Site distribution at the edge of the palaeolithic world: a nutritional niche approach.
This paper presents data from the English Channel area of Britain and Northern France on the spatial distribution of Lower to early Middle Palaeolithic pre-MIS5 interglacial sites which are used to test the contention that the pattern of the richest sites is a real archaeological distribution and not of taphonomic origin. These sites show a marked concentration in the middle-lower reaches of river valleys with most being upstream of, but close to, estimated interglacial tidal limits. A plant and animal database derived from Middle-Late Pleistocene sites in the region is used to estimate the potentially edible foods and their distribution in the typically undulating landscape of the region. This is then converted into the potential availability of macronutrients (proteins, carbohydrates, fats) and selected micronutrients. The floodplain is shown to be the optimum location in the nutritional landscape (nutriscape). In addition to both absolute and seasonal macronutrient advantages the floodplains could have provided foods rich in key micronutrients, which are linked to better health, the maintenance of fertility and minimization of infant mortality. Such places may have been seen as 'good (or healthy) places' explaining the high number of artefacts accumulated by repeated visitation over long periods of time and possible occupation. The distribution of these sites reflects the richest aquatic and wetland successional habitats along valley floors. Such locations would have provided foods rich in a wide range of nutrients, importantly including those in short supply at these latitudes. When combined with other benefits, the high nutrient diversity made these locations the optimal niche in northwest European mixed temperate woodland environments. It is argued here that the use of these nutritionally advantageous locations as nodal or central points facilitated a healthy variant of the Palaeolithic diet which permitted habitation at the edge of these hominins' range.