Sunday, December 16, 2012

Letter from France: Structural Integrity

Nearly 20 years of investigation at two rock shelters in southwestern France reveal the well-organized domestic spaces of Europe's earliest modern humans

During a car ride through France's Dordogne department, it doesn't take long to realize that you're no longer in wine country. Signs and billboards bearing words like "Cro Magnon" and "Prehistorie" and "Grotte" (French for "cave") are stationed along the highways and winding roads. Here, the claim to fame isn't the terroir, but a preponderance of Paleolithic sites, such as Lascaux, Pech Merle, and Font-de-Gaume, all of which hold some of Europe's earliest cave paintings. 

New York University archaeologist Randall White has spent the bulk of the last 18 years here investigating two collapsed rock shelters once inhabited by some of Europe's first modern humans. Abri Blanchard and its neighbor to the south, Abri Castanet, sit along a cliff face in the Castel Merle Valley, just beyond the quiet, 190-person commune of Sergeac. 

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