Nouvelle Aquitaine Section
Le Regourdou prehistoric site - Vezere Valley
Le Regourdou site is located 500m up the lane from Lascaux Cave and is a major Neanderthal site.
It indeed contained the almost complete skeleton of a Neanderthal young adult.
Mr. Roger Constant, the owner of La Ferme du Regourdou, discovered the site in 1954, when a violent storm uprooted one of the trees that grew in his courtyard.
This incident indeed triggered the collapse of the unstable ceiling of a natural underground cave and the appearance of a sinkhole.
Convinced that the cave was an annex entrance to Lascaux, Mr Constant excavated the site (unnoticed for months) and at first discovered a wealth of stone tools and artifacts.
Le Regourdou, a Neanderthal burial ground
However, his big break through occurred on September 22, 1957, when he discovered a human lower jaw.
However, the excavation permit he obtained was soon revoked.
Experts of the time indeed realized that he had not only discovered a Neanderthal burial ground, but also a man's almost complete skeleton.
The discovery of such well preserved and complete fossilized human bones, dating from about 70,0000BP to 90,000BP years, was indeed an exceptionally rare event!
Mr. Constant eventually cut a deal with the archaeologists.
He indeed allowed them to excavate the burial ground, but obtained permission to dig a few meters farther away where he hoped he would discover a passage connecting his farm and Lascaux.
Sadly, he never discovered any!
However, the 35m deep pit he dug between 1970 and 1993 revealed countless marine fossils dating from the Mesozoic Era.
But more interestingly, it also contained an ochre deposit, which the artist Monique Peytral later used in order to reproduce Lascaux II paintings.
It was thought for a while that the Magdalenian artists who painted Lascaux had used this deposit.
However, further research proved that the nature of their pigments were different from Le Regourdou's.
The equipment Mr Constant used for the dig (the now rusty steel crane, bucket and wagon to carry the extracted soil away from the dig) were left on site.
Excavations of Le Regourdou burial ground
The archaeologists Georges Laplace and Eugene Bonifay conducted the excavations of the Neanderthal site.
They had to break the massive 850kg stone slab that blocked the burial ground as it was quite weak and could have collapsed at any time!
The grave contained the almost complete skeleton of a 70,000-year old Neanderthal young adult laying in flexed position.
He was surrounded by his stone tools and weapons (all representative of the Mousterian industry), as well as hunting trophies which included quantities of brown bear bones and teeth.
The man's skull and lower members are missing, however, his upper body is in an excellent state of conservation.
His fossilized skeleton has therefore become a 'reference fossil' for the study of Neanderthal’s physical characteristics.
Le Regourdou skeleton is today on exhibition in the Musée du Périgord in Périgueux.
Le Regourdou and the cult of the brown bear
Twenty stone boxes containing bear bones surrounded the skeleton.
This discovery led the archaeologists to conclude of the existence of a cult of the brown bear during the Middle Paleolithic epoch.
However, this theory has since been reconsidered.
It is now thought that the presence of so many brown bears bones meant that they hibernated in the cave.
It is obvious from the excavations, though, that brown bears were very important to Neanderthal men.
Men and animals indeed shared the same height and stature.
This might have led Neanderthals to identify themselves to the animals and develop a cult of the brown bear.
Brown bears program at Le Regourdou
In 1988, Mr Constant therefore decided to re-introduce brown bears in Le Regourdou.
He died in 2003; he was 81 and had dedicated his entire life to Le Regourdou site.
His descendants have taken over his life-project.
They converted his farm-house into a small museum in order to exhibit the numerous artifacts he discovered.
They've also pursued the brown bear program he started.
Six superb brown bears today live in a vast enclosure, which is secured with a wall and a large protective metal fence.
The youngest two, Balou and Léopold, were born at Le Regourdou.
Le Regourdou Site was listed Historical Monument in 1959.
Tips: The site has a free car park.
Drinks are available by the ticket office and you will find a children interactive activities area.
Mr. Constant’s family owns the site and do a fantastic job!
Department of Dordogne
Coordinates: Lat 45.055078 - Long 1.178324
Photo via Wikimedia Commons: Aerial view of Le Régourdou Site