Way Of Life And Behavior

Archaeology History»Importance»Behaviour

Habitat and hunting

The Arago Cave was occupied periodically between 690,000 and 35,000 years back. Accumulations of bones and stone tools indicate to some forty different occupation periods in the cave.

A multidisciplinary study of this archaeological material has revealed the various forms of habitat and the lifestyles of these prehistoric hunters.



  • An autumn hunting refuge

Some 550,000 years ago, as the wind speed known as the Tramontane blew across the snow-covered plain, hunters took shelter in the cave to cut up the carcasses of forty reindeer that they had slain as the animals forded the Verdouble.

After removing the meat and hides, they left the cave, leaving behind the still-intact bones that were speedily covered over with sandy sediment. Some of these bones will anatomically connected; indicate that the extremities of the animals' limbs decayed in place, without even becoming disarticulated.

The floor of this hunting refuge, which lasted between six and fifteen days, also deliver up evidence of stone working, telling us about these humans' itinerary. They came from the north carrying flint tools made from outcroppings situated about thirty kilometers away. They were following the migration of reindeer that were fleeing to the south. To supplement their daily needs they added to their tools with sharp fragments that they prepared from local stones.

The absence of human remains on the floor of this refuge seems to be indicating that none of these hunters died of their injuries.

  • A temporary autumn encampment

Some 500,000 years ago, when the Pyrenees were enclosed by forest, humans came and occupied the cave in autumn in order to eat the elk and fallow deer that they had hunted in the plain during mate season.

The teeth - the part of the skeleton that lasts the longest - pointing that at least eighty elk and 60 fallow deer were brought into the cave. Among the human remains, only a few milk teeth, lost in nature by babies who chewed the bones of the cervidae, were found on the ground.

These hunters took raw stone materials from the rivers nearby alluvial deposits, and added to these by exploiting several deposits between 6 and 33 kilometers from the cave. Using rocks to make various types of tools, some of them quite worn, worked out of fairly large pieces.

  • A long-term encampment

450,000 years back, whole families of humans moved into the cave for a long period, when the weather was cold and dry. Equipped with spears, they went out onto the plains, swept by strong winds, to hunt reindeer and musk oxen. They tracked the argali and the tahr on the vertical cliffs of the Corbieres. They prepared hunting parties to chase horses, bison and rhinoceroses. They used hunting blinds to hunt elk in the forests close to sources of water and protected from the wind.

During these activities that were concentrated within a 33-kilometer radius, the hunters bring various types of rocks back to the cave, most often round stones that they shaped to make flakes and tools (scrapers, denticulates, choppers and chopping-tools) that they used to butcher game and fashion spears.

Humans ate their meat uncooked, and also ate the bone marrow. Several broken human bone remains have been found scattered across the layer. During the occupation of this habitat, both children and adults between 15 and 40 years old died.

  • A temporary spring encampment

About 440,000 years ago, during a cold and dry period with strong winds, a small family group came to hunt argali on the cliffs close the cave in the late spring and early summer. Before progressing hunt, hunters took round stones from the alluvial deposits of the Verdouble to make certain tools and flake blades.

When they traveled farther away, to the north of the Corbieres and in the Rousillon plain, they took back good quality rocks such as flints and jaspers to make small and efficient tools. During the summer, the families ate the argali meat uncooked and also ate their carcasses, all the way down to the bone marrow from the phalanxes.

The bone fragments found in this layer are small and crushed, representing that the cave's occupants carried out intense crushing activity. The few human remains found at this level give evidence to the presence of young children and of a 40-year-old "old woman" in the group.

Raw materials and tools

Humans, who visited the Arago Cave on several occasions, selected rocks from their adjacent environment to make their tools. They are specially taken round flat stones from the alluvial deposits of the nearest rivers, and quartz was the preferred material for making debitage and flake blades.

  • Assorted materials for large tools

The river that flowed at the base of the cave supplied the Paleolithic hunter with a wide range of usable raw materials in the form of flat round stones. Rocks such as sandstone, limestone, quartzites and hornfels were used more selectively than quartz to make big tools such as choppers, chopping-tools and bifaces.

The hunters habitat to collect most of their raw stone materials within a 5-kilometer radius.

  • The best materials for flake tools

To make small tools such as scrapers, points and denticulate, the cave's occupants favored to use flints and jaspers that came from much farther away. To reach outcroppings of jasper, the hunters frequently traveled 15 kilometers to the south. By finding flint, a raw material with exceptional qualities de taille, required frequent trips across a distance of 33 kilometers to the northeast.

Thus, the Arago Cave hunters' terrain had a radius of 33 kilometers, and they regularly exploited this area for both its raw stone materials and its food resources.