Archaeology: under the A6 motorway, a 24,000-year-old camp

At the beginning of the year, a thin layer of snow covers the fields around Solutré-Pouilly in Saône-et-Loire. Some pruners resist the cold, forced to act on the vine to maintain good bunch growth even under the influence of severe frost. It is not vine cutters, but stone cutters from the Paleolithic period that today’s visitor is interested in. At the foot of the Solutré rock, the Museum of Prehistory welcomes archaeologists from the National Institute for Research in Preventive Archeology (Inrap), who are coming to present the first results of recent research.

At Fragnes-La Loyère, a few kilometers north of Chalon, Autoroutes Paris-Rhin-Rhône plans to build an A6 ramp. However, before work began, diagnostic trenches carried out in October 2022 demonstrated the benefit of careful excavation at the developer’s expense over an area of ​​6,000 m². For 2 months, between September and November 2023, Inrap researchers took turns in the autumn rain to excavate the soil and take samples of outcrops before firing the steam cylinders. In the end, it was an area of ​​40 m² that piqued the interest of archaeologists.

The occupation of the site has been attributed to Homo sapiens living in the so-called “Solutrean” period between 24,000 and 19,000 BC. Jean-Baptiste Lajoux, responsible for the excavations, explains: “We’re at the top of the ice age right now. It is the coldest period that man has known in Europe. The Saône Corridor is then in an extremely harsh climate, the current temperatures at the beginning of the year are actually summer at this time! » It was in this hostile environment that Paleolithic men evolved in search of food based on reindeer or horses.

In Fragnes-La Loyère, the site discovered includes furniture made entirely of stone. “ We collected up to 250 pieces of cutting waste, cut blocks, blades and tools per square meter. These flint remains make up a collection of 4,300 objects, which roughly corresponds to the production of a two-day flint knocker. declares the archaeologist. Just a few centimeters from the surface, everything is exceptionally well preserved, as the debitage masses have remained as they existed more than 20,000 years ago. The whole thing is surrounded by about fifty pebbles, the function of which is still uncertain.

Raw flint blades testify to their production in situ. They were designed by tapping on a soft stone and can be used as is because they are razor sharp. In addition, “flat points or “Solutrean” retouching of blades (by removing small fragments – editor’s note) are specific technological criteria that, with the use of soft stone, provide a range of evidence in favor of this late Solutrean culture”, concludes the researcher, making it a valuable site because there is no equivalent to the date.

The interest in this discovery is therefore obvious, and at the same time it is a small miracle. Because the area of ​​6,000 m² dedicated to this location is located in an area that has already been partially built up. Without preventive archaeology, it would be difficult to find and analyze the flint-breaking workshop, which represents less than 10% of the total area to be built.

A view of… Jean-Baptiste Lajoux, archaeologist of the National Institute for Research in Preventive Archaeology

What is the function of the pebbles discovered at the site?

These stones with a diameter of 30 cm come from the bottom of the river Saône, which is several kilometers away. The pebbles were supposed to form a crown that defined the edge of the concentration. They may also have been used to support outdoor equipment such as a large tent. In addition, some show traces of exposure to fire. Therefore, they should also serve to close the fireplace. In these glacial times, people need to be warm and sheltered when they are on the plains, and this is the case.

How does the discovery of Fragnes fit in with other Solutrean sites?

The ancient Solutreans are represented very little. There is a site at Arcy-sur-Cure in a disturbed stratigraphic context and another at Celle-Saint-Cyr in plowing, which presents a problem of homogeneity as the stones have been disturbed by human activity. There are therefore few elements of comparison in the region. It’s no better at the national level. In addition, all known sites so far are caves or protected sites. We don’t have any other national outdoor site apart from this Fragnes site. It therefore represents a great interest in the documentation of this period.

What will be the next steps?

We will study in detail the technical and economic behavior of Solutrean knappers. To this end, we will work on the provenance of the raw materials and the reassembly of the cut pieces to study in detail the actions of these tailors. This is going to be a big puzzle! Next, we will perform traceological analyzes of the impacts left on the instruments to determine their exact function: a spearhead? breaking flesh, bones? Finally, we will work on the analysis of the spatial organization of this camp by following the distribution of various objects within the whole. This camp composed of heaps of stones gives us many prospects for study!

A view of… Jean-Baptiste Lajoux, archaeologist of the National Institute for Research in Preventive Archaeology

What is the function of the pebbles discovered at the site?

These stones with a diameter of 30 cm come from the bottom of the river Saône, which is several kilometers away. The pebbles were supposed to form a crown that defined the edge of the concentration. They may also have been used to support outdoor equipment such as a large tent. In addition, some show traces of exposure to fire. Therefore, they should also serve to close the fireplace. In these glacial times, people need to be warm and sheltered when they are on the plains, and this is the case.

How does the discovery of Fragnes fit in with other Solutrean sites?

The ancient Solutreans are represented very little. There is a site at Arcy-sur-Cure in a disturbed stratigraphic context and another at Celle-Saint-Cyr in plowing, which presents a problem of homogeneity as the stones have been disturbed by human activity. There are therefore few elements of comparison in the region. It’s no better at the national level. In addition, all known sites so far are cave or protected sites. We don’t have any other national outdoor site apart from this Fragnes site. It therefore represents a great interest in the documentation of this period.

What will be the next steps?

We will study in detail the technical and economic behavior of Solutrean knappers. To this end, we will work on the provenance of the raw materials and the reassembly of the cut pieces to study in detail the actions of these tailors. This is going to be a big puzzle! Next, we will perform traceological analyzes of the impacts left on the instruments to determine their exact function: a spearhead? breaking flesh, bones? Finally, we will work on the analysis of the spatial organization of this camp by following the distribution of various objects within the whole. This camp composed of heaps of stones gives us many prospects for study!

A view of… Jean-Baptiste Lajoux, archaeologist of the National Institute for Research in Preventive Archaeology

What is the function of the pebbles discovered at the site?

These stones with a diameter of 30 cm come from the bottom of the river Saône, which is several kilometers away. The pebbles were supposed to form a crown that defined the edge of the concentration. They may also have been used to support outdoor equipment such as a large tent. In addition, some show traces of exposure to fire. Therefore, they should also serve to close the fireplace. In these glacial times, people need to be warm and sheltered when they are on the plains, and this is the case.

How does the discovery of Fragnes fit in with other Solutrean sites?

The ancient Solutreans are represented very little. There is a site at Arcy-sur-Cure in a disturbed stratigraphic context and another at Celle-Saint-Cyr in plowing, which presents a problem of homogeneity as the stones have been disturbed by human activity. There are therefore few elements of comparison in the region. It’s no better at the national level. In addition, all known sites so far are caves or protected sites. We don’t have any other national outdoor site apart from this Fragnes site. It therefore represents a great interest in the documentation of this period.

What will be the next steps?

We will study in detail the technical and economic behavior of Solutrean knappers. To this end, we will work on the provenance of the raw materials and the reassembly of the cut pieces to study in detail the actions of these tailors. This is going to be a big puzzle! Next, we will perform traceological analyzes of the impacts left on the instruments to determine their exact function: a spearhead? breaking flesh, bones? Finally, we will work on the analysis of the spatial organization of this camp by following the distribution of various objects within the whole. This camp composed of heaps of stones gives us many prospects for study!

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