The Cave of the Hazel tree

at Fréchet-Aure,

French central Pyrenees





The Cave of the Hazel tree is located in the Aure Valley, in the village of Fréchet-Aure (French central Pyrenees). It opens at an altitude of 825 m, that is to say with a relative altitude of approximately 145 m over the bottom of the valley where the Neste river runs.


Explored initially on a few square meters by M. Allard between 1987 and 1993, the site contains a sequence comprising several occupation levels of final Mousterian corresponding to a temperate phase of isotopic stage 3. In 2004 started a new multi-field research program including a resumption of the excavation.


Flint is lacking in the immediate environment; the few vestiges produced using this material were imported from one or more sources located outside the Pyrenean chain. Most of the flint pieces come from Tarbes area but a few of them originate in Béarn and Chalosse areas, about 100 km west. The main part of the industry was made out of local materials available in the alluvial formations of Neste river (quartzite, shale, etc). The industry includes mainly debitage products and by-products (Discoid cores, pseudo-Levallois points). The tools are not very abundant (side-scrapers, denticulates). However, the discovery of a biface and two cleavers, unexpected in this context and this part of the Pyrenees, opens new prospects for comparison.


The faunal remains of the Cave of the Hazel tree are largely dominated by mountain ongulates, Ibex and especially Isard (Rupicapra pyrenaica). The faunal spectra indicate relatively mild climatic conditions (very weak representation of the Reindeer) and an open environment (scarcity of the Roe-deer, absence of Wild boar).


The two dominant species seem to raise of distinct taphonomic stories. The bones of Isard bear many traces of digestion and their particular anatomical representation could represent an accumulation related to the action of the dhole (Cuon alpinus) and maybe the bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus). On the other hand, the bones of Ibex and Red-deer bear many traces of anthropic actions (cut marks, impacts, use as retouchers, etc.) and could result from hunting expeditions in mountain.


The existence of specialized sites exploited during logistic trips by some members of the group is widely accepted for Magdalenian; on the other hand, the models generally suggested for Mousterian involves the idea of a residential mobility of the neandertalians groups. The Cave of the Hazel tree is very close to several Pyrenean magdalenian sites by many aspects (geographical situation, faunal spectrum dominated by mountain ongulates, sporadic occupations); it offers the opportunity of wondering about possible logistic displacements of the neandertalians groups in relation to the exploitation of the mountain environment and, more generally, of discussing the cognitive capacities of the neandertalians compared to those of the modern men.





site location


view of the site from Aspin path road


M. Allard's excavation (1992-93 ?)





red-deer bone bearing cut marks






Dernière mise à jour le : 12 juillet 2011.