France Prehistory

By | January 20, 2022

During the Clactonian period (see Mousteriana, civilization, XXIII, p. 989) the proximity of the springs is already very important for the establishment of settlements: the Clactonian stations located in the estuary of the Seine, at the Bec-de-Caux and on the beaches dei Régates, in Le Havre, Saint-Adresse, are spread over five kilometers near water sources.

The central-western part of France, a transit area and largely open to the Atlantic Ocean, has been populated since Quaternary times. Few stations, however, can refer to the Clactonian and Abbevillian. While Acheuléano is rare in the massifs of the Vendée and Limousin, it is instead very abundant in the plains of the Charente, of the Claise, of the Creuse. The Levalloisiano appears mainly in the lowlands, in contact with the Acheuléano, and on the highlands of Vienna. Its last phase merges with the Mousterian, known from the important deposits in caves or shelters under rocks, in stations located at the foot of rocks (La Quina, Petit-Puymoyen, Châteauneuf-sur-Charente, Charente), and on the plateaus of the Vienna. Under the Mousterian, traces of Rhinoceros MerckiiTestudo graeca) contemporary of the interglacial Riss-Würm.

According to, the Upper Paleolithic is well represented in certain privileged regions: Nontronnais, villages of La Rochefoucauld, Montmorillon, Boischaut. The Aurignacian is abundant in the Charente, in Vienna, in the Indre and, on the surface, in the Deux-Sèvres; it is absent in Upper Vienna and in the Maritime Charente.

The Solutréano is well characterized in the stations of Combe-à-Rolland, of Placard, of Roc-de-Sers, of Monthiers; the Magdalenian in Chaffaud and La Marche, in Saint-Marcel (Indre), in Montgaudier and in Placard (Charente). During the Magdalenian, caves were inhabited in the Gartempe, Tardoire and Charente valleys.

The Mesolithic is almost unknown in these territories.

The Dordogne is always one of the most important centers of Paleolithic discoveries. Apart from these famous deposits, some stations with splinter industries occupy the southern parts of the area, towards Saint-Cyprien, in well exposed depressions and in contact with flint outcrops and water sources. Deposits abound southwest of Mayrals; the most common are those belonging to the Mousterian of the Acheuléan tradition. In the Roc de Combe-Capelle station you can follow the various phases of the occupation: first the Perigordians I settled there, then the Aurignacians II, finally the Perigordians IV and V absorbed by the Solutréans. In Périgord the Aurignacian II witnessed a seismic movement that had disastrous consequences on the inhabited area when the sinking of the Blanchard and Castanet shelters in Sergeac, and Cellier in Le Ruth. In the Laugerie-Haute the evidence of this earthquake rests on the level of the Perigordian III, contemporary to the Aurignacian of the previous stations. The Cellier shelter had first been occupied by the Mousterians, set up halfway up the largest of the terraces. The Aurignacians and the Perigordians, who succeeded in the same place, preferred the highest of the terraces.

In Corrèze the Würmian flood had driven the Mousterians out of their settlements (Pech de Bourré and Pech-de-l’Azé). In this region the Abbevillians frequented the valleys of Maumont (Le Griffolet), of Corrèze (Montmort), of Vézère (Le Saillant) and the hills (Les Pigeonnies).

In the Middle Paleolithic, Acheuleo-Mousterians are found on both banks of the Corrèze, in the open-air deposits towards the Périgord. Rolled flints were thus collected on the alluvial terraces of 30 and 25 m. as in rivers.

The climate was then not very rigid, but the valley floors were not practicable; with the cold of the Würmian period, man settles in caves (“Chez Pourré”, “Chez Comte”, “Chapelle-aux-Saints”).

In the Upper Paleolithic the stations are generally grouped along the streams descending from Montplaisir, La Planche-Torte and its tributaries, the Couze, and in the caves south of Brive.

