Sediment sequence and site formation processes at the Arbreda Cave, NE Iberian Peninsula, and implications on human occupation and climate change during the Last Glacial
The Arbreda Cave provides a detailed archaeological record of the Middle to Upper Palaeolithic and is a key site for studying human occupation and cultural transitions in NE Iberia. Recently, studies of lake archives and archaeological sites presented new evidence on climate changes in NE Iberia correlating with Heinrich events. It, therefore, needs to be determined whether climate signals can be identified in the cave sequence of Arbreda, and if so, whether these signals can be correlated with stratigraphic indicators suggesting the continuity or discontinuity of human occupation.
We conducted a high-resolution sedimentological and geochemical study, including micromorphological investigations, to shed light on stratigraphy, processes of sediment accumulation and post-depositional alteration in the cave.
Seven major sediment units were distinguished which partly correlate with archaeological levels. The lower part of the sequence including Mousterian levels J and K consists of fluvial deposits truncated by a sharp erosional disconformity between Mousterian levels J and I. Strong enrichment with phosphorus and strontium reflect zoogenic inputs. The transition from Mousterian to Archaic Aurignacian in levels I and H, respectively, is reflected by more gradual changes in colour, grain size and geochemical composition. However, a peak in potentially wind-blown particles (40–125 μm in diameter) reflects higher aeolian input, and banded microstructure suggests reworking of sediments at the interface. Both properties correlate with low density of finds suggesting low intensity of human occupation related to a dry spell. More arid conditions than during the Holocene are indicated for the Gravettian to Solutrean levels. These findings are in agreement with previous palaeoclimatic interpretations as based on palaeontological proxies.
The detailed multi-proxy analyses of the sequence adds to our understanding on sediment accumulation and alteration in the Arbreda Cave. The transition from the Middle to Upper Palaeolithic probably includes a gap in human occupation. Assessing the significance and duration of this gap and correlating the climate signal requires three-dimensional reconstructions of find densities and more reliable geochronological control.