Lithic material and site location, in relation to the surrounding topography, provides a framework for interpreting subsistence activities. The Grotta d'Ernesto cave provides further subsistence data related directly to ibex and red deer hunting. The combined study of animal bones and lithics, together with longterm and spatial perspectives provides a framework for then extending the scale of analysis from site based to regional in scale. Changes in settlement patterns are related to environmental processes that included increases in forest density, a reduction in mountain pasture areas and increased resource diversity in the valley bottom areas. Early Mesolithic subsistence is thus characterised as having a high altitude summer hunting component in which significant numbers of animals were killed and processed, while the later Mesolithic populations focused settlement and subsistence strategies in the lower altitude areas throughout the year.