Saint-Césaire is located within the Charente-Maritime department of France, 15 kilometres away from the city of Saintes. The original excavations at Saint-Césaire, headed by François Lévêque, took place over 12 years, from 1976 to 1987. The excavation of the site resumed in 2013 under the direction of François Bachellerie (Service d’Archéologie, Alsace region, France) and Eugène Morin (Trent University). Isabelle Crèvecoeur (CNRS, France) became the excavation director in 2015 with this work still ongoing. The material from the site spans from the end of the Middle Paleolithic through to the Evolved Aurignacian (around 32,000 years ago).
Excavations at Sainte-Césaire
In 1979, excavators uncovered a Neandertal skeleton on the site that was associated with the Châtelperronian industry. This sparked debates among archaeologists as the Châtelperronian, an Upper Paleolithic industry, was traditionally associated with anatomically modern humans, not Neandertals. The Saint-Césaire discovery challenged this received wisdom.
Those who, like François Bordes (1981), denied the association of the Neandertal skeleton with a Châtelperronian industry argued that material from the Middle Paleolithic levels had contaminated the later layers. The possibility of contamination was also raised by Ofer Bar-Yosef and Jean-Guillaume Bordes (2010), and more recently, by Brad Gravina and his collaborators (2018). The new excavations at Saint-Césaire should shed light on the nature of this association.
2015 Excavations at Sainte-Césaire
Faunal remains are abundant in the new excavations at Saint-Césaire. This material shows many similarities with the fauna excavated by Lévêque. In general, the Middle Paleolithic levels show a prevalence of bison (Bison priscus) and horse (Equus caballus), whereas reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) is the common species in the Upper Paleolithic levels.
One of the important results from the new excavations concerns the stone tool assemblages. Our results indicate that Middle Paleolithic stone tools are frequent in the “EJOP” level, the unit in which the Neandertal skeleton was found. In fact, Middle Paleolithic stone tools are more abundant than Upper Paleolithic tools in EJOP, a finding that raises issues concerning the process of object accumulation in this layer (Gravina et al., 2018). Another important result relates to the fauna. The current zone of excavation for the Upper Paleolithic comprises many large reindeer antler fragments, and surprisingly, many large ribs fragments from wooly rhinoceros (Coelodonta antiquitatis), some of which show cut marks made by a stone tool. The goal of the next field seasons will be to shed further light on the origin and function of this unusual faunal accumulation, a type of assemblage rarely encountered in Southwestern France.
Wooly rhinoceros mandible uncovered at Saint-Césaire
Reindeer antler uncovered at Saint-Césaire
Bordes F. 1981. Un Néandertalien encombrant, La Recherche 122:644–645.
Bar-Yosef O. and J-G Bordes. 2010. Who were the makers of the Châtelperronian culture? Journal of Human Evolution 59:586–593.
Gravina, B., F. Bachellerie, S. Caux, E. Discamps, J.-P. Faivre, A. Galland, A. Michel, N. Teyssandier, and J.-G. Bordes. 2018. No reliable evidence for a Neanderthal-Châtelperronian association at la Roche-à-Pierrot, Saint-Césaire. Scientific Reports 8: Article: 15134.