Eels, beavers and horses: Human niche construction in the European Late Upper Palaeolithic.

A.G. Brown, Laura Basell, Rebecca Farbstein

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In this paper we explore interactions between co-occupants of riverine niches in north-west Europe during the Late Upper Palaeolithic using both ecological and archaeological data. It is argued that consideration of both the Lateglacial record and autecology of eel, beaver and horse supports a reinterpretation of some famous but enigmatic panels of Magdalenian mobiliary art as representations of eel fishing, along with horse and beaver exploitation in disturbed riverine habitats.

The key contributions are:
1) A new interpretation of key Palaeolithic art objects that highlights the importance of studying Palaeolithic art in its broader ecological and archaeological context, rather than continuing to focus on the iconographic features and interpret them in isolation.
2) The application of a novel theoretical approach combining archaeology, ecology and palaeoecology which allowed us to suggest that a humanly co-constructed niche in ecological, nutritional, and symbolic terms, was also advantageous for human well-being and social development during the Late Upper Palaeolithic.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-22
JournalProceedings of the Prehistoric Society
Early online date04 Oct 2017
Publication statusEarly online date - 04 Oct 2017


  • niche construction theory, Magdalenian, nutrition, mobiliary art, sedentism


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