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History of Burgundy

PREHISTORIC BURGUNDY

Prehistoric Rock of  Solutré, Burgundy, France
The mysterious Rock Solutré

For the best part of half a million years humans have been sitting beside their fires in Burgundy. In the very beginning the fires were in the limestone caves of Arcy-sur-Cure and St Moré in the north and Azé and Vergisson in the south, and the humans were Neanderthals. They buried their dead and left evidence of their hunting in camps along the ancient alluvial plains of the Saône, the Yonne and the Loire, and in the cliffs of Genay. From Vézelay to Vermenton the valley of the River Cure offers spectacular and accessible evidence of Burgundy’s early Palaeolithic past.

Over hundreds of millennia not only did the human race itself evolve, but also the climate and wildlife and corresponding methods of hunting changed. Through glacial periods there were mammoths, reindeer, bison and woolly rhinoceros. In warmer times horses, bears, lions, wild ox and elephants shared Burgundy with Cro-Magnon hunters.

The mysterious rock Solutré gave its name to a Palaeolithic period, the Solutrean. Paintings and carvings began to appear and superior flint, bone and stone tools were used not only to make weapons for hunting, but also to make simple jewellery. As the climate became warmer forests of conifers and deciduous trees created the habitat for wild deer and boar and provided abundant wood for fires. Cro-Magnon hunters came out of their caves and made tents and shelters.

Around 4000BC agriculture began in Burgundy. From the Danube came tribes who brought with them the technology and expertise to build wooden houses in village groups. They kept dogs and knew about animal husbandry and horticulture. They cleared forests and planted wheat and barley. They grazed cows, sheep and pigs. Neolithic tribes from the Rhône valley brought a sophisticated ceramics industry and a belief-system centred on megaliths, tumuli and dolmen tombs. The metal ages were about to begin and Burgundy was about to become a crossroads for trade routes and the centre of Celtic civilisation in Europe.

Sitting beside a fire in Burgundy creates a tremendous sense of history – of human continuity – of being part of everything that has gone before.

Marilyn Floyde