The Cave, the Excavations
La Caune de l’Arago
The Caune de l’Arago, a major archaeological site.
The Caune de l’Arago is a cavity located 3 km from the village of Tautavel, scientific excavations began in 1964. More than 15 m of filling make it possible to reconstruct the climatic variations of the southern Corbières and Roussillon between 700,000 and 100,000 years ago. Indeed, the sediments, pollen and fauna remains (large mammals and micro-vertebrates) illustrate the cyclical climatic fluctuations of the Quaternary between the isotopic stages 17 and 5.
Large Mammal Hunters.
The bone remains of large mammals have been mainly accumulated by humans and more than 50 levels of occupation have been identified. Probably occasional scavengers, the occupants of the Arago Caune were mainly hunters, as archaeozoological studies show. Their most common prey were horses, deer, reindeer, mouflon, bison, rhinoceros, fallow deer, musk ox… depending on the period. The abundance and diversity of paleontological remains give the Arago Caune a leading role in the description of certain species and in the development of the “biochronological” framework of the Middle European Pleistocene.
An abundance of Lower Palaeolithic lithic tools are mixed with the wildlife remains. Depending on the level, the pebbles, the “bifacial” pieces, the nuclei, the retouched tools (scrapers, teeth, beaks, …), the raw fragments and the debris are more or less numerous and varied. Mainly made of local quartz, this industry also includes raw materials that reflect movements over more than 30 km. Overall, the lithic assemblage represents a large Acheulean cultural sequence, with quartz determining a relatively homogeneous background but with specific assemblages at each level of occupation that indicate the activities and cognition of these populations.
Human remains are the fame of Tautavel.
To date, 150 human remains have been discovered, including the famous Arago 21 (face of a homo Heidelbergensis) and 5 mandibles, which are particularly well preserved. Arago 148 and 149 are two human incisors found in 2014 and 2015, and Arago 150 a baby tooth discovered in 2018 in the levels of about 560,000 years old. Represented by children and adults, women and men, cranial and post-cranial elements, this material is essential to clarify the status of Homo heidelbergensis.
Although post-depositional dips complicate the work of excavating and reconstructing paleosurfaces, they are very instructive in accounting for the physical deformations (plastic and brittle) of stratigraphy in a karstic context. In the same way, intense geochemical alterations that locally affect the filling lead to differential conservation of the remains and clearly illustrate certain taphonomic biases, unexpected in these carbonate environments.
Thus, the Caune de l’Arago is an essential site for reconstructing: the evolution of climates and palaeoenvironments in the NW of the Mediterranean basin during the middle Pleistocene, the morphological evolution of the first inhabitants of Europe and their place in the geochronological and palaeoecological framework of the Quaternary, the evolution of technology, subsistence behaviour and societal activities of Homo heidelbergensis in southern Europe.
Registration for the archaeological excavation site.
Excavation site from May to August, variable depending on the year.
Participants must be of legal age and follow a course of at least 15 days (4 weeks recommended).
The workcamp welcomes students in Quaternary Geology, Prehistory, Paleontology, Anthropology as well as young researchers. It is open to a certain extent to a few volunteers with no previous excavation experience.
A good physical condition is necessary, due to the sometimes harsh climatic conditions (summer temperatures), the difference in height between the excavation site and the base camp (80 m), the excavation and sieving positions, …
It is imperative to be up to date with your tetanus vaccination on the date of your arrival at the excavation site.
Please also report any food or other allergies (plants, insects) and any particular health problems (dizziness, drops in blood pressure, etc.) which could hinder the smooth running of your stay or which would require precautions to be taken and any specific care to be taken.
For details on access to the site, its location, its progress and other practical aspects, click on the documents to download.
The activities include excavation in the cave (fine digging, stripping,…), identification of archaeological material, recording of objects in notebooks and on plans, washing and marking of material, sieving and sorting of stripped sediments. They may include drawing stratigraphic sections, restoration of bone material, preliminary study of the material of the year,…
Contact the person in charge Christian PERRENOUD, by email : christian.perrenoud @ cerptautavel.com
By mail post : Centre Européen de Recherches Préhistoriques. A l’attention de Christian PERRENOUD. Avenue Léon Jean GREGORY 66720 TAUTAVEL