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The three year old Neanderthal child of Roc de Marsal, one of the oldest burials of the Perigord

From the display at Musée National de Préhistoire, Les Eyzies, 2008:

This three year old child discovered in 1961 at Roc de Marsal (excavations by Lafille) enjoys an exceptional state of preservation. The body seems to have been deposited in a natural depression in the ground, and has been apparently forced into the form of an arc of a circle, lying on its stomach, with a hand to its head and legs bent at 90°, and then immediately covered with soil. Recent excavations suggest a date of around 70 000 years BP which makes Roc de Marsal one of the oldest burials of the Perigord.

Cet enfant de trois ans découvert en 1961 au Roc de Marsal (fouille Lafille) jouit d'un état de conservation exceptionnel. Le corps semble avoir été déposé dans une dépression naturelle du sol, et quelque peu contraint pour epouser une forme schématique en arc de cercle: couché sur le ventre, une main ramenée à hauteur de tête et jambes pliées à 90° l'ensemble recouvert immédiatement de sédimentes. Les fouilles récentes suggèrent une datation aux alentours de 70 000 ans et font du Roc de Marsal une des plus anciennes inhumations du Périgord.



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Neandertal models, beautifully crafted. The child is listening to the man attentively.

The sculptor was not credited, but it is the work of Elizabeth Daynès. The adult is based on La Ferrassie I.

The child is based on the three year old found at Roc de Marsal.

It is a superb work, a real tour de force by a master sculptor.

This is not just an illustration for a museum, it is a work of art suitable for any display of the best work that humans are capable of. I am in awe of the talents and artistry of Elizabeth Daynès. She is a world treasure.

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2008
Source: Display at Musée National de Préhistoire, Les Eyzies






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The 70 000 year old remains are in remarkably good condition.

It is not clear to me why the vertebrae have been overlapped. Perhaps this was done purely for the purpose of fitting the skeleton into the available display case.

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2008

Source: Originals, display at Musée National de Préhistoire, Les Eyzies




Roc de Marsal Roc de Marsal


It is also very fortunate that we have both the skull and the mandible.

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2008

Source: Originals, display at Musée National de Préhistoire, Les Eyzies




Roc de Marsal

Representation of the original disposition of the bones of the child burial.

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2008

Source: Display at Musée National de Préhistoire, Les Eyzies




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These photographs were made with available light, which was relatively dim in the exhibition hall. On the first visit, I was expressly permitted by three separate officials to take photographs using flash, and on the second visit, a few days later, flash was prohibited.

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2008

Source: Originals, display at Musée National de Préhistoire, Les Eyzies






Roc de Marsal Roc de Marsal


Roc de Marsal

Images of the Roc de Marsal skeleton, from a PBS video with Harold Dibble, who has done a huge amount of work at the Roc de Marsal.

Photo: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/humanspark/video/web-exclusive-video-neanderthal-burial/357/




Roc de Marsal Roc de Marsal


Roc de Marsal

Images of the Roc de Marsal cave dig and the surroundings. Beginning in 1993 Harold Dibble and other distinguished archeologists have been doing intensive fieldwork on the site, and are now, in 2010, in the process of finishing the analysis of the finds, and preparing for publication.

Photo: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/humanspark/video/web-exclusive-video-neanderthal-burial/357/




Roc de Marsal

Lithic industry associated with the Roc de Marsal skeleton.

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2008

Source: Originals, display at Musée National de Préhistoire, Les Eyzies




Roc de Marsal



Deciding to lay the dead body of the child into the depression in the cave floor.

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2008

Source: Display at Musée National de Préhistoire, Les Eyzies

Artist:© Emmanuel Roudier, 2008
   Superb watercolours were done for the Neanderthal exhibition at the Musée National de Préhistoire by the French artist, Emmanuel Roudier.
   Blog: http://roudier-neandertal.blogspot.com/   Contact: emmanuelroudier@gmail.com




Roc de Marsal



Arranging the body in the depression.

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2008

Source: Display at Musée National de Préhistoire, Les Eyzies

Artist:© Emmanuel Roudier, 2008
   Superb watercolours were done for the Neanderthal exhibition at the Musée National de Préhistoire by the French artist, Emmanuel Roudier.
   Blog: http://roudier-neandertal.blogspot.com/   Contact: emmanuelroudier@gmail.com




Roc de Marsal



Covering the body with soil and rocks carried into the cave using an animal hide.

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2008

Source: Display at Musée National de Préhistoire, Les Eyzies

Artist:© Emmanuel Roudier, 2008
   Superb watercolours were done for the Neanderthal exhibition at the Musée National de Préhistoire by the French artist, Emmanuel Roudier.
   Blog: http://roudier-neandertal.blogspot.com/   Contact: emmanuelroudier@gmail.com




Roc de Marsal

Jean Lafille at the entrance to Roc de Marsal.

