Dr Alexander Pryor

Research interests

My research investigates how Palaeolithic hunter-gatherers adapted to seasonally changing or marginal environments through time, including aspects of subsistence, colonisation and range expansion/contraction, and questioning how groups accessed the diverse range of resources needed to live a hunter-gatherer existence. Specific topics of interest include:

  • The Palaeolithic origins of food storage
  • The role of woolly mammoth in Palaeolithic subsistence
  • Palaeolithic colonisation of northern latitudes
  • Reconstructing the plant food component of Palaeolithic diets using charred macro-remains, especially parenchymous tissue

 

Details for specific research projects are listed below.

 

Late Gravettian archaeology as a reflection of hunter-gatherer ecological diversity in the Upper Pleniglacial Central Europe

Alex is collaborating in this five-year international project funded by the Polish National Science Centre and run by Dr Jarosław Wilczyński of the Institute of Systematics and Evolution of Animals in Krakow, Poland. In the latter half (approx. 24,000-20,000ya) of the Gravettian period in Central Europe, evidence for the widespread Pavlovian technocultural complex that had persisted in the region for several thousand years vanished as this social system apparently collapsed, probably due in part to the increasingly severe climates associated with the last ice age. Lithic evidence from central Europe suggests a fragmentation of groups into discrete sub-cultures with minimal interaction between them. However another possibility is that hunters adapted to the harsher climates by diversifying their activities seasonally, making different tools in each season of the year while engaging in long-distance travel between regions seasonally to hunt different animals at different times of the year.

This project seeks to test this hypothesis – that in the Late Gravettian period central European hunter-gatherers practiced seasonally diverse subsistence strategies involving long distance mobility between regions. Working alongside a team of other researchers, Alex will use isotopic analysis to investigate the seasonal mobility of hunters and the prey species they targeted, focusing on woolly mammoth, horse and reindeer. Excavations at the target case study sites began in the summer of 2017 with excavations at Krakow Spadzistsa (Poland) and Trencianske Bohuslavice (Slovakia), while future years of the project will target the sites of

  • Lubna (Czech Republic)
  • Bodrogkeresztur (Hungary)
  • Jaksice II (Poland) 

 

The Palaeolithic origins of food storage

Before joining Exeter Alex worked as a post-doctoral researcher for three years at the University of Southampton on a Leverhulme Funded project searching for evidence of food storage technology in the European Upper Palaeolithic. Food storage is postulated as an important adaptation developed by our hunter-gatherer (Homo sapiens) ancestors in response to the pressures of the last ice age, between 50,000-20,000 years ago. However, this theory relies on ambiguous archaeological evidence that is inherently problematic to interpret. Focusing on key archaeological case study assemblages at Dolní Vĕstonice-Pavlov (Czech Republic) and Kostenki 11 (Russian Federation), our goal was to search for food storage behaviours by demonstrating substantive human occupation of a campsite during a season of the year when none of the major prey species was actively being hunted and killed.              

Our method engaged in an intensive reconstruction of seasonal prey availability and seasonal hunting activities at the case study sites involving 1) the reconstruction of prey seasonal mobility using oxygen and strontium isotope analysis of faunal remains; 2) identifying the seasonality of hunting activities using dental cementum analysis; and 3) investigating firewood gathering practices based on the charred remains of the fuel consumed. While the formal data gathering part of the project has now ended, the analytical and publication phase is expected to continue for another few years.