The role of small prey in human subsistence strategies from Early Upper Palaeolithic sites in Iberia: the rabbits from the Evolved Aurignacian level of Arbreda Cave

In the western Mediterranean, changes in hunter-gatherer subsistence strategies have been identified from the Early Upper Palaeolithic. These changes are characterized by broadening of diet and intensification of small prey exploitation. In the Iberian Peninsula region, intensified small prey exploitation is evidenced by the hunting of large quantities of European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus), which are usually a ubiquitous feature of faunal assemblages from archaeological sites. Before interpretations of the significance of such assemblages can proceed, however, it is necessary to confirm their anthropic origin, as a wide range of predators are agents of accumulation. The taphonomic signatures observed for predators are here applied to the analysis of leporid (rabbits and hares) remains from the Evolved Aurignacian layer of Arbreda Cave (north-east Iberia). The aims of this work are two-fold: (i) to identify the agent/s of accumulation; and (ii) to assess possible changes in small prey use during the Middle to Upper Palaeolithic transition. Our results suggest that rabbit assemblages were probably hunted and consumed by humans and that rabbits became a primary resource in hunter-gatherer diet from the Early Upper Palaeolithic.