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Field Projects

Field Projects - New Excavations at Abri Peyrony and Roc de Combe-Capelle


The site of Combe-Capelle, located near the town of Saint-Avit-Sénieur (Dordogne, France), is actually a set of at least four localities: Combe-Capelle Bas, Abri Peyrony (also known as Haut de Combe-Capelle), Roc de Combe-Capelle and the Plateau de Ruffet. Each of these localities has its own archaeological sequence that together span the late Middle Paleolithic, the so-called transitional period, and the Upper Paleolithic. Combe-Capelle Bas was excavated by Dibble and Lenoir in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In 2009, 2010 and again in 2012 new excavations were undertaken at the Roc de Combe Capelle (2010 only) and the Abri Peyrony.


The Abri Peyrony was last excavated by D. Peyrony in 1925. The excavations produced a rich Mousterian of Acheulian Tradition (MTA) industry and fauna.  Then in 1990, Lenoir and Dibble did a limited test of the site and were able to locate an archaeological horizon that yielded some stone tools including four bifaces.  Their excavations ended before they were able to assess the extent and nature of the deposits.


Thus in 2010, in conjunction with Michel Lenoir of the University of Bordeaux I, we re-opened the site to collect a new, controlled sample of lithics and fauna from the MTA and to date this material. The MTA is quite important as one of the last manifestations of Neandertals in southwest Europe and as perhaps the origins of the Chatelperronian. While it is mostly known from older excavations, more recent excavations at sites like Pech de l'Azé I and IV, Jonzac, and the Bergerac highway sites, are providing new data on the MTA. The new material from the Abri Peyrony will make an additional point of comparison.

In 2009 we opened a trench against the cliff face and located in situ deposits. In 2010 we excavated most of these deposits to bedrock. In 2012 we returned to finish this work.  Because the site is quite rich, we were able to generate a large lithic and faunal collection with limited excavation.  We are now in the process of studying this material. Thus far we can confirm the presence of MTA only on the lower terrace. The upper terrace industry in clearly Middle Paleolithic, with Levallois and discoidal techniques of blank production, but there are no handaxes or backed pieces. Geological, site formation, dating (OSL and C14 AMS), faunal, and lithic studies are underway.


There are no plans currently to continue work at the site. A publication on some worked bones is expected in 2013.  A site report is expected in late 2013 or 2014.



The Roc de Combe-Capelle is located about 60m from the Abri Peyrony along the same cliff line. The site became famous in 1909 when Hauser discovered a nearly complete skeleton of Homo sapiens, which Hauser and later others thought was associated with the Chatelperronian at the base of the sequence. Above the Chatelperronian the site also contained Aurignacian, Gravettian and Solutrean. Our excavations in 2009 were unable to locate any substantial in situ deposits and it seems likely that the site has been entirely excavated (what remains is only backdirt). It is still possible that some small, isolated pockets of in situ material remain in places under the backdirt or against the cliff, but we have no additional plans to work at the site.


Please direct your questions to either:

  • Shannon McPherron:
  • or

  • Michel Lenoir: