Every once in a while an archaeological project comes along that sets new standards for spatial and temporal integrity. This project is staggering in its scope.
|Bottom centre, archaeologists work simultaneously on 30 kyr-old and 50 kyr-old sites, 6 and 7 metres beneath the surface, traces of modern humans and Neanderthals, respectively (Denis Gliksman photo, INRAP).|
In the extreme north of France work progresses on a portion of the canal Seine-Nord de l'Europe, an immense excavation project is enabling what must be the largest 3-dimensional archaeological survey in human history. The scale can only be fathomed pictorially, and INRAP (l'Institut National de Recherches Archéologiques Préventives) has kindly provided us with an up-to-the-minute birds-eye view of the undertaking, complete with rare glimpses of Late-Middle and Early Upper Palaeolithic archaeology that are truly boggling—extensive archaeological sites on the order of 1,000 to 4,000 sq. m. These are not encampments, but places where paleo-people left their mark, just the same. From yesterday to the Mousterian and everything in between. Flint artifacts and well-preserved animal bone are the predominant traces, and while numerous, the artifact scatters are by no means dense. Yet, they tell a story that would not otherwise have been told: what life was like for Neanderthals and modern humans in periglacial Europe.
|Upper Palaeolithic Blade Tool (Denis Gliksman photo, INRAP).|
Here, in Havrincourt (Les Bosquets, HAVRINCOURT, Pas-de-Calais, Nord-Pas-de-Calais, France), heavy machinery is exposing more than 7 m-deep löess deposits in vast, stepped, trenches, illuminating life in the millennia before the last glacial maximum. Löess is extremely fine, wind-blown dust that blankets many parts of Europe, Asia and North America in deep, mostly unstratified deposits. Even if this kind of sedimentation were not indicative of the climate during which it was laid down, evidence of large-scale permafrost features (visible in the photo below) would tell us the same story. These excavations of the Mammoth steppes of northern Europe are truly phenomenal in their scale.
|Permafrost Features visible from the air: frost wedges that delineate frost polygons (photo by Denis Gliksman, INRAP).|
|Mammoth tooth (Denis Gliksman photo, INRAP).|
|Mammoth Steppe of Northern Europe: Stepped Excavation at Havrincourt (Denis Gliksman photo, INRAP).|