Diving deep into the Neanderthal world

Many sites around Les Eyzies contained and still contain remains dating from the time when Neanderthals populated the region. But not all of these sites are open to the public. Today’s program featured three of the most famous sites, La Micoque, Le Moustier and La Ferrassie. These not only delivered artefacts and/or skeletal remains of Neanderthals, but also make for an interesting history of archaeological research, featuring Otto Hauser and Denis Peyrony, among many others. Although I have come to Les Eyzies twice each year during the last four years, I still find it exciting to revisit all these sites, and each time I learn something new that can be incorporated in next year’s guidebook.

Much has been said and written about La Micoque, a site with a really complicated stratigraphy, and strange artefacts. But now it seems as if geologists and archaeologists have come to a valid conclusion: most of the sediments were deposited when the small river had higher discharge, most of the artefacts date to the Moustérien and are attributed to Neanderthals, and the old famous bifaces, which had been found on top of the stratigraphy, are reworked from the plateau above the site. However they testify for the presence of Homo erectus, Homo heidelbergensis or Homo antecessor in the region. Unfortunately their skeletal remains have not been yet in or around Les Eyzies.
Le Moustier is famous for the story about the skeleton which Otto Hauser sold for a sum corresponding to 7 000 000 Euro in today’s currency, and for the small child skeleton, which had been discovered again in the museum after decades, and which had made it into Nature after the careful excavation by Bruno Maureille.
During the old excavations in La Ferrassie several burial mounds containing Neanderthal skeletons of different ages were found. Among these is one of the best-preserved European Neanderthal skeletons, a man aged 50, who probably was handicapped, but who was cared for by his family.
Thanks to all these skeletons from Le Moustier and La Ferrassie, researchers have been able to obtain very good information regarding the ontogeny of Neanderthals.
All excavations at these three sites had been made early during the last century, although some follow-up excavations and additional investigations had been performed at La Micoque and La Ferrassie some decades ago. Age estimations are therefore still rather vague, and are mainly based on the correlation of artefacts. It will be interesting to see what the new excavations at La Ferrassie, planned for June this year will give.

Compared to last year we are really lucky with the weather. Sunshine all daylong and temperatures approaching 30 °C! I guess that most of our students were longing for a cold beer after this long day, full of impressions and information.

Tomorrow will be a long day. We will drive to Pech Merle and visit the paintings made by Homo sapiens, and hopefully we will have some time to admire the beautiful landscapes and the nice villages. And now, a great dinner is waiting, the chef Per will treat Otto and me to a grilled beef and a tomato salad, and as a first dish we will have the duck liver made by Florence’s mother! All this will be eaten on our terrace from which we have the most gorgeous view of the surrounding limestone plateaus.

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