Before Combe Grenal: The early scientific work of F. Bordes and the Allonne Brickyards


allonne 2 aggsbach katzman

This is a typical Acheulian handaxe from Allonne (Fig. 1; Oise department in northern France). Since many years, I am fascinated by the elegant elongated late Acheulian handaxes from this site. I am still astonished by the uniformity of the Allonne handaxes, which in my view displays a very special local tradition and “style”. An elongated Allone handaxe will be certainly recognized as such in any random sample of European bifaces. There are some Micoquian handaxes (Fig.2) On the other hand smaller handaxes from the same strata (OIS7?) resemble Cordiformes from the much later MTA.  The flake industry is non-Levallois and essentially not different from a “Moustérien typique” from the last glaciation. Paul Fitte, coworker and friend of F. Bordes had followed for many years the quarry operations at the Allonne brickyards before mechanic devices for their exploitation replaced pure hand work and made further discoveries impossible.

The English speaking audience knows Francois Bordes mainly as the excavator of Combe Grenal and by the “Bordes-Binford” Debate of the 1960ies and 70ies, but usually does not recognize that the scientific interest of F. Bordes was initially more focused to the classic sites in the loess belt of Northern France. A good example of this early interest is his work about Allonne, published in 1949  (

Born in 1919 in the Lot-et-Garonne, François Bordes finished the high school in Villeneuve-sur-Lot in 1936. Then he began university studies at the Faculty of Sciences of Bordeaux where he obtained two certificates of license (Botany, 1938, Geology, 1940), before being mobilized for the French army in their fight against the Germans. Demobilized in February 1941, he made additionally two certificates of Chemistry (1942) and mineralogy (1943) in Toulouse. The young Bordes participated actively in the Resistance (Dordogne network) and in 1944  in the liberation of Bordeaux.  He was definitely demobilized in 1945, when he joined the CNRS with Raymond Vaufrey as director.

alonneResearch Fellow until 1947, he directed his research at beginning of his career, to the stratigraphy of the Paleolithic in Northern France and to a better definition of tool types and the variability of artefactual complexes.  In 1951 he defended his thesis : “Les Limons Quaternaires du Bassin de la Seine. Stratigraphie et Archeologie paleolithique” (Archives de l’ Institutes de Paleontologie Humaine, 26). This heavy weighted book, published in 1951 and still very readable, is full of information and wonderful illustrations about the stratigraphy and artefacts of still important sites, although his stratigraphic observations are partially outdated and many “series” of artifacts were assembled by brickyard workers in order to their patination. Bordes called the Allonne ensemble: Micoquian, a designation which he sometimes used as a synonym for the late Acheulian in Northern France.


Here some artifacts from the Bordes /Fitte paper mentioned above (Fig. 3):



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