‘The Nobles of Prehistory' documentary on ARTE.tv: https://www.arte.tv/en/videos/097508-000-A/the-nobles-of-prehistory/?cmpid=EN&cmpsrc=Reddit&cmpspt=link

‘The Nobles of Prehistory' documentary on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mWyADowoEvw

I’m Pauline Coste, a documentary-film director and screenwriter from France and the director of ‘The Nobles of Prehistory' currently screening on [ARTE.tv]. I have directed 5 documentaries including ‘Looking for Sapiens’ (2018, Prix du Jury FIFAN de Nyon en Suisse 2019), three shorts films, and have worked extensively in production and on numerous film commissions. I’m also passionate about Prehistory and in 2016 obtained my Masters degree in Archeology - Prehistory in Paris. My Master's thesis is directly linked to my documentary “The Nobles of Prehistory", whose goal is to challenge received ideas about the Palaeolithic and to promote the most current scientific knowledge about this period. At present, I am editing another documentary film related to archeology entitled “Le tombeau de Montaigne” which revisits the archaeological excavations of the alleged tomb of 16th century French philosopher and writer, Michel de Montaigne.

I’m Jacques Jaubert, a Professor of Prehistory at the University of Bordeaux and an archaeologist, specialised in the Palaeolithic period. I’m also a member of the Laboratory PACEA (From Prehistory to today, Cultures, Environment, Anthropology) and currently co-leading the T2 team, exploring Archaeology of death, ritual and symbolic (AMoRS). Before Bordeaux, I was curator in archaeology for the Ministry of the Culture (Aix-en-Provence then Toulouse 1986-2001). My PhD, entitled The Early and Middle Palaeolithic in the Causses area, was obtained in Prehistoric Ethnology at the University of Paris Panthéon-Sorbonne in 1984. I supervise the excavation at the Middle Pleistocene site of Coudoulous, Lot (with J.-Ph. Brugal) and Mid-Upper Paleolithic site of Jonzac, Charente-maritime (with J.-J. Hubln). My main focus is on the Neanderthal peopling of Eurasia including Northern Asia and also on the anthropization of the cave world: Cussac Cave (Dordogne), and recently Bruniquel cave. My main fields are in South-western France (Middle, Upper Palaeolithic) and also in Asia: Iran (Middle Palaeolithic in Iran), Yemen (PaleoY R. Macchiarelli dir.), Mongolia (Palaeolithic of Mongolia), Armenia (PaleoCaucase) and since two years in Northern China with Pr. Y. Hou (CAI-Yuanpei). I am a member of many committees, councils, graduate schools, boards for archaeological research and universities, mainly in France for the French Ministry of Culture (ex: Lascaux). I have been the head of the masters programme Biologic Anthropology– Prehistory in the University of Bordeaux since 2007 and have published five books and edited seven publications (colloquiums, national congress) as well as 240 articles.

‘The Nobles of Prehistory’ documentary takes as its starting point archaeologist Émile Rivière’s 1872 discovery of a 25,000 year-old Palaeolithic skeleton at the Balzi Rossi cliffs on the French-Italian border. It follows recent research on the skeleton and associated sites that has now allowed scientists to conceive of a nomadic hunter-gatherer peoples who were much more complex than previously imagined, with hierarchical societies, religious beliefs and a highly developed material culture undermining the idea of 'prehistoric savagery'.

So, if you’ve ever wondered about Prehistory or are interested in archaeology and Palaeolithic burials - AMA!


  • Pauline Coste -


“Looking for Sapiens” | Heritage Broadcasting Service:


“Le tombeau de Montaigne” film: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tc9ftuzPDVI

  • Jacques Jaubert -


PROOF: https://i.redd.it/5nstdnmx3ua71.png https://twitter.com/arteen?lang=en

Comments: 186 • Responses: 75  • Date: 

Firm_Application612841 karma

Your documentary shows that over the decades our previous notions of prehistory have been shattered by archaeological research and our understanding of prehistoric man has evolved a lot during the 20th century. Can you see our understanding of homo sapiens of this period changing much in the future? Or are we reaching the limits of what we can find out from scant burial sites?

