THE STORY SO FAR
In autumn 2006, on a hillside near Le Bugue, two caver-pals from the G3S club along
with three-year-old Mykolas (the son of one of them) dug their way to the entrance
to a badger’s den; the warm air coming out of it held the promise of a fine cavity.
A few thrusts of the pickaxe and they were able to wriggle down the narrow hole
to come face to face with a dozen skeletons partially buried beneath the badgers’
litter and the clay brought patiently to the surface by the worms. As it turned
out, they had had plenty of time for that! A team of scientists from different fields
of study were promptly informed and sent to the spot to take samples for dating.
The results: our ancestors have been resting there for around 5,000 years.
Thanks to their surveys, Eric Castaing, Jean-Michel Degeix and his son Mykolas had
discovered nothing less than a late Neolithic burial chamber – an amazing find,
since, sadly, little is known about this period in history.
EXEMPLARY EXCAVATION AT MYKOLAS CAVE
Since the discovery
of Mykolas Cave in 2006 a rigorous excavation programme has been implemented
by Antoine Chancerel, curator of the Musée National de Préhistoire and Neolithic
expert, and Patrice Courtaud, anthropologist at the Laboratoire des Populations
du Passé de Bordeaux. These excavations are being financed by the Direction Régionale
des Affaires Culturelles d’Aquitaine, Service Régionale de l’Archéologie, and by
the Conseil Général de la Dordogne, Service Archéologique départemental.
The teamwork has been brilliant right from the start, with the finders and the researchers
joining forces. This year,
with the aid of a mechanical digger masterfully operated by Jean-Michel
Degeix (a considerably tricky task in view of the dangerously steep slope), the
tree stump which was blocking the entrance to the cave has been removed, thus speeding
up investigation work.
As a result, at the end of the three initial phases in the excavation programme,
during which the sediments outside the cave and the badgers’ litter covering the
bones of the twelve individuals inside were removed, the researchers have been able
to reveal two all-important observations outside and in the centre of the sepulchre.
WHERE DID THEY PLACE THEIR FEET AND WHAT DID THEY DO WITH THEIR HANDS?
Outside, the ground our Neolithic ancestors trod has been located and dated thanks
to the pieces of broken pottery which are typical of the era and the beads made
from pierced shells (Dentaliidae) identical to those found inside.
Had the necklace been broken before the body and the offerings were placed in the
cavity? This kind of find invariably conjures up pictures of daily life in the minds
of the investigators.
Inside things are becoming clearer. Patrice Courtaud draws our attention to an assemblage
which has remained intact: two circles of stones and in the middle of the smaller
one, securely wedged upon a collection of human bones and pieces of broken ceramics,
a cranium in what can only be “the place of honour”.
This act was performed after decomposition, so those involved had clearly returned
to the burial chamber. Smooth stone paving covers the floor of the cavity and the
whole surface is expected to be cleared during the excavation work due to start