Nicolas VALDEYRON, François BON, Sandrine COSTAMAGNO
In a more or less implicit manner, prehistorians necessarily refer to a typology of the sites occupied by the hunter-gatherer groups that they study. For at least the past 40 years, the notion of “site function” has thus played a crucial role in prehistoric archaeology, particularly when the goal is to interpret the variability of archaeological assemblages (the controversy opposing François Bordes and Lewis and Sally Binford concerning the meaning of Mousterian facies is an excellent example). In this context, sites that yield evidence for activities judged to be specialized are designated as knapping workshops, art sites (and often sanctuaries) or hunting camps, depending on the artifacts or other indices recovered, as well as the types of analyses performed. Sites that appear to have been occupied for longer periods, on the other hand, and at which the range of activities is more varied, are often qualified as residential camps, seasonal occupations or, when they have yielded artifacts considered to be quantitatively or qualitatively exceptional, as aggregation sites, or even super-sites. The notions underlying these terms are highly significant: is it not through them that the entire territorial organization of the groups studied is more or less suggested? And behind the rules governing this supposed territorial organization, are there not certain aspects that are closely linked to the social organization of the group? In effect, the segmentation of activities in space reveals not only the degree of economic planning practiced by a group, but also a certain form of social functioning. Despite this significance, however, these notions and the terms by which they are designated, remain vague. Though, following the initiative of André Leroi-Gourhan, prehistoric occupation features benefit from a vocabulary constructed with the aid of precise criteria – whose pertinence can therefore be discussed based on solid foundations – the bases of the typology of sites alluded to by these terms are much more tenuous, at least in the context of European prehistoric archaeology. When they do exist, the definitions proposed often vary depending on the context or the authors, thus diminishing the validity of spatial or temporal comparisons.