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Eastern Cantabria and surroundings
(Northern Spain)

(In part adapted from Rissetto 2005

Academic context: The samples on this page are not strictly part of the FlintSource collection as they were collected by John Rissetto of the University of New Mexico (Albuquerque, USA) during research for his dissertation. The goal of this research is to offer new empirical evidence derived from lithic sourcing.
The main objective is to help reconstruct the patterns of geographic mobility and resource procurement zones of Late Pleistocene, especially Magdalenian, hunter-gatherer cultures in northern Spain and throughout greater southwestern Europe. The research is based on the identification, characterization and comparison of chert materials from natural outcrops with chert artifacts from Late Pleistocene archaeological contexts through macroscopic, petrographic, and trace-element analysis.
Geographical setting: The chert source areas presented on these pages were identified mainly in the Lower and Upper Cretaceous geologic formations in the eastern portion of the province of Cantabria and the Tertiary age formations in the central region of the autonomous community of the Basque Country.
Geographically, these regions of northern Spain are characterized as a narrow, costal strip of land, approximately 40-60 km wide, situated between the Cantabrian Sea to the north and the Cantabrian Cordillera to the south.
Topographically, they are defined by numerous, narrow, high relief karstic river valleys that drain from south to north.
Overview of major sampling points in Northern Spain from the collection of John Rissetto.
  Geologically, the region constitutes part of the "Basque-Cantabrian Basin", and represents the convergence of two adjoining bedrock lithologies: the Paleozoic to the west and the Mesozoic and Cenozoic to the east. In Cantabria, both Lower and Upper Cretaceous chert-bearing formations can be identified along the coast. Just south of the coast, the bedrock consists almost entirely of Lower Cretaceous formations. Few of these contain chert-bearing strata mainly in layers located within upper elevations.
The area south of the cordillera consists mainly of Upper Cretaceous formations, some of which contain chert outcrops. In the Basque region, the prominent chert-bearing strata are located in the Upper Cretaceous formations along the coast and the Tertiary formations situated in the montane interior.
Similarities and differences: The similarities between the Cretaceous (Lower and Upper) and Tertiary period outcrops are based primarily on the location of the outcrops and the general form of the chert materials. Both Cretaceous and Tertiary outcrops were identified along the Cantabrian and Basque coastlines and within the Cordilleran montane interior. Few outcrops were identified in the area between these physiographic regions. Materials from each of the primary outcrops were identified in nodular form within a limestone matrix. Samples collected from the secondary contexts had little or no evidence of a limestone host-rock cortex, but all were identified with a nodular form.
The size, shape, and cortical texture of the chert nodules from both the Lower and Upper Cretaceous outcrops are considered generally similar. However, the overall size of the Upper Cretaceous and Tertiary nodules from the Basque outcrops are, on average, larger than those of the Cretaceous nodules from Cantabrian outcrops.

The prominent difference between the materials from the Cretaceous and Tertiary period outcrops are the overall quality of the chert itself. The Lower Cretaceous chert materials are considered, on average, of low to medium overall knapping quality. This is caused mainly by the consistently low ratio of micro- or cryptocrystalline silica to unsilicified carbonate within the rock matrix and their frequent irregular fracture pattern. The irregular fracture pattern is possibly caused by the increased presence of internal flaws.
The Upper Cretaceous and Tertiary chert materials are considered, on average, of medium to high overall knapping quality. This is based in part on the consistently high ratio of micro- or cryptocrystalline silica to unsilicified carbonate in the rock matrix, which creates a more reliable, isotropic structure with accordingly conchoidal fracture pattern.

Extractability and prehistoric use: While very little is known about or has been proposed regarding the methods of chert extraction utilized by Late Pleistocene hunter-gatherers in northern Spain, based on the author's research it is supposed that groups would have used similar methods for both primary and secondary outcrops. At primary outcrops, it is assumed chert materials still encased within the limestone host-rock would have been directly extracted through mechanical techniques (e.g. stone on stone, picks, fire, etc.) and/or simply collected as naturally dislodged nodules laying on or shallowly buried in the ground surface. During the author's survey of each chert source area, no evidence for large-scale chert extraction (e.g. mining, tunneling, landscape modification, etc.) was noticed. However, through continued research, new evidence for more detailed extraction techniques may be identified.

Very little, if any, evidence was found for the natural secondary transport of chert materials beyond a 0.5 km perimeter around the primary outcrop. This is supported by the author's survey work around primary outcrops. It is likely that natural transport of chert materials did occur, but has either not been identified or is quickly buried or obscured due to natural processes.

At secondary chert source areas, which were identified predominantly along the coast, it is assumed that groups of hunter-gatherers would have easily collected loose chert nodules intermixed along the rocky beaches.

Chert materials represent >85 to 90% of the Late Pleistocene hunter-gatherer lithic assemblage in northern Spain. These materials were used to produce a lithic tool kit that consisted primarily of prepared blade and bladelet core technology. These debris types, along with plain flakes, were the principal ground form on which all major utilitarian and specialized tools were made. The tools, mainly backed bladelets, endscrapers, burins, notches, denticulates, and scrapers, were inset into handles made of perishable organic materials.

Sampled sites: Cabo Mayor
  Castillo de Portilla
  El Ilson
  Islares Road Cut
  Monte Caracol
  Monte Mullir
  Ojo Guareña
  Dunas de Liencres
  Peña Carbaga
  Peña Pelada
  Pico de San Jose
  Playa de Barrika
  Playa de Galizano
  Playa de Virgen del Mar
  Mirador de Llaranza
  Playa de Sonabia
  Playa de Resamano
  La Peñuca
  Puerto de Laredo
  Punta de Cucabrera
Contact the author: John Rissetto
Department of Anthropology
University of New Mexico
Albuquerque, NM 87131, USA
e-mail: John413<at>unm.edu

In the above mail-address, substitute <at> by the @-sign.
The address is given this way, to prevent detection by spam-bots.
Citing: The information on the flint and chert from Eastern Cantabria might be cited as:

Rissetto, J. (2008)
Siliceous raw materials from Eastern Cantabria, Spain
[Date retrieved]

Last modified on:
January 10, 2008
Contents primarily by:
John Rissetto
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