CAHO fieldtrip to France Postcard #2

Yesterday (Thursday) we motored down in glorious sunshine from north of Tours straight to Les Eyzies. We arrived mid-afternoon and the students spent the rest of the afternoon in the Museum of Prehistory. The special exhibition of Magdelenian art was particularly impressive and the general feeling was that a return visit is highly likely.

Today was an amazing day. A brief look-see through the fence at Le Moustier and then off to see Professor Randall White and his team’s excavation at the Aurignacian site of Abri Cellier. We were truly amazed at the amount of work Randy and the team have done in such a short time. They’d had an amazing morning with some spectacular finds made both before we arrived and while we were there which was very exciting for us. Obviously I can’t say what was coming out, but watch out for this site.


Randy invited us for lunch with his team which was great fun. Then it was back to Le Moustier, this time into the site, to share a talk by Professor Alain Turq with the Abri Cellier crew. When he found out who our guide was, young Chris Hoggard had to be helped out in a near feint.

How do you top that? A whole valley dedicated to the Aurignacian that is how (actually there is other stuff as well, but William was particularly enthusiastic about the Aurignacian) – the Castelmerle Valley.  It is an astonishing site really. Both sides of the valley are a series of connected Abri’s, some with engraved art on the walls and ceilings, others with engravings on small plaquettes of limestone. Randy thinks it was a winter site where Aurignacian groups took refuge in the small micro-climate of this dry valley practicing various craft activities. There are carved loops (pierres a anneaux) set in the roof at the front of the rockshelters from which coverings may have been hung acting as doors to keep the cold out. Randy’s team, when they dug here, found clear evidence for hearths inside the shelters. What got to me more than anything else was how much the site’s interpretation makes the Aurignacian seem personal. The archaeology is too late for me, but I can start to understand the enthusiasm people have for the Aurignacian. Sadly I don’t think I’d make a good Aurignacian hunter though. We all had a go at using spear throwers but I didn’t have the knack. Sarah and Tanner would probably have to be our chief hunters.

Our final site of the day was the great La Micoque. Handaxes at last! As Professor Turq forcefully reminded me this is NOT an abri, its deposits are river terrace aggradations abutting the limestone wall of the valley side. What was done to this site by Otto Hauser makes you weep, but thankfully a determined effort by French researchers in recent years has made much sense of what remains. Tyacian at the base and late(?) Acheulean Micoquian handaxes at the top. It is also, if I remember correctly, the oldest site in the area with the oldest levels near 450 kya.

It was an amazing day and a well-earned beer, or two, when we got back finished off the day perfectly. Can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings.

Wishing you were here,

Mac, William, Cathy, Jo, Sarah, Tanner, Adam, Paul and Christian