Category Archives: FRANCE

Carbon-Based Paleolithic Paintings Found in France

Carbon-Based Paleolithic Paintings Found in France

Carbon-Based Paleolithic Paintings Found in France
Employee in the Lascaux Cave Replica (2022).

A paper was published this month by researchers at the Center de Recherche et de Restauration des Musées de France, revealing that the first carbon-based cave art has been found in Dordogne’s famous Bison Cave.

Researchers Ina Reiche, Yvan Coquinot, Antoine Trosseau, and Anne Maigret have published their findings from the Font-de-Gaume cave in southern France, which is being celebrated as a potential breakthrough for precise radiocarbon dating.

The site was discovered in 1901 and has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1979 as part of the Prehistoric Sites and Decorated Caves of the Vézère Valley.

More than 200 caves filled with Paleolithic (dating from roughly 2.5 million to 12,000 years ago) wall drawings can be found in France’s Dordogne region.

Most of these paintings have been made with iron and manganese oxides, which cannot be dated through radiocarbon dating technologies. This has prevented accurate dating of the designs. However, the first-ever discovery of black carbon-based designs in the Font-de-Gaume cave have opened up an opportunity for groundbreaking reevaluations across the region.

The first discovery of charcoal-based prehistoric cave art in Dordogne. Sci Rep 13, 22235 (2023).

Before these discoveries were made, the wall paintings in the Dordogne were dated to around 12,000 to 17,000 years ago, during the Magdalenian Period. With the new discovery, this could be reevaluated to a much more accurate timeline, pushing dates back more than 2,000 years. The team first found the charcoal-based drawings in February 2020.

The Bison Cave is named after the Paleolithic drawings of animals on its main gallery walls. It is considered one of the best examples of ancient wall painting along with the nearby Lascaux cave.

There are 80 bisons shown on the walls of Font-de-Gaume, in various colors achieved with natural pigments. The French chemist and pharmacist Henri Moissan’s work to identify the pigments used in the drawings won him the 1906 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

The first discovery of charcoal-based prehistoric cave art in Dordogne. Sci Rep 13, 22235 (2023).

New research has been done using visible-light and infrared photography, x-ray fluorescence, and spectroscopy, revealing the carbon-based drawings underneath previously known designs. Charcoal depictions of horses, deer, and bison were discovered.

This research will aid comparative research across other sites in the region, and is being heralded as “crucial for archaeological research in the coming years.”

Intact 1,800-Year-Old Roman Sarcophagus With Unexpected Treasures Found In France

Intact 1,800-Year-Old Roman Sarcophagus With Unexpected Treasures Found In France

It does not happen often that archaeologists find an ancient, unlooted Roman sarcophagus. When it happens, like it just did in France, it is an excellent opportunity to learn more about the past.

“It’s quite exceptional, it’s the first time that we have found a tomb intact and which has not been looted. It was sealed by eight iron staples, and we were the first to explore it,” Agnès Balmelle, deputy scientific and technical director at Inrap Grand Est, told local news Le Parisien.

Archaeologists have discovered an intact Roman sarcophagus in Reims.

The 1,800-year-old sarcophagus was unearthed by a team of archaeologists from INRAP (France’s National Institute for Preventive Archaeology) excavating in the vast ancient necropolis at Rue Soussillon.

The ancient Durocortorum (Reims) was the capital of the province of Gaul Belgium, and one of the largest cities in the Roman Empire.

Scientists have excavated 1,200 m² on Rue Soussillon, which represents only a portion of a vast ancient necropolis.

The high density of tombs is particularly interesting in this part of the city since it has long been considered a swampy area unsuitable for any settlement.

Intact 1,800-Year-Old Roman Sarcophagus With Unexpected Treasures Found In France
Photogrammetry survey of the sarcophagus.

During the recent excavation, scientists discovered a lime sarcophagus limestone that measures 3.3 feet high, 5.4 feet long, and 2.6 feet wide, with a 1,700-pound lid held in place by iron pegs sealed with lead.

The archaeologists first did X-rays on the sarcophagus then used an endoscopic camera.

Glass urn and jug found at the archaeological site.

Inside the sarcophagus were funerary goods placed next to the skeleton of a woman.

