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Les couteaux de la grotte de Foissac (Aveyron) et les outils de moissonneurs du Néolithique final dans le Sud-Ouest de la France

Abstract : The Late Neolithic harvesting tools of south-western France were often mentioned in archaeological literature as glossy sickles, but few tools of this kind have been the subject of detailed analysis. The Chalcolithic cave of Foissac (Aveyron) is one of the most representative settlements of this period and famous for the discovery of harvesting tools, two of which were found with their axial side handle in bone. No weed seeds were among the carbonized cereal deposits in the cave and these two tools were therefore considered to have been used for cutting grain crop ears, by a high cut, or by pulling out the ears. These tools were quoted repeatedly in archaeological literature but were never studied exhaustively in spite of their unusual character. It is the reason why we were anxious to analyse them further and place them in their precise geographical and chronological frame, before trying to identify their significance in relation to other reaping tools of the same kind, found in the same region and further afield. As regards the intrinsic data of these two harvesting knives, it proved possible to obtain several new results. The examination of the lithofacies and the biofacies of the used flint indicates that they are blades in oligocene lacustrine flint from Mur-de-Barrez (Aveyron) ; such blades circulated regionally in the south-west of the Massif Central during the Late Neolithic period. The analysis of microscopic use-wear confirms that these tools were used for cutting cereals in a longitudinal action. The handles were shaped from sections of bones of large ruminants and drilled so as to improve the link between the tool and the hand. The extrinsic data regarding the discovery context of these tools are not very reliable because the cave has no stratigraphy but juxtaposed objects were deposited on the cave floor over a long period of time covering the whole 3rd millennium BCE. We note however the closeness of one knife to a pot decorated with an arch-shaped cordon which is typical of the early stage of the Treilles culture belonging to the Late Neolithic 2 (between 3200 and 2800 BCE). The morphological similarities between both the harvesting knives of Foissac and the compact models with wooden handles of the northern Alpine lakeside domain (knives of the Claivaux type of the NMB and the Horgen-type knife) consolidate this dating proposal. During the comparative investigation with other bone handles we noticed that the specimens from the Sargel cave, sometimes quoted as identical to those from Foissac, are actually different because they do not have a lithic blade. They may perhaps have used reaping knives just of bone. Other harvesting tools from the Foissac cave belong to the notched saw type. They are represented by three specimens of Grand-Pressigny flint blades found in other unstratified sectors of the cave. However, thanks to other assemblages from several sites in Quercy we know that notched saws became widespread in the same region during the Late Neolithic 3 (between 2800-2400 BCE), in either the form of imports of Grand-Pressigny flint, or of imitations in local flints or rocks. The microscopic use-wear analysis of these blades indicates that these tools were also used for the cutting of cereals in a longitudinal action and reveals that these tools had been resharpened and refitted to prolong their use. Their handles are not documented, but they are too narrow to have been used directly in the hand and we presume that the notches were used to fix them to a handle by means of dowels, bindings, or other methods. The harvesting knives from the Foissac cave suggest that one evolution occurred in this region between the Late Neolithic 2 and the Late Neolithic 3. The oldest stage is represented in Aveyron by the Treilles culture which implemented and developed a regional network of blades in flint from Mur-de-Barrez. These were used for tools similar to those of the lakeside domain in the north-western Alps. They are knives with a flat or pointed lithic end which were attached to a side and axial handle with two perforations to attach a wrist-strap. During the recent stage, represented locally by the Loupiac/ Marsa group, imports of Grand-Pressigny flint became the dominant form, in particular the use of notched saws. This change in the supply of lithic tools must be put into context with the arrival of some ceramic elements of the Artenac culture in the local group. Notched saws imported from Touraine were highly successful in Quercy and the west of Aveyron where they were imitated using local flints. Further south we also know of numerous imitations of wider notched saws which were made from flakes of metamorphic rocks in the Véraza culture group which occupied all the upper part of the Garonne basin. This transmission of notched saws in the form of imports or in the form of imitations does not seem to have been pursued in the Mediterranean zone of Languedoc. The technical evolution of harvesting tools found in the Foissac cave is representative of the oceanic south-west of France during the Late Neolithic period. It presents common points with those observed in Western European Late Neolithic times where harvesting knives or reaping knives developed under the influence of improvements in agricultural practices of the period, in particular selective harvesting of only the ears and denser sowings prepared by the use of the ard plough.
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Submitted on : Thursday, January 24, 2019 - 4:15:41 PM
Last modification on : Tuesday, April 19, 2022 - 9:47:45 AM

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Jean Vaquer, Sylvie Philibert, Loïc Torchy, Arnaud Du Fayet de La Tour. Les couteaux de la grotte de Foissac (Aveyron) et les outils de moissonneurs du Néolithique final dans le Sud-Ouest de la France. Bulletin de la Société préhistorique française, Société préhistorique française, 2018, 115 (1), pp.99-124. ⟨10.3406/bspf.2018.14862⟩. ⟨hal-01992878⟩

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