Isotopic evidence for Last Glacial climatic impacts on Neanderthal gazelle hunting territories at Amud Cave, Israel

Gideon Hartman*, Erella Hovers, Jean Jacques Hublin, Michael Richards

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


The Middle Paleolithic site of Amud Cave, Israel, was occupied by Neanderthals at two different time periods, evidenced by two chronologically and stratigraphically distinct depositional sub-units (B4 and B2/B1) during MIS 4 and MIS 3, respectively. The composition of both hunted large fauna and naturally-deposited micromammalian taxa is stable at the site over time, despite a ~10ky gap between the two occupation phases. However, while gazelle is the most ubiquitous hunted species throughout the occupation, isotopic analysis showed that there is a marked change in Neanderthal hunting ranges between the early (B4) and late (B2/B1) phases. Hunting ranges were reconstructed by comparing oxygen, carbon, and strontium isotopes from gazelle tooth enamel with modern isotope data from the Amud Cave region. This region is characterized by extensive topographic, lithological, and pedological heterogeneity. During the early occupation phase negative oxygen isotope values, low radiogenic 87Sr/86Sr ratios, and low Sr concentrations reveal restricted gazelle hunting in the high elevations west of Amud Cave. In the late occupation phase, hunting ranges became more diverse, but concentrate at low elevations closer to the site. Climatic proxies indicate that conditions were drier in the early occupation phase, which may have pushed gazelle populations into higher, more productive foraging areas. This study showed that Neanderthals adjusted their hunting territories considerably in relation to varying environmental conditions over the course of occupation in Amud Cave. It highlights the utility of multiple isotope analysis in enhancing the resolution of behavioral interpretations based on faunal remains and in reconstructing past hunting behaviors of Paleolithic hominins.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)71-82
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Human Evolution
StatePublished - 1 Jul 2015

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by a Minerva Stiftung fellowship and the University of Connecticut (to GH), and the Max Planck Society . Excavations in Amud Cave were supported by the Leakey Foundation , the Irene Levi-Sala CARE foundation (grants to EH and Yoel Rak), and by the Institute of Human Origins , Arizona State University (to William H. Kimbel). Post-excavation analysis of lithic materials and fauna was supported by The Israel Science Foundation (grants # 883/00 , # 803/03 , # 514/04 , # 63/08 to EH). We thank Rivka Rabinovich for identifications of the large fauna and for sharing unpublished information from her studies of the Amud Cave fauna, and Miriam Belmaker for her help with the micromammalian sample used in this study. Vincent Battista, Alex Brittingham, Annabell Reiner, and Sven Steinbrenner provided technical and analytical assistance in the lab. Special thanks to Natalie Munro for her comments on various versions of the manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 Elsevier Ltd.


  • Carbon isotopes
  • Middle Paleolithic
  • Oxygen isotopes
  • Paleoclimate
  • Paleoenvironment
  • Strontium isotopes


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