Axis 1

Research axis 1 | Palaeolithic and Mesolithic Palethnologies – PALMES

The research developed in this topic focuses mainly on hunter-gatherers of Eurasia, with a particular emphasis on Europe. It deals with a long chronology ranging from the Lower Palaeolithic to the Mesolithic. Given the long history of past and present studies carried out in the Paris Basin and the number of collaborators involved, the Paris Basin and its margins constitute an exceptional field laboratory for a critical examination of site detection, site representativeness and conservation, and the elaboration of a long-term palethnological approach. These lines on inquiry are fed by multiple field operations and by the past, present or future studies of remains from sites such as Arcy-sur-Cure and Le Closeau, or of the emblematic settlements such as the three major sites of Pincevent, Étiolles and Ormesson-les-Bossats. In nearby areas (Central and Southwest France or Belgium), or in more distant regions (Italy, Germany, Czech Republic, Slovakia, European Russia, etc.), we revisit chronostratigraphic frameworks in order to attempt to apply the palethnographic approach emblematic of the work carried out in the Paris Basin. Although most of the fieldwork takes place in Europe, this research axis nevertheless intends to depart from an over-simplistic eurocentric vision by considering ‘Prehistories from elsewhere’. The latter offer new reflexive frameworks, which can either be integrated into comparative approaches, or considered as potential developments of the topic towards new horizons.

For over 60 years, active research networks on the Palaeolithic and Mesolithic periods in the Paris Basin have brought together amateurs and professionals. Many long-term archaeological operations conducted by members of the UMR are now complemented by preventive archaeological actions. This has led to the creation of a database of, among others, sedimentary, archaeological, and historical archives ranging from the Lower Palaeolithic to the Mesolithic. Evidence from sites with extremely favourable conditions of formation and conservation (Gron, Ormesson, Mareuil-sur-Cher, La Picardie, Etiolles, Pincevent, Le Closeau, Farman, etc.) forms the core of this documentary database. These data enhance our understanding of the technoeconomic and social organisation of the hunter-gatherer groups, sometimes attaining individual behaviour and reveal how these occupations functioned. Our research evaluates the pace of change from a multi-scalar perspective and assesses how hunter-gatherers exploited the surrounding environments. Concerning the Lower and Middle Palaeolithic, the main aim is to coordinate and develop research by examining how data from the Paris Basin fits into the panorama of technical traditions over this long time period.
This research therefore develops along two main axes: a synchronic axis, with an avowed palethnological perspective; and a diachronic axis, targeting the study of short, medium and long-term behavioural variability, establishing ‘palaeohistorical’ sequences when possible. Once these foundations have been laid, it is possible to re-study collections and less well-preserved sites, or sites excavated using non-modern techniques. This concerns in particular rock shelters and caves (e.g., in the Cure valley and the Fontainebleau massif), excavated very early on, which, although less numerous than open-air settlements in the region, belong to the same site patterning. Several associated collective programs focus on more or less specific themes and result in the dynamic structuring of research in this territory, making it an ideal observatory: PCR “From the last glacial maximum to the climactic optimum in the Paris Basin and its margins”; PAS “Preventive archaeological research in the Paris Basin from the Pleistocene to the Holocene: chronology, cultural characterization and site functioning”; PCR “Prehistoric rock art in the sandstone chaos of the Paris Basin”; PCR “Raw materials from the Paris Basin: Cenozoic flints from Ile-de-France” and finally various programmes on the caves of the Cure valley.

