(Chapter III, section 5)

Mesolithic man in France

Our knowledge of Mesolithic man in France is little better than that of the Iberian Peninsula, despite the extensive digging which has been oing on there for almost a century. French Mesolithic sites are divided into two main cultural groups, the Azilian and the Tardenoisian. The Tardenoisian represents the northward advance of the Capsians from North Africa, and its eastward spread across central Europe to Russia, and perhaps beyond. The Azilian represents a degenerate Magdalenian cultural expression surviving in southwestern France, in the Asturias of Spain, and in parts of England, under incoming Tardenoisian influence. By the time of the full Mesolithic, the fauna of France had changed almost completely, for the reindeer which the Magdalenian people had hunted had been replaced by red deer, while the impressive mammoths and other large mammals were by now long extinct.

The only French Mesolithic series known, aside from single skeletons, comes from Téviec, a small island to the west of the peninsula of Quiberon, Morbihan, Brittany.18 Here a coastal population subsisted on molluscs, including Litorina, and crustaceans, with little hunting. Its remains, consisting of twenty-one skeletons, come from stone cists buried in a midden on a raised beach. The implements, as shown in the archaeological part of the Téviec report, seem to be of a marginal, Azilian-like Epipalacolithic character, like those from the Asturian horizon in Spain, with some late Tardenoisian influence. On the basis of the artefacts, the raised beach, the Litorina skulls, and the stone cists, one must suppose that the remains cannot be older than the fourth millennium B.C., and may be even later. However, they are purely Mesolithic and antedate the local Neolithic, however retarded.

Of the twenty-one skeletons, seven adult males and eight adult females have been studied (see Appendix I, col. 3). The skulls are reasonably uniform; they are smaller in size than the Upper Palaeolithic French crania, but a little larger than those of the Muge people or Natufians; the vault is as high as its breadth; the cranial form between dolicho- and mesocephaly, with a male mean of 74.3, and the narrow range of 72 to 77. These skulls are thick boned, and rather massive in structure. Morphologically, they resemble the Upper Palaeolithic rather than the Mediterranean form. The faces are low and relatively broad, with the bizygomatic diameter often exceeding the head breadth. The browridges of some of the males are rather heavy, the nasion depression deep. The noses are mesorrhine, and fully European in form; the orbits are low.

On the whole, these skulls look like smaller replicas of Aurignacian and Magdalenian forms, or an intermediate stage between these and the Mediterraneans from farther south, as exemplified by the Portuguese and Palestinian specimens. One skull in particular bears a striking resemblance to Chancelade.

The statures of these people were low: 159 cm. for the men, 151 cm. for the women; the long bones not very heavy. The distal extremities were relatively long; not as much so as in some earlier skeletons, but more so than among most living Europeans.

Our interpretation of these late Mesolithic remains from the western corner of France is that they represent a group of marginal Epipalaeolithic survivors from beyond the Pyrenees, pushed northward, partly by climatic changes and partly by the arrival of new people from North Africa. We have, after all, no other evidence to show us what kind of people inhabited the Iberian Peninsula during the Late Pleistocene; a conglomerate of first wave Grimaldi-Combe Capelle-like Aurignacians plus some Magdalenians, plus some bringers of microliths from the south and east, would presumably look very much like this Téviec type, especially since the overgrown Middle and Late Aurignacians did not hunt south of the Pyrenees.

Aside from this Téviec series, the Azilian culture proper is represented by the remains of four individuals removed from the Trou Violet at Montardit,19 Arriège, in the northern Pyrenees, near the type station of the Azilian at Mas d’Azil, and one mandible and several long bones, from Mas d’Azil itself.20 Only one specimen, the so-called Montardit I, includes a complete skeleton, or even a complete brain case. Without elaboration, one may say that in every respect they belong to the same type as that of Téviec.


18 Péquart, Marthe, and St. Juste; also, Boule, M., and Vallois, H., AIPH, Mem. 18, 1937.

19 Sawtelle, R. O. (Mrs. Wallis), PMP, vol. 11, #4, 1931.

20 Piette, E., BSAP, ser. 4, vol. 6, 1895, pp. 485—486.