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BY 4.0 license Open Access Published by De Gruyter Open Access May 24, 2023

Socioeconomic, Technological, and Cultural Adaptation of the Mesolithic Population in Central-Eastern Cantabria (Spain) in the Early and Middle Holocene

  • Pérez-Bartolomé Mercedes EMAIL logo
From the journal Open Archaeology


This article presents the research on the palaeoenvironmental changes that took place at the end of the Tardiglacial, in the early and middle Holocene, observed in sites of anthropic origin in central-eastern Cantabria. Through the comparative analysis of the economy, the settlement pattern, and the industries of the Azilian and Mesolithic settlements, we try to infer the repercussions they could have had on the last hunter-gatherers, in order to adapt to the modification of the territory, the change in the available resources, and the socio-economic consequences they could have had on the settlement. The radiocarbon record of central-eastern Cantabria and the Cantabrian region (Northern Spain) between 9.5 and 7.9 ka cal BP is analysed in order to assess the impact of the cold events that occurred in 9.3 and 8.2 ka cal BP, identified in the palaeoenvironment.

1 Introduction

The climate and environmental changes at the start of the Holocene affected the way of life of the last hunter-gatherers. In the Cantabrian region (N. Spain), these changes transformed the geomorphological characteristics of the territory and the modification of the Palaeoenvironment, generating changes in subsistence strategies, technology, and settlement pattern.

After the Younger Dryas, about 11.6 ka BP, at the start of the Holocene, the population in central-eastern Cantabria corresponded culturally with the late Azilian and the initial and middle Mesolithic. The Azilian started in the temperate Allerød period, in about 14.5 ka BP in the Cantabrian region (Álvarez-Alonso, 2008, p. 75), and continued until 10.9 ka cal BP in El Mirón (Straus & González Morales, 2003) where the Mesolithic cultural change is identified.

The Azilian was first systematised in Cantabrian region (N. Spain) by Fernández-Tresguerres Velasco (1980, 1995, 2004, 2006), who compiled the information available about a series of sites in Asturias and Cantabria (then known as Santander), characterised it, and established its cultural sequence. García Guinea (1985) published the Azilian in the Piélago Caves and identified a stratigraphy with the complete sequence of the Azilian. Further deposits were excavated in the 1980s and 1990s in the following regions: Cantabria at La Fragua and El Perro (González Morales, 2000; González Morales & Díaz Casado, 1992), La Pila (Bernaldo de Quirós et al., 2000), Valle (García-Gelabert, 2000), El Mirón (González Morales & Straus, 2000; Straus & González Morales, 2003), and El Carabión Rock-shelter (Pérez-Bartolomé et al., 2016).

Mesolithic research in Cantabrian Spain has a long history, see for example, Fano Martínez (2004–2017) and Gutiérrez-Zugasti (2009). Focused on the Mesolithic in central-eastern Cantabria, Pérez-Bartolomé (2019) documents 256 sites. Shell-middens had been identified since the first archaeological exploration in the nineteenth century by Calderón Arana and González Linares, who related them to the Nordic kjökkenmöddings, but without studying them further.

Research on the Mesolithic in the Cantabrian region (Spain) began in the second decade of the 20th century, in Asturias, by Vega del Sella (1914). In his excavations he identified the existence of enormous accumulations of shells and other archaeological artefacts, which he related to the Danish “kjokkenmmodinger”, and which formed what he called “shell-middens”, characterising this culture as “Asturian”. In the eastern part of the region, in Cantabria (Spain), Jesús Carballo (1924) investigated the shell middens of the Asón Estuary and attributed them culturally to the Mesolithic, differentiating them perfectly from earlier periods and from the Neolithic, due to the absence of pottery. Based on the characterisation of the Asturian from Vega del Sella, in principle all the shells from the Cantabrian region were ascribed to this culture and the research focused mainly on eastern Asturias.

Excavation projects in the east of Cantabria began in the 1990s: at El Perro (González Morales & Díaz Casado, 1992, 2000), La Fragua (González Morales, 2000; Marín-Arroyo, 2004, 2005), and a rescue excavation at La Trecha (González Morales, Díaz Casado, & Yudego Arce, 2002) as well as dating the shell-midden at La Chora (González Morales, 2000, pp. 150–151). Excavations began in La Garma Hill, in the Miera valley, directed by Arias Cabal and Ontañón Peredo. They found evidence of a Mesolithic shell-midden in La Garma A, Level Q, other remains in La Garma B, and dated human remains in El Truchiro within a long series of radiocarbon dates (Arias Cabal, González Sainz, Moure Romanillo, & Ontañón Peredo, 2000, pp. 271–277).

In the late 1990s, Ruiz Cobo and Smith documented a Mesolithic occupation of mountains in Cubío Redondo and Cueva Cofresnedo, both in the Asón valley (Ruiz Cobo & Smith, 2001, 2003).

In his dissertation, Muñoz Fernández (1997, unpublished) carried out a general study of Holocene shell-middens in Cantabria, from the Azilian to the Roman age. He attributed 40 sites in central-eastern Cantabria to the Mesolithic. The study of the lithic assemblage in part of the Mesolithic shell-midden in La Garma A, Level Q, was a major contribution.

In recent years, knowledge of the Mesolithic in this part of Cantabria has increased through the analysis of malacofauna in the shell-middens at La Pila, La Fragua, La Chora, La Trecha, and Arenillas (Gutiérrez-Zugasti, 2009); At La Garma A and Truchiro (Álvarez-Fernández, Aparicio, Armendariz, Ontañón, & Arias, 2013); the evolution of the landscape in the transition to the Holocene (García Moreno, 2010); and the strategies of human subsistence in the same period (Marín-Arroyo, 2013).

The ample archaeological record of shell-middens in central-eastern Cantabria is largely due to the systematic exploration of such groups as La Lastrilla (GELL) (Molinero Arroyabe, 2000) in Castro Urdiales and the Colectivo para la Ampliación de Estudios de Arqueología y Prehistoria documented in archaeological inventories (Muñoz Fernández, 1984; Muñoz Fernández et al., 2002).

Archaeological surveying in the valleys of Cantabria, directed by Ruiz Cobo and Muñoz, in which I have participated, has located more Holocene shell-middens attributed to the Mesolithic in the areas of the (Ruiz-Cobo et al., 2007, 2008, 2009) and Miera (2013).

The research carried out for my doctoral thesis “Mesolithic in Central-eastern Cantabria” included the following archaeological projects: The Epipalaeolithic and Mesolithic population in the Upper Miera (2005); Recovery of materials in the Chora and Piélago II Caves (2014a); Archaeological excavation of El Carabión Rock-shelter (2014b); 14 C dated in the Asón and Agüera valleys (2016b); 14 C dates in the Miera valley and excavation of Sopeña Cave (2016c); and Archaeological survey in the Pas valley, archaeological test pit and 14C dating in the Las Salinas cave (2012). This project was completed in 2015 with 14C dating of materials recovered in Las Salinas (published in 2019, 2021).

The information provided by Mesolithic shell-middens in the area of study (Pérez-Bartolomé, 2019, TII) and data from the excavations in six deposits, including palaeoenvironment, fauna, assemblages, and radiocarbon dates, are limited by the severe hydrological and anthropic erosion of the deposits. The results are compared with documentation from seven Azilian sites and related to climate change in the Holocene, especially the cold events in about 9.3 and 8.2 ka cal BP, identified in the pollen column and the abandonment of the occupation sites.

2 The Geographic Framework

The area of study ranges from the Suances Estuary in the west, the boundary with the Asturian Mesolithic culture, to the Ontón Estuary in the east, on the boundary with the modern Basque Country, and from the coast to the Cantabrian Mountains in the south. In this area, 256 sites with Holocene shell-middens have been documented and attributed culturally to the Mesolithic. The distance between the coastline and the mountain range varies from 30 to 50 km. This short distance is structured by rivers flowing from south to north, creating a series of steep valleys that characterise the region. The Mesolithic populations occupied the littoral platform and the middle and upper valleys (Figures 1 and 2).

Figure 1 
               Cantabrian region (N. Spain) Delimitation of the Mesolithic area in central-eastern Cantabria, with location of the archaeological sites cited in the text.
Figure 1

Cantabrian region (N. Spain) Delimitation of the Mesolithic area in central-eastern Cantabria, with location of the archaeological sites cited in the text.

Figure 2 
               Topographic map of Cantabria showing the location of Mesolithic settlements in central-eastern Cantabria, between the Suances estuary to the west and the Ontón estuary to the east, located on the coastline, coastal plain, and associated with inland and high valleys.
Figure 2

Topographic map of Cantabria showing the location of Mesolithic settlements in central-eastern Cantabria, between the Suances estuary to the west and the Ontón estuary to the east, located on the coastline, coastal plain, and associated with inland and high valleys.

3 Materials and Methods

3.1 The Archaeological Record

The evolution of the societies affected by palaeoenvironmental changes in the transition to the Holocene is studied through data on the palaeoenvironment, fauna, and industry in the Azilian and Mesolithic cultural periods. The minimum number of individuals (MNI) of ungulate species has been taken from studies of the fauna at La Fragua (Marín-Arroyo, 2004, 2005); Piélago II (López-Berges & Valle, 1985); Rascaño (Altuna, 1981); Pendo, Morín, El Perro, and Mirón (Marín-Arroyo, 2013); Cubío Redondo (Ruiz Cobo & Smith, 2001); Barcenilla (Muñoz Fernández et al., 2013); and Carabión (Pérez-Bartolomé et al., 2016). The malacofauna has been based on the MNI at La Pila, Chora, Perro, Fragua, and Trecha (Gutiérrez-Zugasti, 2009); Garma A and Truchiro (Álvarez-Fernández, 2011; Álvarez-Fernández, Chauvin, Cubas, Arias & Ontañón, 2011; Álvarez-Fernández, Aparicio Alonso, Cueto, Ontañón, & Armendáriz, 2012; Álvarez-Fernández et al., 2013), El Perro (Moreno Nuño, 1995); Barcenilla (Muñoz Fernández et al., 2013); Carabión (Pérez-Bartolomé et al., 2016), Las Salinas, and Sopeña (Pérez-Bartolomé, 2019); and Valle (García-Gelabert and Talavera Costa, 2004) (Figure 3).