It seems that Lafille has completed all this work alone, working as he found the time, and, from his notes, one can see that there were frequent breaks during the work. (Translated from Dibble et al., 2007)

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2008

Source: Display at Musée National de Préhistoire, Les Eyzies




Roc de Marsal





Roc de Marsal is not far from Le Bugue on the Vézère, and very near the village of Campagne.

Source: Google Earth




The following is translated, edited and adapted from Alain (1989)

Preliminary study of the site

The cave of Roc de Marsal is on the southwestern slope of a late cretaceous limestone cliff overlooking sixty metres of the Retonde valley. The valley joins the left bank of the Vezere, slightly below the village of Campagne-du-Bugue.

In 1953 J. Lafille sunk a trench in this cave, well known since Medieval times. From April to September 1954 he broadened and deepened it, allowing him to number 14 layers from bottom to top. From 1954 to 1971 until his death, he excavated only 27 square meters in area, thoroughly mapped 25% of the objects, took many notes, and made 30 linear metres of trenches.

Study of the deposits by Assassi (1986) showed that most of the sequence was deposited during generally cold weather. Only the base (layers A and I) and the top layer (XIII) correspond to warmer, wetter times.

History of the discovery of the Neandertal child.

On the 15th August 1961 while removing the yellow layer of decomposed calcareous sandstone underlying layer VI in the M18 quadrant, the excavator found, first, some debris that he interpreted as cranial remains of a child. Immediately he decided to dig vertically in M17 to establish a coupe, a vertical face.

During this operation a few centimetres of the D layer crumbled and emptied a pouch filled with a powdery black earth. The shape of the skull became clearer and he stopped digging. On 16th August Mr Bouchud came on site and noted the discovery of the skull of a child.

Professor F. Bordes was notified by telegram. On August 17 he came to the dig to acquaint himself with the discovery. Mr Bouchereau took the first photographs.

(The distinguished archaeologist James R. Sackett has written an interesting short Biography of François Bordes which may be of interest to readers - Don )

On 18th August Professor H. L. Movius (who was responsible for the Abri Pataud dig) who J. Lafille had asked to take part, put at his disposal three excavators, F.D. Davis, S. Natoneck, E. Orville and equipment for the excavation of the skeleton. Excavations continued on 21, 23, 25 and 28 August. On the 27th, Lafille realised that there was a deterioration of certain bones of the skeleton.

Roc de Marsal

Diagram of the skeleton when found.

Photo: Alain (1989)




Roc de Marsal

The skeleton was found in quadrant M18.

Photo: Alain (1989)




Roc de Marsal


Roc de Marsal

Diagrams of the coupes, or vertical trench faces, showing the position of the child burial, indicated by the rectangle in each case.

Photo: Alain (1989)




The skeleton, coated in a blackish sediment, was in a pit of 90 x 70 cm, in a hollow in layer I. It was coated with blackish earth, on a yellow layer of decomposed calcareous sandstone which covered the pit, part of the skull was embedded in this layer, and there was an average thickness of 6 or 7 inches toward the center of the pit.

The skeleton is that of a young child apparently aged 2 to 3 years. A hand was at the level of the skull, whose face looked down, while the chest is resting on the right side. Both femurs are in the same horizontal plane, forming an angle with the spine of 135° bending backward, with the tibia and fibula at right angles, also towards the back with the femurs.

Perhaps the pressure of the overlying layers, added to the sloping bottom of the pit, partly explains this strange position.

Conclusions

Despite the thoroughness with which the observations were recorded, thorough examination of the data do not provide any particulars concerning funeral practices.

No evidence can confirm or deny the intentional nature of the pit. At several points in this deposit have been observed natural depressions, channels, and solution depressions. The sediment surrounding the human remains presents no noticeable difference with the sediment layers of other habitats strongly altered by humans which are often of a blackish powdery nature.

As the sediment overlying the skeleton is a decomposed limestone it covers several levels of the stratigraphy. Despite this, it is important to note that almost all the bones are anatomically connected and that their state of preservation is quite exceptional.



References


  1. Alain, T., 1989: Le squelette de l'enfant du Roc-de-Marsal. Les données de la fouille. Paléo. No. 1, 1989. pp. 47-54.
  2. Assassi, F., 1986:Recherches sédimentologiques sur la climatochronologie du Würm ancien et de l'interstade würmien en Périgord. Bordeaux: Université de Bordeaux I, 1986, 1 vol., 205 p. 37 fig. Thèse N.D.: Sc. Bordeaux I. 1986, 2141
  3. Dibble, H., Goldberg P., McPherron S., Sandgathe D., Turq, A. , 2007: Roc de Marsal (Campagne-de-Bugue, Dordogne) Rapport de fouille programmée triannuelle 2005 - 2007, http://www.oldstoneage.com/pdfs/rdm_2007_report.pdf




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