Stories around Combe Capelle

Roc de cc aggsbach

These are Upper Paleolithic tools from Roc de Combe Capelle collected by D. Peyrony early in the 20th century. Unfortunately they can not be assigned to a certain technocomlex.

Combe-Capelle is an important Prehistoric site situated in the Couze valley in the Périgord region of Southern France. The site is located near the town of Saint-Avit-Sénieur, was detected by Michel-Antoine Landesque in 1885, and comprises a set of at least four localities, under excavation since more than 100 years: Combe-Capelle Bas, Abri Peyrony (Haut de Combe-Capelle), Roc de Combe-Capelle and the Plateau de Ruffet. Each of these localities has its own archaeological sequence and together they span the late Acheulian, Middle Paleolithic, and parts of the local Upper Paleolithic sequence.

The Abri Peyrony produced a rich Mousterian of Acheulian Tradition (MTA) industry (calibrated AMS dates: 47,7 to 41,1 k.a. Cal BP). Here, recently three special bone tools, Lissoirs, for leather processing, were excavated and called the oldest “formalized” bone tools made by Neanderthals anywhere in Europe. Similar tools are known from the MTA of Pech de L`Aze (ca. 50 k.a. old). It is interesting and understandable but not very fair, that the bone tools from the contemporaneous Micoquian site of Salzgitter Lebenstaedt were widely ignored by the authors.

Combe-Capelle Bas shows a Mousterian with Quina affinities. TL dates place a portion of the sequence to 50-60 k.a. From the Plateau de Ruffet, a classic Acheulian, MTA, and a classic Aurignacian were reported by de Heinzelin and Fitte in 1969.

Roc de Combe-Capelle was originally excavated by Villeréal in 1907. Villeréal was one of these early “Farfouilleurs” in the Périgord, who destruced important sites without any documentation, mainly for commercial reasons. Peyrony visited the site during 1907/1908 made stratigraphically observations and draw lithics from different strata. During the same year, Breuil and J. Bouyssonie also made small control excavations.  Peyrony published his material in 1943 and the publication remains the only scientific document about the site. In 1909 Villeréals sold the material from his excavations to O. Hauser, a German-Swiss archaeologist, who  subsequently leased the site from him and continued the excavations. Roc de Comb Capelle became famous when Hauser discovered a  nearly complete skeleton of Homo sapiens, which Hauser and others (Peyrony, Breuil) suggested to be associated with the Chatelperronian (obviously mixed with MTA) at the base of the archaeological sequence. The burial was of a man who died between 40-50 years of age. He was buried in a shallow pit with numerous grave goods, including a necklace of perforated shells.

Otto Hauser wanted a total of 160 000 Goldmark for the skeletons of Le Moustier (a Neanderthal he found 1908 at the type site) and the Combe Capelle skeleton. The Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte in Berlin decided to buy the skeletons in 1910. Excluding French colleagues from his excavations and selling these two skeletons to a German museum in the hyper-chauvinistic atmosphere that characterized the French-German relations after the 1871 war  was certainly not very prudent by Hauser, who was subsequently expropriated and expelled under the accusation of espionage from France in 1914 some days after the WW I had begun. It may be possible that archeological documentations and collections of Hauser, which he left at his quarter at Laugerie  are still present in the Prehistoric Museum at Eyzies, although this is denied in the 1943 publication of Peyrony.

Together with the remains of the Le Moustier Neanderthal, Combe Capelle man was one major attraction for the public in the Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte in Berlin, but both specimens were lost after the destruction of the museum by the bombing of Berlin on February 1945. Concerning Combe Capelle man, some of the charred postcranial remains were subsequently found among the rubble of the bombed-out museum. The skull was believed to have been lost forever but rediscovered in 2001.

For many years the Chatelperronian as the first Upper Paleolithic culture in S/W-France was thought to have been made by Combe Capelle man (H. sapiens), a view that was only challenged by Neanderthal findings in a Chatelperronian context (level EJOP), at Saint-Césaire (Charente Maritime) in 1979. Finally the assumption of an association between AMHs and the Chatelperronian at Combe Capelle was falsified very recently by direct AMS dating of the rediscovered skeleton. Combe Capelle man is now assigned to a Mesolithic date of 7,5 k.a. BC.

Ironically, in the meantime the association between Neanderthals and the Chatelperronian at Saint-Césaire has also been questioned because level EJOP seems to be a mix of Mousterian and Early Upper Paleolithic. Therefore the question: Who made the Chatelperronian is not resolved, yet.

At Roc de Combe Capelle, Peyrony reported several Aurignacian ( Aurignacian I and II) and three “Upper Perigordian” (Gravettian) levels above the Chatelperronian , followed by two strata of Solutrean, the lower ensemble showing points a face plane mixed with Font-Robert (?) and Gravette points. After 1909 Hauser virtually emptied the site and  no material remained in situ for renewed analysis.

Suggested Readings:

Denis Peyrony: Le Gisement Du Roc De Combe Capelle (Commune de Saint-Avit-Sénieur, Dordogne). In: Bulletin Société historique Périgord 70, 1943, S. 156–173, (Périgueux).

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About Katzman

During my whole life I was fascinated by stone age artefacts. Not only the aesthetic qualities of these findings, but also the stories around them and the considerations arising from their discovery, are a part of my blog. Comments and contributions are allways welcome!

About me: J.L. Katzman (Pseudonym). Born in Vienna. Left Austria in 1974 and did not regret. Studied Medicine and Prehistory at a German University. Member of a Medical Department at a German University.

Copyright 2010-2017 by JLK. All Rights Reserved. You are welcome to use material in these posts so long as you cite the work.

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