Figure 3 
                  Carabión rock-shelter: stratigraphic profile north of the test pit, squares C5-(D5 Sectors 3.6) with indication of the levels and their radiocarbon dates.
Figure 3

Carabión rock-shelter: stratigraphic profile north of the test pit, squares C5-(D5 Sectors 3.6) with indication of the levels and their radiocarbon dates.

4 Palaeoenvironmental Evolution in the Early and Middle Holocene

The transition from the Late Ice Age to the Holocene was marked by a series of climate oscillations owing to the advances and withdrawals of the Arctic ice sheet and mountain glaciers, generated by deglaciation and the response of the thermohaline circulation (THC) (Broecker & Denton, 1989; Marshall et al., 2007; Wunsch, 2002). Cantabrian Spain was affected by the North Atlantic Oscillation and by the advection of oceanic hear in the North Atlantic due to variability in the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (Mary et al., 2017).

After the Younger Dryas in about 11.6 cal BP, as the ocean currents adopted their present functioning, the Holocene commenced. In the Greenlandian phase (11.7 to 8.2 ka BP), the most notable characteristic is the decreasing trend of the GAR-01 data from 3.84‰ at 11.7 ka BP to 4.99‰ at 8.2 ka BP. The greatest drop in this time was in a very short period in about 9.0 ka BP. This may reflect the effect of a pulse of cold water when the Baltic dyke collapsed, which weakened the THC and lowered temperatures by an average of 4°C in 100 years (Fleitmann et al., 2008; Marshall et al., 2007). The last abrupt change in the THC occurred between 8400 and 8000 cal BP, the 8.2 ka event, due to the entry of meltwater from the Laurentide ice sheet, which has been detected in Greenland and Europe (Barber et al., 1999; Clarke, Leverington, Teller, & Dyke, 2003; Wiersma & Renssen, 2006).

Magny, Bégeot, Guiot, and Peyron (2003) suppose that the cold pulse would coincide with dry conditions in the south and north of Europe, and a humid climate in middle European latitudes (north of Italy and the Iberian Peninsula, France, Central Europe, Netherlands, etc.) with the boundary between one situation and the other at about 38 or 40°N (in the centre of the Iberian Peninsula). For López Sáez, López-Merino, and Pérez Díaz (2008), it is more likely that the boundary would be at about 41–42°N, which would apply to the north of Iberia (north of Galicia, Cantabrian region (N Spain), Pyrenees), where the 8.2 ka BP event would give rise to humid conditions.

In Cantabria, in the area of study, both the 9.3 ka and the 8.2 ka events have been identified in research on anomalies in the growth of a stalagmite in Cueva de La Garma (Baldini et al., 2019), to determine the potential role of changes in the seasonality of rain and temperature in the ẟ18 O record. In the Greenlandian period, the expression of the 9.2 ka event in GAR-01 is similar in magnitude to the YD ẟ18O anomaly (Baldini et al., 2019) with ẟ18O values between 5.08 and 5.00‰, respectively. The anomaly observed in the stalagmite suggests that the summer precipitation was very scanty, and this is related to the displacement north of the Azores anti-cyclone, leading to extremely arid summers by sustained rain in winter (Baldini et al., 2019).

The 8.2 ka event is evident in the GAR-01 ẟ18O record at 8.16 ka BP as an anomaly of 0.7‰ (in relation to the mean of 4.37‰ in the Holocene), but it is relatively mild compared with the negative ẟ18O anomaly in GAR-01 at −9 ka BP. Winter temperatures reached a local minimum of 10°C (compared with 11.7°C in the early Holocene). This is the lowest modelled temperature for the Holocene, and winter precipitation was heavier than at present (Baldini et al., 2019).

Associated with these cold events, anthropic and chronological hiatuses have been observed at some sites in the area of study, while in other cases, erosion caused by run-off and water circulation has been seen at El Carabión (Pérez-Bartolomé, 2014b; Pérez-Bartolomé et al., 2016) and Cueva de Sopeña (Pérez-Bartolomé, 2016c and 2019), or the absence of archaeological evidence and dates (Carabión, ibidem), (Las Salinas, Pérez-Bartolomé, 2019 and 2021), among others listed in Section 8. This process has also been documented in the natural record in the Los Tornos peat bog (Soba, Cantabria) (Muñoz Sobrino, Ramil Rego, Gómez-Orellana, & Díaz Varela, 2005), where a sedimentary hiatus was identified, with the loss of about 3,000 years in the 3 cm-thick peat that separated the date at the base of 8596 cal BP from 5317 cal BP for Zone 6. This indicates irregularity in the deposit and/or above all its erosion.

4.1 Changes in the Territory: Variations in Sea Level and Its Impact on the Formation of New Landscapes

Climate change in the Holocene was the cause of variations in sea level and the position of the shore, which led to a reduction in the available territory along the coast and the formation of new landscapes, such as estuaries and sea marshes that modify the coastline formation of Cantabria: Pas Estuary, Santander Bay, Santoña Saltmarshes, Asón Estuary and Ontón Estuary, which offer new biotopes to be exploited. The relative rise in sea level on the Basque coast during the Holocene occurred in a first stage of a rapid rise (6.3 ± 0.8 mm/year from 9000 to 7000 cal BP). The formation of the estuaries on the northern Iberian coast has been dated to about 8500 cal BP (Cearreta & Murray, 1996, p. 297).

At the same time, the higher temperatures caused the mountain glaciers at the heads of the Miera and Asón valleys to melt. In the Asón valley, the glaciers had reached down to 300 m a.s.l. The last stage in the deglaciation in the area would have occurred between 14.5 and 10 ka BP in MIS2 (Frochoso, González Pellejero, Allende Álvarez, et al., 2013). These mountain areas were freed of ice, which would compensate for the loss of territory on the coast. The importance of both environments in the economic pattern of Mesolithic societies was considerable, as observed in the use of coastal resources and in the hunting of game in the upper valleys (Pérez-Bartolomé & Muñoz Fernández, 2015) (Table 1).

Table 1

Archaeological contex information of sites: stratigraphy, description of main archaeological items, and cultural record

Sites Layers Description Archaeological features cal BP 2 σ dates Cult. periodo
Carabión 0 Calcareous crust with eboulis (4–15 cm) Scattered shells and faunal remains
1a Deposit of reddish silts and clays (15 cm) Holocen shell-midden 6820–6580 Neolithic
1b Deposit of reddish silts and clays including abundant organic matter (20 cm) Holocen shell-midden archaeologically very rich 8690–8450 Mesolithic
2 Deposit mud flows. Includes a detachment slab. Very wet (20 cm) Sterile
3 Deposit of yellowish silts and clays, and stony structure (25 cm) Achaeologically very rich with fauna and industry 11990–12383 Azilian
4 Deposit of yellowish silts and clays (30 cm without reaching base) Sterile
Salinas 0 Formed by powdery grey silt with a large organic matter content. 3 cm thick Scattered shells and faunal remains. 7870–7630 Mesolithic
1 Calcareous crust with shells (10 cm) Scattered shells 7810–7610 Mesolithic
2 Brownish-grey silt with some small eboulis and very rich in organic matter. It contains a large amount of shells, bones, and charcoal. The thickness is variable, averaging about (40 cm) Shell-midden with abundant fauna and industry 10870–10510 Mesolithic
3 Yellowish clayey silt with some pebbles. Between 7 and 10 cm thick. It contains a smaller number of shells, only in the upper part. It is attributed to the late or final Magdalenian Shell-midden scarce only in the upper part of the shell pit 14457 Magdalenian
4 Silt and sand with boulders and the intrusion of roots. 10 cm thick, it does not contain any shells Shells not included
La Pila III.3 Sandy silt deposit (25 cm) Shell-midden with Littorina lithic, industry, bone, and charcoal 13423–13463 Azilian
I–II Clays and light brown soil Holocen shell-midden Mesolithic?
Barcenilla I/II/III Shell levels in earthy silt sediment (55 cm) Holocen shell-midden Neolithic
IV Dark brown silts (25 cm)
V Grey-brown silts with remains of crust (20 cm) Holocen shell-midden Mesolithic
VI Stalagmitic crust with shell (15 cm) Holocen shell-midden 7440–7200
VII Reddish-brown siltstones with some crusts forming (10 cm)
VIII Stalagmitic crust with shell (5 cm)
IX Yellowish to brownish siltstones (15 cm) Conchero holocénico and some industry 7460–7260 Mesolithic
X Stalagmitic crust (15 cm)
Garma A Q/2 Shell in grey earth sediment, separated from the upper and lower levels by stalagmitic crust Holocen shell-midden 9350–8950 Mesolithic
7985 ± 65
7710 ± 90
limestone concretion
Truchiro II Cemented brown level (15 cm) Shell-midden with human burial 9480–9120 Mesolithic
Sopeña A I It is formed by earth and very compact brownish-grey silt. It includes Cepaea nemoralis shells, bone fragments, and charcoal (10 cm) Shell-midden Cepaea n 9620–9220 Mesolithic
A II Yellowish-brown, highly cemented siltstones, separated from the previous one by a stalagmitic concretion (70 cm) Shell-midden Cepaea n Azilian
B III It is formed by a single very compact level, representing the third level in the deposit. It contains abundant bone remains, shells. and a substrate of fine brownish-grey silt including small and medium-sized limestone pebbles (42–46 cm) Contains abundant fauna and Cepaea n. shells 13810–13410 Azilian
Perro 1 Holocene shell-midden (30 cm) Abundant shell middens, scarce in other archaeological remains 10730–10170 Mesolithic
2a/2b Holocene shell-midden, very rich in organic matter (20–25 cm) Holocene shell-middens, fauna, and industry 12270–11270 Azilian
Fragua 1.0 Shell surface with earthy matrix 7735–7315 Mesolithic
1.1 Shell with abundant ash Holocene shell-middens and fauna 7833–7582
2 Yellowish compact sediment with eboulis 8446–8439
3 Snail pocket with abundant charcoal Fauna scarce 10930 Azilian
La Trecha Area 4 Conchero under fallen block Loose shell-middens 7930–7715 Mesolithic
Cubío Redondo 1 Shallow shell level with sands and gravels, sealed in some parts by stalagmitic crust Cepaea n. shell-midden 6720–6440 Neolithic?
2 Level of silts, sands, and clays with some blocks Cepaea n. shell-midden, fauna, and charcoal 7610–7410 Mesolithic
Mirón 10.1 Occupation hiatus Sporadic presence 9310 Mesolithic
10910 Azilian
Archaeologically scarce
Piélago II 1 (a,b,c) Very fine greyish ochre loose soil with very crushed snail debris (30 cm) Shell-midden of Cepaea n. abundant industry 10280 ± 230 Azilian III
2 Ochre loose soil, more black (50 cm) Dense shell-midden of Cepaea n. abundant fauna and industry 10710 ± 100 Azilian II
3 (a,b) Ochre and black earth, snail pockets Abundant fauna and industry Azilian I
4 Very loose black soil (3–40 cm) Scarce in fauna
Rascaño 1 Divided into 3 sublevels. Very washed stratum with stalagmitic crust and brownish-blackish lenses Abundant ungulate fauna. Limited Azilian lithic industry 10558 ± 244 Azilian
10486 ± 90
Pendo I Level 18–20 cm Shell-midden with Littorina l. 10800 ± 200 Azilian
Faunal remains. Abundant industry
Morín I Arenoso limoso (2–20 cm) Shell-midden with fauna Azilian
Costra estalagmítica con conchero Shell-midden 9000 ± 150 Mesolithic?
Valle G1 Sup Level above the Magdalenian level and sealed by a stalagmitic layer (50 cm) Shell-midden with Cepaea n. on the surface. Abundant fauna and industry 10120 ± 280 Azilian
G1 C2 11130 ± 170
III.3 11050 ± 150
III.1 11040 ± 150

