Antlers, Bone Pins and Flint Blades: The Mesolithic Cemeteries of Teviec and Hoedic, Brittany

Article excerpt


The shell middens Teviec and Hoedic are located on what are now small islands in the Bay of Quiberon in Brittany, off the Atlantic coast of northwest France. An abundant microlithic industry and a single radiocarbon estimate places them in the late Mesolithic. The sites are best known for their evidence of elaborate burial practices, with stone and red-deer antler structures, evidence for ceremonial burning and feasting, and abundant and varied grave goods. Together they constitute some two-thirds of known French Mesolithic burials. Teviec and Hoedic are critical to our understanding of the late Mesolithic and the transition to the Neolithic. The sites are part of the phenomenon of increasing 'complexity' in the late Mesolithic of northwest Europe; they also fill a geographical gap between the cemeteries of south-central Portugal and those of southern Scandinavia.

While the importance of Teviec and Hoedic has long been recognized, there has been little further analysis since their discovery and excavation in the earlier part of this century (Taborin 1974 is a notable exception). Yet opinions about the sites are frequently presented, especially in publications dealing with the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition and the origins of the megalithic tombs of Brittany in particular and of western Europe in general (e.g. Bender 1985; 1986; Boujot & Cassen 1993; Chapman 1981; Clark & Neeley 1987; Hibbs 1983; Mohen 1990; Newell 1984; Newell & Constandse-Westermann 1988; Patton 1993; Renfrew 1976; Sherratt 1990; Thomas & Tilley 1993). The intent of this paper is to present a more thorough analysis of mortuary variability at Teviec and Hoedic, examining the differences between them, as well as the similarities.

Site context

Teviec and Hoedic were excavated by M. Pequart and S.-J. Pequart in the late 1920s and early 1930s. It is due to the high quality of their excavation reports, excellent for the time, that the present re-analysis is possible. Nevertheless, some of the statements and identifications contained in the reports should be viewed with caution.

Teviec and Hoedic are roughly contemporaneous, based on similarities in tool typology and burial practices (Pequart et al. 1937; Pequart & Pequart 1954; Rozoy 1978). A single radiocarbon determination on charcoal from a hearth in the lower part of the midden at Hoedic provides an estimate of 6575+350 b.p. (Gif-227) (Delibrias et al. 1966; Patton (1993: 39) calibrates the date to 5500-5110 BC). The burials themselves remain undated. The large standard error of this date limits its usefulness; at two standard deviations it overlaps dates for Breton early Neolithic passage-graves and long mounds at c. 5700 b.p. No stratigraphic breaks were noted within the Mesolithic levels at either site, and the materials recovered were described as homogeneous throughout the 0.5 to 1.0 m of deposits. Neolithic deposits were encountered at Hoedic, but the 0.3 to 0.5 m of Mesolithic deposits were apparently entirely sealed by a layer of sterile gravel (Pequart & Pequart 1954: 10-12).

Unfortunately, the rise in sea-levels from Atlantic times means that the sites must be looked at in isolation (cf. Hibbs 1983: 274); the now-submerged coastal plain on which they were high points was undoubtedly the focus of Mesolithic settlement in the area. Additional Mesolithic sites in Brittany include both shell-midden sites (Beg-er-Vil, Point St-Gildas, Anse du Sud, La Torche) and many more non-shell-midden sites (e.g. Kerhillio, Kerjouanno, Malvant, Porz Carn, La Girardiere, Ty Lann, Ty Nancien) (Rozoy 1978: 818-20). With a 10-m drop in sea level (c. 6000 b.p.) (Ters 1973, cited in Rozoy 1978: 784; Admiralty Chart 2353, Presqu'Ile de Quiberon to Croisic 1995), Teviec becomes attached to the mainland via the Quiberon peninsula, while Hoedic joins with the island of Houat as well as a number of smaller islets [ILLUSTRATION FOR FIGURE 1 OMITTED]. …