The Early Gravettien at Pataud rock shelter

The first pictures of this post show a Flechette (4 cm long) and a classic middle sized (7,5 cm long) Gravette point from the Pataud rock shelter.

The Gravettian is a great cultural tradition of the Early Upper Palaeolithic, present throughout Europe starting from 33 000 cal BP. Its duration and its vast geographic distribution make it a complex entity to define, both in terms of the material culture and the dynamics that contributed to its preservation for almost 10 000 years. During this period, several successive climatic changes had an impact on the human and animal communities which are still difficult to apprehend. Despite unifying features (Gravette points, feminine statuettes), a strong regionalization is perceptible.

The most important multilayered site in S/W-France remains the L’Abri Pataud, or the Pataud Shelter in English, a prehistoric site found in the middle of the village Les Eyzies-de-Tayac-Sireuil in the Dordogne, Aquitaine, southwestern France (Picture from the wonderful Don`s Map).

The abri is named after Marcel Pataud, a local peasant, who made the first findings at the end of the 19th century. Emile Rivière (1835–1922) described the site in 1899 as  „La Croze de Tayac“. 1901 and 1906 he made some soundings followed by Louis Capitan (1854–1929). In 1909  Denis Peyrony (1869–1954), whose report about his small scale excavations was published in 1949, called the site finally as „Abri Pataud“. The artifacts shown here, are from one of these early excavations and seem to  come from the oldest Gravettian levels. Complete examples of these early projectile points are rare from this site. Such middle large and even larger Gravettes are characteristic of the Gravettian in the larger Aquitaine, maily before the Noailles-phase. Famous examples are the three strata at La Gravette, the Abri Le Poisson, Le Facteur,  Trou de la Chèvre, Roc de Combe (Lot), Laussel, and Abri Pages at Ruth, Roc de Combe Capelle and the couche J at La Ferrassie.

The French government classified the site as an historical monument by decree on 25 June 1930, and additional shelters located nearby under the cliff further protected as of May 9, 1958. The site became the property of the museum of natural history in 1957 at the initiative of Hallam L. Movius, who had directed excavations since 1953. Movius continued to direct investigations between 1958 and 1964.

The results of the excavations were compiled by Harvey M. Bricker. Continuing work will help elucidate the evolution of stone tool use at the shelters themselves, and their relationship to other sites in the region. Since 2005, a scheduled archaeological operation is adding to our knowledge of the site and to the collection. It concerns one of the shelter’s last human occupations during the final phase of the Gravettian (22 k.a. BP). The operation, headed by R. Nespoulet and L. Chiotti (Prehistory department – MNHN) involves a team of fifteen researchers and students for yearly one-month digs, who supply the materials needed for the multi-disciplinary studies underway.

The site includes human remains, stone tools, and early cultural artifacts made during the Upper Paleolithic, between approximately 41 and 17 k.a.  ago. The excavators described several macro-units, but from the field notes we know, that the stratigraphy was much finer. According to the publications from the Movius team the stratigraphic sequence comprises distinct stratigraphic units, separated by sterile layers:  Eboulis de surface.  Niveau 1, Solutréen inférieur. Eboulis 1-2. Niveau 2, Proto-Magdalénien ( Perigordian VII or “Laugerian”; a Late Gravettian). Eboulis 2-3. Niveau 3, Périgordien VI (a Late Gravettian). Eboulis 3-4. Niveau 4: Noaillien (Figure 3 shows a classic Noailles Burin from the site). Niveau 5, Périgordien IV (Early Gravettian) . Eboulis 5-6. Niveau 6: Aurignacien évolué. Eboulis 6-7. Niveau 7, Aurignacien b évolué. Eboulis 7-8. Niveau 8: Aurignacien a évolué. Eboulis 8-9, niveau 9, éboulis 9-10, niveau 10. Eboulis 10-11. Niveau 11: Aurignacien b ancien. Eboulis 11-12. Niveau 12: Aurignacien a ancien. Eboulis 12-13. Niveau 13: Aurignacien b initial. Eboulis 13-14. Niveau 14: Aurignacien a initial.

The results suggest that occupation at the Abri Pataud began between 41-40 k.a. cal BP, this  just prior to the start of the occupation of Level 14. This initial occupation may have taken place during a colder climatic regime. The only interstadial event of significance is the GIS9 event at c. 40 k.a. cal BP . This concurs with the faunal evidence in Level 14, which is dominated by reindeer (98.7% of the faunal elements).

Overall, the early Aurignacian at the site dates between 41-35 k.a. cal, the evolved Aurignacian started at 38 k.a. cal BP followed by a hiatus of between 1800 and 3300 years before the  Gravettian started at ca. 33 k.a.cal BP and ended with the Protomagdalenian at 22 k.a.cal BP.

The Abri Pataud, distinguished for its meticulous excavation  and its exhaustive publication, attests to the variety of probable weapon tips used within the Gravettian technocomplex in the Périgord.

