The site of La Madeleine is a rock shelter located in the Vézère valley, commune of Tursac, in the Dordogne Department of France.
When Lartet and Christy visited the Vézère valley, La Madeleine was among their first discoveries during the winter of 1863-1864. Subsequently this rock shelter became the type station for the Magdalenian in Mortillet`s evolutionary scheme. Further soundings at the site were made by L. Girod and E. Massent in 1895 and E. Rivière in 1901.
In 1912, at the International Congress of Anthropology and Archaeology, Breuil published his influential interpretation about the chronology and the subdivisions of the upper Paleolithic (Breuil, 1912).
This chronocultural framework served as a basis and reference for researchers until the late 1960. Regarding the Magdalenian, Breuil divided the Magdalenian in two sub-periods: the Lower and the Upper Magdalenian. Each of these sub-periods was divided into three parts (Magdalenian I-VI) based on bone material from the site of Placard, in the Charente and the site of La Madeleine.
While Breuil used spears heads for the subdivision of the Lower Magdalenian, he used harpoons for the subdivision of the Upper Magdalenian, which, according to him were „are wonderful fossils of precision” (Breuil, 1912).
Breuil suggested that “proto-harpoons,” would be the first to appear in the Magdalenian IV. His Magdalenian V was characterized by harpoons with a single row of barbs, while harpoons with two rows of barbs were suggested to be characteristic for the Magdalenian VI .
Breuil`s framework was both influenced and confirmed by the results of the excavations D. Peyrony at La Madeleine in 1909. Indeed, the stratigraphy, Peyrony established in retrospect and published in his monograph (Capitan and Peyrony, 1928) divided the sequence at Madeleine into three parts (Magdalenian III-VI).
Nevertheless, the chronological value of different types of spears heads and harpoons for a valid subdivision of the Magdalenian were later challenged.
- The majority of sites that were used as a reference have not been studied from a non-biased stratigraphic point of view by modern excavations.
- On the other hand, if chrono-cultural distinctions are valid for the Perigord,
it was gradually realized that they were not valid elsewhere in France or in Europe. In the Pyrenees and Quercy, for example, unilateral and bilateral harpoons occur within the same levels, assigned as “Upper Magdalenian” (Julien, 1995). As for “protoharpons” they form a group quite heterogeneous and poorly defined, and therefore are of limited value as a chronological marker.
Despite these flaws and imperfections, these first researchers founded a chronology and a nomenclature which could be refined, modified and improved thereafter.
Excavations at La Madeleine were renewed by J.-M. Bouvier in the 1960ies. He established a refined stratigraphy spanning from “niveau 30” (Magdalenian IV) to “niveau 13” (Magdalenian VI). He also established a C-14 chronology for the site:
- Niveau 26, end of Magdalenian IV : 13.440 +/- 300 B.P. (Ly 919)
- Niveau 25, beginning of Magdalenian V : 13.070 +/- 190 B.P. (Ly 920)
- Niveau 21, end of Magdalenian V : 12.750 +/- 240 B.P. (Ly 921)
- Niveau 19 , beginning of Magdalenian VI : 12.640 +/- 260 B. P. (Ly 922)
The artifacts shown here (Scrapers, Burins; click to enlarge!) come from the back dirt of the Peyrony excavation and cannot be assigned to a distinct layer. Beside backed bladelets they represent the “fond commun” of the lithic artifacts at La Madeleine.