ARTEinEnglish56 karma

This is a very difficult question to answer. We archaeologists always think that we are reaching the limits of our understanding but actually new discoveries are constantly being made and constantly showing that these limits are systematically being crossed. To take an example: certain regions of Europe are not at all studied (or very little) such as the Balkans, Greece and Turkey. And these were strategic regions for arrival into Europe so we can easily assume that we can make very interesting discoveries in these regions in the future. This is a geographic example. If we take an example of site-access we know that with the rising of sea levels, many palaeolithic sites are currently below sea level. So in the submerged areas near Spain, Italy and Croatia - there are actually hundreds of sites. These would certainly challenge the image we have of prehistory. -Jacques

Firm_Application612812 karma

Thanks for the answer. I understand that it must be a really difficult question. I'm really surprised that the Balkans, Greece and Turkey are not studied much. Wouldn't our interest in the classical world sometimes mean that prehistoric finds are unearthed when digs are made at ancient Greek or ancient Roman sites?

ARTEinEnglish28 karma

There are for sure some prehistoric artefacts below the "classical world" (because there are some everywhere in Europe in this time) but the digging could destroy old roman or greek buildings... and sometimes, prehistoric levels are a few meters under the ground, it depends of the stratigraphy of the place.- Pauline

marcocom5 karma

This reminds me of an experience I had, as an outsider, with an archeologist, whereby they once explained to me how they were ‘leaving a site today for future studies when they have the technology’ and that really gave me a new respect for the scientific process involved.

ARTEinEnglish8 karma

Yes ! That's true ! I'm living in Perigord (south west of France) where prehistoric sites are everywhere. The first time I went there, I said : why don't you excavate every site ? They replied : to keep it for future generations of archeologists ! They only excavate places which are in danger (threatened by modern building...) not the others... - Pauline

ARTEinEnglish26 karma

It should be remembered that there is a lot of archaeology about other periods that are more ‘prestigious’ for those countries so prehistory has indeed gotten a bit left behind… -Jacques

ARTEinEnglish17 karma

Hi ! I'm sure that our understanding of Archeology will still evolve a lot in the future. Myself, I started to be interested in prehistory in 2003, and even since then it has changed a lot. New discoveries are coming out regularly. For instance, the fact that Paleolithic people had black skin only started to be known in 2015 thanks to DNA research! - Pauline

567fgh32 karma

Hi Pauline and Jacques, I have always been interested in archaeology as a child and now wonder as an adult, what is the best practical segue to enter into a profession in archaeology while being a holder of a university business degree? Thank you in advance for any tips and life hacks.

ARTEinEnglish27 karma

Hi, I started myself to be interested in Archeology (Prehistory) as an adult and I discovered that you could (in France) re-do some studies and also do some excavation (as a trainee) even if you are 35 years old or more. You could also work in a museum for example... But I don't know how it works abroad... Maybe Jacques could answer more ! - Pauline

ARTEinEnglish20 karma

The situation is not so different in Italy, Belgium, Germany and Spain. But, in England I think it’s a bit different. There are Anthropological schools and Archaeology is more aligned with Anthropology in Britain. - Jacques

ARTEinEnglish16 karma

There are several possible avenues that you can take to become an archaeologist. In France the most classic way is to first study History with a speciality in Archaeology (since Archaeology often depends on History). However, in a big university such as the ones in Paris you can study Archaeology from the very first year. Afterwards, you can do Biology or Geology or if you are interested in a more ancient period. - Jacques

Darlington2821 karma

How do you see DNA sequencing changing your field in the next few years? And secondly, how many cats are too many?