“The skeleton occupied the entire space of the [5-foot] tank, the individual must have been around 40 years old and had a special status. Four oil lamps were found near her legs and shoulders, as well as a small mirror, an amber ring, and a comb,” Balmelle told the press.

Small jug taken during the dismantling of a burial.

Inside the sarcophagus were also two glass containers possibly containing perfumed oils.

The unearthed items indicate that the burial occurred in the 2nd century A.D. Samples of the sediment on the bones and on the bottom of the tank will make it possible to determine if there are plant remains or products linked to the treatment of bodies.

Furthermore, the Inrap team in Reims is building a genetic database on ancient Reims funerary complexes as part of a research project.

DNA taken from a tooth from the skeleton will be compared to 80 samples to determine whether this woman belongs to a local or more distant elite.

The Oldest Known Neanderthal Engravings were Discovered in a French Cave

The Oldest Known Neanderthal Engravings were Discovered in a French Cave

The Oldest Known Neanderthal Engravings were Discovered in a French Cave

According to a recently published study, the oldest engravings made by Neanderthals have been discovered on a cave wall in France. Hundreds of faint stripes, dots, and wavy lines at the Loire Valley site were created more than 57,000 years ago, say researchers.

Hundreds of faint stripes, dots, and wavy lines that adorn a cave wall in central France are the oldest known engravings made by Neanderthals, according to Jean-Claude Marquet of the University of Tours in France and colleagues, who analyzed ancient markings.

The authors of the study published in PLOS One analyzed, plotted, and 3D modeled these intriguing markings and compared them with other wall markings of all types to confirm that they are the organized, intentional products of human hands.

The team also dated deep sediment layers that had buried the cave’s opening to reveal that it was sealed up with the engravings inside at least 57,000 years ago and as long as 75,000 years ago—long before Homo sapiens arrived in this part of Europe.

Scientists discuss the markings on the walls of a cave in La Roche-Cotard in the Loire Valley.

The authors said: “Fifteen years after the resumption of excavations at the La Roche-Cotard site, the engravings have been dated to over 57,000 years ago and, thanks to stratigraphy, probably to around 75,000 years ago, making this the oldest decorated cave in France, if not Europe!”

Over the past few decades, research has shed light on the cultural sophistication of Neanderthals. However, our understanding of their symbolic and artistic expression remains limited.

Only a short list of symbolic productions is attributed to Neanderthals, and the interpretation of these is often the subject of debate.

This, combined with the fact that the stone tools within the cave are only Mousterian, a technology associated with Neanderthals, is strong evidence that these engravings are the work of Neanderthals.

Because these are non-figurative symbols, the intent behind them is unclear. 

However, they share a similar age with Homo sapiens engravings found in other parts of the world. This adds to the mounting evidence that Neanderthal behavior and activities were as complex and varied as those of our own ancestors.

“For a long time, it was thought that Neanderthals were incapable of thinking other than to ensure their subsistence,” notes archaeologist and study co-author Jean-Claude Marquet, of the University of Tours, France.

“I think this discovery should lead prehistorians who have doubts about Neanderthal skills to reconsider.”

La Roche-Cotard is an ancient cave nestled on a wooded hillside above the Loire River. It was first uncovered in 1846, when quarries were operated in the area during the construction of a railroad line.

Meganeura: The largest insect ever to exist was a giant dragonfly

Meganeura: The largest insect ever to exist was a giant dragonfly

Meganeura is a genus of extinct insects from the Carboniferous period (approximately 300 million years ago), which resembled and are related to the present-day dragonflies.

Its wingspans from 65 cm (25.6 in) to more than 70 cm (28 in), M.Monyi is one of the largest known species of flying insects. Meganeura was predatory and their diet consisted mainly of other insects.

Fossils were discovered in the French Stephanian Coal Measures of Commentry in 1880.

Meganeura: The largest insect ever to exist was a giant dragonfly
Fossil of a Meganeuridae The largest insect that ever existed was a dragonfly.

In 1885, French paleontologist Charles Brongniart described and named the fossil “Meganeura” (large-nerved), which refers to the network of veins on the insect’s wings. Another fine fossil specimen was found in 1979 at Bolsover in Derbyshire.

The holotype is housed in the National Museum of Natural History, in Paris.