Azilian and Mesolithic sites in central-eastern Cantabria analysed in this article, along with a description of stratigraphies, archaeological remains and radiocarbon dating. Calibration program: CalPal (Weninger et al., 2007) version.

4.2 Palaeovegetation

The rise in temperatures in the Holocene was accompanied by an increase in humidity on the Atlantic seaboard of Europe, which led to a rapid expansion of broadleaf forest in northern Spain (Iriarte-Chiapusso & Hernández Beloqui, 2009). Table 2 lists the pollen, anthracology, and carpology data available from sites in the study area.

Table 2

Palaeovegetation: pollen and anthracological component relationship of early and middle Holocene deposits

Sites Layers Cult. period cal BP Taxones References
Rascaño 1 Azilian 11992–12685 Quercus, Alnus, Corylus replace Pinus Boyer Klein, 1981
Salitre 1 Azilian Quercus, Alnus, Corylus replace Pinus López García, 1981
Pendo I Azilian 13200–12280 Corylus, with Quercus, Fraxinus, and Fagus Leroi-Gourhan, 1980
Post-Azilian Arboreal diversity, dominance of Corylus, presence of Quercus, Fraxinus, Fagus
Morín I Azilian Scarce arboreal layer, with presence of Corylus, Quercus, Alnus, and Betula Leroi-Gourhan, 1971
Fragua 1 Azil/Mesolithic 11330–10530 Pinus sylvestris abundant, Quercus deciduous, Quercus p, Betula, Fraxinus, Alnus Castanea. Arbustos scarces, abundant herbáceous Núñez de la Fuente, 2018
El Perro 2b Azilian 11526–12052 Corylus Quercus, Alnus, and Betula. Pinus desappears López García et al., 1996
1 Mesolithic 10730–10170 Abedul, Quercus, and Corylus.
Carabión III Azilian 11990–12383 Pinus, Corylus, and Quercus Pérez-Bartolomé, 2016a,b,c
Ib Mesolithic 8690–8450 Corylus, Quercus c, and Betula
El Perro 2b Mesolithic 9260 ± 110; 10450 Betula, Pinus, Alnus Uzquiano, 1992
Salinas II Mesolithic 7870–7630 Quercus c, Quercus ilex, Castanea, and Betula Uzquiano, 2018
7810–7610 Thickets: Crataegus, Prunus, Sorbus
Carabión III 11990–12383 Abundante Betula sp., Salix sp. y Alnus Uzquiano, 2014, 2016, 2018
Ib 8690–8450 Decreasing amounts of Betula
whereas deciduous Quercus experienced a gradual increase as well
as Corylus, Querqus robur y Quercus ilex.
Sopeña II Mesolithic 9620–9220 Quercus and Corylus Uzquiano, 2018
Barcenilla V–X Mesolithic Quercus and Alnus Muñoz Fernández et al., 2013
Carabión III Azilian 8690–8450 Corylus and Rosacea López-Dóriga, 2016
Ib Mesolithic 11990–12383 Corylus very rich and Rosacea
Cubío Redondo 2 Mesolithic 7610–7410 Corylus avellana and Quercus sp. (acorns) Ruiz-Cobo and Smith, 2001
Salinas II Mesolithic 7870–7630 Corylus avellana and Quercus sp. (acorns) Uzquiano, 2018

Pollen studies conducted to study the transition to the Holocene, attributed culturally to the Azilian, at sites on the coastal strip (Pendo, El Perro, Fragua, and El Carabión Rock-shelter) reflect a quite dense and varied arboreal component represented by Pinus sylvestris and broad-leaf taxa Corylus and deciduous Quercus, with an increase in Betula. The shrub layer is less well represented while herbaceous plants are very abundant.

At sites in montane areas (Rascaño and Salitre), both in the Upper Miera in a humid environment, hazel dominates over pine, with the presence of Quercus and Alnus.

In the early Mesolithic, at coastal sites (Fragua, El Perro, and Las Salinas), palynological studies show the expansion of broad-leaf woodland with birch, oak, and hazel, together with typical taxa of open environments, like heather and, to a lesser extent, grasses. In the later Mesolithic level at Carabión, the pollen reflects a decline in the arboreal layer, with the limited presence of Corylus, deciduous Quercus, and Betula, within a clear dominance of herbaceous vegetation.

Anthracological studies at the Mesolithic sites of El Perro, Las Salinas, and Carabión have identified the same variety of taxa as found in the pollen record, with abundant deciduous and evergreen oak and birch. At Barcenilla, where pollen was not preserved in the Mesolithic levels, the fuel comprised oak and beech. In the montane area, at Sopeña (Miera), the remains of charred wood indicate a decline in Pinus and increase in Quercus and Corylus, although the latter may be more closely connected with the gathering and consumption of hazel nuts. In general, at all the sites, the main firewood was oak and beech.

In Level II at El Carabión, climate variations are observed in the hiatus (12.18–8.57 ka cal BP). It displays the lowest biological diversity, with no representative of the arboreal layer, but the occasional presence of water had eroded the sediment.

The expansion of woodland in the early Holocene in Cantabrian Spain would have increased the availability of plant resources to be foraged and of forest animals, which would compensate for the disappearance of the large herbivores owing to the environmental changes (Figure 4).

Figure 4 
                  Detalled pollen histogram of the Carabión.
Figure 4

Detalled pollen histogram of the Carabión.

5 The Economic Pattern

5.1 Hunting

The faunal records documented in Azilian and Mesolithic levels at the studied sites have been analysed to observe possible differences in the subsistence strategies derived from palaeoenvironmental change. The available data referring to ungulate remains are presented in Table 3 and Figure 5.