ARTEinEnglish21 karma

This is a very good question. DNA sequencing has totally revolutionised Palaeolithic Archaeology to an incredible extent. In 20 years we’ve had to almost completely revise our models of understanding. This is applicable for the last 30-40,000 years. It will aid us to be very clear in our analysis. To answer your second question - too many techniques and information are difficult to sustain clear thinking, you’re right. -Jacques

New_Insect_Overlords18 karma

What are your thoughts on modern practices surrounding death, especially burial of caskets in concrete lined graves?

ARTEinEnglish28 karma

What are your thoughts on modern practices surrounding death, especially burial of caskets in concrete lined graves?

What is very interesting is that throughout history certain practices for the treatment of the dead do not leave a single trace for archaeologists . For example, certain populations put their deceased in trees where the corpses are progressively eaten and disappear completely. These mortuary practices leave absolutely no trace. But then there are other populations that put a lot of time and effort into preserving their dead, almost without limits. So you can see a sort of extreme inegality in these practices. For the future I imagine it will be the same (being buried in a concrete casket or otherwise). - Jacques

pepperonipodesta4 karma

Which populations had tree burials like that? All I'm getting on Google is tree trunk coffins used by the celts. :/

ARTEinEnglish14 karma

I didn't know about tree burial but I know that some Indian tribes put their dead on platforms made of wood, which doesn't leave any evidence many years later.

I also read an article about practices in South America where dead people were let at the top of mountains to be eaten by big buzzards... That kind of practice left no evidence of burial, but of course, it significant for these groups.

Our current practice of cremation - and the ashes left in the sea, for example, is another practice that will leave no burial evidence for archeologists of the future ! - Pauline

adrift982 karma

If they disappear completely, how do you know about them?

ARTEinEnglish1 karma

We just suppose it, linked to anthropology ! Because during very long periods of the Palaeolithic there were absolutely no graves at all ! Some before, and some after, but sometimes during like 10 000 years there was nothing! That's why we wonder what could have happened ? We speculate on the kinds of death practices that could have existed that wouldn't leave any evidence... - Pauline

ARTEinEnglish11 karma

What are your thoughts on modern practices surrounding death, especially burial of caskets in concrete lined graves?

It will be a clue for archeologist of the future as a mark of our times, in my opinion ! - Pauline

567fgh16 karma

I have always been curious, in your experience how are excavation sites / archaeological digs funded? I used to think it was some NGO and get confused when I see archaeological digs online where the intern pays to join the program and wonder if that is how the dig stays operational?

ARTEinEnglish22 karma

In France there are two main types of funding. On the one hand it’s the Minister of Culture and Public Funding and the second is for ‘prevention’ archaeology where you do archaeology to see whether there is anything to be found beneath a road that will be built, etc. This is paid by the industry who is looking to construct on that site. - Jacques

ARTEinEnglish13 karma

This is more or less the situation in Europe. But in the US there is a lot of private funding. There are also countries where private funding is present and important (in Spain and Switzerland, for instance). This also depends on the country's university research and legislation. The best system, I think, is the Scandinavian system - with its long tradition of public funding and university research. Plus, their museums are very well organised. -Jacques

Bad-Extreme14 karma

Seeing as how even ancient humans have burial sites, do you think it is in human nature/ a primal urge for humans to just bury the dead? If so, what advantage do you think we gain by bothering to go through the whole process while most other animals don’t bother, evolutionarily speaking.

ARTEinEnglish18 karma

Thank you for your question. I think that burial is a significant sign of culture and not a primal urge for humans.

