Neanderthals here we come!

Finally the sun is shining again and temperatures are rising. This was fortunate, because today’s excursion went to Le Moustier, La Ferrassie, and to Abri Pataud. Had we had as much rain, as yesterday then the spirits may have reached an all time low.
The site of Le Moustier, located in the village of Le Moustier is famous for its Neanderthal remains, and is the type locality for the Mousterien stone tools. But it is also famous for the excavations by Otto Hauser, a Swiss archaeologist. He made his living by selling archaeological artefacts to different museums, an undertaking that was very much resented by Denis Peyrony, the school teacher from Les Eyzies, who wanted to preserve and protect archaeological remains.

Otto Hauser rented the land around the two abris in Le Moustier, where Mousterien tools had already been found 1863 and started digging in 1907. He actually discovered a Neanderthal grave 1908 and subsequently tried to sell the skeleton at several occasions to different museums. So he uncovered and recovered the grave several times until he had found a buyer who would pay most money. During this process, the skeleton was more and more damaged, and the grave was of course destroyed. Otto Hauser wanted a total of 160 000 Goldmark for the skeletons of Le Moustier and Combe Capelle, another site he had been excavating. The Museum für Völkerkunde in Berlin decided to buy the skeletons in 1910, but it took almost 8 years of fundraising to get the whole sum together.

Only a few weeks ago I had visited the museum in Berlin, where pictures of Hauser’s excavations in Le Moustier and Combe Capelle, as well as the skull from Le Moustier are shown. Here they were finally, the documents to the story I had heard so many times when visiting Le Moustier! It was great to see the old black and white pictures from the 1907 and 1908 excavations, and of course the famous skull. Just too bad that I had not brought my camera with me, and could only take pictures with my phone. The pictures are thus not of best quality but here they are anyway!

The story of the excavations at La Ferrassie is not slightly as thrilling as that of Le Moustier. It was Denis Peyrony who performed the excavations in a much more careful manner between 1899 and 1919, and therefore also much more documentation exists. Peyrony discovered several Neanderthal graves here between 1909 and 1923. Otto Hauser had no chance to excavate La Ferassie and had been thrown out of France by then.

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5 Responses to Neanderthals here we come!

  1. Adam Benton says:

    It always pleases me to see decent excavations done by early archaeologists, such as Lartet and Christy’s work in Europe.

    But seeing others destroying stuff just to sell artefacts puts a dampner on those feelings.

    Sounds like you were having fun at least.

    • Hallo Adam,

      yes it is really a pity that so much information has been destroyed by old excavations! Too bad, otherwise we would have so many more artefacts now that could give us clues about the Neanderthals and Anatomically Modern Humans. But at least modern excavations are made in a careful way.

      • Adam Benton says:

        Most of the time they’re done right, but every so often you still spot a rogue numpty with a metal detector and no clue about what context is.

  2. john piprani says:

    hi barbara
    i like your blog and would like to find out a bit more about the excavation and otto hauser. can you recommend any reading? also, i read an interesting book recently that touched upon the work of assien bohmers at mauern in germany, an excellent cave archaeologist, but also unfortunately an enthusiastic nazi who was able to carry on excavating into the 1950’s. the book is called ‘the master plan’ by heather pringle should you be interested.

    • Hallo John,
      I found the homepage about Otto Hauser informative. It is in German though, but had a number of references. Also the book ‘the affair of Abri du Poisson’ is interesting. Otherwise I found bits and pieces from different sources, and some are even memories from when I studied prehistory.

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