Caves, palimpsests and dwelling spaces: examples from the Upper Palaeolithic of south-east Europe
Geoff Bailey & Nena Galanidou World Archaeology 41.2 (2009): 215-241.
Deposits in caves and rock-shelters typically occur in the form of low-resolution palimpsests or time-averaged deposits, resulting from the superimposition of repeated and variable episodes of occupation, low rates of sedimentation and mixing by natural and anthropogenic processes. Despite the development of an impressive array of analytical techniques to disentangle these palimpsests into their constituent episodes of occupation, high resolution chronologies and detailed snapshots of activity areas and spatial organization have proved elusive. Here we suggest that, rather than seeing palimpsests as a problem, we take them as they are, as mixtures of materials that may have been actively recognized as such by the prehistoric occupants and deliberately enhanced, providing both physical resources that could be recycled for subsequent use and material cues for a sense of time and place. We illustrate this approach through a comparison of the spatial and material structure of four Upper Palaeolithic cave deposits in Southeast Europe, focusing on hearths and hearth-related distributions of material as clues to the active role of palimpsests in determining the use histories of different places.