New open access paper! New insights into Neolithic livestock practices in high mountain areas

Recent multidisciplinary study in the journal Quaternary International provides new insight into the occupation dynamics of high mountain spaces starting from the Neolithic onwards in the archaeological site of Molleres II. It is the first time that sediment biomarker analyses have been carried out at a Catalan site.

Figure 1: Study area location and ortophoto of Molleres II site. Red circles refer to further archaeological structures localized during archaeological survey carried out on the Puigpedrós-Malniu mountain range (Author: Arnau Carbonell)

Molleres II is located in Puigpedrós-Malniu massif (Meranges, La Cerdanya) at 2.425 m. a.s.l. (see figure 1 above) and consists of 5 structures made of granite boulders. The study proposes a high-resolution multi-proxy analysis combining archaeological, geoarchaeological and palaeoenvironmental data on an intra-site scale. For the first time for this type of archaeological contexts in Catalonia, and in collaboration with the Archaeological Micromorphology and Biomarkers Laboratory (Universidad de La Laguna), the researchers applied anthracological, micromorphological, sedimentary lipid biomarkers, and leaf-wax compound-specific stable isotope analyses, together with radiocarbon dating.

General view of the Molleres II site (Author: Josep Maria Palet, ICAC)

Based on this new research, Molleres II has been interpreted as a complex and wide open-air site built up by the end of the Middle Neolithic, consisting of large enclosures entirely dedicated to seasonal animal husbandry and located at an exceptionally high altitude (figure 2). These unique settings make the site a primer for both this period and the eastern Pyrenees, where known Neolithic occupational sites tend to be located in caves or rock-shelters.  Our results also highlight the intensity of the animal presence since the prehistory in these uplands, which turns out to have been considerable.

This multi-proxy analysis allowed us to characterize the site and the chronology of the different occupation phases, to reconstruct the life history and possible use of the structures, and to outline the main environmental dynamics in their surroundings. By the middle of the 4th mil. Cal. BC (Middle Neolithic) four enclosures were built and likely used during some centuries until the beginning of the 3rd mil. Cal. BC (Late Neolithic) for sheep and/or cattle housing. Later phases are more difficult to interpret even though the animals’ presence, although weaker, still seems persistent and shows a renewed intensity during the Middle Ages.

This intense and long-term animal presence in the Pyrenean highlands since the Neolithic could be at the origin of stable grassland-dominated environments and open landscapes maintained (albeit with some discontinuities) until nowadays.

Full reference

Pescini, V.Carbonell, A.Colominas, L., Egüez, N., Mayoral, A.Palet, J.M. 2023 Neolithic livestock practices in high mountain areas: A multi-proxy study of pastoral enclosures of Molleres II (Eastern Pyrenees). Quaternary International, 2023, ISSN 1040-6182.


This study is part of the larger multi-scale and interdisciplinary projects “TransLands” and “TranScapes”, funded by the Spanish Ministry of Science (PGC2018-093734-B-I00 & PID2021-127064NB-I00) and the Catalan Goverment (CLT009/18/00101 & CLT009/22/00035), and developed in the Pyrenean axial mountain range in La Cerdanya. Lídia Colominas is funded by a Ramón Cajal contract (RYC2019-026732-I-AEI/10.13039/ 501100011033). Valentina Pescini is funded by a Ramón Cajal junior contract (RYC-2021-034621-I – “Transeant” Project). Alfredo Mayoral is funded by a Juan de la Cierva-Incorporación contract (IJC2020-045609-I). Natalia Égüez is funded by a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions Individual Fellowship (IBERHUNT-101032608).

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