Oxygen levels and atmospheric density

The way in which oxygen is diffused through the body of the insect through its tracheal respiration system puts an upper limit on body size, which ancient insects seem to have far surpassed.

Harlé (1911) originally suggested that Meganeura could only fly because at that time the atmosphere provided more oxygen than the present 20 per cent.

This theory was initially rejected by fellow #oxygen but was more recently approved through further analysis of the relationship between the availability of gigantism and oxygen.

If this hypothesis is correct, these insects would have been vulnerable to declining oxygen levels and, in our current atmosphere, could probably not survive. Some research suggests that insects breathe with “rapid cycles of compression and expansion of the trachea.”

A recent analysis of modern insects and birds ‘ flight energetics suggests that both the oxygen levels and air density provide an upper bound on size.

In the case of the giant dragonflies, the presence of very large Meganeuridae with wing spans rivaling those of Meganeura during the Permian, when the atmospheric oxygen content was already much lower than in the Carboniferous, presented a problem for the oxygen-related explanations.

However, despite the fact that Meganeurids had the largest known wing spans, their bodies were not very heavy, being less colossal than those of many living Coleoptera; therefore, they were not true giant insects, only giant in comparison with their living relatives.

Lack of predators

Other explanations for the large size of Meganeurids compared to living relatives are warranted.

Bechly (2004) suggested that the lack of aerial vertebrate predators allowed terygote insects to evolve to maximum sizes during the Carboniferous and Permian periods, perhaps accelerated by an evolutionary “arms race” for an increase in body size between plant-feeding Palaeodictyoptera and Meganisoptera as their predators.

DNA Reveals Neolithic Family Tree in France

DNA Reveals Neolithic Family Tree in France

DNA Reveals Neolithic Family Tree in France
An adult man (top skeleton) buried some 6,000 years ago in what is now France was a son of the man from whom dozens of people also buried at the site are descended.Credit: Stéphane Rottier

In the mid-2000s, archaeologists excavating a burial site in France uncovered a 6,500-year-old mystery. Among the remains of more than 120 individuals, one grave stood out.

It contained a nearly complete female skeleton alongside a few assorted bones that looked like they had been dug up and moved from another grave.

Ancient DNA from the enigmatic relocated remains now shows that they belonged to the male ancestor of dozens of the other people buried nearby.

This insight comes from a study that used ancient genomics to build the largest-ever genealogy of a prehistoric family, providing a snapshot of life in an early farming community. The study1 was published on 26 July in Nature.

Ordinary folk

Western Europe is littered with monuments that served as burying grounds for high-status individuals from a period, roughly 7,000 to 4,000 years ago, called the Neolithic.

The dozens of burials at Gurgy ‘Les Noisats’, located about 150 kilometers southeast of Paris, lack any signs of such monuments or rich grave goods, indicating that they might have belonged to commoners, says study co-author Wolfgang Haak, an archaeogeneticist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.

His team analysed the genomes of 94 of the 128 individuals recovered from the site, and used the data to determine how they were related to one another.

The researchers expected some individuals to be related, based on the composition of other Neolithic sites.

But they were astounded to discover that around two-thirds belonged to a single family tree that spanned seven generations. The closer people were buried, the more closely related they were.

Scientists used DNA to draw a family tree of people buried at the archaeological site called Gurgy ‘Les Noisats’. Dotted squares and circles represent genetically male and female individuals whose DNA could not be analysed. Portraits were drawn based on physical traits estimated from the DNA

At the top of the genealogy is the man from the mysterious grave. The jumble of bones was unique to the site, yet no grave goods or other evidence signalled his position or the reason his remains had been exhumed, says study co-author Maïté Rivollat, an archaeologist at the University of Ghent in Belgium.

The researchers have so far failed to extract DNA from the woman buried alongside him. If she is like the other adult women from the site — most of whom were not closely related to anyone else — she might have joined the family from another community.

This points to a social structure similar to those uncovered at some other prehistoric sites in which male descendants tended to stick around, whereas the women moved elsewhere.

Prehistoric social scene

The giant family tree revealed other previously hidden aspects of Neolithic life. All siblings shared the same mother and father, with no-half siblings present.

This suggests that no individuals had multiple partners. “Here it’s fairly straightforward and fairly monogamous,” says Haak. “Is that the standard life of the commoner and the non-elite?”

