Nouvelle Aquitaine Section
Le Moustier - Neanderthal Shelter - Vezere
Peyzac le Moustier village
The tiny parish used to be known as Moustier-Saint-Robert until the French Revolution.
It was the property of the bishop of Périgueux, who also owned a castle in the nearby village of Plazac.
The name changed in Moustier-de-Montignac in 1793, then Peyzac le Moustier in 1925.
The village has few houses, a bakery-grocery, a restaurant and a beautiful yet simple 12th century fortified church.
The village square, which also serves as parking lot, replaces the medieval cemetery.
Le Moustier, a major Neanderthal site
The discovery of a major Neanderthal rock shelter brought attention to the modest village in 1863.
Le Moustier rock shelter is indeed hidden in the cliff, at the rear of the bakery and opposite the church square.
The first traces of occupancy (hominids) in the Vézère Valley go back to around 300,000BP.
Neanderthal men appeared around 150,000BP, long before Homo Sapiens who “only” appeared around 40,000BP.
The characteristics of the artifacts discovered in Le Moustier led the experts to name a specific type of Neanderthal tools and artifacts as Mousterian Industry (about 300,000BP to 30,000BP).
However, Le Moustier site is composed of two shelters.
Le Moustier upper shelter
The paleontologist Edouard Lartet and his sponsor Henry Christy discovered the upper shelter in the cliff face.
It contained an important number of stone tools produced around 40,000BP (Middle Paleolithic).
This epoch corresponds to the fourth and last Glacial Period known as Würm (about 70,000BP to 12,00BP).
Neanderthal men produced a wide array of stone tools using flaking techniques.
Their tools included hand-axes, side-scrapers, small and sharp knife-like triangular tools and jagged tools they used as saws.
Neanderthals also produced wooden spears in order to hunt large animals.
Le Moustier lower shelter
The lower shelter is located at the bottom of the cliff.
It was excavated in the 1900s and revealed various levels of occupancy.
The partial skeleton of an adolescent was indeed discovered in 1908, and the almost complete skeleton of a newborn child in 1914.
Both date from about 45,000BP.
The study of the adolescent’s fossilized skull led to the definition of the facial and physical characteristics of Neanderthal men (elongated cranium, receding forehead, projecting mid-face, small stature and strong bones…)
The first skeleton was sold to a German museum and the second was 'rediscovered' in a local museum in the early 2000s.
Annoyingly, there is very little to see in Le Moustier Shelter, as all the contents recovered from the shelters are now exhibited in various museums.
Tips: You can easily see the shelter through the protective fence, so no real need to purchase a ticket in order to look at an empty cavity.
Department of Dordogne
Coordinates: Lat 44.994029 - Long 1.059481
Photo via Wikimedia Commons: Mousterian tools