There is no advantage, evolutionary speaking, to bury someone than to abandon them. So that means that those people cared, and maybe believed that it was important to do something for the one who dies. As we do ! Just remember that they are exactly the same specie as us ! They are Sapiens ! (Neanderthals also buried their dead, but not before) So their brain was the same, emotions too, and capacities of beliefs too. - Pauline

ARTEinEnglish14 karma

Very good question. Prehistorians consider a certain number of technical innovations as signs of progress and modernity. For example, the invention of a tool. The first tombs are one of the most important signs of modernity in humanity. For certain Prehistorians they consider that before the burial of the dead humanity was not actually ‘complete’. 100,000 - 120,000 years ago burial sites appeared for the first time. -Jacques

poppypodlatex12 karma

I hate to be this guy but I have to ask what do serious archeologists make of all this "ancient alien" stuff and about how a show about that particular topic managed to get broadcast on what's called the history channel? Have you ever come across anyone who believes that stuff personally and if you have did you do anything to try and talk them around?

ARTEinEnglish37 karma

I hate to be this guy but I have to ask what do serious archeologists make of all this "ancient alien" stuff and about how a show about that particular topic managed to get broadcast on what's called the history channel? Have you ever come across anyone who believes that stuff personally and if you have did you do anything to try and talk them around?

Of course, no serious archeologist believes at all in these theories of "ancient aliens" !!! I never met someone who talked with me about that. In fact, archeological artefacts and science give us so many proofs that we don't "need" to imagine aliens to explains those facts !!!

When I read about these absurd theories, they make me feel that it is linked to people who say that they do not believe in the skills of prehistoric man or woman (and even for Egyptian people) and their very good old techniques. - Pauline

poppypodlatex9 karma

What I find a little alarming about it is that it seems to have become quite popular theory. I dont like that the show on the so called history channel has lasted for so many seasons because that only means one thing, that it's getting a lot of viewers and ratings. Von Daniken is an obvious hack but a lot of people seem to be jumping on the bandwagon. I dont doubt that a professional archeologist wouldnt take these ideas seriously, I was more curious about any encounters you may have had with laymen who may have been influenced by these conspiracy theories?

ARTEinEnglish16 karma

Yes, that's a shame... I agree with you.

It's not acceptable that the History Channel is screening fake news like this!

We are doing our best to do good documentaries to spread real scientific views!

And hopefully, there are on youtube also some people that are fighting very well against those conspiracy theories. - Pauline

The_Madukes2 karma

Hi Pauline thank you for this AMA. What do you think about the theories about Atlantis? One theory believes it could be a site off the coast of Portugal.

ARTEinEnglish9 karma

Hi, I'm sorry but I haven't worked on that period (it is really later than Prehistory ;) ), and I don't know about the current scientific theories surrounding that... Is it fake news or not ? Are there some real clues of something or not ? I couldn't tell you, sorry !

intensely_human1 karma

I’d imagine any theories about ancient civilizations would alter the definition of “pre-history” though right?

Is there a particular date agreed upon for when “pre-history” ended? Or is it always defined in terms of the set of historical records we have?

ARTEinEnglish1 karma

The difference between "pre-history" and "history" is based on the invention of writing. Before it is Prehistory, after it's History because you could find some written elements to understand archeological artefacts.

So in the Word, prehistory ended around -3 500 years BC, with invention of writing in Mesopotamia. But locally it could be much later ! Like in France (Gaule in classic World) : History offically started with roman conquest in - 33 before JC.

If you think that way, there are regions of the world were there was no writing which came to History very recently !

Could you imagine that ? Funny right ? - Pauline

ARTEinEnglish9 karma

Thanks for your question. No, I have never come across anyone in my discipline who believed in that. -Jacques

ARTEinEnglish10 karma

Thank you so much for all your questions, this was very nice !!

If you would like to see the documentary, it is available here, for free, until Sunday :

ARTE.tv: https://www.arte.tv/en/videos/097508-000-A/the-nobles-of-prehistory/?cmpid=EN&cmpsrc=Reddit&cmpspt=link

‘The Nobles of Prehistory' documentary on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mWyADowoEvw

-Pauline & Jacques

randomaltname1 karma

I watched it and thought it was fascinating. Thank you for coming to reddit to share it.