We aim to compare different study areas and different time frames of European Prehistory from a plurality of dimensions; cultural, geographical, environmental and demographic. Through investigations at several scales of analysis and comparisons of multiple lines of archaeological evidence (lithic and bone industries, fauna, art, adornment, habitat) and sedimentary records, our goal is to analyse the socioeconomic mechanisms and historical processes at work over time. We aim to elucidate how human communities were structured and how they evolved, within what are defined as coherent chrono-cultural complexes. We will consider, for example, the coexistence and/or succession of homogeneous or heterogeneous technical traditions with regard to their spatial extension, associated ecosystems and, possibly, palaeoanthropological and palaeogenomic data. The (re)composition of technical traditions will be one of the chosen approaches for exploring these cultural dynamics. We focus on four geographical areas: Central Europe (southern Germany, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary), Eastern Europe and its borders (Russia, Romania), the northern part of the western Mediterranean (Italy, Spain) and North-western Europe (France, Benelux, United Kingdom, northern Germany). Different gradients of analysis will be applied to the exploration of several topics, in keeping with the quality of records and the state of the art: (1) How can we identify culturally characteristic technical markers (objects, operational chains, know-how, etc.)? (2) Which criteria enable us to identify trans-regional or even pan-European ‘cultural trends’ or, on the contrary, regional characteristics? Do the latter necessarily express the existence of more autarkic societies and possible ‘borders’? Can we bring to light refugia, cultural crossroads or even cultural mixing areas marked by genuine technical syncretism or, on the contrary, areas of inertia? (3) How can we analyse the variability, evolution, maintenance or dilution of cultural identities, taking into account the irregular pace of change of the different systems: technical, economic, symbolic? And how – by analysing the underlying mechanisms (appearance, diffusion, mutation, transmission; rupture/stability) – can we propose hypotheses in terms of cultural dynamics? (4) Casting aside deterministic reasoning, what —subtle or major—roles do climatic and environmental changes play in the diversity of technical traditions, as well as in the observed occurrences of expansion/contraction?


From the outset, the palethnological approach was driven by the will to attain a global understanding of prehistoric cultural systems, linking technical production to the social organisation of human groups. This aim was materialised by the intra-site analysis of specific archaeological contexts: Late Glacial hunter-gatherer settlements, remarkably well-preserved in fine fluvial deposits of valley bottoms of North-western Europe. The application of various analytical tools, such as refits or the decoding of latent structures, demonstrated the contemporaneity of the studied assemblages, which was already perceptible in the polarisation of remains around domestic structures such as hearths. Several decades later, palethnological analyses have spread way beyond the sites where they were initially implemented and have been enhanced by taphonomic analyses, which are now essential for assessing the degree of disturbance of archaeological assemblages. This research has been developed on sites from all periods and leads to different levels of reconstruction/understanding of human activities depending on the types of remains and site conservation. This research topic aims to assess the wide diversity of cases encountered from the Lower Palaeolithic to the Mesolithic. It will compare them in order to build methodological bridges and thus lead to a reasoned extension of palethnological ambition, based on shared technological, taphonomic and spatial frames of analysis adapted to the diversity of remains.

Europe is the terrain of predilection for axis 1, but the scientific expertise of the laboratory also extends to nomadic hunter-gatherers in other regions of the world (Israel, Syria, Pakistan, Ethiopia, etc.). This diversity of case studies has always played an important role in the approaches of the two founding figures of the ‘Prehistoric Ethnology’ and ‘Prehistory and Technology’ laboratories, André Leroi-Gourhan and Jacques Tixier.
We propose to perpetuate this enlarged focus and to look beyond the borders of France and Europe, in order to address other contexts and other academic traditions and to stimulate exchanges and reflections. This tendency began when our teams were founded, and still continues today. It frequently leads to international exchanges and to hosting foreign colleagues or students. As a result, new and enriching collaborations are emerging, and even new avenues of research in geographical areas little explored by French archaeological research until now.
The aim of this sub-axis is therefore to nurture the shared ambition of a broad prehistoric archaeology. This will pave the way to exchanging ideas with colleagues specialised in areas not necessarily represented by the laboratory’s core activities (and for those who aspire to specialise in these new areas). This sub-axis aims to develop new perspectives, or even new themes, regardless of the temporal or geographic focus of research. It is open to all those who wish to compare the state of the art, points of view, knowledge and methodologies, while establishing close links between teaching and research.

