Ancient France: Neolithic Societies and Their Landscapes, 6000-2000 BC

Ancient France: Neolithic Societies and Their Landscapes, 6000-2000 BC

Ancient France: Neolithic Societies and Their Landscapes, 6000-2000 BC

Ancient France: Neolithic Societies and Their Landscapes, 6000-2000 BC

Excerpt

While many people, from Mercati onwards, set out in Renaissance Europe the idea that there had been a Stone Age in the past of man it was not until the French, in the Somme gravels and the rock-shelters of southern France, demonstrated its existence that prehistoric archaeology came into being. The pre-Roman past of man, hitherto a muddle of Ancient Britons, Gauls, and Goths, was seen in terms of a new technological model of the three ages of Stone, Bronze and Iron by the Danish archaeologist C. J. Thomsen who opened the galleries of the Danish National Museum in 1819, based on this three-age system.

France was rich in the Stone Age from the work of Boucher de Perthes in the north to Lartet and Christy and many another in the south. But was the French Stone Age the same as that defined in Denmark? It was not, and soon it was clear that there were several kinds of stone ages, that of the gravels and rock-shelters of France, that of the kitchen-middens of Denmark, and that of the megaliths and lake-dwellings. It was an Englishman, Sir John Lubbock (later Lord Avebury), who saw these differences clearly and proposed the word Palaeolithic for the période de la pierre taillée, and Neolithic for the péiode de la pierre polie. Lubbock did not appreciate the place of the Danish kitchen- middens, and the Mesolithic was a post-Lubbock phrase, which does not appear in his Prehistoric Times (1865).

From then on research into the Palaeolithic of France has been vigorously pursued, whereas the prehistory of France from the Mesolithic onwards has not, until recently, received comparable attention. A country which had the Somme gravels and the rock-shelters of Dordogne and the Pyrenees, and the art of Font-de-Gaume, Lascaux and Niaux, and the Abbé reuil, can be forgiven for finding the Old Stone Age the most exciting part of its pre-Roman past. The study of the French Neolithic lagged behind that of the Palaeolithic. The terms of reference were hard to define; there were megaliths and pottery and lake-dwellings. De Mortillet, Cartailhac and Déchelette were unable to come to terms with the French Neolithic, and an impartial observer might have thought in the years following the 1914-18 war that archaeologists would never get to grips with the French Neolithic, as we in England seemed unable to get to grips with the Neolithic of the British Isles.

It was foreign scholars who made the breakthrough and made us look again at the French material of the période de la pierre polie. The Spaniards . . .

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