ARTEinEnglish1 karma

Thank you for your comment! Very kind.

ARTEinEnglish1 karma

Thanks a lot !!!


historyfrombelow9 karma

Do you think we are more similar to or more different from the major peoples you have studied?

ARTEinEnglish19 karma

It depends on what you study exactly. With neanderthals there is an anatomical or a physical difference of course (which make sense, in that they were present between 50,000 and 200,000 years ago). But, when I studied caves (dating back 25-30,000 years) these are people who are just like you and me, with differences to be sure, but mainly through their environment rather than cognitive and intellectual differences. - Jacques

historyfrombelow5 karma

Thank you! As a follow-up, is your response about the people in the caves more of a consensus in the field or something that is still debated frequently?

ARTEinEnglish10 karma

As a follow-up, is your response about the people in the caves more of a consensus in the field or something that is still debated frequently?

There is no debate about who painted in the cave : they were Homo Sapiens as Jacques said, so exactly like us, morphologicaly speaking.

The very few examples of neanderthal cave art are in debate, but it is not the case for all the discoveries dated after -35 000 years ago. (the majority of Palaeolithic cave art is between -40 000 to -10 000 years ago in Europe, when only Sapiens were living in that period) - Pauline

ARTEinEnglish5 karma

Hi, I'm really looking forward to answering your questions! - Jacques.

broomiester4 karma

Hi! How do you balance the task of trying to interpret the physical evidence into some form of historical narrative, whilst trying to remain objective and avoid anachronism/biases?

ARTEinEnglish12 karma

Archaeology is a science so, like all sciences, you need to learn lots of references. You cannot arrive at an archaeological site and explain something without a minimum of amount of knowledge. Often we compare archaeology with surgery - no one would like to have heart surgery by an archaeologist (and vice versa - a surgeon cannot do archaeology). It’s a specialist job with its own codes and references, that you need to learn and that is what ultimately aids interpretation. -Jacques

broomiester1 karma

Thank you for your response!

ARTEinEnglish1 karma

You're welcome!

Firm_Application61283 karma

What is the most difficult archaeological dig you've been involved with, and why?

ARTEinEnglish8 karma

For me it was, without a doubt, the cave of Bruniquel, in the south-west of France. It was a very hard cave to access technically and physically and also difficult to study. Everything about it was difficult and complicated. On the other hand, there are also sites that are difficult to study but are very easy to access. - Jacques

KirinG3 karma

Hi! Awesome AMA - I've always been curious about how much time pre-agricultural people spent "working." Like, how much time on a day the average person spent doing something directly related to survival.

With such an advanced cultural/religious life, I'd guess that people (or part of the population) had a substantial amount of non-survival work time. What does your work tell us?

ARTEinEnglish5 karma

Yes, you're right.

To go further (if you don't already know his work) you could look at Lewis BINFORD's ethnographic works about Inuits and comparisons with archeology. And also Claude Levis-Strauss' works.



Hunting and gathering left a lot of time for non-survival works (such as taking time to make beads, body ornaments, but also maybe ritual practices ?...etc).

But you have to remember also that everything was made by hand so it takes time too ! (all clothes, so a lot of work to make leather from animal skin, sewing, making tools... maybe baskets...) And also yes, some people may have been specialised (for example in knapping flint to make stone tools)

Current or recent tribes of hunter gatherers helps us to understand very old cultures with a similar way of living and their rich inner world.


Leicham3 karma

What are your thoughts on the seemingly degrading level of techology used in Ancient Egypt, as layed out by Graham Hancock's Fingerprints/magicians of the Gods, if you're at all familiar?

ARTEinEnglish10 karma

Never heard of him either...

But all the people who tried to do links between stars and sciences are generally linked to fake news or conspiracy theories ! What they think, is based on nothing ! - Pauline

8ad8andit0 karma

What I have seen is that many scientists disparage challenging theories from the fringes without ever confirming or denying them for themselves, which of course is completely unscientific.

