Rust Family Foundation: Archaeology Grants Program

Archaeological Testing of the Aurignacian site of Sous-le-Roc,

St. Leon-sur-
Vézère (Dordogne), France [RFF-2016-03]

Principal Investigator: Randall White
New York University; Center for the Study of Human Origins

Summary of 2016 project:

The site of Sous-le-Roc is located on the Vézère River in the Dordogne Region of southern France, right beside the classic Neanderthal site of Le Moustier. Sous-le-Roc lies beneath a heavy layer of rockfall and therefore may be relatively undisturbed, it has the potential to elucidate the Aurignacian phenomenen (ca. 41000 to 28000 BP cal.). This comprised a set of innovations that enabled modern Homo sapiens to replace the longstanding and successful populations of Neandertals across a vast area extending from the Arabian Peninsula and Central Asia in the East, to the area of France and the Iberian Peninsula in the West. These new developments constitute what in Western Eurasia is known as the Middle to Upper Paleolithic transition.

This Aurignacian site was first tested by Alain Reverdit in the 1850's and then by Denis Peyrony in the 1930's. Both of these prehistorians were dissuaded by the massive roof collapse overlying the intact archaeological layer. A small fragment of that layer in Reverdit's original trench yielded to Denis Peyrony a nearly complete mammoth tusk, some personal ornaments and a small assemblage of Early Aurignacian lithics which has indicated that the site may remain rich for further exploration.

In 2016, Professor Randall White undertook a one-month diagnostic operation at the site of Sous-le-Roc to determine the extent of the site, estimated to  cover  a surface area of several hundred square meters, and to investigate whether material of the site are indeed relatively undisturbed and capable of revealing large surface areas amenable to modern spatial analysis. The goal has been to recover data on the context of art, ornamentation, bone implements and weapons, as well as the more usual lithic industries and zooarchaeological remains.

The 2016 investigation involved mapping, excavation of a small number of strategically situated soundings and preliminary stratigraphic analysis as well as the analysis of  recovered  materials. Together these will serve as a solid platform for a five-year project that will seek to renew our knowledge of the Aurignacian in the Vézère Valley through Franco-American excavations at Sous-le-Roc and two other preserved Aurignacian sites (Fongal and Grotte de La Ferrassie).

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