Paleolithic Pit Stop; December 2000; Scientific American Magazine; by Kate Wong; 2 Page(s)
DORDOGNE, FRANCE-With thousands of caves and rockshelters peppering an area only slightly larger than New Jersey, southern France's Dordogne region is a mecca to archaeologists who study Stone Age ways of life. For more than 300,000 years humans have occupied this territory, and for 35 years University of Bordeaux archaeologist Jean-Philippe Rigaud has been unearthing the remnants of their past in hopes of determining how modern human behavior emerged.
As we drive past the cornfields and grazing horses and the stone farmhouses with their red tile roofs, Rigaud calls my attention to a hill in the distance, rising from the flat floor of the Dordogne River Valley like a giant green turtle. Grotte XVI, a site that he is currently excavating, is one of 23 caves that line a 1.5-kilometer-long cliff running along that hill, he explains. The locality has proved exceptionally rich. Over the past 17 years the field team has documented upward of 50,000 artifacts from at least 11 different archaeological levels dating back as far as 75,000 years ago, when Neandertals inhabited the cave. As such, Grotte XVI provides a rare opportunity for scientists to compare how Neandertals and early modern humans used the same living space-a comparison that is indicating that the two groups were more similar than previously thought.