Edited by Marta Camps and Carolyn Szmidt. Pp. xxii + 354, figs. 135, tables 34, maps 15. Oxbow, Oxford 2009. $160. ISBN 978-1-842170314-5 (cloth).
The Mediterranean from 50,000 to 25,000 BP joins a number of recent edited volumes on the Middle to Upper Paleolithic transition (e.g., E. Hovers and S. Kuhn, eds., Transitions Before the Transition [New York 2006]; P. Mellars et al., eds., Rethinking the Human Revolution: New Behavioural and Biological Perspectives on the Origin and Dispersal of Modern Humans [Cambridge 2007]), and it derives from a 2005 Society for American Archaeology symposium of the same name. What makes this book stand out is its focus on a particular geographic region—the Mediterranean littoral (i.e., Europe, North Africa, and the Near East). The result is a well-focused collection of papers that will serve as an invaluable reference to scholars interested in human evolution during the Late Pleistocene.
The first three contributions to the volume (a foreword by Roe, a brief introduction by the editors, and the opening chapter by Camps) provide context for the volume and serve as a useful (if brief) introduction to research on the Middle to Upper Paleolithic transition. While the meat of the volume is comprised of chapters that present a review of the relevant data from a given region within the broader Mediterranean littoral, there is a fair amount of variability represented among the papers. In addition to a methodologically oriented chapter by Brun-Ricalens, Bordes, and Eizenberg, who seek to establish a standardized vocabulary for the analysis of bladelet technology, the volume also includes a handful of papers that focus on material from one or two sites: Karavanić considers lithic data from Mujina Pećina and Šandalja (Croatia); Blackwell et al. discuss data from Divje Babe I (Slovenia), and Pinto-Llona et al. present a preliminary report on the new excavations at Sopeña (Spain). Finally, the volume concludes with two theoretical papers that present contrasting views on the nature and significance of the Aurignacian (Clark and Riel-Salvatore, Mellars).
Some regions within the Mediterranean get more coverage than others; for example, while there is only one disappointingly brief chapter on the Levant (Belfer-Cohen and Goring-Morris), three contributions are dedicated to data from the Iberian peninsula (Arrizabalaga et al., Zilhão, Pinto-Llona et al.), and another three tackle the record from northern Africa (Close, Garcea, Vermeersch). When a single region is represented by more than one contribution, it is perhaps not surprising that the authors are not always in agreement; for example, while Close suggests that the Dabban (an early Upper Paleolithic industry present in North Africa) is an intrusive phenomenon, Garcea makes a convincing argument that it may actually be a local development that evolved from the Aterian.
The volume also includes two chapters from sites and regions outside the Mediterranean; the first is a review paper that discusses research into the Middle Paleolithic–Upper Paleolithic transition in Romania (Horvath), and the second is the previously mentioned site report on Divje Babe I. While these felt a bit out of place, they are both excellent papers, so I hesitate to critique the editors for their inclusion. The presentation of data from a literature that is largely inaccessible to an English-speaking audience makes Horvath’s contribution especially valuable. In fact, this is a broader strength of the current volume, as the chapters on Turkey (Otte and Yalçinkaya), Mediterranean southern Europe (esp. Greece [Papagianni]), and Italy (Riel-Salvatore and Negrino) are all valuable for the same reason.
Finally, I would be remiss if I did not mention Szmidt’s standout chapter, which not only provides a review of the data from Mediterranean France but also presents a refreshing methodological perspective. She is particularly interested in exploring whether the Aurignacian shows a differential use of non-lithic raw materials, ornaments, and decorated artifacts than does the Mousterian. While her presentation of the data is excellent, what is most noteworthy is the attention she pays to the potential pitfalls involved in comparing data from sites that have experienced differing taphonomic histories and/or were excavated using different methods. While these are factors that can hamper reliable comparisons of any data sets drawn from different sites and/or time periods, they are often overlooked. Szmidt is able to conclude that while the Aurignacian does appear to be different from the Mousterian (at least based on the variables under consideration), the nature of the data precludes judgment about the precise extent of the change.
While the data presented in this volume are valuable enough to recommend the book to anyone interested in gaining a deeper understanding of the Middle to Upper Paleolithic transition (and particularly of the still-enigmatic Aurignacian), there are a number of other laudable points. First, Camps and Szmidt are to be commended for a stellar editing job. The papers were clearly strengthened by the peer-review process, and there are few typographical or grammatical errors. I also applaud the editors for their inclusiveness in putting the volume together, as the final product includes the work of scholars from a variety of career stages and work environments and who represent more than a dozen countries. While this means that the authors come from quite diverse scholarly traditions, these differences are generally refreshing rather than distracting.
I see only two primary drawbacks to this volume; first is the lack of an index. It is easy to forget how valuable an index can be—until you want to go back to something and cannot remember which chapter it was in—paging through more than 350 pages is no picnic. Second is the high price point. Although the editors express a belief that the volume will be of particular interest to young scholars and students (and I agree that this is true), the price of the volume will no doubt discourage many from purchasing a personal copy. This is especially unfortunate, given that the publisher does not have a system in place for making the chapters available in electronic format. That said, the volume would certainly make a valuable addition to virtually any academic library.
Jamie L. Clark
Department of Anthropology
Appalachian State University
Boone, North Carolina 28608