QR Vic-le-Comte – Enval 1
The Durif shelter
A major Late Palaeolithic site
There are reports of flint tools and human and horse bones having been discovered in Enval in the late 19th century. In 1929, the Amis de l’Université de Clermont-Ferrand collected a number of items from the property of a Monsieur Durif, built against a rocky overhang. But it wasn’t until 1969 that a scheduled dig took place, to coincide with the conversion of the barn that adjoined the Durif house. The archaeological operations went on until 1987 and unearthed a wealth of material – despite the very small excavation area – including lithic tools, faunal bones and objects of art and jewellery, forming a homogeneous set dating from the Magdalenian period.
These huge discoveries then led to a wider Investigation with prospecting and surveys conducted around the Durif shelter from 2008 onwards. New evidence of Magdalenian occupation was found in the continuity of the rocky overhang. At the same time, the archaeological material from the first excavation was re-examined by multidisciplinary teams and new carbon-14 dating was conducted to further refine what had been learned so far.
Then, whilst a local resident was working on his property in 2016, a new deposit was discovered, around 100m north-west of the Durif shelter, at the foot of a rocky escarpment in an area topographically identical to the previous discoveries. The Moliard shelter, named after the landowner, indicated that there had been a much more extensive prehistoric occupation than the few square metres initially excavated at the Durif shelter had suggested.
An unusual barn
Three areas were excavated or surveyed inside the barn buildings. The first, known as the « shelter floor », is located in the north of the building in a rock cavity originally enclosed by a low wall. It covered an area of 1.5m² and yielded 2,800 objects, including over 300 tools.
The excavation of the barn floor followed in 1971. This area was adjacent to the previous one but lower; it was excavated over a surface area of 12m² and to a depth of 30 to 40cm. Archaeologists made 13,500 finds, including 1,600 tools, objects of jewellery and portable art, traces of hearths, and settlement structures, including a pebble seat used during several occupations.
The southern part of the barn held a stable that had a concrete-covered floor. The concrete floor was removed in 2009 to reveal archaeological layers in situ, and a survey confirmed a very high density of remains.
Despite the progress that has motivated prehistorians for decades, the archaeological potential of the Durif shelter is far from fully explored. Less than half of the surface area of the shelter’s prehistoric floors has thus far been excavated (2013).
- By removing the scree from the former stable, archaeologists were able to expose the archaeological floor.
- Topographical survey of the Durif shelter (F. Surmely, 2010). The pink zone is the excavation that took place between 1969 and 1987, showing two distinct sectors: the bottom of the shelter and the floor of the barn. The yellow zone is where the fill is still in place.
A Magdalenian camp
Studies of lithic tools, faunal remains and carbon-14 dating place the prehistoric occupations of the Durif shelter during the Magdalenian period, according to a succession and chronology that as yet require more refinement.
Several thousand years separate the oldest sequences of the barn floor and stable from the upper level sequences at the back of the shelter. This long occupation, albeit discontinuous and seasonal, shows that the Enval site was an appealing location to people of that time. The main reasons for this are likely the cliff face that provided south-facing rock shelters and overlooked a small stream, the proximity of the Allier plain, the probable presence of a ford on the river, and flint deposits a short distance away.
The Magdalenian civilisation developed toward the end of the last ice age, a period marked by gradual warming interspersed with cold spells following a glacial maximum (known as the Tardiglacial period). This covered a period of between 20,000 and 13,000 years before present, depending on the region.
The Magdalenians were hunters of large game, establishing seasonal camps and using advanced and diverse lithic tools. They also specialised in working bone, ivory and antler, and used a variety of materials to create many carved and carved-in-the-round artefacts. They are also responsible for many masterpieces of cave art in France (Niaux and Rouffignac caves) and Spain (Altamira).
The Durif shelter has yielded around 2,000 flint tools, ranging from household implements to frames used in the making of hunting weapons. Most were made by a particular method of using a blade to produce flakes from a flint nucleus that would then be worked into tools or weapons.
Domestic tools were used for a wide range of tasks such as butchery, engraving stones, working bone, animal wood and vegetable matter, and treating hides. However, there was only a small number of different types of tool. The chisel is the tool most commonly found, followed by the scraper then the hole borer. Some tools had multiple purposes, like the chisel-scraper, while others were converted, rather efficiently, from one tool into another.
The flints used in the manufacture of hunting weapons were essentially small blades or microliths that were fitted to the end section of a flint throwing weapon to reinforce it. Traces of putty were found on four microliths discovered at the Enval site.
- Chisels and chisel-scrapers
- Large blades cut from local flint
- Various tools from the 2010 survey of the former stables
Different species – identified by skeletal remains – were found on different levels but are rather similar across all the excavated zones.
Two species dominated the Magdalenian fauna: reindeer, making up more than half of the remains, and horses. The rarer ibex, chamois and saiga (a species of antelope found in cold environments) were also on the menu, as were the wolf and the Arctic fox.
Rare remains of mammoth and bovinae (auroch or bison) skeletons were also unearthed under the barn floor. All these species lived in the open and were adapted to a cold, dry climate.
- Mammoth molar uncovered following removal of the concrete floor from the former stable. Over 17,000 years old, it may have been taken from an animal that had died much earlier.
Objects of art and jewellery
The quantity and quality of objects of art and jewellery found at Enval make the site unrivalled in Auvergne.
The Durif shelter yielded two carved-in-the-round objects. The first is a small female statuette, 31 mm long, carved from sandstone; the second is a horse’s head made from talc-schist, 35 mm long.
Among the many plaques carved into the limestone or sandstone, around a dozen offer naturalistic representations of animals, while another reveals a human leg. The bestiary includes horses, lions, an ibex, cattle and a feline with a clubbed tail, reminiscent of a wild cat.
The jewellery includes a large set of 40 lignite beads, some with unfinished holes, and pendants made from a variety of materials: brown bear’s tooth, a perforated ammonite and a pear-shaped fluorite pendant.
- Female statuette found at the back of the shelter.
- Beads of lignite and crude core lignite
- Ammonite and Ursus arctos teeth