The Early Gravettian Level 5 , with 5,640 retouched tools, has virtually no backed bladelets or shouldered/tanged points, but it does have huge numbers of Gravette points (15.4 %) along with a substantial quantity of microgravettes (9.6 %). There are also a about 150  fléchettes, a type of probable projectile point that is marginally, abruptly retouched into a bi-pointed leaf shape, sometimes bordering on microlithic size (3–6 cm long, with an average of 4.6 cm).

The so-called Noaillan level (Level 4 ) has virtually no backed bladelets, fléchettes, microgravettes, shouldered or tanged points, and only a very few Gravette points . Presumably hunting either was not a major activity during these occupations, or it was done with entirely different weaponry.

In contrast, so-called Perigordian VI (Level 3) has a huge number of microgravettes (181 = 13.8 %), together with many Gravette points (85 = 6.5 %) and small quantities of various backed bladelet types (24 = 1.8 percent).

Finally, and again in contrast, the so-called “Proto-Magdalenian”  Level 2, dated to 22 k.a.  has huge numbers of backed bladelets (388 = 33.6 %), but no Gravette points or microgravettes. Pataud would seem to show that a variety of weapon tips were used at different times within the Gravettian range, sometimes macrolithic and sometimes microlithic. Why the various choices were made by Gravettian hunters is unknown.

In addition Level 2 revealed more than 400 human remains representing a minimum of 6 adults and children. The new excavations (2005-2011), the analysis of archives and a new study of the Movius collections highlight original funeral behaviors with primary deposits presumably followed by secondary interventions. It is suggested that men used the abri

A series of artifacts, which were qualified as «extra-ordinary» is considered to be associated with human remains and therefore as funerary deposits. Hundreds of painted fragments from the flaking of the rock shelter wall, twenty-six body ornaments pieces, several fragments of herbivores scapulae with decor painted in red ocher and an ocher deer skull comparable to the group of three skulls found during Movius excavations. A large bovid scapula with red ocher punctuated decor, discovered in 1963, has been completed by six fragments from sorting of the Movius collection fauna.

Abri Pataud / Les Eyzies during the Gravettian: Three Rare Artifacts

Reindeer phalanges from the Gravettian at Abri Pataud / Dordogne

Gravettian Jet Pendant at Abri Pataud (Les Eyzies; Dordogne)

Suggested Readings:

BRICKER H. M. 1973 – The Perigordian IV and Related Cultures in France, Department of Anthropology, Harvard University, Ph. D. Dissertation, 1849 p.

BRICKER H. M., DAVID N. 1984 – Excavation of the abri Pataud, les Eyzies (Dordogne), The Perigordian VI (Level 3) assemblage, Bulletin of the American School of Prehistoric Research, Peabody Museum, Harvard University, n° 34, 109 p.

BRICKER H. M. (sous la direction de) 1995 – Le Paléolithique supérieur de l’abri Pataud, Dordogne, les fouilles de H..L. Movius Jr, Maison des Sciences de l’Homme, Documents d’Archéologie Française, Paris, n° 50, 328 p.

BROOKS A. S. 1979 – The significance of variability in Paleolithic assemblages: An Aurignacian example from southwestern France, thesis of Department of Anthropology, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachussetts, 1057 p.

HIGHAM,T., et al., Precision dating of the Palaeolithic: A new radiocarbon chronology for the Abri Pataud (France), a key Aurignacian sequence, Journal of Human Evolution (2011), doi:10.1016/j.jhevol.2011.06.005

MOVIUS H. L. Jr. 1977 – Excavation of the abri Pataud , Les Eyzies (Dordogne): Stratigraphy, American School of Prehistoric Research, Peabody Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, Bulletin n° 31, 167 p.

NESPOULET R. 1996 – Le Périgordien VI de l’abri Pataud, Les Eyzies-de-Tayac, Dordogne. Etude technologique et typologique de l’industrie lithique de la couche 3, thèse de doctorat, Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris, 260 p.

NESPOULET R. 1999 – Remontage d’une microgravette dans une séquence de débitage laminaire du Gravettien final de l’abri Pataud (Les Eyzies-de-Tayac, Dordogne). Niveau 3 : Périgordien VI, Préhistoire du Sud-Ouest, n° 6, pp. 57-77.

NESPOULET R. 2000 – Le Gravettien final de l’abri Pataud, Les Eyzies-de-Tayac, Dordogne. Nouvelles données technologiques et typologiques sur l’industrie lithique provenant du niveau 3, L’Anthropologie, vol. 104, n° 1, 2000, pp. 63-120.

POTTIER C. 2005 – Le Gravettien moyen de l’abri Pataud (Dordogne, France) : le niveau 4 et l’éboulis 3/4. Etude technologique et typologique de l’industrie lithique, Thèse de doctorat, Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle, Paris, 393 p.

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