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2021-02-25 12:02:18   •   ID: 2242

Edouard Lartet and his first Excavations at le Moustier in 1863

Figure 1
This is a Biface (Figure 1 and 2) and a large Flake (Figure 3) from the Upper Abri at Le Moustier (Vezere / Dordogne), coming from the Excavations of Lartet and Christy in 1863. They are part of my personal collection. The Label (L&C) from this groundbreaking excavations is still visible on Figure 3.

The Base of the Handaxe is rather thick and the overall design differs clearly from the common biconvex MTA-Handaxes at the site-see 1487 .The apical side is splintered and "Cleaver-like", but we have no real indication for a Bifacial Cleaver template.

The piece resembles handaxes from the penultimate Glacial, found in other Cave sites (for example at Combe Grenal) and open air sites like Combe Brune 2 in the Perigord.

Bifaces, dated to MIS 5 are known from the basal statum of La Ferrassie, while the MTA of the lower Abri at Le Moustier and other Localities in the Aquitaine has been dated to MIS 3.

Le Moustier remains an important site in the History of Prehistory, because it was baptized in 1869 as type locality of a specific lithic industry, the "Mousterian" by Gabriel de Mortillet, the reference in prehistory of the time. Other researchers have resumed excavations at the Upper Abri, such as M. Bourlon and D. Peyrony, but the shelter is now completely emptied of its Paleolithic deposits.

Due to the early excavation, the original stratigraphy of the Upper Abri can not be reconstructed, although it is thought to resembled, at least in part, the Middle Paleolithic strata from the lower Abri, which has been much more carefully excavated - see: 1487

When Edouard Lartet arrived in Les Eyzies in August 1863, he already had experienced more than twenty years of paleontological research and discoveries.

Born in 1801 in the Gers, graduated in Law in Toulouse in 1820, he was sent by his father to Paris in 1821 for further education.

Figure 2
In Paris, together with London the capital of science at this time, he followed the exciting lessons of Lamarck, Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire and Cuvier at the Muséum national d’histoire naturelle. Back in the Gers, he practiced as a lawyer in Auch until 1834.

From the years 1820-1830, he was part of a stimulating scientific milieu of amateur researchers gathered around the Academy of Sciences de Toulouse which was very open for research around the existence of fossil man and evolutionary thinking.

It was the interest in Paleontology, that prompted Lartet to abandon his profession definitively to undertake systematic excavations. Lartet scientific interest was more and more focused on the nearby paleontological deposits at Sansan (Gers, France), a unique site of Middle Miocene age (ca. 15 Ma), and a hot spot for the evaluation of the biodiversity of this time. Here he uncovered ancestral mammalians, among them fossile apes close to the hominid line.

Lartet published several notes about his discoveries in the reports of the Academy of Sciences, which contributed to his recognition among the French paeonthologists. Settled permanently in Paris in 1856, he received a letter from A. Fontan about the discovery of bone and flint tools associated with fossil fauna in the cave of Massât (Ariège).

The next few years around 1860 saw increasing scientifically accepted evidence of the simultaneity of extinct animals and humans. Just think of Pengelly's work at Brixham Cave and and the final acceptance of Boucher de Perthes discoveries near Abbeville in the Somme Valley.

Figure 3
In 1860, hearing of the discovery of human bones at a cave at Aurignac, and inspired by the work of William Pengelly and Boucher de Perthes, Lartet turned his attention most fruitfully to the cave systems of S/W-France.

His first publication on the subject, "The Antiquity of Man in Western Europe" (1860), was followed in 1861 by New Researches in the Aurignac cave, demonstrating the contemporaneous existence of man and extinct mammals.

While these first results were met with some incredulity, a fellow geologist helpfully pointed Lartet towards the Vézère valley in the Périgord, where in 1863 he began to dig backed by the financial and personal help of Henry Christy, an English banker and collector.

Their conjoint work was immediately to open new horizons, and served to establish a basic stratified typology of the local Middle and Upper Paleolithic. The important discoveries at Laugerie, the Vallon de Gorge d'Enfer, at the Abri de la Madeleine and the upper Abri at Le Moustier provided type-sites for Paleolithic "cultures", which (from the associated fauna) Lartet linked to an early 'mammoth' phase and a late 'reindeer' phase.

The account of their joint researches appeared in a paper descriptive of the Dordogne caves and contents published in Revue archéologique (1864); and would eventually be published by Lartet and Christy under the title Reliquiae Aquitanicae, the first part appearing in 1865. Figure 4 shows two pages with tools, Lartet found at Le Moustier.

Christy unfortunately died before the completion of the work, but Lartet continued it until the breakdown of his health in 1870.

Figure 4
Figure 4 is from my personal copy of Lartet and Christies final report about the Palaeolithic of the Perigord- Reliquiae Aquitanicae- a wonderful pdf copy can be found here: Reliquiae Aquitanicae .

This Book remains one important cornerstone of Paleolithic Archeology and laid the foundations for almost all disciplines dealing with its issues.

In nuce we find interdisciplinary contributions to Stratigraphy, Landscape Archaeology, Archaeozoology, and other issues, that are still in the focus of Research.

Provenence: Lartet & Christy -later: Collection Bigot (FR)