A Neanderthal Face? the Proto-Figurine from la Roche-Cotard, Langeais (Indre-et-Loire, France)
Marquet, Jean-Claude, Lorblanchet, Michel, Antiquity
The site of La Roche-Cotard is in Indre-et-Loire, in the commune of Langeais, between that town and Cinq-Mars-la-Pile (Figure 1). The cave, discovered at the beginning of the twentieth century, is on the south-facing slope on the right bank of the Loire. The entrance is at the back of a small rocky cirque, only a few metres above the top of the river's modern embankment. Francois d'Achon discovered the cave on 17 January 1912, and published an account of his work in an article in the journal La Touraine on 15 January 1913 (d'Achon 1913). In 1975, an excavation trench one metre wide was cut perpendicular to the talus that ends the terrace to the south. This led to the discovery of diffrerent Pleistocene geological layers (La Roche-Cotard II), one of which, layer 7, was an undisturbed occupation surface (Marquet 1976, 1979, 1983, 1997, 2000) (Figure 2). Layer 7 consisted of a very characteristic yellow alluvial sand containing a probable hearth. Near the hearth were found a large herbivore rib, two sidescrapers, and a few flint flakes. A bit farther away slightly below, there were other sidescrapers including a very big specimen, some knives, a few used flakes, some more numerous small raw flakes, and, finally, the proto-figurine. The flint tools and the numerous flakes found in the sand of Layer 7 belong to a Mousterian culture and are in fresh condition with very sharp ridges (Figure 3). These lithic pieces were, for the most part--and especially the biggest pieces (the tools)--lying flat in the sand. The herbivore rib (more than 50 cm in length) was also lying flat in the sand. This supports the identification of layer 7 as an intact occupation level where Mousterian people (probably Neanderthal) had stopped on the beach of the Loire, lit a fire and prepared food. Perhaps this served as a point of departure for short expeditions into the environs for the game they needed, or even for expeditions further field, as shown by the variety of raw materials with which the tools were made.
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The worked stone which carried the figurative image is a piece of flint approximately trapezoidal in plan, featuring a natural tubular perforation or tube on an axis that is more or less parallel to the top and bottom edges of the trapezium. Into this perforation, a splinter of bone has been jammed (see below). Placing the object flat on a table, the side with the natural tube and the bone splinter will be called the front (Figure 4) and the other the back (Figure 5). The object's height (the height of the trapezium) is 98 mm on the left and only 93mm on the right (Figure 6). The greatest width (the longest side of the trapezium) is 105.5 mm (B), while the small base, below, only measures 69 mm (D). Viewed from the front, the object's thickest part is in the upper left area, showing a bulge, trihedral in shape. The thickness here is 40.5 mm. while the right upper area is only 31 mm thick. The object's front is markedly more bulging than the back.
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The natural tubular perforation is of a type that occurs quite commonly in the flint found around the site. The tube creates a "bridge" whose axis is perpendicular to the edges of the trapezium and thus divides the object into two roughly symmetrical parts, left and right. The tube comprises three sections of more or less equal length, the middle one corresponding to the rocky bridge. Under the bridge, the tube has a regular oval cross-section 21 mm by 15 mm. Since the object's upper part is thicker than the lower, the first and last thirds of the tube (the open parts) are both highly asymmetrical, being abrupt at the top, and gently linking up towards the bottom with the surface of the mask; in the same way, there is an asymmetry of the external surface of the rocky bridge, which is narrow at the base and broadens quite regularly towards the top. Its minimum width is 28 mm. …