Table 3

MNI values of ungulate species in central-eastern Cantabria (Spain) in the early and middle Holocene

Sites/levels BOS EQUUS CEEL CPCP SUSC CPH RPRP Total References
Azilian MNI % MNI % MNI % MNI % MNI % MNI % MNI %
Pendo I 1 5.8 1 5.8 11 64.7 1 5.8 1 5.8 1 5.8 1 5.8 17 Marín-Arroyo, 2013
Morín 1 2 18.2 1 9 5 45.5 1 9 1 9 1 9 11 Altuna, 1981
Rascaño 1 1 2.5 9 22.5 1 2.5 26 65 3 7.5 40 Altuna, 1981
Mirón 11 4 36.4 3 27.3 1 9 2 18.2 1 9 11 Marín-Arroyo, 2013
Mirón 11.1 2 25 1 12.5 4 50 1 12.5 8 Marín-Arroyo, 2013
Mirón 11.2 2 40 1 20 1 20 1 20 5 Marín-Arroyo, 2013
Mirón 305 1 14.2 2 28.5 1 14.2 1 14.2 2 28.5 7 Marín-Arroyo, 2013
Mirón 306 1 6.25 1 6.25 5 31.25 3 18.8 1 6.25 3 18.8 2 12.5 16 Marín-Arroyo, 2013
Mirón 102 5 25.8 3 7.2 1 7.2 3 21.5 2 15.4 14 Marín-Arroyo, 2013
Mirón 102.1 2 25 2 25 1 12.5 2 25 1 12.5 8 Marín-Arroyo, 2013
Mirón 102.2 3 50 1 16.7 1 16.7 1 16.7 6 Marín-Arroyo, 2013
El Perro 2 A/2B 5 24 3 14.3 6 28.6 1 4.8 1 4.8 5 24 21 Marín-Arroyo, 2013
La Fragua 3 1 16.7 2 33.7 2 33.7 1 16.7 6 Marín-Arroyo, 2013
Carabión III 1 11 5 55 1 11 2 22 9 Pérez-Bartolomé et al., 2016
Total 12 6.7 7 4 63 35 20 11 9 5 53 30 15 8.4 179
Barcenilla 5–10 1 2 1 4 Muñoz Fernández et al., 2013
Fragua I 2 14.2 2 14.2 3 21.5 4 28.4 3 21.5 14 Marín-Arroyo, 2004
El Perro I 1 1 Marín-Arroyo, 2013
Carabión NIb 1 4.8 13 62 3 14.3 2 9.5 1 4.8 1 4.8 21 Pérez-Bartolomé et al., 2016
Mirón 101 2 40 2 40 1 20 5 Marín-Arroyo, 2013
Cubío Redondo 4 33.3 2 16.6 3 25 1 8.3 2 16.6 12 Ruiz Cobo & Smith, 2001
TOTAL 3 23 10 12 6 3 57

BOS: Bos primigenius/Bison sp.; EQUUS: Equus sp.; CEL: Cervus elaphus; CPCP: Capreolus capreolus; SUSC: Sus scrofa; CPH: Capra hispánica; RURU: Rupicapra rupicapra.

Figure 5 
                  Graph of MNI values of ungulate species in central-eastern Cantabria (Spain) in Azilian and Mesolithic sites: Bos: Bos primigenius/Bison sp.; Equus: Equus sp.; Cervus el.: Cervus elaphus; Capr. Cap.: Capreolus capreolus; Sus. esc: Sus scrofa; Capra hisp.: Capra hispanica; Rupic. Rupc.: Rupicapra rupicapra.
Figure 5

Graph of MNI values of ungulate species in central-eastern Cantabria (Spain) in Azilian and Mesolithic sites: Bos: Bos primigenius/Bison sp.; Equus: Equus sp.; Cervus el.: Cervus elaphus; Capr. Cap.: Capreolus capreolus; Sus. esc: Sus scrofa; Capra hisp.: Capra hispanica; Rupic. Rupc.: Rupicapra rupicapra.

The data are only provisional as there is no information about the volume of sediment excavated at each site. In some cases, the different criteria for the quantification of osseous remain,[1] as also the lack of a study of the fauna in some sites.

The Azilian economy continued the trend in the late-final Magdalenian, based on the hunting of ungulates. Remains of red deer and ibex predominate, depending on the location of the sites and the transformation of the terrain owing to the expansion of woodland. Ibex is the most abundant species in montane areas: Rascaño and Piélago II (65%), followed by chamois in Miron (28.5%) and Piélago II (24%). Red deer is more abundant at sites in valleys: Pendo 64.7%, Carabión 55%, Morín 45%, and Mirón 40%. Roe deer, wild boar, and red deer attest the amelioration in the climate and reforestation. Important species in previous periods, like bovines and horses, gradually disappear.

In Mesolithic levels, hunting concentrated on three species: red deer, roe deer and wild boar. Red deer is the most abundant at all the sites, except at La Fragua. At El Carabión it reached 62%, (where it supplied 92% of the meat), 40% at El Mirón and 33% at Cubío Redondo. At La Fragua, wild boar (28.4%) and roe deer (21.5%) increase, as species that are well adapted to broad-leaf forests. Chamois appears in Cubío Redondo (16.6%), a site in a mountain environment, but an individual was detected at El Carabión (4.8%), which may indicate mobility towards the mountain. Pressure on ungulate has been observed because of the frequent presence of females and juveniles (38.4% in El Carabion), which indicates that specialisation in species that live in herds, especially females and young, which is not sustainable. It is also possible that hunting strategies changed and may have involved the use of traps.

5.2 Malacofauna

The use of marine resources intensified in the Mesolithic, resulting in the creation of accumulations of waste, known as “shell-middens.” This is the resource that has provided most data in recent years. Table 4 presents the available data (Figure 6).

Table 4

MNI of mollusc in Azilian and Mesolithic sites in central-eastern Cantabria

Site Level Marine bivalves Marine gastropodos Crustacns/Echinod Rerrestril gastropod Total
Azilian MNI % MNI % MNI % MNI %
La Pila III 3 0.07 3,972 99.7 1 0.02 1 0.2 3,976
Fragua III 36 0.32 292 2.6 7 0.06 10479 97 11,057
Perro 2 675 4.4 6,635 42.7 309 2 15,541
Piélago II I–IV 2 10 17 89 Abund 19
Sopeña III 6 3.3 175 96.7 181
La Pila I–II 218 2.4 8,608 95 4 0.04 219 2.4 9,049
Las Salinas II 552 4.9 10,647 94.8 31 0.27 175 1.51 11.407
Barcenilla V–X 944 34 1,765 62.2 12 42 2,805
Garma A Q/2 10 0.4 2,568 99.6 2,578
Truchiro III 19 1.4 1,112 80 277 20 1,389
Chora Shell m 137 65 22 10.4 18 8.7 33 15.6 211
Perro I 8,128 52.5 7,101 46 238 1.6 15,471
Fragua I 1,187 9.7 10,713 87 142 1.16 239 2 12,290
Carabión I 728 56.7 97 75 1 0.07 458 35.7 1,284
Trecha IV 299 17.5 1,206 70.7 14 0.82 186 11 1,705
Cubío Red. Shell m 5 1 482 99 487
Sopeña II 3 5 64 95.5 67
Figure 6 
                  Mollusc taxa frequencies (MNI%) in Azilian and Mesolithic sites analysed in central-eastern Cantabria (Spain): Pila, Fragua, Chora, Trecha (Gutiérrez-Zugasti, 2009), La Garma (Álvarez-Fernández, 2013), Truchiro (Álvarez-Fernández et al., 2013), El Perro (Moreno Nuño, 1995), Las Salinas (Pérez-Bartolomé, 2019), Carabión (Pérez-Bartolomé et al., 2016), and Sopeña (Pérez-Bartolomé, 2016c, 2019).
Figure 6

Mollusc taxa frequencies (MNI%) in Azilian and Mesolithic sites analysed in central-eastern Cantabria (Spain): Pila, Fragua, Chora, Trecha (Gutiérrez-Zugasti, 2009), La Garma (Álvarez-Fernández, 2013), Truchiro (Álvarez-Fernández et al., 2013), El Perro (Moreno Nuño, 1995), Las Salinas (Pérez-Bartolomé, 2019), Carabión (Pérez-Bartolomé et al., 2016), and Sopeña (Pérez-Bartolomé, 2016c, 2019).

The comparison of the composition of the malacofauna in the Azilian and Mesolithic levels reveals a greater accumulation and diversity of taxa in the Mesolithic levels. In Azilian levels near the coast, marine gastropods predominate. La Pila (99.7%) and El Perro (42.7%) are represented by Patella vulgata and Littorina littorea, which are cold-water species. Marine bivalves, like Mytilus, are scarcer. The case of La Fragua is exceptional, as the remains consist mainly of the continental snail Cepaea nemoralis (93.94%).

The absence of molluscs in the Azilian level at El Carabión may be related to the distance from the sea during that period, when the sea level was 60 m lower than at present. The few marine molluscs at Piélago II may have played a utilitarian role; in contrast, the deposit includes a thick shell-midden formed by the terrestrial snail Cepaea nemoralis (Vega de la Torre, 1985). Marine molluscs have not been identified at Rascaño, but Cepaea nemoralis shells are cemented to the cave wall. At Sopeña, a montane site 28 km from the coast, the malacofauna consists almost exclusively of Cepaea nemoralis (96.7%), with a small presence of Mytilus sp. (3.3%).

In the Mesolithic, the use of marine gastropods continued to be intense, with frequencies that vary between 45, 60, and 90%, depending on the distance of the sites from the shore. Greatest diversity is seen near estuaries and salt marshes, with frequencies of marine bivalves higher than 50% at La Chora, Carabión, and El Perro. The foraging of echinoderms (Paracentrotus lividus) and crustaceans (Pollicipes pollicipes, Brachyura sp.) has been detected in smaller proportions.

At sites over 20 km from the shore and which are not different from the Azilian, the consumption of molluscs focused on the land snail Cepaea nemoralis with the scarce presence of Mytilus and, in some cases, Ostrea.

The species change in accordance with their climate adaptations. In the Patella genus, in Mesolithic shell-middens Patella depressa and Patella ulyssiponensis are most frequent. L. littorea is substituted by Phorcus lineatus. The contents of the shell-middens show that very small individuals were gathered. Recent studies confirm that a drop of 2°C in sea temperature in the 8.2 ka event did not influence the size of the molluscs because of their tolerance to temperature changes, and therefore this cannot have been responsible for the reduction in their size (García-Escarza et al., 2022) and this was more likely to have been caused by anthropic pressure on this resource (Álvarez-Fernández, 2007, pp. 43–58; Gutiérrez-Zugasti, 2009; García-Escarza et al., 2015, 2022).

5.3 Fishing

Few ichthyological remains are found among the fauna retrieved from the archaeological deposits, probably because of the poor state of conservation of the deposits. In the Azilian, finds of the typical flat harpoon show that fish were an important resource. Remains of fluvial species like salmon and trout have been found (Fernández-Tresguerres Velasco, 2006, p. 173).

