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2021-08-31 16:42:06   •   ID: 2265

Reflections about the Reality of the Ferrassie-Mousterian

Plate 1 ; Courteously by Thilo Parg
La Ferrassie, is a large rock-shelter 40 km southeast of Périgueux (Dordogne department, southern France) and the most important Neanderthal site in France. Plate 1 shows the reference profile wich was left in 1973 by Henri Delporte and exposes a maximum height of about 6 m.

Figure 1
Figure 1: This is a large (10x7 cm) flat Levallois double convex scraper, with rather carless simple retouches on the margins of the dorsal side (Figure 1 and 2). The Bulb of Percussion has been removed by some truncations on the proximal ventral side by hard hammer technique (Figure 3 and 4).

The scraper was found at La Ferrassie and is made from banded Bergeracois Flint - very appealing for a modern Homo sapiens. Whether this also applies to Neanderthals remains unexplained, although they certainly appreciated the quality of the raw material.

Interestingly you can find an almost exact counterpart from La Ferrassie, also made from Bergeracois Flint, displayed in the Don's Map (with permission) here: Ferrassie - look at the second picture in the first row.

Today, findings from La Ferrassie are rare in private collections. Parts of the important excavations from the 1920s by Denis Peyrony have been sold to wealthy Scientific Institutions and private collectors, mainly from the US and are probably lost forever for a summary assessment.

The artifact of this post originally comes from the collection of E. Rivière, who excavated at La Ferrassie very early by himself. Items from his important collection were sold by his two sons during an auction in 1922, at the Hotel Drouot in Paris-see: 1689

I have already written about important new results from the La Ferrassie Paleolithic site in 2018-see: 1444 . Anyhow, the present post asks about the Reality of F. Bordes' "Charentien type Ferrassie" and the chronology of the Mousterian Ensembles at the Type Site. We will see that the answers have main implications for the reconstruction of the Middle Paleolithic in S/W-France and beyond.

Figure 2
In short, the site was discovered by chance towards the end of the 19th century during the construction of a country road and soon attracted the attention of enthusiasts.

It was Denis Peyrony, who undertook first serious excavations here together with Louis Capitan since 1896. Between 1909 and 1921, Peyrony came across several Neanderthal burials- I have already reported about these burials and new skeletal Neanderthal findings in an earlier post.

Peyrony described three Mousterian Layers: "a, b, c"- according to the Conventions of his time Peyrony designated stratum “a” as Acheulian, mainly because Bifaces were present.

Anyhow the Bulk of Mousterian Findings was excavated from Layer b and c. Later excavations revealed the presence of even four Mousterian strata.

The most common lithics, Peyrony described, were highly retouched and curated large Simple scrapers, Double scrapers, some Dejete scrapers, convergent tools (Scraper and/or Points) and Quina like transversal Scrapers together with some denticulated and notched pieces. Most tools were made from Levallois the tools that are displayed in the Museum at Les Eyzies give you a nice impression about the findings, that were collected: Ferrassie B and C .

Peyrony and Capitan acquired the site in 1923 for the French state. To refine the stratigraphic sequence, Henri Delporte subjected La Ferrassie to a meticulous re-excavation and examination between 1968 and 1973.

Figure 3
Finally new investigations were carried out by the indefatigable late H. Dibble in recent years and brought new results confirming grosso modo the stratigraphic observations of Peyrony and Delporte.

"The lowermost layers (1 to 5 of the new stratigraphy) contain Middle Palaeolithic stone tools (Dibble et al. 2018) associated with mostly large bovids (Bison/Bos) and red deer (Cervus elaphus). These levels are overlain by a well‐ constrained Châtelperronian in Layer 6 (Talamo et al. 2020)"

Dibble compared the Middle Paleolithic artifact ensemble, from the Peyrony excavations with those from his new dig.

The examination showed that Peyrony had retained only 2-3% of the original inventory and therefore produced a considerable collection bias, as has already being observed from Le Moustier-see: 1487 and other classical sites in the Perigord, like La Combe Capelle, which became evident during re-excavations of the last years.

In Ferrasie, especially small, unretouched pieces, simple scraper, denticules and notches are underrepresented in Peyrony's collection - which is not surprising since they were not considered as "Belles Pieces" during the early Excavations.

Importantly enough, the Levallois Index from Peyrony's collection is around 39-45% while it is much lower (about 12-17%) regarding the newly recovered material (Dibble et al. 2018).

However, there are also sampling biases in the opposite direction: while Dibble et al. removed 8,7 m3 of sediment, Peyrony removed a total of approximately 150 m3 of Mousterian deposits, that may have captured more representative portions of the site.

Figure 4
By the way, these new insights are not intended to downgrade the highly valuable work of Peyrony, who, unlike many of his colleagues, did a job according to the scientific standards of his time, and established for the first time a reliable local stratigraphy for the Palaeolithic of the Perigord...

The Mousterian of layers 4,5a and 5b from Dibble's excavation where attributed by OSL, between 54 ± 3 and 40 ± 2 k.a, while the AMS C-14 dates for Layer 5b gave an age between 44 and 47 k.a. cal BP.

In General the systematic inconsistencies between OSL and C-14 Methods have already discussed elsewhere in the Blog. Anyhow the Mousterian of La Ferrassie appear to belong to MIS3 and to the the final Middle Paleolithic of the region (Talamo et al. 2020).

What conclusions can we draw from a reassessment of high ranked older excavations (Combe Grenal) and new excavations at Le Moustier and La Ferrassie?

  • Even "Type Stations" proved to be complex individual assemblages determined by a multitude of influencing factors

  • The rigid, typological definition of discrete Mousterian facies by F. Bordes, which is still used in a hidden form despite all criticism, should be replaced by a detailed description of all techno-typological components of the inventory under study, especially when sampled during modern excavations

  • This can be done, for example, by a unified description of the manufacturing technique and its dynamic diversity during the production process and a typological system characterised by “fluid transitions”

  • "Independent palaeo-environmental data, raw material provisioning strategies and elements of faunal exploitation will have to be integrated for a more realistic picture of changing patterns of Neandertal landscape use" (this point was slightly modified after Faivre et al. 2014)

Surf the Blog:

Some remarks about the Bergerac Region from the lower Paleolithic to the Neolithic-see here: 1420 , here 1164 , here: 1369 , here: 1017 , here: 2064 , and here: 1479