Tools, Space and Behaviour in the Lower Palaeolithic: Discoveries at Soucy in the Paris Basin

Article excerpt

We are privileged to publish this interim report on the discovery of open settlement sites of the early Palaeolithic in the Paris basin. The early occupation areas were defined beside the river Yonne at Soucy during gravel-quarrying, which were to produce flint bifaces and debitage and the bones of elephant, rhinoceros, horse and a wealth of other mammals. The sites differed from each other, both in their assemblages and in their location with respect to the old river channels. In the author's analysis this demonstrates signs of subsistence strategy and spatial organisation in the buried valley between 365 and345 000 years ago.

Keywords: Lower Palaeolithic, Paris basin, MIS9, bifaces, large mammals


The middle Pleistocene sites at Soucy were discovered during the exploitation of a gravel quarry on the middle terrace of the Yonne river valley, located approximately 120km south-east of Paris (Figure 1). Stratigraphic, biochronological and radiometric data allow the sites to be assigned to OIS 9 (Oxygen Isotope Stage 9), that is 365-345 000 years ago. Excavation in the fluvial deposits has contacted nine archaeological horizons featuring Acheulean industries in association with the remains of large mammals. Encountering several contemporary Acheulean settlements in the same ancient river valley has allowed us to note the diversity of their locations and assemblages and so address questions about the techno-economic management of tools, the functions of sites and the organisation of communities.

The Soucy quarry was opened in 1990, using a method of extraction designed to minimise environmental damage, and has been the regular subject of archaeological interest since 1994. In that year, archaeological evaluation identified a Palaeolithic layer (Soucy 1), preserved in an alluvial stratigraphic sequence. After further stratigraphic sampling and survey of the different quarry faces, a second settlement was discovered (Soucy 2). Archaeological supervision of the quarrying resulted in the discovery of the Soucy 3 site in spring 1995, Soucy 4 and 5 in early 1996, and finally, the Soucy 6 settlement in 1997 (Figures 1a and 1b). Of these six settlements, only Soucy 1, 3, 5 and 6 were examined by extensive archaeological excavation (Figure 2). Less immediately threatened, the Soucy 2 and 4 settlements are preserved for future research.


Although the area is still in the course of investigation and analyses are still in progress, the contribution of the Soucy sites to the understanding of the Lower Palaeolithic populations in north-western Europe is already considerable and merits this interim report.

Chronological, palaeotopographical and environmental contexts

The alluvium which contains the sites lies 20m above the modern fluvial deposits of the Yonne valley (Figure 2A) and comprises two main layers. An upper fine sediment fills several channel systems within a deposit of flint pebbles (Figure 2A and B: 0-4) (Chausse 2003; Chausse et al. 2004). Samples collected for dating have provided mean ESR and U-Th ages between 345 and 365 000 years ago (Voinchet 2002). These first results allow us to assign the deposition of the Soucy formation to the period of MIS 11, 10 or 9. The chronostratigraphic analysis of the upper hillside sequence allows us to favour a MIS 9 age for the upper fine alluvial sediment (Figure 2:4) and MIS 10 for the lower flint pebble layer (Figure 2: 0) (Chausse 2003).


The upper level of alluvial soil (Figure 2: 1-4) has yielded a rich and varied assemblage of flint tools (see below) and various faunal assemblages. Large mammals are represented by Bos primigenius, Bison sp., Cervus elaphus, Dama dama clactoniana, Megaloceros sp., Capreolus capreolus, Sus scrofa, Equus mosbachensis, Dicerorhinus mercki, Palaeoloxodon antiquus, Mammuthus trogontherii, Ursus arctos, Canis lupus and Castor fiber (Bemilli 2004). …