Type-site of Solutrean culture
Tools, art, stone frieze
The Rock of Solutré is a limestone promontory which overlooks the commune of Solutré-Pouilly near Mâcon, in the Burgundy region of France.
The site (in French: Roche de Solutré) was 'occupied' from about 53,000 BC, initially perhaps by Neanderthals, but mostly by Cro-Magnons, whose presence in Europe is first recorded at the Mandrin Cave in the Rhône Valley, around 54,800 BC.
Due to its archaeological and geological importance, the Rock of Solutré became a protected site in May 1930, and was designated a Grand Site de France in May 2013.
The site is a wonderful strategic vantage point. It's rocky peak rises some 493 metres above the Saône flood plain and on a clear day, offers spectacular views in the direction of the Alps as far as Mont-Blanc.
During the Stone Age, the site also provided shelter and food for migrant groups of hunter gatherers, although its main function was as a hunting base for the butchering and processing of game animals killed in the area.
It was not used as a site for habitation. This function was performed by a neighbouring escarpment, known as the Rock of Vergisson.
Note that hunter-gatherers of the Upper Paleolithic used almost every part of the game animals they killed.
These butchering, smoking, and processing tasks involved the entire hunter-gatherer community, who needed a large area in which to work. The Rock of Solutré was used for precisely this.
During the Neolithic and later, the towering site was reportedly used as an important pagan ritual site.
The Rock of Solutré was first used during the final years of the Middle Paleolithic (300,000-40,000 BC), an era which was followed by the Upper Paleolithic.
Excavations at the site led by the geologist and paleontologist Henry Testot-Ferry (1826-69) and Adrien Arcelin (1838-1904), began around 1866, at a spot known as the "Cros du Charnier" (charnel ground).
They unearthed a huge quantity of animal bones - mostly from reindeer, but also from horses, aurochs, wolves, and tigers - as well as tools and other artifacts. In total, between 1866 and 1925 - researchers found more than 100,000 skeletons of horses and reindeer, alone.
The stone tools were tied, in particular, to the culture which followed the Gravettian at the height of the Last Glacial Maximum. As a result, the Rock of Solutré became the type-site of the culture, which was named the Solutrean.
To keep everything crystal clear, here are the dates of the four tool cultures of the Upper Paleolithic.
Note: Coincidentally, in 1868, two years after the first excavations at Solutré, remains of five Cro-Magnon humans were discovered at Eyzies by French archeologist Louis Lartet (1801-71), who also excavated both Aurignac Cave and Abri de la Madeleine.
Solutrean stone tools, many of which were found at the Rock of Solutré archaeological site, included flint flakes cut in the shape of bay leaves, which are one of the diagnostic markers of Solutrean culture.
Broadly speaking, Solutrean toolmakers specialized in making bifacial arrowheads and long spear points, using percussion and pressure flaking rather than flint-knapping. Other Solutrean implements included end scrapers and stone saws.
Another specialty was the atlatl tool, or spear thrower, used to kill large game animals.
This device (typically made out of antler, bone or wood), acted as an extension of the hunter's arm, thus adding energy and range to the javelin or dart. Tests show that a javelin launched using a spearthrower device can be hurled at over 150 km/h (93 mph).
The earliest firm evidence for this weapon comes from France, in the form of an antler atlatl, created about 15,500 BC.
Solutrean atlatls revolutionized the hunting of large or especially speedy animals. Up until their invention, hunters had to kill animals at close range, using clubs and stones, and suffered high rates of injury in the process. See also: History of Stone Tools.
However, finely worked Solutrean stone tools led to the creation of a new form of prehistoric sculpture - namely, the stone frieze - the best example of which can be seen at Roc de Sers (17,200 BC) in the French Charente.
Other outstanding examples of Solutrean rock art include the superb engravings at Lascaux Cave in the Dordogne, and the outdoor petroglyphs at Siega Verde (18,000-14,000 BC) in Salamanca Province, Spain.
In the 1980s, the General Council of the Saône-et-Loire Départment, supported by the Élysée Palace, built a new museum and heritage centre - Musée Départemental de la Préhistoire - at the foot of the rock, which was opened in 1987.
In addition, to explaining the archaeological features of the Solutré site, the museum also holds short-term exhibitions on aspects of prehistory, archaeology and ethnography.
Due to its archaeological and geological importance, the Rock of Solutré was made a protected site from May 2, 1930.
The entire archaeological site is now preserved as the Parc archéologique et botanique de Solutré.
For dates of Upper Paleolithic cultural events, see: Prehistoric Art Timeline (from 540,000 BC).
(1) "Solutrian Epoch". Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 25 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
(2) "Solutré, 1968–1998." Jean Combier et Anta Montet-White (dir.), (2002), Mémoire de la Société Préhistorique française XXX, ISBN 2-913745-15-6
(3) "The origins and early elaboration of projectile technology." Corey A. O'Driscoll, Jessica C. Thompson. Evolutionary Anthropology. Volume 27, Issue 1, January/February 2018. Pages 30-45.