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4,000 year old footprints discovered in Normandy

Archaeologists from Inrap have completed this season's excavation campaign at an early human occupation site in Pont-de-l'Arche, between Igoville and Alizay, in Normandy, northern France.

4,000 year old footprints discovered in Normandy
Inrap archaeologists carefully expose the 4,000 year-old footprints [Credit: Inrap]
Although archaeologists have found evidence of several periods of human settlement beginning from the Upper Palaeolithic onward, it is the period between the end of the Neolithic and the early Bronze Age that produced the most spectacular and unexpected results.

Around 4,000 years ago the fertile land between the Seine and Eure rivers was settled by people. The landscape was not as flat as it is today, and in the middle of the river channels, there were mounds surrounded by water. People settled there: they built palisades, platforms, bridges and ford crossings. They worked the trunks of trees to make solid poles, with which they also built one or two buildings about 50 metres long.

4,000 year old footprints discovered in Normandy
Post-holes (shown in orange) that supported a house [Credit: Inrap]
These were temporary shelters used by hunters. Around the buildings were campfires, flint knapping areas and grain processing areas. The people who lived in the area come here to fish and hunt, gather reeds, and to work flint.

In each dwelling there was a space for people and another for domesticated animals such as pigs (similar to wild boar) and cows. They fetched water from the river in large pots with two handles and cooked their food in round bowls placed on the embers. Their weapons and tools were made of worked and polished flint: knives, scrapers, axes, arrowheads.

4,000 year old footprints discovered in Normandy
The remains of a hearth [Credit: Inrap]
Archaeologists have also found dozens of slingshot projectiles, olive-shaped chalk balls, 3 to 5 cm long.

"Near two river crossings, we found almost 500 slingshot projectiles," says Cyril Marcigny, who leads the excavation. "This unusual concentration, the first of its kind in the Seine valley, suggests something other than hunting. It may well be evidence of an armed conflict, a hypothesis reinforced by the discovery in the same area of a dozen human remains: skull caps, femurs, fractured bones."

4,000 year old footprints discovered in Normandy
A two handled pot found at the site [Credit: Inrap]
The excavations revealed another catastrophic event that took place at the end of the second millennium BC: traces of what appear to be a sudden rush of people and animals leaving the valley.

"It required considerable effort to reveal these 4,000-year-old footprints of barefooted people and animals", said the archaeologist. "This exodus was possibly caused by severe weather conditions that resulted in a sudden rise of the Seine river."

4,000 year old footprints discovered in Normandy
One of the many sling projectiles recovered at the site [Credit: Inrap]
After this episode, a detailed chronology of which still eludes scientists, this part of the Seine valley remained abandoned for almost a millennium.

"This extraordinary excavation season is coming to a close", says Bruno Aubry, an archaeologist at Inrap, "and it has been a privilege to have worked on this dig. We have uncovered several types of remains which will provide us with crucial information about the interaction between man and his environment in the Neolithic."

4,000 year old footprints discovered in Normandy
Detail of some of the footprints [Credit: Inrap]
Inrap has been conducting excavations at the 20 hectare site in Alizay since 2007.

The presence of numerous archaeological cultures from the Upper Palaeolithic, Mesolithic, Neolithic and Bronze Age raises multiple questions.

Why did people abandon the site after the second millennium?

For Cyril Marcigny,"the study of human settlement and the paleoenvironment at the Alizay site also relates to contemporary issues such as climate change, migratory movements and population conflicts."

Source: ACTU France [November 05, 2017]

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