Abstract : The objective of this study is to contribute to a better definition of the technical system of the late Neolithic societies of southeast France between the middle of the 4th and the beginning of the 2th millennium BC by the characterization of the animal economy and the procedures for managing the herds of the human groups of the late Neolithic period in Provence. This work is based on a corpus of eight open air settlements located in Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur (southeast France) and is result of reliable chronological and cultural contexts: Le Collet-Redon, Ponteau-Gare, La Brémonde, La Citadelle, La Fare, Le Mourre-du-Tendre, Le Plan Saint-Jean et Les Calades. The herding techniques and practices implemented are approached not only from the techno-economic point of view but also by looking at the seasonal variation of the activities of breeding.
The animal economy of the human groups from the late Neolithic period in southeast France is characterized by a standardization of the way in which meat is supplied, provided mainly by cattle, then sheep, goats and pigs, and by an exploitation of the whole of the livestock, both when alive and after their slaughter. This exploitation is diverse in that the different herds can be used for their meat, milk, fat, fleeces and strength. By the assessment of stable isotope measurements of tooth enamel of modern sheep, and from the archaeological remains of sheep, we are able to demonstrate, in Collet-Redon and La Citadelle, the births are grouped between the middle of winter and early springtime. By looking at when the slaughtering took place and the information provided by the archaeological finds, we can propose hypotheses about when the settlements are occupied: some sites are occupied on a permanent basis and others on a seasonal basis (La Citadelle). In the late Neolithic period, many functions for these pastoral settlements can be envisaged, including the need for grazing.
Compared to the preceding Neolithic period, management decisions reveal socio-economic changes. The increase and sedentarization of the population meant a greater need to breed livestock for meat, to find animal high in protein, and to exploit cattle strength. In turn, this also reflects the acceptance of new technologies. From the description of consumption patterns, we have gained access to part of the structuring of human groups: consumer groups, producer groups, guards of herds.