The Neanderthal of Marcilly-sur-Eure

Reconstruction of a Homo neanderthalensis at Landesmuseum für Vorgeschichte Sachsen-Anhalt in Halle, Germany. He seems to muse about the odd course of time. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.


When the railroad line from Évreux to Dreux was built in 1841 in Marcilly-sur-Eure, the workers found a skeleton in the area behind the castle Mésangère in a layer of red Middle Palaeolithic (300,000 to 30,000 years ago) alluvium. The workers threw the skull on a pile of rubble and it broke into pieces. Only the frontal bone was left. On reading this my first thought was: “oh no, how stupid of them. How could they treat the skull like that?” But then, they probably thought the bones were the remains of someone who had died in the Revolution. And it’s not really pleasant to dig up skulls anyways. I imagine now, a worker was digging up something, pulled it out of the mud, saw it’s a skull and squeaked while he dropped it. Whatever happened, all that was left was the front bone. They had neither radiocarbon dating nor DNA tests at the time. Somehow the front bone got in the hands of “experts”. I couldn’t find any hint, who were those experts. They were very excited and declared it was the front bone of a Neanderthal. The news was a sensation.

In the 20th century Dominique Gambier (*1947) the rector of the University of Rouen wanted to find out, if it was really the front bone of a Neanderthal. Alas, the original bone was lost, probably a cause of the Second World War (1939-1945). So they examined a copy that was stored in the Musée d’archéologie nationale in Saint-Germain-en-Laye. They found out that the bone looks rather robust but belonged to an European Early Modern Human. The layer of alluvium in which the skeleton was found had been too thin to allow an exact age determination.

“Hey that’s not bad either”, says this European Early Modern man. Around 30,000 years ago, he might have been hanging around in Marcilly-sur-Eure. Forensic facial reconstruction by Cicero Moraes. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

This wasn’t the only discovery in Marcilly, but it was the oldest. In the years 1976 and 1980 the archaeologists found traces of Bronze Age settlements (3200-600 BC) with the help of aerial archaeology. In 1967 a chariot burial site of the late La Tène culture (150–30 BC) was found. In 1982 more constructions of the late La Tène period were found, followed by an archaeological excavation in the two following years.

Archaeological sites of the Hallstatt culture (800–475 BC) and later in the département Eure were situated at the rivers Seine and Eure. The rivers were transportation routes.

The river Eure in Marcilly-sur-Eure. Photograph by Félix Potuit. This work is in the public domain.

Further Reading

Bernard Bodinier: L’Eure de la Préhistoire à nos jours. Jean-Michel Bordessoules, Saint-Jean-d’Angély 2001, ISBN 2-913471-28-5, p. 16, 26, 52 f. (French).

Dominique Cliquet: L’Eure. 27. In: Michel Provost, Academie des inscriptions et belles-lettres, Ministere de la culture: Carte Archéologique de la Gaule. Fondation Maison des Sciences de l’Homme, Paris 1993, ISBN 2-87754-018-9, 597, p. 36–45, 240 f. (French).

Creative Commons License
The Neanderthal of Marcilly-sur-Eure is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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