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A team of archaeologists and geologists from the National Institute of Archeology of France and the University of Toulouse Jean Jaurès, has been working since 2011 on the Mas d’Azil cave-tunnel in the Arière region of France. This research is part of a vast project to better understand the place and to perfect the presentation for the public.
The multiple restoration tasks are focused on different tourist facilities in the cave. This work is accompanied by a archaeological and geological study of the cave, which consists of a meticulous investigation of prehistoric occupations during the last great ice age, between 40,000 and 13,000 years ago. The cave offers valuable information on climate variations, where testimonies of hot and cold periods and also phases of moderate temperatures can be observed, during which prehistoric men ventured into the cave.
Researchers have revealed a new story about the humans who inhabited the foothills of the Pyrenees. The unearthing of a village in the Aurignacs connected with the arrival of the first modern men in this part of Europe, is the greatest discovery of the investigation.
Prehistory begins in Mas d'Azil with the arrival in 35,000 BC.. During the Upper Paleolithic, of the Aurignacs, who were followed by the Magdalenian culture who ventured into the cave during a mild climatic period and left many very famous art objects as well as artistic representations on the cave walls.
At the end of the Pleistocene, when the climate became hotter, a new civilization emerged, the Azilians, who give the cave its name. During the glacial periods of the Quaternary, various layers of sediment were deposited in the cave and as the climate warmed, the Arize River gained erosive force making the cave inaccessible to humans once again.
The discovery of a complex stratigraphic series, with many objects from the aurignacs at its base, has contributed to provide new knowledge about the prehistory of the country. The study of this new stratigraphy, the understanding of its formation process and the extension of the archaeological and geoarchaeological study in the cave, are very promising. The investigation will shed more light on the aurignac period in the Central Pyrenees.
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Paleontological and prehistoric investigations at the site started in 1840 by Father Pouech, when the imperial genius planned to build a road through the cave. Féliz Garrigou described its stratigraphy in 1867 and during those years, thousands of flint tools and hundreds of objects were extracted from the cave. Between 1901 and 1902, Henri Breuil defined the chronology of Magdalenian culture based on the excavations of Mas d’Azil and discovered the remains of art in the cave.
From 1936 to 1958, Joseph Mandement discovered numerous hitherto unknown galleries, but they were Marthe and Saint-Just Péquart who from 1935 to 1942 excavated the cave in depth and discovered one of the houses of the place with art of the Magdalenian culture and since that date, only occasional investigations have been conducted.
The Mas d’Azil cave It is a very symbolic place of the last Upper Paleolithic culture. Unique in the world, this cave is once again open to the public.