France - Brittany
PREHISTORY of BRITTANY
In the middle of the 19th century, one discovers
in the careers of Saint-Acheul in the “Somme” region (north
of France) a very important series of cut flints. From 1860 to 1880,
there are nearly 20 000 flint tools which are collected.
This period is associated to an old kind of man: Homo erectus. This man will leave Africa to colonize the whole of Eurasia. This period will extend from 1,2 million years at 300 000 years before our age.
In Brittany, theses are generally isolated tools which inform us about the presence of men of Acheulean. Parallel to this industry characterized by the double-side, the culture develops tools consisted of rollers that some removals made sharp: choppers and chopping-tools.
The site of Saint Malo de Phily located near a river would come from - 600 000 years. The tools coarse are in quartzose sandstone.
The excavations of the site of Menez-Dregan revealed the traces of the oldest hearth known in Europe. Homo erectus was installed in this cave between -500 000 and -300 000 years, made fire and cut its tools there. It is more than 25 000 tools which were discovered.
It is at the beginning of the Eighties that the type of industry, characterized by tools with edge arranged on rollers and accompanied by tools lighter but rough, appears from the excavation of the site of saint-Colomban in Carnac. The site is gone back to -300 000 years. Various layers of this culture were recognized in the south of Brittany. It is defined under the name of "Colombanien".
The evolution of the tools of the old paleolithic is slow, Homo erectus does not have obviously the capacities enabling him to evolve. Soon it will be supplanted by another man from Africa. This one will preserve a part of the culture of H. erectus, but the tools will be specialized and a new age will begin with the arrival of Homo neanderthalensis.
Mousterian, of the site of Moustier in Dordogne characterizes the whole of the culture of the middle-Palaeolithic It is very widespread in Europe, in the Close and Middle-East, as far as the Central Asia and until to the North-East of Africa. This culture results directly from the Acheulean one.
The tools on glare are abundant, but the laminar tools are not rare. One allots this period to the man of Neanderthal (of the cave of Neanderthal close of Düsseldorf in Germany where were found, in 1856, the fragments of skeleton).
The Mousterian is well represented in Brittany. In “Finistere” (End-Earth), the layer of Tréissény (Kerlouan) ranges between -130 000 and -79 000 years. It provided many bifacials tools out of flint.
In the “Côtes d’Armor”, the layers of Bois-du Rocher (La Vicomté-sur-Rance) and the one of Clos-Rouge (Saint-Hélen) distant of one kilometer one from the other, have a very important proportion of bifacials tools, nearly 50%.
The site of Kervouster (commune of Guengat) covers 4 hectares. The rock, of the glossed sandstone or quartzite is abundant; it was used as raw material. The campaigns are covered with glares and waste of cutting. The tools were so abundant that one still finds today, some denticulate, double-side or even some mousterians points. The excavations organized between 1974 and 1977 established that the occupation of Kervouster was ranged between 79 000 and 40 000 before our age. It should be noted that some tools, typically acheuleans were also discovered on the spot, so it could bring in back the date of the first occupation.
The Palaeolithic superior marks the entry of the modern man: Homo sapiens. The evolution of the tools will be very fast during this period, the Palaeolithic superior is divided into various cultures.
Aurignacien, of the site of Aurignac in Haute-Garonne is the first
culture allotted to the modern man. The first aurignacians traces
are about - 42 000 years in the East from Europe. About - 37 000,
this culture becomes very widespread in all Europe. The man of Cro-Magnon
belongs to this period.
This period is recognized in several places of Brittany. In the country Léon (Finistere Northern) three stations were the subject of studies: Beg-ar-C'hastel (Kerlouan), Enez-Amon-rear-Ross (Kerlouan) and Beg-pol. (Brignogan).
The Gravetian term comes from the site of Gravette in Dordogne. This period ranges between -29 000 and -22 000 years. In Brittany, it coincides with one period of intense cold, making the land hostile for the human occupation.
The excavations of the Plasenn-Al Lomm site on the island of Bréhat in the Côtes d’Armor show a seasonal camping. The tools, mainly out of flint, present many gravetians characters. The stratigraphic position of the layer would place its occupation between -25 000 and -20 000 years, confirming the Gravetianeperiod.
From the same named site of the rock of Solutré, this period starts towards -22 000 years to end in the neighbourhoods of -18 000 years.
One currently did not discover any site of
the solutrean times in the point of Brittany.
The points clovis discovered in New Mexico (North America) have many affinities with the solutreans points. Some current assumptions suggest that the man would be arrived in America from Western Europe, (Iberian peninsula, France) crossing the Atlantic.
The small troglodyte village of the Madeleine is located at cliff-side along the Vézère in Dordogne. Downwards the layer characterizing the Magdalenian was discovered. This period extends from -18 000 to -12 000 years.
Just like Solutrean, the Magdalenian period is not recognized in Brittany. But in Mayenne, the valley of Erve provided some tools of the magdalenian. More in South-west, the excavation of Bégrolles in Loire-Atlantique is a station in full air which also belongs to Magdalenian.
The Palaeolithic superior of Brittany, although
recognized in many points remains not very abundant. Many discoveries
will certainly come to fill the gaps, but the climatic conditions
of the time are probably the reasons for the little occupation in
Brittany. The climatic improvement which will follow will allow its
The Mesolithic age is the period ranging between the end of Palaeolithic and the beginning of the Neolithic age. In Brittany it appears near -12 000 years before our age and is completed approximately in -7 500 years. This period is characterised by microlithic tools, often of geometrical form. It is at this period that one allows the invention of the arc. The Mesolithic age is well represented all over Brittany; they are several thousands of excavations which were listed. Some sites: At Guiclan in the center Finistere, the small cave of Roc' h-Toul provided a collection of tools out of a little rough flints, but containing some beautiful points of the azilian type. (Azilian period drawing its name from the excavation of the Farmhouse of Azil in Ariège).
In Plonéour-Lanvern are engraved stones of geometrical forms which were discovered. This art is allotted to the early Mesolithic era.
Téviec and Hoëdic located in the
gulf of Morbihan are two major sites. They were excavated at the beginning
of the 20th century. The exceptional collection of microlithes of
these two layers is presented at the museum of the prehistory of Carnac.
In this same site of Téviec was also discovered a human skeleton
whose vertebra had still firmly planted a reinforcement of arrow.
The first attested wars appear. At the Egypt-Sudan border, in tombs
from about -10 000 years, the skeletons of 24 individuals still had
stone blades planted in their bones. The development of these conflicts
generates economic and social changes. The very hierarchical clans
are formed. Their chiefs, true small princes, will be made bury in
increasingly luxurious tombs. The axe will become emblem of power.
Its worship will reach its apogee with the Neolithic age.
The Neolithic age in Brittany begins around 5 800 years before our age. The periods of cold ended during the Mesolithic age and the forest which one knows today sets up. The man will completely change his way of life. From hunter and gatherer it goes, during the Neolithic age, to become stockbreeder and farmer. The same ground surface will be able to nourish 20 times more people creating a demographic explosion. Villages will be established. Towards 4 500 to 4000 years before JC begins construction from large monuments. The axe will become the emblem of power. There are numerous representations, but also the number impressing of polished axes discovered in the monuments or simply in the fields testifies their importance, some will speak even about "worship". Several axe’ workshops were discovered in Brittany. Most impressive by the estimated quantity of manufactured axes, is the one Sélédin, on the commune of Plussulien in the Côtes d’Armor, where, for this only site, from 3,5 to 6 million parts could have been created. The Neolithic age ends towards - 2 000 years before JC.
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