This contrasts with a later Neolithic burial in the United Kingdom, Hazleton North, where researchers identified a man who had reproduced with four women.

Researchers must build family trees from other ancient burials to figure out what is typical, says Chris Fowler, an archaeologist at the University of Newcastle, UK, who was part of that study.

“This type of work really breathes new life into our understanding of ancient peoples,” says Kendra Sirak, an ancient-DNA specialist at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts. She’s most curious about the man at the root of the family tree. “I would love to know what made this person so important.”

Giant 1,100-pound bone belonging to sauropod found in France

Giant 1,100-pound bone belonging to sauropod found in France

The femur of a giant dinosaur was found this week by French paleontologists at an excavation site in southwest France where, since 2010, remains of some of the largest animals ever to live on land have been excavated.

Giant 1,100-pound bone belonging to sauropod found in France
Maxime Lasseron inspects the femur of a Sauropod

The thigh bone of a giant dinosaur was found this week by French paleontologists at an excavation site in southwestern France where remains of some of the largest animals that ever lived on land have been dug up since 2010.

The two-meter-long femur at the Angeac-Charente site is thought to have belonged to a sauropod, herbivorous dinosaurs with long necks and tails which were widespread in the late Jurassic era, over 140 million years ago.

“This is a major discovery,” Ronan Allain, a paleontologist at the National History Museum of Paris told Reuters. “I was especially amazed by the state of preservation of that femur.”

“These are animals that probably weighed 40 to 50 tonnes.”

Allain said scientists at the site near the city of Cognac have found more than 7,500 fossils of more than 40 different species since 2010, making it one of the largest such finds in Europe.

The scientists believe that the bones are from a sauropod, which is the largest herbivorous dinosaur and first appeared in the late Triassic Period.

These reptiles were the largest of all dinosaurs and the largest land animals that have ever lived, they had a small head a long neck, and a very long tail.

Scientists believe they would spend their time wallowing in shallow water that would help support their bodies.

The dinosaur bone was found covered in clay by volunteers from the National Museum of Natural History.

Neanderthals May Have Created Cave Art in France

Neanderthals May Have Created Cave Art in France

Study researchers Trine Freiesleben and Jean-Claude Marquet discuss the fingerprints and where to take optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) samples so they can date the artwork.

The oldest-known engravings in Europe, discovered in a French cave sealed up for tens of thousands of years, likely weren’t crafted by modern humans but rather Neanderthals, a new study finds. 

Within the cave of La Roche-Cotard 150 miles (240 kilometers) southwest of Paris, the researchers analyzed a series of non-figurative markings thought to be made by ancient human fingers, according to a study published Wednesday (June 21) in the journal PLOS One

The cave had been sealed up by sediments until the late 19th century. Modern excavations at the site have yielded numerous stone tools whose style is associated with the Neanderthals, suggesting they created the art. 

Ancient figurative art, including wall paintings, is well-known from European sites, with drawings of horses, lions, and handprints representing famous examples of Upper Paleolithic culture dating back 35,000 years.

For decades, researchers thought that these creations were hallmarks of modern human behavior, but recently, researchers have unearthed older examples of non-utilitarian objects and art in Europe and in other areas of the world, such as a 51,000-year-old chevron-engraved bone in Germany created by Neanderthals; however, Homo sapiens are credited with a 45,500-year-old drawing of a warty pig in Indonesia and a 73,000-year-old hashtag drawing in South Africa.

Examples of engravings discovered in the Roche-Cotard cave (Indre et Loire – France). On the left, the “circular panel” (ogive-shaped tracings) and on the right the “wavy panel” (two contiguous tracings forming sinuous lines).

At the cave of La Roche-Cotard, researchers found eight panels with more than 400 traces of abstract lines and dots. The researchers call these traces “engravings” because they represent the deliberate removal of material carried out with a tool or finger. “This removal of material is neither accidental nor utilitarian,” they wrote in their study, but rather “intentional and meticulous.”

To figure out how the engravings were made, the researchers set up an experiment at a similar cave, in which one person created marks using their fingers, bone, wood, antler, flint and metal points against the rock wall.

