With National Science Foundation support, Drs. Harold Dibble and Alain Turq, in collaboration with a large international, inter-disciplinary team, will spend three seasons of excavation at the Middle Paleolithic site of La Ferrassie (Dordogne, France). The original excavation of La Ferrassie, which took place around the turn of the 20th century, revealed a number of Neandertal individuals and other features that suggested both a deliberate arrangement of space within the site (possibly with symbolic significance) and deliberate burial of the Neandertal remains. In addition, La Ferrassie is the eponymous site for the Ferrassie Mousterian, a relatively rare Middle Paleolithic industry.
The renewed excavations at La Ferrassie will provide new and detailed information on Neandertal ritual and mortuary behavior, an important yet controversial aspect of Neandertal life that has tremendous significance for the evolution of human cultural traits in general. Neandertal treatment of the dead is a topic that has been debated for decades in paleoanthropological research, but most of the evidence on this subject was recovered before the advent of modern techniques of excavation and documentation. Because of the rarity of such finds, having new data is usually due more to chance than it is to an explicit research design. It is clear, however, that La Ferrassie has the potential to provide new information on this subject and thus contribute significantly to the debate. The new excavations will continue to build on the standards of other recent work concerning the level of precision, accuracy, and completeness of data recovery in order to avoid the kinds of ambiguity that has plagued earlier finds of this nature.
This project will explicitly encourage the participation of undergraduate and underrepresented students from all over the world in the excavation process, providing important research experiences and training for the next generation of archaeologists. Plans are also developed to provide informal public education through the web and film documentary.