The typical Aurignaciano is very well characterized in la Coumba del Bouitou and in Chanlat, the transition between this industry and the Solutréano, in Font-Yves, Bas del Sert, “Chez Serre” in Noailles, the Font-Robert, at the Grotte des Morts ; the Solutréano in Pré-Aubert, in Basdegoule, in the Puy-de-Lacan; the Magdalenian in Terrasson and in the Planche-Torte valley. In the Mesolithic, whose industries tend to approach those of the upper Limousin, man established outdoor camps on the low terraces of the valleys. In the Neolithic it is installed on the plateaus; traces of it exist in the most important modern localities, in the most fertile regions, but the settlements are scattered. The densest occupation of the Corrèze is contemporary with the Mousterian and the Perigordian.

Starting from the Charente and the Dordogne, where its complexity is greatest, the Magdalenian can be divided into six levels, of which it is possible to specify the distribution through France: the Magdalenian I appears in the Dordogne from Jean-Blancs’ Solutréano; the Magdalenian II is found from Poitou to the Pyrenees; the Magdalenian III from the Jura to the Cantabrians; the development center of the Magdalenian IV seems to be located in the chain of the Pyrenees, from Bédeilhac and from Montesquieu-Avantès (Ariège) to Isturitz (lower Pyrenees), through the Mas d’Azil and Arudy. In the Tarn-et-Garonne and in the Dordogne it directly overlaps the Magdalenian III. It is missing in the Charente; the Magdalenian V has a very extensive distribution area, from the Pyrenees to the Loire and Ardèche; Magdalenian VI extends itself over these same territories and is its direct development.

During these epochs, and particularly in Magdalenian IV, the existence of artistic groups corresponding to hunting territories more or less already strictly delimited can be glimpsed.

The discovery in the Mas d’Azil cave of a strip of the Azilian layer confirms the absence of any pottery and any instrument that has undergone polishing. The blade, the squeegee, the rectangle, collected in this horizon, are no longer found in other Mesolithic civilizations. The problem that arises then is that of the Mesolithic chronology. The excavations of Martinet, Roc Allan (Lot-et-Garonne) and Cuzoul de Gramat (Lot) have made it possible to clarify the general stratigraphy of this period: between the Magdalenian-Azilian and Late-Nenoisian levels there is a Sauvetelrian horizon. The Sauveterrian and Late-Neoisian industries, which covered almost the entire old world, have been reported in the eastern caves of the sub-Pyrenees (La Crouzade, Bize, Aude), in the center (region of Sauveterre-la-Lémance, Gramat), in the Dordogne (Roc du Barbeau), in the Parisian basin (Piscop, in the forest of Montmorency) and in the Tardenois (Fère-en-Tardenois). In the north of France, as in Belgium and the Netherlands, the late Nenoisian stations are found on sandy soils carefully avoiding the layers of the löss.

In Piscop’s Late-Ninois group there are various workshops of cut quartzite stoneware whose very voluminous instruments have a very different appearance. Other similar deposits are scattered on the heights of the Montmorency forest where the Fontainebleau stoneware is found. They are certainly not all of the same era; Axes with a Neolithic appearance are sometimes found on the surface. Other deposits have yielded pre- Campanian -looking tranchets. But all have an industry characterized mainly by trihedron instruments with elongated ends, but which appear used only in the lateral corners.

This Montmorencian, an industry of men of the forest, seems to belong, due to the absence of any ceramics and any expressly Neolithic form, to a post-late-late Mesolithic. It is not yet possible to define its extension outside the surroundings of Paris and its relations with other contemporary cultures.

On the Atlantic coast, populations of hunters and fishermen had settled in the small islands of the Morbihan coast at Téviec and Hoëdic, halfway between the kitchen heaps of Muge (Portugal) and the Danish Kjöekkenmöddings

Aquitaine, little occupied during the Palaeolithic period, hosted a Late Ninoisian population in the Gironde estuary and on the banks of the river. During the Neolithic, two large groups divided the province: on the good lands, in the high points of the plain and on the northern and western edges of the plateau of the Chalosse, there were farmers. Towards the north there is no break with the contemporary civilizations of the Gironde, the Lot and the Gers. From Bigorre radiates a civilization of shepherds whose characteristic elements are rarefied in relation to their moving away from the starting point.

