The Pataud rock shelter collection is the result of an excavation conducted in the 1950s and 1960s by the American professor H. L. Movius of the Peabody Museum (Harvard University) in collaboration with the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle. Consisting entirely of archaeological materials unearthed at the site, it constitutes a reference for Homo sapiens cultures during the first half of the Upper Palaeolithic in Southwest France.
The Pataud rock shelter has given us access to an exceptional succession of Aurignacian, Gravettian and Solutrean occupations dating from 35,000 to 20,000 BP, a stratigraphic succession that gave rise to the chrono-stratigraphic sequences that we now associate with the Gravettian, and helped determine more clearly the sequences for the Aurignacian. The remains of six individuals from the end of the Gravettian were found in an excellent state of conservation, providing evidence of complex funerary practices.
All of the finds from archaeological excavations at the Pataud rock shelter are kept on location, except for the human remains which are housed at the Musée de l’Homme. The collections consist of approximately 1,800,000 pieces (movable finds and scientific documentation). Numbering nearly 1,000,000, the moveable archaeological items are the result of stone, bone and antler tool-making industries (tools, materials used for lithic reduction, manufacturing waste), animal and human remains, art and adornment, as well as geological samples. The scientific documentation comprises some 200,000 documents relating to the original digs including field notes, inventories, item descriptions and surveys (plans and cuts).
The Pataud rock shelter is one of the largest sites referenced for the Upper Palaeolithic for which items were collected using modern scientific forensic techniques. It is also the most complete. The property of the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle, the collection of movable archaeological finds, however small (bone chips, flint fragments, etc.), including associated scientific documentation, is kept as a whole on location.
The Pataud rock shelter collection is the basis for research in fields like palaeoenvironments, archaeozoology (the study of animal bones unearthed in an archaeological context), palaeoanthropology (study of human fossil remains); techno-typology (the study of stone and bone tool industries) and the history of science. The collection is often solicited for consultation and loans.
Since 2005, a scheduled archaeological operation is adding to our knowledge of the site and to the collection. It concerns one of the shelter’s last human occupations during the final phase of the Gravettian (22,000 BP). The operation, headed by R. Nespoulet and L. Chiotti (Prehistory department – MNHN) involves a team of fifteen researchers and students for yearly one-month digs, who supply the materials needed for the multi-disciplinary studies underway.
The excavation site and a small part of the collection are open to the public in the form of museum at the location. The collection is being digitalized.