Rust Family Foundation - Archaeology Grants Program    RFF-2016-3

Archaeological Testing of the Aurignacian site of Sous-le-Roc,
St. Leon-sur-Vezere (Dordogne), France

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

Sous-le-Roc on the Vézère River in Dordogne 

Importance of the Site

Since the site of 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.

Previous Work at the Site


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. 


Current Project


Goals: Principal Investigator Professor Randall White plans a one-month diagnostic operation at the site of Sous-le-Roc to determine the extent of the site, which he estimates 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 dedicated to understanding the context of art, ornamentation, osseous implements and weapons, as well as the more usual lithic industries and zooarchaeological remains.

Methodology: The proposed one-month evaluation will involve 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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