Wet sieving with 4 and 2 mm meshes enabled the recovery of fish vertebrae at El Carabión (Roselló y Morales in Pérez-Bartolomé et al., 2016) and Las Salinas (Roselló and Morales in Pérez-Bartolomé, 2019).

A large diversity of fish species was identified in the Mesolithic level at Las Salinas: 6 taxa in a sample of 27 number of records. The presence of Dentex and Lithognathus mormyrus (Herrera) show that fishing took place in an estuary with warm water, corresponding to the chronology of the level. At El Carabión, the most important taxa are the mugilids (66%), which are the only fish detected in the Azilian level. Greater diversity is observed in the Mesolithic, with Anguilla, Liza, and Chelon labrosus, amphidromous estuary species. The ichthyofauna at these sites are indicative of fishing near the sites. The proportional abundance of mugilids at El Carabión can be explained by the regime of tides in the Asón estuary, where they may have been higher in the Mesolithic period. The absence of fishing utensils like harpoons and hooks, in these sites, may be a consequence of changes in technique as nets or traps may have been used.

5.4 Plant Gathering

The carpological study at El Carabión (López Dóriga, 2016) has documented in the Azilian level a fragment of charred hazel pericarp and a small fruit, possibly of Rosacea. More Rosacea and hazelnut shells were identified in the Mesolithic level, where the latter was most abundant.

The presence of hazel fragments is common at the sites. They have also been documented in Sopeña Cave and Las Salinas (Uzquiano in Pérez-Bartolomé, 2016c, 2019). It is the most common plant species in proximate Mesolithic shell-middens, like La Peña del Perro (López García, López Sáez, & Uzquiano, 1996), La Fragua (Núñez de la Fuente, 2018), and El Cubío Redondo (Ruiz Cobo & Smith, 2001). Acorns have also occasionally been identified (at Las Salinas and Cubío Redondo). At El Carabión, it was noted that plants with an economic interest, but not cultivated, became more abundant in the late Mesolithic and Neolithic.

6 Industry

6.1 Tool Typology in the Azilian and Mesolithic

With the available data from the Azilian levels in Piélago II (N1 and N3) (Caloca, 1985; García Guinea, 1985), Morín (N1), El Pendo (N1) (Fernández-Tresguerres Velasco, 1980), El Perro N2 (González Morales & Díaz Casado, 1992), and Carabión (N3) (Ibidem), and the Mesolithic levels in La Garma A (Nivel Q/2) (Muñoz, 1997, Unpublished), Barcenilla (N5-10) (Muñoz Fernández et al., 2013), Las Salinas (N.2) (Ibidem), and Carabión (N1b) (Ibidem), a higher frequency of retouched implements and greater typological diversity are observed in the former levels (Tables 5 and 6).

Table 5

Frequencies of lithic typology in the Azilian of central-eastern Cantabria

N3 % N1 % N1 % N1 % N1 % III-3 % N 2a % N2b % N3 %
Endscrapers 73 20.85 59 18.43 4 30.7 30 25.21 49 13.64 18.73 60 28.16 37 39.36 8 11.42
Burins 44 12.57 51 16 3 23.07 22 18.45 26 7.24 3.71 14 6.57 3 3.19 7 10
Truncation 5 1.56 2 1.68 3 0.83 4.78 5 7.14
Truncated blade 8 2.28 3 0.93 2 1.68 3 0.83 2 1.41
Truncated bladelet 9 2.81 1 0.84 2 0.55 3.32 1 0.47 1 1.42
Backed bladelet 72 20.28 75 23.43 2 15.38 30 25.21 91 25.34 38.61 82 38.54 34 36.17 17 24.28
Dufour bladelet 4 3.3 4 1.88
Denticulated/Notched 1 0.28 2 0.62 1 7.69 12 10.8 47 13.09 3 11 5.64 5 5.31 3 4.28
Splintered 6.38 4 1.88 3 3.19 7 10
Backed edge 1 0.31 1 7.69 1 0.84 4 1.88 3 4.28
Marginal retouch 2 0.62 2 1.68
Abrupt retouch 55 15.71 45 14.06 14 20
Continuous retouch 1 7.69 46 12.81 3.68 6 2.82
Perforator 4 1.14 6 1.87 3 2.52 8 2.22 1 0.47 2 2.13
Azilian points 52 14.85 11 3.57 6 5.04 7.55 6 2.82 7 7.44 1 1.42
Gravettian point 12 3.75 1 1.42
Microgravettes 29 8.28 6 1.87 1 0.84 18 5.01 12 5.64 2 2.13 2 2.85
Micro-backed points 2 0.57
Backed points 3 0.85 2 0.62 2 0.55
Triángle 2 0.57 18 5.62 5 1.39 1 0.47
Circle segment 5 1.42 12 3.75 1 0.27
Trapezoid 1 0.31
Rectangle 1 0.47 1 1.06
Raclette 1 0.28 2 0.55
Sidescraper 1 0.84 4 1.1 3 1.41 1 1.06
Varia 1 7.69 1 0.84 17 4.73 1 0.47 1 1.06 1 1.42
Total 350 320 13 119 359 213 94 70
Table 6

Frequencies of lithic typology in the Mesolithic of central-eastern Cantabria

Typology Salinas Garma A Barcenilla Carabión
N2 % NQ/2 % NV/X % NIb %
Endscrapers 1 9 18 24 1 11 3 18.8
Burins 2 2.7 2 12.5
Truncatium 1 9 1 1.3
Truncated blade
Truncated bladelet
Backed bladelet 3 27 12 16 3 30
Dufour bladelets
Denticulated/Notched 1 9 15 20 1 6.25
Splintered 1 9 5 6.7 2 12.5
Backed edge 2 2.7
Marginal retouch 2 18 3 4 4 25
Abrupt retouch 1 6.25
Continuous retouch 1 11
Strangled blade 1 1.3
Perforator 1
Azilian point 1 1.3
Gravettian point 2 2.7
Microgravettes 1 9 1 1.7 1 6.25
Microburin 2 22
Triangle 1 9 1 11
Circle segment
Trapezoid 1 1.3 1 11
Sidescraper 9 12 1 6.25
Varia 2 2.7
Total 11 75 9 16

Backed bladelets are very common in Azilian assemblages and reach a proportion of 38.6% in La Pila III.3. Endscrapers, with certain diversity, predominate over burins. Geometric microliths reach 9.7% in Level I at Piélago II. Points are also quite diverse, including short and thick Azilian points at Piélago II (15%) while microgravettes predominate at Morín (28%).

The decrease in the number of lithic remains, both waste and tools, is significant in Mesolithic levels. The proportion of endscrapers remains high at La Garma A (24%), Carabión (18.8%), and Salinas (9%). Denticulates and notches are common at Garma A (20%), Salinas (6%), and Carabión (6.25%). They may have been used for woodworking. La Garma A has yielded the largest lithic assemblage among the sites being studied here, including geometric microliths (1.3%). At the other sites, with small assemblages, the proportion of microliths is higher: Las Salinas (9%) and Barcenilla Levels V–X (22%). Abrupt retouching predominates in the Azilian while laminar products are quite high in Mesolithic levels (unretouched blades and bladelets): Salinas Level 2 (28.57%), Carabión Level Ib (T10 24%, T5 16.2%), and Barcenilla Level 8 (36.36%). In general terms, little diversity is seen in the lithic typology in the Mesolithic.

6.2 Raw Materials

The most common raw material in Azilian assemblages is flint. High-quality flint predominates, including different exogenous varieties. Quartzite and quartz are very scarce and are found in pebbles used as percussors or smoothers. In Carabión Level 3, the flint varieties include Upper Cretaceous Flysch types and local Aptian flint. The flint types are similar to those studied from Piélago II, deposited in the museum of prehistory and archaeology of Cantabria: Flysch flint from the Basque coast, the Aptian type from the Miera valley, and Lower Cretaceous Urgonian flint from the marine platform at El Bocal and Rostrío (Pérez-Bartolomé, 2005 (unpublished), 2014a).

In the Mesolithic, flint from local sources predominates over 90%. Many of the pieces from Aptian outcrops are black or beige. Other types are coastal opaline and chalcedonitic flint (Lower Cretaceous Urgonian). Quartzite and sandstone were used for heavy duty tools, like hammerstones and anvils.

6.3 Osseous Industry

In the Azilian, the characteristic osseous implements are the flat harpoons, together with straight fish hooks, awls, and spear points. In the Mesolithic, osseous industry practically disappears in this part of northern Iberia; some splinters and pointed bones have been found but no fish hook has been identified.

7 Settlement Pattern

The Azilian population in the area of study, represented by 11 sites, follows the pattern of the late-final Magdalenian and extends from the coast (La Pila, Salinas, Fragua, El Perro) towards the interior valleys (Valle) and mountains (Piélago, Rascaño, Salitre, Sopeña). All the deposits are located in caves. The Mesolithic population, documented at 256 sites, was generally located along the coastline, with clusters around the rias and estuaries, related to the use of littoral resources. However, the upper valleys were also occupied, following the river courses that divide up the territory and in places on a limestone substrate. Secondary valleys were equally used to exploit the new biotopes that were created with the climate improvement (Pérez-Bartolomé & Muñoz Fernández, 2015).

With the current coastline as the point of reference, the Mesolithic population in central-eastern Cantabria inhabited mainly the areas less than 1 km away (30.46%) or between 1 and 5 km (27%) and between 5 and 10 km (9%). In the interior valleys, between 10 and 20 km from the coast, the inhabitation reaches 11.71%, and in the upper valleys 20–36 km away, it is 21%. Consequently over 50% of the sites are less than 5 km from the modern coast (Pérez-Bartolomé, 2019, 2021).