Liste des programmes de recherche en cours

  • L’Italie paléolithique : peuplement et traditions techniques
    Programme de l’école française de Rome
  • G3ARC : “GéoARChéologie et ARChéologie des grottes préhistoriques du massif d’ARCy-sur-Cure/Saint-Moré (Bourgogne Franche-Comté, France) : des objets archéologiques aux trajectoires humaines collectives”
    Nejma Goutas, Onfray M.
    AP MAE/MSH Mondes
  • « Anthrop’Arc » (contrat post-doctoral)

    DIM Matériaux Anciens et Patrimoniaux

    N. Goutas (Resp. Ethnologie Préhistorique) et B. Buob (Co-resp. LESC)

  • Pincevent MANA : Pincevent – Mémoires Archéologique, Numérique et Audiovisuelle (Labex Les passés dans le présent, COMUE Paris-Lumière – aide de l’état gérée par l’ANR-11-LABX-0026-01)
    Contrats financés dans le cadre du PIA – LabEx “Les Passés dans le Présent”
  • Entre passé lointain et avenir : la matérialité des paysages archéologiques dans la construction du patrimoine et de la mémoire historique. Le cas du chantier-école de fouilles d’Arcy-sur-Cure (Yonne), 1946-1963
    (Labex CAP, Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, Post-doctorat)
    Contrats financés dans le cadre du PIA – LabEx “Les Passés dans le Présent”
  • GT “Territoires culturels et circulations des sociétés anciennes” du LabEX DynamiTe
    Ludovic Mevel, Gomart L., Pereira G.
  • Fouilles du site d’Ormesson, SRA Ile de France
    2009-en cours
    Ministère de la Culture
  • Fouilles du site de Pincevent (La Grande Paroisse), SRA Ile-de-France
    Ministère de la Culture
  • Fouilles à la Grotte à la Peinture, SRA Ile-de-France
    2020-en cours
    Ministère de la Culture
  • PCR « Du dernier maximum glaciaire à l’optimum climatique dans le Bassin parisien et ses marges » (Interrégion Centre-Nord )
    Ministère de la Culture
  • PCR : « art rupestre préhistorique dans les chaos gréseux du Bassin parisien. Étude, archivage et valorisation (Interrégion Centre-Nord )
    2017-en cours
    Ministère de la Culture
  • PCR : « Matières premières du Bassin parisien : les silex cénozoïques d’Ile-de-France » (Interrégion Centre-Nord )
    2018-en cours
    Ministère de la Culture
  • Projet “MAT PAR”
    DIM Matériaux anciens et Patrimoniaux
  • Vers Arcy (AAP Politique scientifique, financements crédits spéciaux UMR, financements équipe, commune Avallon, Auxerre)
    2015-en cours
    Projets financements autres
  • Les expressions symboliques chez les chasseurs-cueilleurs terrestres et maritimes de « Fuego-Patagonia » (Chili) : techniques et codes visuels de l’art rupestre
    Fondart, Chili
  • Matières premières siliceuses entre Rhin et Escaut: constitution d’une lithothèque aux normes internationales, (UFA, Manifestations scientifiques de l’Université franco-allemande)
    Scharl S., Solène Denis Collin J.-P.
    Autres contrats européens
  • APP ” Le Blot. Etudes et Travaux”
    Vincent Delvigne, J.P. Raynal
    2019-en cours
    Ministère de la Culture (APP)
  • PCR ” Réseau de lithothèques en région Centre-Val-de-Loire”
    Vincent Delvigne, P. Fernandes, R. Angevin, H. Lethrosne
    2016-en cours
    Ministère de la Culture (PCR)
  • PCR ” Réseau de lithothèques en région Auvergne”
    P. Fernandes, Vincent Delvigne, E. Vaissié
    2006-en cours
    Ministère de la Culture (PCR) ; Collectivités territoriales (cf. départements)
  • PCR ” Réseau de lithothèques en région Aquitaine”
    A. Turq P. Fernandes Vincent Delvigne A. Morala
    2017-en cours
    Ministère de la Culture (PCR)
  • Fouilles du site de la Grotte Bouyssonie, SRA Limousin
    2019-en cours
    Ministère de la Culture, Ville de Brive la Gaillarde/Musée Labenche
  • Fouilles de la grotte Gatzarria (Pyrénées-Atlantiques)
    Lars Anderson, Deschamps M.
    2017-en cours
    Ministère de la Culture
  • Fouilles de l’abri d’Aurignac II et recontextualisation du vallon du ruisseau de Rodes
    Lejay M., Lars Anderson
    2018-en cours
    Ministère de la Culture
  • Milieux (péri-)glaciaires et stratégies des populations
    Olivier Bignon-Lau, Moine Olivier (LGP)
    LabEx DynamiTe, programme « investissements d’avenir », géré par l’université Panthéon-Sorbonne