Prehistoric land use on the Plateau de Valensole & Pays Forcalquier

Understanding hominin use of landscapes in southeastern France during the late Quaternary and shifting the focus from confined Cave sites to off-site archaeology.

Keywords: Prehistory, France, Neanderthals, Lithics, Archaeology

Research Outline

France is known for its rich record of hominin prehistory from the later Pleistocene. Areas such as the lavendar growing region of the Plateau de Valensole, in southeastern France, are renowned for their archaeological contributions, particularly in relation to Neanderthals who would have been attracted to this refugia region by abundant waterways, fauna, and ochre-producing sediments. However, much of the archaeological and evolutionary record is based upon a limited number of Cave sites that appear throughout the gorges and riverine systems surrounding Valensole, the town of Quinson, and the Gorges of Verdon. Despite the abundance of archaeology evident on the surface of the surrounding landscapes, little has been done to record or analyse this material. Ultimately, our understanding of hominin presence in the area is drawn from an incomplete address of the archaeological record and an over-reliance on the traditional concept of ‘the site’. This limits our understanding of the wider use of the landscape by hominins, their environmental preferences outside of Caves, and the associated behavioural and cultural differences that could be present in open-site or off-site environments.

The research study area incorporating the basin of the Durance river and its larger tributaries. The Plateau de Valensole is outlined in purple; known cave sites are portrayed with black stars; novel significant open sites as purple stars; and smaller areas of particular interest as blue dots.

This Project aims of this project are:

  • to use systematic survey to identify, record, and analyse the presence of archaeological sites and material on the broader landscape and thus address hominin land use outside of Cave sites
  • to investigate previously neglected regions within the Durance Basin, with comparable geology and relief to the Plateau de Valensole which should, theoretically, have resulted in a similarly attractive habitat for hominins in later Pleistocene Europe
  • to identify novel hominin sites for i) spatial analysis and ii) potential excavation to ameliorate the prehistoric record for the area and better understand hominin behaviours and technologies
Mode 3 Lithic artefacts from a newly identified open site in the Pays Forcalquier region of the Durance Basin.

To date, around one third of the target areas have been surveyed, resulting in the discovery of a large open site with significant excavation potential, plus four smaller potential sites and a multitude of isolated artefact finds or scatters within the western area of the basin. Field research is continuing with the aim of publishing the initial survey results at the end of 2021.


Musée de Préhistoire des gorges du Verdon


Other Projects from the Human Evolution Group

Plio-Pleistocene Hominins: A. sediba and H. naledi

Two important fossil relatives were recently discovered in the Cradle of Humankind, South Africa. In collaboration with lead palaeoanthropologist, Dr. Lee Berger, University of the Witwatersrand, this study focuses on their origins and evolutionary relationships with other hominins through the study of teeth.

Click here to find out more…

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