At some sites, a continuity of population is seen from the late Magdalenian to the Azilian and Mesolithic (El Perro, La Fragua, La Garma A, El Mirón, Las Salinas, Sopeña, and El Carabión), and even to the Neolithic at the last four cases. However, the large caves in the interior valleys, like El Valle, the caves of Monte Castillo, Piélago and Rascaño, were abandoned.

7.1 Demography and Resilience of the Population

The population is studied taking as a reference the number of sites and the radiocarbon dates in the area of study and in Cantabrian region of Spain, in order to infer possible changes in the demography, owing to the cold pulses and the overall variations in the population (Table 7, Figure 7).

Table 7

Radiocarbon dates of archaeological levels from Mesolithic sites in the Cantabrian region (N Spain)

Lab. Number 14C-Age STD CalAge p(95%) CalAge p(95%)
[cal BC/AD] [cal BP(0=AD1950)]
UGAM-9081 8490 ± 40 7610 7490 cal BC 9560–9440 cal BP
Beta-197042 8470 ± 50 7620 7460 cal BC 9570 9410 cal BP
GrN-28387 8470 ± 100 7680 7280 cal BC 9630 9230 cal BP
GrA-25776 8470 ± 50 7620 7460 cal BC 9570 9410 cal BP
Poz-45937 8460 ± 100 7670 7270 cal BC 9620 9220 cal BP
UGAMS-5405 8400 ± 30 7590 7350 cal BC 9540 9300 cal BP
UBAR-781 8360 ± 70 7590 7230 cal BC 9540 9180 cal BP
GrA-23733 8300 ± 50 7540 7140 cal BC 9490 9090 cal BP
OxA-6887 8300 ± 50 7540 7140 cal BC 9490 9090 cal BP
OxA-23190 8296 ± 31 7530 7170 cal BC 9480 9120 cal BP
UBAR-655 8295 ± 65 7570 7090 cal BC 9520 9040 cal BP
OxA-6888 8280 ± 55 7540 7100 cal BC 9490 9050 cal BP
OxA-29080 8249 ± 37 7430 7110 cal BC 9380 9060 cal BP
OxA-24799 8240 ± 40 7420 7100 cal BC 9370 9050 cal BP
OxA-27904 8222 ± 36 7390 7070 cal BC 9340 9020 cal BP
OxA-7149 8195 ± 60 7410 7010 cal BC 9360 8960 cal BP
GrN-27984 8190 ± 100 7500 6940 cal BC 9450 8890 cal BP
UBAR-657 8175 ± 65 7400 7000 cal BC 9350 8950 cal BP
UBAR-656 8165 ± 65 7390 6990 cal BC 9340 8940 cal BP
OxA-28686 8138 ± 37 7230 7030 cal BC 9180 8980 cal BP
OxA-27155 8133 ± 39 7220 7020 cal BC 9170 8970 cal BP
OxA-35221 8088 ± 39 7200 6960 cal BC 9150 8910 cal BP
OxA-7160 8025 ± 80 7180 6660 cal BC 9130 8610 cal BP
OxA-28411 8022 ± 39 7110 6750 cal BC 9060 8700 cal BP
OxA-31055 8004 ± 39 7100 6740 cal BC 9050 8690 cal BP
OxA-31054 8000 ± 40 7090 6730 cal BC 9040 8680 cal BP
OxA-27969 7990 ± 38 7110 6710 cal BC 9060 8660 cal BP
UBAR-658 7985 ± 65 7120 6640 cal BC 9070 8590 cal BP
OxA-29116 7979 ± 38 7100 6700 cal BC 9050 8650 cal BP
OxA-29115 7979 ± 38 7100 6700 cal BC 9050 8650 cal BP
OxA-28396 7935 ± 35 7100 6620 cal BC 9050 8570 cal BP
UBAR-780 7890 ± 80 7110 6510 cal BC 9060 8460 cal BP
OxA-18237 7840 ± 40 6800 6560 cal BC 8750 8510 cal BP
Poz-32691 7800 ± 50 6740 6500 cal BC 8690 8450 cal BP
OxA-28620 7787 ± 39 6700 6500 cal BC 8650 8450 cal BP
GrA-257774 7770 ± 50 6700 6460 cal BC 8650 8410 cal BP
OxA-29081 7761 ± 37 6700 6460 cal BC 8650 8410 cal BP
OxA-26953 7755 ± 38 6690 6450 cal BC 8640 8400 cal BP
OxA-30850 7724 ± 38 6650 6450 cal BC 8600 8400 cal BP
OxA-28394 7717 ± 37 6640 6440 cal BC 8590 8390 cal BP
OxA-29082 7714 ± 34 6640 6440 cal BC 8590 8390 cal BP
OxA-7495 7710 ± 90 6710 6390 cal BC 8660 8340 cal BP
UBAR-795 7705 ± 50 6660 6420 cal BC 8610 8370 cal BP
UGAM-9081 7700 ± 30 6630 6430 cal BC 8580 8380 cal BP
OxA-7284 7685 ± 65 6650 6410 cal BC 8600 8360 cal BP
UBAR-776 7680 ± 50 6640 6400 cal BC 8590 8350 cal BP
GaK-2908 7680 ± 50 6640 6400 cal BC 8590 8350 cal BP
Beta-569422 7670 ± 30 6610 6410 cal BC 8560 8360 cal BP
UGAMS-5408 7640 ± 30 6560 6400 cal BC 8510 8350 cal BP
OxA-30976 7625 ± 45 6580 6380 cal BC 8530 8330 cal BP
OxA-28408 7618 ± 37 6520 6400 cal BC 8470 8350 cal BP
OxA-30977 7595 ± 40 6500 6380 cal BC 8450 8330 cal BP
UBAR-774 7580 ± 60 6530 6330 cal BC 8480 8280 cal BP
Beta-240899 7580 ± 50 6510 6350 cal BC 8460 8300 cal BP
OxA-28404 7565 ± 34 6490 6370 cal BC 8440 8320 cal BP
UBAR-773 7540 ± 100 6570 6170 cal BC 8520 8120 cal BP
GrN-20965 7530 ± 70 6520 6200 cal BC 8470 8150 cal BP
GrN-24782 7510 ± 100 6530 6170 cal BC 8480 8120 cal BP
URU-0038 7500 ± 70 6500 6180 cal BC 8450 8130 cal BP
ICA-17S/0435 7500 ± 40 6480 6200 cal BC 8430 8150 cal BP
OxA-33173 7480 ± 40 6450 6210 cal BC 8400 8160 cal BP
OxA-34394 7460 ± 40 6440 6200 cal BC 8390 8150 cal BP
OxA-28405 7412 ± 36 6420 6180 cal BC 8370 8130 cal BP
Poz-18258 7390 ± 40 6430 6110 cal BC 8380 8060 cal BP
OxA-30535 7380 ± 55 6440 6040 cal BC 8390 7990 cal BP
OxA-27154 7374 ± 63 6450 6010 cal BC 8400 7960 cal BP
OxA-X-23999- 7365 ± 36 6420 6020 cal BC 8370 7970 cal BP
OxA-34395 7362 ± 38 6420 6020 cal BC 8370 7970 cal BP
OxA-28390 7357 ± 34 6360 6040 cal BC 8310 7990 cal BP
OxA-29083 7342 ± 32 6290 6050 cal BC 8240 8000 cal BP
ICA-17S/0436 7320 ± 40 6280 6040 cal BC 8230 7990 cal BP
KIA-33193 7315 ± 35 6260 6060 cal BC 8210 8010 cal BP
OxA-30806 7310 ± 40 6280 6040 cal BC 8230 7990 cal BP
OxA-28401 7294 ± 37 6250 6050 cal BC 8200 8000 cal BP
OxA-28389 7230 ± 36 6250 5970 cal BC 8200 7920 cal BP
AA-45575 7225 ± 44 6240 5960 cal BC 8190 7910 cal BP
OxA-28403 7212 ± 35 6170 5970 cal BC 8120 7920 cal BP
OxA-28882 7205 ± 37 6140 5980 cal BC 8090 7930 cal BP
OxA-28391 7204 ± 35 6110 5990 cal BC 8060 7940 cal BP
Poz-97869 7180 ± 50 6120 5960 cal BC 8070 7910 cal BP
OxA-38663 7164 ± 23 6090 5970 cal BC 8040 7920 cal BP
OxA-X-2488-4 7143 ± 36 6070 5950 cal BC 8020 7900 cal BP
OxA-28973 7138 ± 35 6090 5930 cal BC 8040 7880 cal BP

Circa 9.5–8 ky calibrated 2σ (cal BP/cal BC 95%), using CalPal (Weninger et al., 2007) version 2021.7. Calibration curve: INTCAL2020.

Figure 7 
                  Radiocarbon chronology of Mesolithic settlement circa 9.5–8 ky BP in the Cantabrian region (N Spain) modelled using CalPal (Weninger et al., 2007) version 2021.7 and the IntCal 2020 calibration curve, related to the GISP2 O18-O16 paleoclimate curve.
Figure 7

Radiocarbon chronology of Mesolithic settlement circa 9.5–8 ky BP in the Cantabrian region (N Spain) modelled using CalPal (Weninger et al., 2007) version 2021.7 and the IntCal 2020 calibration curve, related to the GISP2 O18-O16 paleoclimate curve.

A larger number of sites does not prove that the population increased, but that the sites were used intermittently, on a rotary or seasonal basis, following the subsistence strategy of the intensive use of different biotopes. Similarly, the radiocarbon dates might be concentrated in a particular group of sites because of the intensity of research in those sites or areas, as occurs in Cantabrian Spain (Pérez-Bartolomé, 2019).