Scientists have a very bad habit of not looking at challenging evidence, because of their presupposition that "it can't be true so there's no point in looking into it." So they make judgments on something they've never looked into, which is completely unscientific, and since none of them are looking into it, it stays on the fringe.

Eventually some of the stuff breaks through and yesterday's ridiculed theory becomes tomorrow's accepted fact.

ARTEinEnglish1 karma

I try a much as I can to be open minded to all these ideas. I try to verify for myself some theories about stars or sunlight, sunset, solstices... For Neolithic (megaliths) there is evidence, for sure. But before, in the Palaeolithic, not at all. No link (as far as I can see) between stars and cave art. Only in rock art or megaliths - but as I said this is in the Neolithic period... not before.

Except (for Palaeolithic) maybe some "calendars" can be linked to the moon : a bone engraved of small dots found in Dordogne in Abri Blanchard https://www.researchgate.net/figure/Abri-Blanchard-Dordogne-France-Archaeological-Museum-Photo-author_fig1_233529986

So yes, keep your mind open and listen to these theories, but many many times, it is just imagination of their authors.

- Pauline

ARTEinEnglish6 karma

I'm sorry I'm not familiar with Graham Hancock's work, could you please re-phrase your question? - Jacques

Aqua1953 karma

What was one of the most unique, interesting, or mysterious Palaeolithic burial sites you have seen?

ARTEinEnglish11 karma

Thanks to this documentary, I have been on the most interesting and mysterious Palaeolithic burial sites that I know ! (except the Russian site "Sounghir" where a Russian team shot for me).

But the Balzi Rossi Caves (near Vintimille / Menton on the Italian border), Dolni Vestonice site, and of course the Cussac Cave (the best maybe) are my favourite !

When I did my masters degree about gravettian graves (-34 000 to -24 000 years ago), I studied 82 buried individuals. When I decided to do a film about this subject, my co-author and the producers and ARTE.tv told me "you have to choose" ! So I chose my favourite, the ones I thought the most amazing!

But maybe the Sounghir site is the most unique burial site in all of the Palaeolithic period, due to the number of ivory beads and grave goods (such as weapons that were 2m long and made with mammoth ivory)...

For more recent examples from the Palaeolithic period there are beautiful sites with amazing graves in Perigord (south west of France, were I live now) : Child of La Madeleine (1200 shell beads for a 3 year old child), Lady of St Germain La rivière, Lady of Cap Blanc... (Prehistory Museum of Les Eyzies) - Pauline

ARTEinEnglish3 karma

Hi, I'm really looking forward to answering your questions! - Pauline

Cardus3 karma

I used to think of prehistoric communities as insular non trading tribes, but have seen some stuff about trade routes that covered moat of the connected world. how did these trade routes function without writing or currency - was it all barter ?

ARTEinEnglish3 karma

I used to think of prehistoric communities as insular non trading tribes, but have seen some stuff about trade routes that covered moat of the connected world. how did these trade routes function without writing or currency - was it all barter ?

Yes, we have a lot of evidence of that ! We're quite sure that ideas, people and artefacts travelled for long distances (200 km, maybe more...) and spread knowledge, technology, beliefs, objects... And yes, barter was used for a long, long time before currency and writing. They were all hunther-gatherers before -10 000. So they travelled a lot. - Pauline

boxingdude2 karma

Hello and thanks for doing this AMA. What are your thoughts on the era of the Neanderthals? How long do you think they made it before going extinct? My hobby is studying this period of time and AFAIK the last ones lived in Portugal, but this stuff seems to be in a constant state of change. Was it 40kya? 25?

Also, what do you make of the two very recent discovery of new species of Homo? I’d imagine more of this is coming due to climate change. Do you concur?

