La Grande Roche excavation (Quinçay, France)
La Grande Roche is one of the rare archaeological sites that preserved a long sequence of deposits formed at the time of contact between late Neandertals and early Homo sapiens.
- Marie Soressi
- Neandertal Legacy Project
- Ministère de la culture et la communication, Paris, France
A rare cave site
The cave of La Grande Roche at Quinçay, close to Poitiers, France, is one of the rare archaeological sites that preserved a long sequence of deposits formed at the time of contact between late Neandertals and early Homo sapiens. Stone-tools, bone-tools and even some personal ornaments more than 40,000 years old were previously excavated in the cave. Our study of stone-tools excavated in the cave in the 20een century suggested the cave was used by groups of Neandertals who were in contact with Homo sapiens (Roussel, 2011; Roussel et al. 2016). Yet the context of preservation of these archaeological finds still needs to be documented, and detailed radiometric dating of the finds and of each layer is needed to make a more accurate reconstruction of what happen at the cave.
Prof. M. Soressi received an excavation permit in 2019. Excavation started in 2020 and yearly excavation seasons involving Leiden students and early career researchers will be run until 2023.
It is expected that this new research project at la Grande Roche will enable more precise reconstructing of what happen to the last Neandertals just they disappeared as a distinct human population when they met Homo sapiens.
Exceptional preservation of osseous ornaments and bone tools
Bone is preserved only in the upper part of the sequence. Six pierced teeth (four from carnivores, two from cervids; Granger et Lévêque, 1997) were discovered in the upper layers. Considering their context, they must be among some of the oldest pierced beads in Europe. In 2016, a study by our team (Welker et al. 2016) showed the antiquity of the faunal remains discovered at the site.
Prof. M. Soressi was interviewed during the 2021 excavation season by Govert Schilling for his documentary series Govert to the origins of humans.
To be protected
The cave is currently located on a private property in a forested environment close to the small village of Quinçay. Since 2019, we have started sharing our knowledge of the cave with current inhabitants of the village and neighboring villages. Since the locals realize that the cave is one of rare one in Europe preserving deposits of the time of Neanderthal demise, no more vandalism has been witnessed at the cave. Our team offer the public, including school children and local amateurs, several visit every excavation season to explain the importance of that cave for the understanding of how most of us today are still carrying Neandertal genes meanwhile the Neandertals physically disappeared 40,000 ago.