The chronological analysis was made with a total of 152 radiocarbon dates for 100 sites, which are dated from 11720 BP at El Mirón to 5880 BP at Carabión (13890–6820 cal BP). They were obtained from the literature and my own research (21 dates)[2]. They have been calibrated with the CalPal programme (Weninger, Jöris, & Danzeglocke, 2007), version 2021.7 and the Intcal 2020 curve. Only results with a standard deviation less than 100 have been considered; so not all the available dates have been included.

The Azilian population in the area of study first increased in 13.6–11.6 ka cal BP, in relation to the climate amelioration of the Bolling–Allerod interstadial, and was followed by a stabilisation phase with small fluctuations. In about 11.6 ka cal BP, an abrupt fall in the population is recorded in central-eastern Cantabria and the Cantabrian region (N Spain) with only two dates from El Perro (12270–11270 cal BP) and Valle (12780–10860 cal BP). This may be due to the absence of research or dates, but the same fall is observed in the Cantabrian region and is attributed to the effect of the Younger Dryas between 10.5 and 9.8 ka cal BP, the first part of the early Holocene to the start of the Mesolithic. Sustained growth is then seen from 9.8 to 9.5 ka cal BP, with three dates for three sites in central-eastern Cantabria and five dates from four sites in Cantabrian region (N Spain).

The Mesolithic population clearly increases between 9.5 and 9.3 ka cal BP, with 10 sites and 14 dates in Cantabria region (N Spain). After that time, it declines with a very marked fall in 8.7 ka cal BP, with three sites and three dates in Cantabrian region (N Spain). This may be a consequence of the lower temperatures in the 9.3 ka event. After that time, the number of sites and dates increases. From 8.5 to 8.1 ka cal BP, the numbers fall significantly in central-eastern Cantabria and the Cantabrian region (N Spain), especially between 8.3 and 8.1 ka cal BP. The decrease is framed by the 8.2 ka event. After that time, the population rises once more (Figure 8).

Figure 8 
                  Development of Mesolithic population in the study area, central-eastern Cantabria, compared to Mesolithic settlement in the Cantabrian Region (N Spain) between 9.5 and 7.9 ka cal BP.
Figure 8

Development of Mesolithic population in the study area, central-eastern Cantabria, compared to Mesolithic settlement in the Cantabrian Region (N Spain) between 9.5 and 7.9 ka cal BP.

7.2 Hiatuses in the Population Observed at Sites Connected with the 9.3 and 8.2 ka Events

Eleven sites with occupation chronologies in the early and middle Holocene have been analysed in this study. In five of them, hiatuses are observed, with an absence of archaeological evidence of occupation and an absence of dating (El Mirón, Truchiro and La Fragua), and/or erosive processes that have eroded the sites and deposited, in some cases, allochthonous sediments (El Carabión N2), or formed layers of calcareous concretion (La Garma A: 7170 and 6448 Median cal BC) which, due to their chronology, can be related to the cold events produced c. 9.3 and 8.2. Taking references from the archaeological dating available in sites with dating series, hiatuses can be noted in the following sites:

  1. Salinas: (10870–10510) – (7870–7630) cal BP

  2. Garma A: (9340–8940) – (8660–8360) – (7880–7640) cal BP

  3. Truchiro. (9340–8940) – (7970–7730) – (7490–7250) cal BP

  4. La Fragua: (10290–9850) – (8446–8439) – (7930–7715) cal BP

  5. Carabión: (12570–11770) – (8690–8450) – (6820–6580) cal BP

  6. Mirón 11180–10620) – (9790–9510) – (6825–6399) cal BP

In the first place, there is an absence of dates around the time of the 9.3 ka event. The first gap at La Garma (9.3–8.6 ka cal BP) may be the consequence of that event, which has been detected in a stalagmite in the cave. The hiato (8.6–7.8 ka cal BP) may reflect the 8.2 ka climate oscillation, which seems to have had a wider irregular frame. The gap at Truchiro, at the base of La Garma Hill (9.4–7.9/7.4 ka cal BP), is around the 9.3 and 8.2 events. At La Fragua, these occupational hiatuses are related to the two events around 9.3 (10.2–8.4 ka cal BP) and around 8.2 (8.4–7.8 ka cal BP). The gap at El Mirón is wider (9.7–6.6 ka cal BP), and the occupations are discontinuous in the Mesolithic and of less significance. The researchers of the site explain this by an alternate use to the occupations of the coastal sites of La Fragua and El Perro (González Morales et al., 2004). At El Carabión, the hiatus between 12.7 and 8.6 ka cal BP might respond to the influence of the Younger Dryas and the 9.3 ka event; between 8.6 and 6.8 ka cal BP, the discontinuous occupation might be related to the 8.2 ka event. At Las Salinas, a site that was occupied at least from the Magdalenian, a large gap (10.8–7.8 ka cal BP) is perceived, with a later continuous occupation. The occupational gap is located in the chronology of both events.

8 Discussion and Conclusions

8.1 Palaeoenvironmental Changes

At about 11600 BP, the rapid increase in temperature led to changes in the morphology of the territory and in the vegetation. Sea level rise transformed the coastline as the river valleys were flooded, creating estuaries and salt marshes. At the same time, as the mountain glaciers in the upper Asón and Miera valleys melted in 14.5 to 10 ka BP (Frochoso et al., 2013), new land surfaces were reforested which provided plant and animal resources.

In the early Holocene, the rise in temperature and humidity allowed an expansion in the percentages of arboreal pollen, as identified at Azilian sites on the coast (Salinas, Fragua and El Perro) as the steppe vegetation and pine forests were replaced by mesophile broad-leaf woodland. The pollen remains from the Azilian levels of sites located in the high inland valleys, Salitre (López García, 1981) and Rascaño (Boyer-Klein, 1981), show an increase in the taxa of oak and hazelnut trees, which are replacing the pine forests.

Mixed deciduous forest was fully established in the littoral area by 8.6 ka BP. Depending on the location of the sites, deciduous oak was dominant over other mesophile trees at Mesolithic sites, together with holm oak, ash, beech, and the shrub and herbaceous layers (Carabión, Las Salinas). The evolution of the vegetation in interior and montane areas was similar. Quercus and mesophile trees, especially Corylus and Fraxinus, were the most characteristic taxa in the middle Holocene.

At El Carabión, about 8.5 ka BP, the arboreal layer began to decline and herbaceous layer clearly dominated. This might be related to the abrupt climate events in about 8.6–8.5 ka cited earlier. The same decrease in forest mass has been identified on the western coast of the Cantabria region, at El Mazo (Asturias). At this site, which covers the chronological period around the 8.2 ka event, arboreal pollen decreases apart from Pinus and Betula, indicating cooler temperatures in (8176–8021 cal BP). This is attributed to greater aridity at that time. The arboreal layer expands again in 8004–7792 cal BP, with a dominance of Corylus, Quercus, and Betula (Núñez de la Fuente, 2018, pp. 88–89).

8.2 Changes in the Economic Pattern

The Azilian economy is based on hunting ungulates and gathering terrestrial vegetables and molluscs. In the Minimum number of individuals of hunting provided by 7 Azilian sites in the study area, it can be seen that deer is the most frequent taxon in the sites on the coast and coastal plain: El Pendo I (64.7%), Morín (45.5%), El Perro 2 A/2B (28.6%) and El Carabión III (55%). In the settlements located in inland valleys and mountain areas, goat hunting predominates: in Rascaño and Piélago II it contributes 65%, followed by deer and chamois (24%). El Mirón provided variable frequencies of goat in the different levels, from 50% in level 11 to 16.7% in level 102.2 (Table 3). Bovids and equids gradually disappear and wooland species like roe deer and wil boar increase.

Little information is available about hunting in the Mesolithic. Red deer is the most frequent prey in almost all the sites investigated: Carabión (62%), Barcenilla (25%), and Cubío Redondo (33.3%). Wild boar is more frequent in La Fragua (28.4%) and also roe deer and goat (both 21.5%). Reforestation favoured the species to adapt to broad-leaf forest, like roe deer and wild boar. Hunting of roe deer and smaller species such as carnivores has also been documented.

Pressure on the prey has been determined in the Mesolithic, through the abundant remains of females, neonates, and juveniles (the latter reach 38.5% at El Carabión). The decline in the number of ungulates has been attributed to the demographic increase (Estévez, 2005; Marín-Arroyo & González-Morales, 2009).

Molluscs were an important complement in the diet. In the early Holocene, in the Azilian, the consumption of molluscs at sites on the coast included cold-water species like Patella vulgata and L. littorea. La Fragua is an exception because the terrestrial snail was gathered most (Gutiérrez-Zugasti, 2009, p. 240).

In the inland valleys and mountain areas, marine molluscs were consumed less in the diet, which was complemented by the terrestrial gastropod Cepaea nemoralis, very abundant in Level 2 of Piélago II (Vega de la Torre 1985: 123–126). Numerous shells of land snails concreted in the upper Azilian level are found at Rascaño, and at the Salitre site in the same Miera valley (Pérez-Bartolomé 2005 unpublished). In Sopeña, located 28 km from the coastline, the malacofauna is composed almost exclusively of Cepaea nemoralis (99%) together with Mytilus sp. (1%). In the Azilian, these sites were located further from the sea, as the coastline was at ‒65 m (Gutiérrez-Zugasti, 2009: p. 78).

The consumption of molluscs increases in the Mesolithic, when marine gastropods were exploited intensely, particularly near the coast. Owing to the formation of estuaries and salt marshes, the number of bivalves and the diversity of molluscs increase: this is the case of the Mogro Estuary, Bay of Santander, and the Asón Estuary. Further from the shore, the consumption of molluscs continued to focus on Cepaea nemoralis, with some Mytilus and occasionally Ostrea.

