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The principal objective of this article is to present the first ever radiocarbon dates done on the Vasconian Mousterian, Proto-Aurignacian and Classic Aurignacian layers of this site. Consequently, at this stage of our own analysis, we cannot exclude the hypothesis that the Cjn1 assemblage could be, at least in part, a mix of Proto-Aurignacian assemblage Cjn2 and Classic Aurignacian assemblage Cbf.

It is also among the few sites to contain a stratified sequence of Proto-Aurignacian and Classic Aurignacian levels. It should be noted, though, that the assemblage from Cjn1 is smaller than Cjn2 and Cbci-Cbf (N = 1100) and that this ‘thin and sporadic layer, located in the upper part of the unit, is only occasionally seen as a thin line of hearths or, in other instances, as a horizon of minute traces of soot’ (Laplace 1966b - p. Furthermore, it is frequently mentioned in the excavation notebooks (kept in the MNP archives) that it is very difficult or impossible to see the contact surface between Cbf and Cjn1 visually in the stratigraphy.

Thus, it can help us to appreciate the chronological relationship between the Proto-Aurignacian and other Early Upper Palaeolithic or late Mousterian industries and contribute to evaluating the taxonomic link between them. Also, Cjn1 and Cjn2 are found in the same sedimentary unit (see below and Table 1) and are in contact with each other.

This article presents the site, the selection and dating methodology and discusses the results within the larger western European Middle to Upper Palaeolithic transition context, particularly that of the Pyrenean region. Although the assemblages from archaeological layers Cjn2 and Cjn1 both display Proto-Aurignacian characteristics, the Cjn1 assemblage is, in certain respects, more aligned with the Classic Aurignacian.

The critical importance of stratigraphy integrity assessments of museum collections of sites excavated before the benefit of geoarchaeological analyses is emphasized here, especially when considering chronometric dating. It is for this reason that Laplace had described and viewed it as a Proto-Aurignacian transitioning towards the Classic Aurignacian. There are only 5 Dufour bladelets out of 50 tools on blades/bladelets and out of 92 tools in total (tabl. Splintered pieces and carinated end-scrapers are well represented (28 % of the tools compared with 2.6 % in Cjn2) and retouch is much more frequently scaled and invasive, thus resembling Aurignacian retouch which is very rare or absent in Proto-Aurignacian assemblages. An initial examination of the Classic Aurignacian assemblage of archaeological layer Cbf revealed that the types of flints used were overall the same as those used in Proto-Aurignacian assemblage Cjn2, but in reverse proportion.

After detailed evaluation of the stratigraphy of the site based on lithic analyses, projections, as well as refits of the Laplace excavation collection, we determined the most appropriate squares from which to sample and bones to select. Among the retouched blades and bladelets, Dufour bladelets (sub-type Dufour) are the most prevalent (37 out of 74 retouched blades/bladelets) (fig. These are also the most standardized elements in the assemblage in terms of size and morphology, with thickness ranging from 1-2.5 mm and width from 3.5-9 mm.

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Gatzarria Cave is an important site for many reasons regarding the Middle to Upper Palaeolithic transition. As such, Iholdy flysch flint, which accounts for 60 % of the raw material in Cjn2, is only marginally represented in Cbf.Among them, it is one of the few sites to contain a Vasconian Mousterian industry, a facies often thought to represent a late stage in the Mousterian (Deschamps 2008) and thereby potentially associated with the late Neanderthals. This rarity is also the case in Cjn1, where Iholdy flint represents only 8.5 % of the assemblage.It is thus a key site for assessing the Middle to Upper Palaeolithic transition as well as the techno-typological and chronological relationship between Aurignacian industries. Blade-bladelet blanks thus dominate among the tools, representing 72.5 % of the transformed blanks (74 of 102, not including core tools such as carinated end-scrapers and burins).As such, we decided to date animal bone samples by accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) radiocarbon method (with ultrafiltration) from the Classic Aurignacian (Cbf), Proto-Aurignacian (Cjn2) and Vasconian Mousterian (Cjr) layers. The rest of the tools were made on non-standardized blanks obtained from the shaping and maintenance phases of blade-bladelet production.

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The site of Gatzarria (Pyrenean France) was excavated in the 1960s and 1970s by Georges Laplace. It is the richer of two superposed Proto-Aurignacian layers, containing 1737 flint pieces in the sampled set (see below for what is meant by ‘sampled set’).

The importance of the site lies in the fact that it contains a stratified sequence of Aurignacian industries (Proto-Aurignacian — Classic Aurignacian — Late Aurignacian), a Châtelperronian layer, as well as a long sequence of Mousterian layers (including what has been termed the Vasconian Mousterian). This industry is geared towards the exclusive production of small blades, as well as elongated, slender, rectilinear-profile bladelets produced as part of the same operational sequence.

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