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2021-05-04 11:45:13   •   ID: 2249

The Middle Paleolithic at Les Cottés (Vienne, France)

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This is a classical large convex unifacial Quina Scraper (2,8x5x10 cm) from Les Cottés (Vienne, France) first excavated by R. de Rochebrune in 1881.

Figure1: Dorsal View with Quina Retouche, Figure 2: Ventral View with some irregular retouches; Figure 3: Natural Back; Figure 4: Cutting Edge opposite the back. The artifact may have been used hafted or hand-held near the Back.

Rochebrune described two levels of occupation: Mousterian and Upper Paleolithic. Breuil gave an important account of these excavations in 1906 by diagnosing Aurignacian levels.

The excavations of Louis Pradel took place from 1951, and were continued by F. Lévêque between 1972 and 1984.

In 2006, Marie Soressi undertook new excavations, mainly re-evaluating the stratigraphy of her forerunners combined with an up-to-date dating program (C-14; TL) and new methods of Molecular Archaeology.

The importance of this site results from a multilayered Early Upper Paleolithic with reliable AMS dates - see here: 1483 , here: 1492 , and here: 2165 and its geographical position between the greater Aquitaine and the Paris Basin.

Les Cottés is located at the entrance to a Jurassic limestone hillside cave overlooking the alluvial plain of the Gartempe River.

The Gartempe, a river flowing from south to north, is located at the southwestern margins of the Paris Basin, bordering the Poitou, Berry, and Touraine regions.

The sequence described by Pradel of a Mousterian, followed by a Châtelperronian, a “Proto-Aurignacian" and Early Aurignacian is unique in Europe and has been confirmed during the re-excavations of the last years.

The scraper of this post is made from a heavy Flint pebble, coming from the immediate vicinity of the cave and is a typical Quina Scraper.

The artifact is characterized by an elongated thick flake, in which the maximum thickness was located directly opposite the retouched edge of the finished tool.

It was not worked by the "salami slice technique" but by a more complex operational sequence of core reduction employed for the production of thick, triangular-sectioned elongated flakes, typical for Quina-Mousterian assemblages in S/W-France.

According to Turq (1989), the flaking of a long oval flint pebble commenced by removing one major preparatory flake from one end of the nodule. In a next step this initial flake surface was used as a prepared striking platform for the removal of one or more elongated flakes extending vertically down the face of the nodule (best seen in Figure 3).

Several of the flakes produced in this way could have been used directly as blanks for Quina tools. Typically these first generation blanks may retain a substantial part of the cortex, while cortical remnants are missed on subsequent blanks, which can be also seen on our example.

The Cottés sequence begins with a small sample (retouched tools of Pradels excavation: n=185) of a Mousterian that remains poorly understood. It has been found separated by a 25 cm sterile layer below the Châtelperronian deposits.

Figure 5
L. Pradel called it: "Mousterian without bifaces", despite the presence of one Cordiform Handaxe. The inventory consists mainly of Scrapers (thick and large, often transversal and reworked by Quina retouche-similar to our example. An almost identical counterpart of the scraper of this post from Pradels publication is seen in Figure 6 -(Pradels Fig.3).

Figure 6
In addition, simple scrapers, convergent scrapers, "Mousterian Points" and denticulates were found. Lévêque (1993) designated the Middle Paleolithic at the site as a "Quina-type Mousterian", maybe influenced by the typical style and number of the convex simple and transversal scrapers.

Moreover, current analyses of faunal remains showed that, despite the abundance of anthropogenic remains, the impact of the hyenas and their contribution to the bone assemblage cannot be overlooked (Soressi et al., 2010).

Continued excavation of this Mousterian complex may be essential for a better understanding of the Middle to early Upper Palaeolithic transition and the taphonomy of the lowest strata of the site.

Molecular Archaeology is increasingly contributing to scientific results of contemporaneous excavations:

A Nanderthal tooth from a child from Les Cotten showed exceptionally high δ15N values in collagen single amino acids, therfore confirming that Neanderthals were high-trophic level carnivores (Jaouen et al. 2019)

Suggested Reading:

Pradel, L. 1961. La grotte des Cottés. L’Anthropologie 65, 229-258.