Another person then recorded what those marks looked like and used photogrammetry methods — a technique that uses hundreds of photos to create virtual 3D models — to compare the experimental marks with the prehistoric ones. 

The researchers concluded that the experimental finger markings were most similar to the prehistoric engravings.

The researchers also found no direct link between the numerous stone tools discovered in the cave and the engravings, further supporting the finding that Neanderthals created the engravings with their fingers, just as the researchers did. For the most part, the engravings on the cave wall are lines called “finger flutings,” made when someone swiped their fingers flat along the silt-covered wall, the team concluded.

To further refine the date the cave was used and figure out if the finger flutings were those of modern humans or Neanderthals, the researchers used optically stimulated luminescence of the sediments to determine when they were last exposed to daylight.

The analysis revealed that the cave closed up at least 57,000 years ago and possibly as long as 75,000 years ago. 

These early dates mean it’s “highly unlikely” that anatomically modern humans had access to the inside of the cave, the researchers wrote in their study, as current evidence suggests they were not present in France until at least 54,000 years ago, whereas Neandertals appeared there around 330,000 years ago. “We conclude that the LRC engravings are unambiguous examples of Neanderthal abstract design,” they wrote.

April Nowell, a paleolithic archaeologist at the University of Victoria in Canada who was not involved in this study, told Live Science in an email that “this study is important because it extends the antiquity of digital [finger] tracings and, for the first time, associates them with a hominin species other than Homo sapiens.” 

But the significance of these engravings remains unclear. “Although the finger tracings at La Roche-Cotard are clearly intentional,” the researchers wrote, “it is not possible for us to establish if they represent symbolic thinking.” 

Nowell agreed that “these tracings do not have to be symbolic any more than when someone traces their fingers in the sand on a beach.” The engravings are, however, important new information about the behavior of our Neanderthal relatives, whose culture was more complex and diverse than previously realized.

The 6,000-year-old settlement found on the island of Corsica

The 6,000-year-old settlement found on the island of Corsica

The 6,000-year-old settlement found on the island of Corsica

Archaeologists in a French municipality recently excavated the slopes of Punta Campana (island of Corsica) in preparation for a construction project and found an expansive Neolithic site.

The site in Sotta (Sotta is a French municipality on the island of Corsica) contains two distinct settlements, according to a news release from the Institut National de Recherches Archéologiques Préventives (INRAP).

The first settlement is partially preserved while the second is well preserved.

As part of this excavation, archaeologists have uncovered the existence of a recent Neolithic settlement (Basien) followed by a late Neolithic settlement.

Archaeologists said the first settlement, which dates back to the early fourth millennium B.C., held a stone structure containing the remains of an obsidian knapping workshop.

Within the workshop, there is evidence indicating that ancient people used a variety of methods to make obsidian tools.

Archaeologists uncovered the remains of an obsidian workshop.

According to experts, the site likely experienced significant erosion until the second, more recent settlement was built on top of the workshop.

Terraced Structures

Archaeologists unearthed a terrace system filled with occupation and activities in the second, better-preserved settlement’s, dating to the 3rd millennium BC.

The terraces were topped with an approximately 3-foot tall or fortified wall made of granite blocks, according to researchers.

The excavated arc was the best preserved of its kind at the site.

A stone arc made of granite blocks was located on the first terrace below it. The building methods used in the arc indicate it was used as a roof of some sort, but experts aren’t unknown its yet precise function.

Archaeologists also discovered a staircase and corridor inside the terraced building that appeared to serve as a pathway to the system’s upper level.

The team discovered two other similar but more refined terraced systems at the site. It is still unknown what these structures were used for, but archaeologists believe they could have been used for food storage, metallurgy, or other artisan activities.

A pear-shaped vase was among several vases discovered on a paving inside the wall of the terraced structure, according to INRAP.

Archaeologists discovered thousands of unusual copper and other metal artifacts at the Neolithic site, particularly in the terraced area. Some remain indicated traces of melting that took place at the site.

Cattle teeth and unusual cranial skeletal remains that appeared to have been burned were also discovered, according to INRAP.

A polisher was found on the excavation of Sotta.

Archaeologists also unearthed ceramics, flint, obsidian, quartz, arrowheads, polishers, axles, wheels, and tools. Further studies on the finds are ongoing.