13-2023, tome 120, 4, p. 543-570 - Guibert J., Deschamps M., Colonge D., Capdevielle J., Chauchat C. (2023) – Le site de la falaise de Chabiague (Biarritz, France) : un témoin du Paléolithique ancien sur la façade atlantique des Pyrénées

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13-2023, tome 120, 4, p. 543-570 - Guibert J., Deschamps M., Colonge D., Capdevielle J., Chauchat C. (2023) – Le site de la falaise de Chabiague (Biarritz, France) : un témoin du Paléolithique ancien sur la façade atlantique des Pyrénées

Le site de la falaise de Chabiague (Biarritz, France) : un témoin du Paléolithique ancien sur la façade atlantique des Pyrénées


Justin Guibert, Marianne Deschamps, David Colonge, Juliette Capdevielle, Claude Chauchat


Résumé :

Le Paléolithique ancien des Pyrénées-Atlantiques a été principalement documenté à travers quelques pièces isolées découvertes à la faveur de prospections menées sur les formations fluviales et littorales ainsi qu'à travers deux fouilles préventives récentes conduites sur les hauteurs de Bayonne. La falaise de Chabiague à Biarritz a fait l'objet de recherches diverses depuis le début des années 1970 et notamment d'une fouille de sauvetage en 1982 effectuée par C. Chauchat. Au cours de ces décennies de recherches, elle a livré un assemblage lithique composé de 510 pièces majoritairement en silex du Flysch à forte patine blanche. L'étude a porté sur cette série provenant de ramassages dans la coupe et en pied de falaise, ainsi que de l'opération archéologique de sauvetage réalisée. Un premier objectif a été de s'assurer de son homogénéité technique, puis une analyse technologique et structurale nous a permis de révéler les processus et les objectifs du système de production lithique à partir d'une grille de lecture adaptée. Les données de notre étude mettent en évidence une industrie orientée vers la production de petits outils sur éclat. A côté de ces petits outils sont associés quelques macro-outils sur plaquette et galet. Les données de cette étude replacées dans une perspective locale et étendue contribuent à questionner la singularité de l'enregistrement technique sur la façade atlantique pyrénéenne au Paléolithique ancien.


Mots-clés : Europe de l'Ouest, Pyrénées-Atlantiques, Pléistocène moyen, technologie lithique, Paléolithique ancien.



The Chabiague cliff in Biarritz (France) has been the subject of various investigations since the early 1970s, including a rescue excavation in 1982 by C. Chauchat. The site lies on the left bank of a small coastal creek that has carved out the valley of the same name, between Marbella beach to the north and Milady beach to the south, and faces to the Goureppe Rocks.

In this area, the coast is bordered by cliffs with an interstratification of clay and peat deposits, sands and colluvium that record part of the Quaternary. In this context, several works have studied these sedimentary records (Thibault, 1970; Ouadia, 1986; Oldfield, 1964, 1967, 1968) and have established a relative chronostratigraphy. The lithic material from the Chabiague deposit comes from unit A (layer 13) correlated by Ouadia (1986) to the Mindel-Riss interglacial, i.e., likely MIS 11 or 9 (~-310/-440 ka BP). The lithic assemblage is composed of 510 pieces, mostly Flysch flints with a deep white patina, and has been referred by C. Chauchat to an "Early Acheulean" (Chauchat, 1987). The site is no longer accessible and has been severely degraded by the urban planning of the cliff. This article presents a synthesis of the data from this assemblage and in particular an unpublished and original technological study of the lithic series.

Indeed, Lower Palaeolithic of the Atlantic Pyrenees has been mainly documented through a few isolated pieces discovered during surveys of fluvial and coastal formations. Recently, however, two preventive excavations on the heights of Bayonne city have revealed levels attributable to the Lower Palaeolithic (Colonge et al., 2015, 2017, 2018; Garon, 2013). According of all this information, it appears that given the regional scarcity of data, the Chabiague cliff series may actually offers a unique view of unequivocally Lower Palaeolithic (i.e. pre-MIS 8) industry, in the Basque region. Stills some question needs to be solved concerning the homogeneity and the representativity of the sample, conjointly with its technical characterisation.

From the whole of the lithic series, a first techno-typological seriation allowed us to identify the following categories:

1/ pieces identified as flakes (n=273)

2/ fractured pebbles (n=20) which correspond to pieces with one or more isolated removals whose anthropic nature is doubtful.

3/ fragments and debris that come from the exploitation of raw materials in the form of cobbles, pebbles or slabs (n=125).

4/ pieces identified as cores (n=35) and fragments of cores (n=14).

5/ small flake tools (n=38) which can be raw or retouched.

6/ macro tools on pebbles and slabs (n=5).

In this perspective, the application of a techno-typological (Dauvois, 1976; Tixier et al., 1980; Inizan et al., 1995) and techno-structural analyses (Boëda, 2001, 2013; Bonilauri, 2010; Bonilauri et Lourdeau, 2023) allowed us to reveal the processes and objectives of the lithic production system and to establish an appropriate reading grid of the assemblage. The data from our study show that the industry of the Chabiague cliff site is dominated by the production of small flake tools associated with few macro-tools on slabs and pebbles.

First of all, the flaking operating scheme is characterised by the exploitation of small Flysch cobbles and pebbles with a deep white patina in two main modalities: an alternating algorithmic debitage, ???S.S.D.A./Clactonian type??? (Forestier, 1993; Ashton et al., 1992), and a recurrent centripetal debitage, sometimes bipyramidal. These two debitage operating schemes have in common the search for convexities adjacent to flat surfaces in order to produce flakes and retouched tool supports.

Secondly, the shaping process, although discrete in this series, is characterised by a uni or bifacial shaping of tool matrices. The production process is concluded through the concretisation of the functional objectives of the prehistoric knappers illustrated by the following six technotypes of tools:

1/ this technotype groups together tools with lateral/transversal rectilinear cutting edge of the scraper type (n=20).

2/ this technotype is composed of flake tools with concave cutting edge (n=6).

3/ this technotype is made up of tools with lateral/transversal denticulated cutting edge (n=8).

4/ this technotype is composed of multiple tools on a flake-support (n=4)

5/ this technotype is composed of unifacial macro-tools with lateral/distal cutting edge (n=3)

6/ this technotype groups the two bifacial pieces with convex edge/tip cutting.

Finally, based on these results, the Chabiague cliff site placed in its regional context shows similarities with the Prissé and Jupiter assemblages.

Beyond this, the most important technical relationships seem to be found along the Atlantic shore with the coastal sites of Pointe de Saint-Colomban (SU 5, 6 and 7), Menez-Dregan I (SU 8 and 7b) and Pen Hat (PH4a) dated to MIS 11. In each of these deposits, the technical choices of production are directed towards SSDA knapping system of small marine flint pebbles in order to generate small rough or retouched tools. The toolkit is completed by few macro-tools present in lesser proportions.

The data from this study contribute to highlight the variability of the technical systems of the Lower Palaeolithic of the Pyrenean Atlantic coast.


Keywords: Western Europe, Pyrenées-Atlantiques, Middle Pleistocene, lithic technology, Lower Palaeolithic.