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Neanderthal, knocking on Paris's door

A team of Inrap archaeologists, geomorphologists and paleo-environmentalists is currently excavating a site in Clichy la-Garenne (prescribed by the State, Drac Île-de-France). They have just discovered a prehistoric Middle Paleolithic site (350,000/45,000 BP), as well as the remains, in the ancient frozen sediments, of an elephantid tusk that belonged to a mammoth or a straight-tusked elephant (Palaeoloxodon antiquus).

Neanderthal, knocking on Paris's door
Aerial view of the Clichy la Garenne excavation trench, Impasse Dumur
[Credit: Denis Gliksman, Inrap]

Back to… Clichy and Levallois

The rock and sand quarries on the Seine meander between Clichy and Levallois are well-known by prehistorians and Quaternary geologists. Between 1860 and 1870, during Haussmann’s renovation of Paris, many discoveries were made there: lithic industries, fauna, and rare fossils demonstrating that humans were present in the Paris Basin during early Prehistory. 

At the same time, based on flint artifacts found in the Levallois-Perret quarries, researchers identified the flaking method they would name the “Levallois method.” This method has since been recognized on an international scale.

Neanderthal, knocking on Paris's door
Cross-sections of the stratigraphic layers of ancient alluvium from the Seine. The upper
levels are deformed during ice ages. Excavation of Clichy-la-Garenne
[Credit: Denis Gliksman, Inrap]

And now, déjà vu, “Levallois tools” have again been discovered in the context of a peri-urban renovation of Grand Paris.

Frozen ground on the banks of the Seine

Since the 19th century, this part of the middle Seine valley has been poorly known. This new research provides a unique opportunity to observe its stratigraphies across a large space and conduct geomorphological and paleo-environmental studies to understand the landscape's formation and apply the latest research methods.

Neanderthal, knocking on Paris's door
Cluster (n ° 1) of cut flint (Levallois method) [Credit: Inrap]

Under more than four meters of modern backfill, there are very well preserved ancient alluviums of the Seine. The alluvial layers at the base of the stratigraphic section were altered by the frequent glacial processes during Prehistory.

Neanderthal, knocking on Paris's door
Flint (cluster n ° 1) [Credit: Inrap]

In a highly urbanized and constricted space, the archaeologists employed an unusual excavation method, combining a large trench (generally used in diagnostic operations) with successive surface strippings (décapages).

Levallois flakes

In the oldest layers, the discovery of several knapped flint artifacts, especially tools, in association with faunal remains, revealed that Neanderthals were present on the river banks. These sharp flakes, made from local flint using the “Levallois method,” are typical of the Middle Paleolithic. This method consists of controlling the volume of the core (the matrix from which flakes are detached) to obtain predetermined flakes (Levallois flakes) that could (or not) be transformed into tools.

Neanderthal, knocking on Paris's door
Mammoth tusk fragments affected by frost, in situ, Clichy-la-Garenne
[Credit: Denis Gliksman, Inrap]

Prehistoric fauna

Three faunal assemblages were uncovered during the excavation at Clichy. The first is composed mainly of large herbivores, including horse and bison, while the second assemblage analysis is in progress. 

In the upper stratigraphic layers, the Inrap team has just discovered the remains of an elephantid, the species of which remains to be determined: is it a wooly mammoth (Mammuthus sp.) or straight-tusked elephant (Palaeoloxodon antiquus)? 

Neanderthal, knocking on Paris's door
Mammoth tusk fragments affected by frost, after excavation, Clichy-la-Garenne
[Credit: Denis Gliksman, Inrap]

This fragmented tusk confirms the presence of these prehistoric giants on the Seine River banks. This animal has not yet been dated because 14C AMS analysis (accelerator mass spectrometry method) was unsuccessful due to the absence of collagen in the fossil. 

Other analyses are in progress. In less than ten years, Inrap had discovered several wooly mammoths (Mammuthus primigenius) in Île-de-France, including those from two Middle Paleolithic sites: Changis-sur-Marne and Montereau-sur-le-Jard (Seine-et-Marne).

Source: Inrap [October 15, 2020]

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