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Archaeology

Rock of Solutré, Burgundy, France
The rock of Solutré

Solutre

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The strange, precipitous rock called Solutré is so far south in Burgundy that it’s almost in Beaujolais. About 10 minutes south-west of Mâcon in Saône-et-Loire, the closest village is Solutré-Pouilly right in the heart of the Pouilly-Fuissé wine-producing area. The rock rises to 495m and presents a sheer cliff face at its summit. On the approach is the modern Departmental Museum of Prehistory hidden away in the hillside. The Museum exhibits just about everything there is to know about Solutré, which is such an important site that it gave its name to a whole Paleolithic period – the Solutrean. For the adventurous and sure-footed this is also where the pathway up to the summit begins.

The Solutrean was about 20,000 years ago. It was a lot more chilly then than it is now. It was a time when mammoths, bison, reindeer, wolves and horses roamed the wintry landscapes, and when it was still possible to walk to England. It was when Cro-magnon man and woman were hunters and followed the herds, and spent their evenings cave-painting and carving animals out of stone. At Solutré engravings of horse heads were found, and it is the horse that gives the rock its fascinating and horrible allure.

Solutré, Southern Burgundy, France
View of the rock of Solutré

In 1866 two men, Adrien Arcelin and Henry de Ferry, discovered thousands and thousands of horse and reindeer bones buried in a compacted layer over a large area around the rock. Arcelin then began to write his illustrated ‘prehistoric novel’ which suggested that the preferred hunting method of Cro-magnon and his mates was to chase herds of horses along the spur of the rock to the summit where the terrified beasts fell down the sheer cliff to their deaths. Current archaeological techniques have discredited that theory completely besides, such senseless slaughter would have had little practical value. It was the reindeer, not the horse, that supplied Mrs. Cro-magnon with everything on her shopping list. So there is still a mystery to be solved about why so many horse bones were there. But it is Arcelin’s violent image of the plummeting horses that has captured the imagination and will live on, despite all the evidence to the contrary. Solutré makes you shudder.

Solutre exhibition BurgundyMF

TRACING THE PAST

The prehistoric site Solutré in southern Burgundy was discovered 150 years ago. To mark the occasion, an important exhibition of finds has been brought together from museums, towns and universities across the region. Apart from Solutré there are three other major sites where traces of the Neanderthals have been found: Arcy-sur-Cure (Yonne), l’aven de Romain-la Roche (Doubs) and La Baume de Gigny (Jura). The exhibition at the Solutré museum runs throughout the year until October 1, 2017.

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