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2016-08-19 16:41:02   •   ID: 1487

100-year Anniversary: Peyrony at the lower Rock shelter of Le Moustier

Figure 1
This is a classic Mousterian point, made on a thick Levallois point (8,5 cm long)  from the MTA-levels (Layer G) of the type site.

Le Moustier is an archeological site consisting of two rock shelters in Peyzac-le-Moustier, belonging to the community of Saint-Léon-sur-Vézère; Dordogne, France.

Le Moustier lies about 10 kilometers northeast of Les Eyzies along the Vézère River. The upper shelter was first excavated from 1863 by Henry Christy and Édouard Lartet, while the lower shelter was first opened for excavations by Otto Hauser during 1907.

He discovered the famous Le Moustier Neanderthal adolescent in 1908. He sold it to the Völkerkundemuseum in Berlin, where most of the postcranial skeleton was destroyed during the bombing raids during the late WW II.

The skull and mandible survived and the cranio- dental skeleton of Le Moustier 1 represents perhaps the most complete Late Pleistocene adolescent hominid skull. 

A second skeleton was later found at the site by Peyrony: Le Moustier 2, a Neanderthal neonate. Peyrony excavated the lower abri at Le Moustier during 1913-1914 along the western edge of the earlier Hauser explorations.

He established an important sequence of Paleolithic strata traditionally numbered from A to L. A: sterile layer, B: Typical Mousterian; C/D. quasi sterile; E: sterile layer;  G: MTA-A (around 50-55 k.a BP*); H: MTA-B (around 42-48 k.a BP*); I: denticulated Mousterian (around 40,9 k.a BP*); J:, Typical Mousterian (around 40,3 k.a BP*);  K: cryoturbated and mixed Castelperronian / Mousterian (around 42,6 k.a BP*); L: Aurignacian ; (*Dates by TL).

The most recent larger excavations were conducted by Laville and Rigaud in 1969.Important non-biased material was collected from a small trench by Geneste and Chadelle during the 1980ies (see below).

The chaine operatoire of the MTA assemblage from Le Moustier G is characterized by a recurrent centripetal unidirectional Levallois concept with production of a series of unidirectional blanks.

The Le Moustier G-ensemble is mainly composed of Senonian flint which displays gray to black colors. This flint is also known to have been used by Neanderthals at several nearby sites (La Rochette, Le Ruth, surface collection at Plazac…) and widely during the upper Paleolithic of the Vezere valley. 

Cordiform flat handaxes (4-14 cm long) were found in abundance together with large quantities of simple side scrapers. Quina scrapers and convergent tools were rare.  Indeed, Le Moustier G together with the nearby La Rochette are considered as biface workshops, where tools were manufactured in advance to be brought eventually to other sites.

Levallois blanks from the MTA at Le Moustier G often have a laminar aspect, but these blanks are broader that Upper Paleolithic blades as you can see in the picture below .  It seems that they often were used without any retouches and for the production of backed pieces, which often are quadrangular in shape or had a curved back (Abri Audi knifes).

A large number of retouched Levallois points are known from Le Moustier G. Many of them have a bilateral ventral retouche, often of a unilateral quite steep aspect. This led Peyrony to suggest, that many of these “Points” were in reality rather knifes than projectiles.

The second picture shows two handaxes and a typical “knife”, along with the elongated point of the first picture from the Le Moustier site-all made from the raw material mentioned above.

Figure 3 displays a small backed knife from the same site. Such backed knives are assumed to be another characteristic tool of the MTA in S / W- France.

It is a pity, that 100 years after the excavation of Peyrony we have no comprehensive monograph of the site. Peyrony s report from 1930 is of poor quality (PEYRONY, D. (1930). Le Moustier. Ses gisements,  ses industries, ses couches géologiques, in  Revue Anthropologique, vol. 40, pp. 48-76).

Renewed work at Le Moustier started in 2014 and will certainly change our view of this classic locality. A first indication, that many data from this site are biased comes from the publication of Gravina and Discamps (2015), who analyzed an unbiased sample from the layers G and H, coming from a limited  excavation, performed  during the 1980ies,  when J.-M. Geneste and J.-P. Chadelle sunk a small 50 cm by 50 cm test column towards the back of the lower rock shelter, near the cliff-face, in order to collect burnt flints for TL dating.

Figure 3
Analyzing this material against the material from earlier excavations showed the total absence of pieces smaller than 3 cm in Peyrony's collection.

A comparison of lithic artefact densities with the Geneste and Chadelle material demonstrates that Peyrony kept less than 400 lithic objects per excavated per cubic meter,namely retouched pieces , larger pieces, and bifaces from a layer whose density was probably on the order of 12000 lithic objects per cubic m.

Further analysis revealed that the small number (n=16) of bifaces in Stratum H were clearly recycled from the MTA-A in Stratum G.

Techno-typological analysis of the non-biased Geneste and Chadelle material re-attributed the material of layer H at Le Moustier to the Discoid- Denticulate Mousterian.

Therefore the succession of MTA-A-MTA-B Châtelperronian at this classic site is now considered unlikely- a further step to the deconstruction of a  MTA(B) -Châtelperronian affiliation.

Figure 4
Figure 4 (courteously by Tilo Parg) shows renewed excavations in 2004 at the lower rock-shelter at Le Moustier.  

Look at the rich material displayed in the steadily growing and updated Paleolithic site in the net:

Don was a great help for me when I started this blog in 2010...

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