Combe-Capelle Bas is a Middle Paleolithic site situated in the Couze valley in the Perigord region of Southern France. The most significant excavations were those conducted by Henri-Marc Ami from the late twenties until his death in 1931. The task of reporting on his work then fell to his friend and colleague, Denis Peyrony, and a portion of the collections were later studied by Maurice Bourgon (the results of which were published posthumously by François Bordes). Unfortunately, the deaths of both Ami and Bourgon prior to the publication of their studies meant that a tremendous amount of information went unreported. Nonetheless, Combe-Capelle Bas quickly acquired the status of a key site and its industries were central to the formulation of Middle Paleolithic systematics by the Abbé Breuil, Peyrony, Bordes, and others during the middle part of this century.
In 1987, Harold Dibble and Michel Lenoir started new excavations at this site to better understand its sequence of stone tool industries. As it turned out, the main issues of the site became site formation processes and collection bias. A focus on these two themes has characterized the work we have done ever since on sites such as Cagny L'Epinette, Fontechevade, and Pech de l'Azé IV.
The result of this work showed that the industries are characterized by Quina technology despite a low frequency of scrapers. This is interesting because the site is situated on a source of raw material. TL dates place a portion of the sequence to 50-60 thousand years ago. A new project of OSL dating the entire sequence is underway.
Dibble and Lenoir also did a small test excavation in the site of Abri Peyrony, located immediately upslope from Combe-Capelle Bas. Abri Peyrony was recently reexcavated by McPherron and Lenoir. More information on those excavations is here.
Most of the financial support for the Combe-Capelle Bas excavations came from the National Science Foundation (grant number BNS 8804379). Additional funding was provided by The University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, The University of Pennsylvania Research Foundation, the French Ministry of Culture, and private donors.
First and foremost of those to whom thanks are due is our good friend and colleague, Paul Fitte, who was a long-time resident of St.-Avit Sénieur. Until his death in 1996, Paul was a well-known figure in Paleolithic circles: a respected prehistorian in his own right and the friend and colleague of virtually every major prehistorian who has worked in France during the past fifty years.
Throughout the duration of our project at Combe-Capelle, Paul shared with us his enormous knowledge of the site and the surrounding area and introduced us to
many of the local inhabitants who provided various services. His good humor, his enthusiasm, and his experience provided a great deal of stimulation and encouragement, and he and his wife, Marie, gave freely of their time and hospitality to all of the participants. It was due to his efforts that this project was initiated and carried through to his completion.
We would like to express our very deep gratitude to M. and Mme. René Denuel for very graciously allowing us to use their property for our living quarters and laboratory space at La Forge. It is unlikely that any of the participants will ever forget the beautiful setting that they provided.
We would also like to thank Jean-Philippe Rigaud, then Directeur des Antiquités, and the Conseil Supérieur for permission to excavate the site; and to Denise de Sonneville-Bordes for allowing access to comparative material.