3.3 Caves and rockshelters

A number of archaeological caves with excavated profiles show pollen-sterile layers, or sometimes whole sterile sections, even after several trials (Table 5). Well-known sites of the Pleistocene include the Mousterian Cova Negra of Xativa (Fumanal 1986), Cova de les Cendres (Dupré 1988; Badal and Carrión 2001), Cova de El Salt (Fumanal 1986), Cueva de Nerja's Vestíbulo Chamber (Arribas et al. 2004a), Cueva de Altamira (Lasheras and De las Heras 1997), Cueva 120 (Agustí et al. 1987; Burjachs 1991a), Cueva del Castillo (Bernaldo de Quirós and Cabrera 2000), Cueva del Ángel, Pouás (Guerrero and Gornés 2000), Cueva de Amalda (Dupré 1988; Altuna et al. 1990), and noticeably, the mid-Pleistocene (350-120 ka) Cova de Bolomor, where 74 pollen samples from a 7m-deep stratigraphy were sterile (Fernández-Peris 2004).

Many of these cave stratigraphies include hearths, breccias, stalagmitic crusts, calcium-carbonate micelia, and more or less indurated strata, blocks, coarse-grain levels, lithics and other archaeological remains, bone remains, and shells. Hearths may or may not contain pollen. They did not in Civiacas (González-Sampériz 2001), Matutano (Burjachs 1999) and Filador (Burjachs 1999) and the Asturian cave of Los Azules (López-García 1981) (Table 5), but did in other Palaeolithic and Neolithic cave records (Dupré and Renault-Miskovsky 1990; Carrión and Dupré 2002; Carrión et al. 1999a; 2004b; 2008; López-Sáez et al. 2003; González-Sampériz 1998). The reason for this diversity of results is so far unknown. Cemented sediments coincide with sterility in Cau del Duc d'Ulla, Cueva de Valdegoba, Cova Fosca, Tossal de la Font, Cova Matutano, Bolomor, Cova Negra (Dupré 1988), Sima de las Palomas (Carrión et al. 2003b) and Cueva del Ángel (Table 5). In contrast, calcium carbonate deposits of Abric Romaní, Bauma dels Pinyons, Abric Agut and Costa d'En Manel rockshelters have provided pollen records for a major part of the Upper Pleistocene of north-eastern Iberia (Burjachs and Julià 1994; Allué et al. 1998; Burjachs 2000b). More general is the expected absence of pollen in sandy layers of cave stratigraphies, as seen in Cuevas de Levante (Cádiz), and Cueva de Chaves (Huesca) (Table 5). Several pollen sequences of the Cantabrian region are interrupted when reaching coarser-grain sediments: notably the caves of Lezetxiki and Labeko (Sánchez-Goñi 1991), Zatoya (Boyer-Klein 1989), and Berroberria (Boyer-Klein 1988).

Pollen analyses in the hominin-bearing Atapuerca (Burgos) have been rather unrewarding (García-Antón 1987; 1995; García-Antón et al. 1990; García-Antón and Sainz-Ollero 1991; Cattani et al. 1994; García-Antón and Casado 1994). M. García-Antón processed 84 samples from Galería levels TG-12 and TG-3, 87 samples from Gran Dolina levels TD-1 to TD-11, and 12 samples from Boca Norte chasm TN. All of them were palynologically sterile (Table 5). Other analysts, like F. Burjachs, who repeated analyses, have complained about the palynological poverty of Atapuerca.

Carihuela Cave (SE Spain) has proved useful for palaeoecological purposes: there are substantial pollen concentrations and a number of taxa, parallels between the curves of percentages and concentrations, ecological plausibility of the pollen spectra, and possibilities of correlation of pollen spectra from different sections of the same lithological units. Most profiles are, in fact, relatively rich in pollen, including Mousterian (Carrión 1992a), Upper Palaeolithic (Carrión et al. 1998) and Neolithic and Bronze Age levels (Fernández et al. 2007). However, from the 12 lithostratigraphical units described by Vega-Toscano et al. (1988) for chambers CIII and CIV, both the unit XII and the lowermost levels of XI contained no pollen. There was a similar absence in unit VI in chamber CIII and CIV (Carrión et al. 1998). Although these deposits are the richest in organic content in the cave, it was clear that they had occasionally experienced repeated fluctuations of water levels (Vega-Toscano et al. 1988).

Pollen analyses in Cova Beneito present another interesting case study. This cave contains a continuous record of Middle Palaeolithic and Upper Palaeolithic industries, the latter extending from the Aurignacian to the Solutrean. In the course of excavations during 1990-91, Mousterian strata were polliniferous, but Upper Palaeolithic levels did not provide pollen from the available sections (Carrión 1992b). Later excavations exposed new profiles recording the whole sequence of Upper Palaeolithic industries. Surprisingly, these sediments proved to contain enough palynomorphs to undertake reliable pollen analysis (Carrión and Munuera 1997). Both profiles provided a stratigraphically coherent sequence involving the Middle and Upper Palaeolithic.

Sediments accumulated within rockshelters are prone to palynological sterility, often throughout the whole deposit (Table 1, Fig. 2). A considerable number of the failed records are rockshelters that show signs of burrowing activity by insects, earthworms, rootlets (Cueva de los Aviones, Cueva de la Higuera, Abrigo Alejandre, Abrigo del Molino del Vadico, Forcas II), and/or fluvial transport, flowing water or seepage (Abrigo de Angel, Forcas I, II, Legunova, Abrigo de los Baños de Ariño, Cueva de Antón) (Table 5). Again, sandy sediment is associated with sterility, as in Peña del Diablo, Legunova, Peña 14, and Abrigo del Filador (González-Sampériz 2004a; Utrilla et al. 2000; González-Sampériz et al. 2003a; 2005; García-Argüelles et al. 2005).


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