This southwestern civilization goes beyond the borders of Gascony, whose border is represented by the line of forests of the high terrace of the Garonne. From the Eneolithic, relations with the Iberian peninsula appear through the Ténarèze road, in the surface stations, continuation of those of the Chalosse, which also have relations with the center of Gaul (Grand-Pressigny flint). The Agenais then appears as a transition region, while the megaliths of Bas-Armagnac remain apart. The groups of Condomois and that of the mounds of the plateau of Gers are linked to the culture of the southwest.

It should be noted that the elements of south-eastern civilization surround the Aquitan basin without descending there, following the limestone of the Causses and avoiding the Aquitaine molasses. In the south contacts are established with the Cantabrian coast, and with trade the groups receive new techniques and objects. The pastoral economy dominates in the peaty moors and on the plateaus of the area below the Pyrenees. The Pyrenees do not constitute a border, and a very active circulation through the hills and the mule tracks unites the populations of the two sides of the chain. Newcomers related to the residents of the Hautes-Pyrenees, Haute-Garonne and Ariège, megalithic whose culture is different from that of the people east of the Garonne, succeed the burials, whose culture recalls that of the caves,

In the south-east of Gaul, early Neolithic sheep breeding groups are located in the moors (Fontbouïsse, Vacquères, Gard) and maintain trade relations with the Salenelles flint-cutting workshops. In the departments of the High and Low Alps, as in that of Drôme, the existence of groups of fortified establishments (groups of Vachères, Reilhannette, Cabestaing) located in the vicinity of easy to cross hills, dangerously open valleys, particularly locks in favor of organizing defensive positions. Haute Provence seems to have exerted its influence on the Neolithic groups of Tricastin, which sought sandy soils and instead neglected heavy and impermeable soils, such as pebbly slopes. The western part of the country,

As a continuation of the artistic province which, starting from the Aurignacian, is established in Gard (La Baume-Ladrone), in Hérault, in Ardèche and which has an affinity with the rock art of northern Spain, it develops from the Pyrenees to in Provence and Liguria, during the Eneolithic and the I period of the bronze, a complex of pictorial manifestations and engravings, closely related to the schematic art of the Iberian peninsula. It is located in the caves of Upper Ariège and Languedoc, in the Upper Caramy valley, in the Ollioulles and Evenos gorge, in the Croupatier massif (Var), in the valley of Destel, Roquepertuse, and Castelet d’Arles (Bocche of the Rhone).

In the center of Gaul, the latest Mesolithic discoveries in Périgord bring some clarifications on the conditions of the entry of the Neolithics into the province.

First we witness the progressive expansion of the Azilians who gradually install themselves in the shelters. Moreover, their stay must have been very short in the valleys of the Vézère, the Dordogne and the Isle, while in those of the Dronne, in Rocheraillé, they left important deposits. The Tardenoisians, who drove the Azilians out of the center of the Dordogne, survived the Neolithic invasion, which seems rather late (La Roque-Saint-Christophe, Les Marseilles, Laugerie-Haute).

In the Parisian basin, the Loing corridor was the route followed by the Neolithics to penetrate the territories between the Loire and the Seine. During the Campignano, the stations-workshops and the camps are numerous. In the Middle Neolithic we witness the fortification of the edges of the plateaus and in the recent Neolithic the descent of human groups into the valleys. The problem of water, the existence of light lands, easy to cultivate, explain how this population took place.

During the Bronze Age, smelters and itinerant merchants followed the natural path that traced them to the Loire valley; some Megaliths have settled in the Beauce.

France Prehistory