Reevaluating the “elephant butchery area” at the Middle Pleistocene site of Notarchirico (MIS 16) (Venosa Basin, Basilicata, Italy)

Antonio Pineda*, Beniamino Mecozzi, Alessio Iannucci, Marco Carpentieri, Raffaele Sardella, Rivka Rabinovich, Marie Hélène Moncel

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The archaeological site of Notarchirico, chronologically placed at the end of MIS 17 and MIS 16 (675-610 ka), is a key site for studying Acheulean technology in southern Europe and gaining a better understanding of human occupation in that region during the Middle Pleistocene. It was excavated between 1979 and 1995 by Marcello Piperno and re-opened since 2016. Between 1990 and 1991, around forty remains of Palaeloxodon antiquus, mostly comprising the head of the animal, such as cranium, mandible and tusks fragments belonging to a sub-adult male were discovered as a result of the excavation of a lateral discontinuity of the level A, situated in an area known as the “elephant butchery area”. Remains of deer, mainly assigned to Dama sp., and 42 stone tools, including choppers, hand-axes, cores and some flakes were also identified in the surroundings. This accumulation was originally interpreted as a butchering site, reflecting a single event of processing of an elephant carcass, and the entire paleosurface was exposed to visitors in situ. This work re-evaluates the original archaeological materials, especially those still preserved on the paleosurface, in terms of stratigraphic distribution, taphonomy and technology, to critically evaluate the putative role of hominins in the exploitation of the megaherbivore. After a meticulous examination of each element's surface and its deposition, we conclude that there is no support for the previous interpretation of the so-called “elephant butchery area” of Notarchirico as the result a butchery event, as there is no evidence of human exploitation of the remains and the accumulation derives from at least two diverse and unrelated depositional events, one resulting in the deposition of the elephant remains, and the other of the majority of the fallow deer remains and the stone tools.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number108603
JournalQuaternary Science Reviews
StatePublished - 1 May 2024

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  • Acheulean
  • Butchering site
  • Lower Paleolithic
  • Palaeloxodon antiquus
  • Taphonomy


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