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2017-03-08 18:29:14   •   ID: 1587

Early Paleolithic in the Center of France

Figure 1
Fig. 1 shows a Handaxe from the center of France are often made from large flint slabs from the Upper Turonian  as is the throughout the Seuil, Poitou and south Touraine region.

Anyhow, there are exceptions: in the Loire valley around Orleans a grey whitish flint is prevalent. Some isolated findings (Fig 2: Handaxe from L’Île-Bouchard), made of tabular quartzite) are made from other materials.

Human settlement of Europe during Pleistocene times was sporadic and several stages have been recognized, both from paleoanthropological and archaeological records. If the first phase of hominin occupation (as early as 1.4 Ma) seems mainly restricted to the southern part of the continent, the second phase, characterized by specific lithic tools (handaxes), is linked to Acheulean settlements and to the emergence of Homo Heidelbergensis, the ancestor of Neanderthals.

This phase reached northwestern Europe and is documented in sites in Great Britain and northern France, generally after 600 ka.
Figure 2

In Charentes, well-known sand quarries in the Saint-Amand-de-Graves region yielded early lithic industries, from Saint-Même-les-Carrières to Jarnac. The Charente alluviums in Charente-Maritime also contain abundant Acheulean remains. Unfortunately, the interlocking terrace system is not well differentiated and often borders on the water table, making fieldwork difficult. In the north of the Deux-Sèvres, at the edge of the Massif Amorican, the Dive and Thouet alluviums contain Acheulean industries.

In the Poitou region, Londigny is the first open air rich Acheulian industry TL dated to MIS 11 recovered in a stratigraphic context.

In Vienne , north of Châtellerault, Acheulean sites were discovered in the 19th century. At La Roche-Posay, in the northeast of Vienne, the Creuse alluvions extend between the Vienne department on the left bank and the Indre-et-Loire on the right bank. At La Revaudière, on the commune of Yzeures-sur-Creuse, the 15-22 m terrace yielded an exceptional Acheulean industry. 

Regarding the absence of stratified sites, the site of La Grande Vallée, in Colombiers near Châtellerault, is a fundamental addition to old undated discoveries.  The open-air site of La Grande Vallée is in a very singular location and geological context.

Unit 5 on the structural flat contains preserved archaeological levels due to the presence of significant slope deposits which sealed the complex. After Acheulean occupations, the archaeological levels were mobilized by solifluction. This phenomenon modified the spatial distribution of the remains abandoned by Hominids without any stratigraphic interference. Geological observations point towards an age of 350-600 ka for the archaeological levels, which corresponds to the second third of the Middle Pleistocene. This estimation is confirmed by preliminary thermoluminescence dates which tend to situate levels 5a and 5c in a 400-500 k.a. time bracket.

At la Noira (Brinay,eastern Central France), the Middle Pleistocene alluvial formation of the Cher River covers an archaeological level associated with a slope deposit (diamicton). The lithic assemblage from this level includes Large Cutting Tools (LCTs), flakes and cores, associated with numerous millstone slabs.

The lithic series is classified as Acheulean on the basis of both technological and typological analyses. Cryoturbation features indicate that the slope deposits and associated archaeological level were strongly frozen and disturbed after hominin occupation and before fluvial deposition. Eight sediment samples were dated by the electron spin resonance (ESR) method and the weighted average age obtained for the fluvial sands overlying the slope deposits is 665±55 k.a. This age is older than previous assumed , placing the first European Acheulean assemblages north of 45th parallel to ca MIS 16c.

Figure 3
The Neolithic production at the Grand-Pressigny area was always in the in the focus of public interest, but Lower and Middle Paleolithic artifacts have also been reported since the 19th century.

Much material was discovered from La Sablière du Vivier, on the left bank of the Claise to Abilly and some exceptional pieces were published by de Mortillet as early as 1864. The excavations were extended by Paul Fitte, during the 1950ies and recently a detailed study about this material was conducted by Aurelian Bruchet (Bruchet, 1999).

Among numerous old quarry findings, another interesting site was detected at the Carrière de Ribault on the right bank of Creuse, just south of Descartes (Indre-et-Loire) also partially excavated by Paul Fitte in the 1950ies. Unfortunately most of the Lower Paleolithic material near Grand Pressigny comes from a secondary context and cannot be securely dated. The debitage at these sites is usually non-Levallois and the handaxes are often thick without much sophistication.

Provenience: -Ph. Cabey, Vienne