"We are now doing downtown prehistory! "

"We are now doing downtown prehistory! "

It is a piece of sandstone, the size of an A4 sheet, on which are distinctly engraved a horse and herbivores. Dating back to the end of the Paleolithic era – 10,000 BC – this moving engraving – one can distinguish legs, hooves, coat – was discovered in Angoulême, on a site of so-called "preventive" excavations. Since 2001, the law requires that each new development of the territory, each new construction are the subject of a diagnosis and possibly excavations to avoid the irreparable destruction of our archaeological heritage. A device that has significantly enriched our knowledge and make beautiful discoveries. Including this wonderful little Paleolithic horse … Interview with Dominique Garcia, President of Inrap, National Institute of Preventive Archaeological Research.

Read also Prehistory: and if the art of the caves was the sign of an unequal society?

Point. How is this discovery exceptional?

Dominique Garcia

© DIDIER GOUPY

Dominique Garcia. Because, unlike many elements of prehistoric art, its environment is perfectly known, and dated. Twelve thousand objects were found on the site, remains of fireplaces, flints, arrows, bones of reindeer and consumed aurochs, so we know that this engraving dates back to 10,000 BC … In general, a discovery of prehistoric art is like a single page that was torn from an atlas, without legend, without context. There, we have the complete atlas, it's fantastic! This discovery is also extraordinary, because, in the current state of our knowledge, this engraving is the last known artistic gesture of prehistory. For comparison, the cave of Lascaux is 25 000 years before Christ.

Thank you law on preventive archeology?

Yes … Before this law of 2001, archaeologists could only seek out of the centers, or proceed with archeology rescue, save what could be when the developer refused the excavations. But, thanks to this law of 2001 which imposes, before each new construction project, to make excavations when they are considered necessary, we look under schools, roundabouts, supermarkets, in car parks under construction … We make from the prehistory of downtown! And, since we go to new sites, we make new types of discoveries …

Are these excavations easily accepted by the promoters …?

This is obviously a constraint, it delays the work. But our teams operate quickly. And everyone is finally a winner … First of all because we enrich our archaeological knowledge enormously, but also because these new districts, these new buildings, thanks to these excavations, are part of an urban history, sometimes profit from discoveries which arouse interest, benefit their image. Neighborhoods live, buildings arise, the ancient Roman cities like Nîmes are not fossilized, can benefit from parking, for example. But, at least, we do not erase the story anymore.

Read also Prehistory: the origins of the sacred

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