The rise in sea water temperature is perceived in the replacement of L. littorea by P. lineatus. In the Patella genus, P. vulgata decreases and P. depressa and P. ulyssiponensis increase in representation.

The impact of the 9.3 ka BP event has been detected in the gathering of molluscs in the west, at El Mazo, in SU 108 (c. 9 ka BP), whereas more temperate conditions reigned in units 114 and 115 (c. 8.8 ka cal BP). The 8.2 ka event was identified in SU 105 (c. 8.4 ka cal BP) immediately before this cold pulse (García-Escarza, 2022). The reduction in the size of shells at that time observed at El Mazo (García-Escarza et al., 2022) does not seem to be related to natural processes. Therefore, although the TSM influenced the diversity of species, the main cause for the decrease in shell size appears to have been anthropic pressure. Conversely, the ecological knowledge of the last hunter-gatherers allowed them to apply sustainable management strategies in which the reduction in the size did not go beyond limits regarded as acceptable.

Fishing is well documented in the Azilian by the frequency of flat harpoons and bi-pointed hooks, even though ichthyological remains are not abundant. Freshwater fish like salmon and trout have been documented (Fernández-Tresguerres Velasco, 2006). Only two remains of Mugilidae were identified at El Carabión, with greater diversity in the Mesolithic level, which indicates intensification in this resource. At Las Salinas, nearer to the coast, there is a greater diversity of marine species caught in the littoral zone of the estuary, in warm wáter: Dentex and Lithognathus mormyrus (Herrera). This indicates intensification in the use of aquatic resources.

Plant gathering has been documented very little owing to the poor preservation of plants and perhaps because of the excavation methodologies. The consumption of hazelnuts, Rosaceae, and acorns has been attested in Mesolithic deposits.

In the Holocene, a broad spectrum diet included a wide array of resources available in the new biotopes. This may have been due to demographic pressure, partly because of the change towards sedentism, partly because of the change in the vegetation, and perhaps also because of competition in the procurement of resources, like prey, which are limited in the territory. Regarding the relative role of terrestrial and marine resources in the diet of Mesolithic hunter-gatherers, a recent study (Portero, Cueto, Fernández-Gómez, & Álvarez-Fernández, 2022) at sites in the Cantabria region, particularly La Fragua and El Carabión, verifies that in general terms, ungulates would have provided a greater amount of meat and fats, amounting to 84.5% of the total calories consumed, and molluscs 5.4% of the calories.

8.3 Changes in Industry

The classic Azilian assemblages are characterised by a very marked increase in backed bladelets, endscrapers, and geometric microliths, which are predominant in the whole Cantabrian region and amount to over 50% (Fernández-Tresguerres Velasco, 2006). In the Azilian levels studied here, backed bladelets dominate with percentages over 38% in El Perro and La Pila III.3. Endscrapers are generally common, between 13.6% in Morín and 40% in El Perro Level 2b. At Piélago II (Azilian 3), points appear in a high proportion (24.55%). At these sites, geometric microliths are less abundant than what is generally found in the region. The highest percentage is found in Piélago II, Level I (9.68%). The decrease in the frequency of blades and increase in bladelets mean that the typology of Azilian assemblages is smaller.

In Mesolithic levels, the indices of endscrapers, denticulates, and notches remain high. The index of geometric microliths at La Garma A is 1.3%. In the rest of the sites with few lithic assemblages and a reduced number of microliths, the indices seem to be high: Las Salinas (9%) and Barcenilla (levels V–X) 22%. No geometrics were found in the Mesolithic level at El Carabión. The high frequency of flakes in the Mesolithic levels may indicate the use of composite points for hunting tools. In general, the diversity of lithic typology in the Mesolithic is low.

Comparing the typology indices of both Azilian and Mesolithic levels, the indices of burin, dorsal, and points are higher in the Azilian levels. Within the typological groups, there is greater variability in the Azilian in the types of scrapers, burins, and points.

Flint is the most usual raw material at Azilian and Mesolithic sites, with a predominance of high-quality distant varieties in the former period and local types at the end of the sequence. In the Mesolithic, Lower Cretaceous Urgonian flint was acquired on the coast at distances of less than 5 km. Quartzite and sandstone were used for large implements like percussors and anvils.

In osseous assemblages, flat harpoons, bi-pointed hooks, awls, and spatulas are abundant in the Azilian. In the Mesolithic, the osseous industry practically disappears, except for bi-pointed hooks, which have not been found at the sites studied here. Pierced batons have been documented in the west of the region at Fonfría, Tres Calabres, and Los Canes (Asturias) and in the Basque Country at Logalán, Santimamiñe, and Herrico Barra.

In accordance with the simplified technology, a change in hunting and fishing strategies can be perceived, and perhaps traps and palisades were used, as indicated by the hunting of female and neonate animals and smaller fish.

8.4 Demography and Resilience of the Population

The study of the dates and sites has been made with deposits that have been investigated and/or dated. The archaeological record of sites with a Holocene shell-midden, documented by surveying, is much larger with 256 sites known in central-eastern Cantabria (Pérez-Bartolomé, 2019). In the western side of the Cantabrian region (Asturias and west Cantabria), a large number of shell-middens are known: 100 sites in west Cantabria (Pérez-Bartolomé & Muñoz Fernández, 2013) and 167 sites in Asturias (Fano Martínez, 1998). Recent surveying projects in Asturias have catalogued new shell-middens, increasing the register to 293 (Pérez-Bartolomé, Muñoz Fernández, & Fanjul Peraza, 2018a,b).

The databases with 14C results may reflect a partial view of the archaeological reality, which is limited by diverse circumstances: the erosion that has removed a large part of many deposits, the differential conservation of remains, or variable intensity of research. While a very large number of deposits is known, others in the open air may have disappeared or not been detected. However, we can deduce a sociocultural reality that was surely rich and diverse in solutions, able to make use of all the resources in their surroundings, and overcome the difficulties that climate variations caused, which would have been challenging considering how much the hunter-gather groups depended on the environment.

The oscillations perceived in the radiocarbon dates reflect the decrease in the Azilian population c. 11.6 ka, which might have been caused by the Younger Dryas. The 9.3 and 8.2 ka events, identified in stalagmites and sea water, with lower temperatures, affected mollusc species and allowed an increase in cold-water species like P. vulgata while warmer-water species (P. depressa, P. ulyssiponensis and P. lineatus) decreased in number, as detected in the shell-midden of El Mazo (Asturias). This does not seem to have influenced the occupation of the site as a large number of dates cover the time span of 9009–8004 cal BP (García-Escarza et al., 2015, 2021). The drop in temperature in about 8.4 ka in SU 105 would be before the 8.2 ka event, which seems to confirm the variation or length of the event, as stated previously. These oscillations perceived in the population are coherent with the phases in the population dynamic proposed from Cantabrian Spain (Fernández-López de Pablo et al., 2019).

The decrease in the pollen identified at sites in about the 8.2 ka event reflects the consequences for the vegetation and fauna, and therefore in the gathering of plants by the human groups, as seen in the consumption of species of little economic interest. This may have influenced the demographic reduction. At El Carabión, the arboreal mass decreased at the end of the sequence, but this may be related to the encouragement of plants with an economic interest by the human groups.

The population overcame the environmental changes which, according to researchers, may not have been too extreme in the Cantabrian region because of the ameliorating influence of the ocean on the coastal area. Cantabrian Spain has often been considered a refugium for the population during the coldest periods in the Palaeolithic; also, in the Holocene groups may have emigrated towards the north and brought the geometric microliths that became more abundant after the 8.2 ka event.

Recent DNA studies have found evidence of genetic flow from outside at the end of the Ice Age. The Villabruna group has been identified at El Mirón in about 14 ka, and this flow may have advanced in the Younger Dryas and early Holocene. It became the dominant group in the later and final Mesolithic in Cantabrian Spain, and has been detected at Los Canes (Arangas, Asturias) c. 7.1 ka (Fu et al., 2016).

9 Conclusion

Although the 9.3 and 8.2 ka cold events have been identified in the palaeoenvironmental record and in the reduction on the number of radiocarbon dates around the time of the events, they do not seem to have affected the population too greatly. The gradual overall growth in the population through the Azilian and Mesolithic shows the great resilience and capacity for socioeconomic and technological adaptation of the inhabitants of the region, who diversified and exploited fully the different resources available in their immediate surroundings. Nor did they need to migrate, but remained in the territory, probably with temporary internal movements as they advanced towards a process of sedentism.

Special Issue Published in Cooperation with Meso'2020 – Tenth International Conference on the Mesolithic in Europe, edited by Thomas Perrin, Benjamin Marquebielle, Sylvie Philibert, and Nicolas Valdeyron.


The Consejería de Educación, Cultura y Deporte of Cantabria financed the radiocarbon dating and other studies within the framework of the projects in the region. The Altamira Research Centre and Museum for providing the laboratory. E. Roselló and A. Morales carried out the ichthyofauna studies and Paloma Uzquiano the anthracological analysis. We would like to thank Pedro Rasines for his collaboration in the radiocarbon calibration. Finally, we would like to thank two anonymous reviewers who helped to improve the manuscript.

  1. Author contributions: The author has accepted responsibility for the entire content of this manuscript and approved its submission.

  2. Conflict of interest: The author states no conflict of interest.

  3. Data availability statement: The datasets generated during and/or analysed during the current study are available from the corresponding author.


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Received: 2022-01-05
Revised: 2023-03-09
Accepted: 2023-04-09
Published Online: 2023-05-24

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