ARTEinEnglish7 karma

The question about the extinction of Neanderthals is the only question, today, which has still not been resolved. We have an enormous amount of lot of knowledge about Neanderthals - but no definitive response as to their extinction. There are many possible explanations but these also differ according to different regions of the world. So, there could be a difference between Portugal and Russia, for instance. What is clear at this stage is that there is no sole reason, but several reasons, for their extinction. - Jacques

ARTEinEnglish5 karma

In terms of your second question, about the findings in Israel a couple of weeks ago -this is too recent for me to make a statement on - it’s too premature. Plus, ‘new species’ is a bit of a buzzword in archaeology ! - Jacques

boxingdude3 karma

Agreed, it’s kinda early to be declaring new species. I’m thinking that one of them may be a Denosivan, wouldn’t that be something.

Anyway, thank you for the responses, and as always, thanks for all that you do!

ARTEinEnglish2 karma

Thank you! Very kind.

The_circumstance2 karma

What was the most important discovery in your personal careers and what was the most important / exiting discovery that happened in your lifetime?

ARTEinEnglish5 karma

The biggest discovery was definitely the cave of Bruniquel, but from an emotional as well as a scientific and aesthetic point of view it was the Cussac cave which made the biggest impression on me. - Jacques

8ad8andit1 karma

Just giving us the names of caves isn't telling us why or what, which is what we actually want to know here.

ARTEinEnglish1 karma

The cave of Bruniquel where Jacques did some research is very well-known because these are Neandertal works (-70 000 years ago) : a very strange construction of a circle made by stalactites in a very hard-to-access place deep in a cave. It is absolutely unique !

A very nice documentary was done by one of my colleagues, Luc-Henri Fage : "Le mystère de la grotte de Bruniquel" recently which won a lot of awards. I think you could find it in english version. The title is something like : "The Mystery of Bruniquel's Cave"



- Pauline

ARTEinEnglish4 karma

I'm not an archeologist, but a film maker, so I couldn't really answer your question... But I could say that the most important discovery I've filmed is Cussac Cave, which is of course in the documentary, and also recently the Montaigne grave (a French philosopher of the XVIth century). It's not sure yet that this grave was his, but it was amazing to be with archeologists during the digging (September 2020, and November 2019) - Pauline

schtuff012 karma

I feel like many Hollywood films and video games have fantasised this idea of "tomb raiding" or "grave robbing" to the point where we don't see it as a serious issue. So I'm curious, how much of a threat exactly do grave robbers pose to modern day archaeology? Are they any examples you know that us laymen may not know about, but should ?

Thanks for doing this AMA, by the way. I'm really enjoying the insight.

ARTEinEnglish2 karma

I feel like many Hollywood films and video games have fantasised this idea of "tomb raiding" or "grave robbing" to the point where we don't see it as a serious issue. So I'm curious, how much of a threat exactly do grave robbers pose to modern day archaeology? Are they any examples you know that us laymen may not know about, but should ?

Thanks for your question!

In terms of prehistoric graves, I don't think that there are/were robbers ! (there is nothing of value for your time (no gold or silver... only shells and flint !) - except for archeologists !). As far as I know, Egyptian archeology still has some problems of grave robbers...

And another problem is people with metal detectors that destroy information for real archeology (for historical period)... The best thing to do when you make a discovery is to talk to an archeologist (or a museum near your home) to tell them : it will be much more useful for human knowledge, than just to put a beautiful object on your shelf ! - Pauline

1978manx1 karma

Prehistoric human existence is assumed to entail short, savage lives, where copulation often equalled rape, and the strongest male ruled by brutality.

My personal research paints a drastically different picture: egalitarian groups, where each member was valued, and resources were shared.

“Civilization” seems to have brought at least as many woes as improvements.

We’re taught human-nature is to be greedy and hoard, yet, my study of prehistory, and my experiences, lead to the conclusion that human nature is to work on behalf of family and community, contribute, and learn.

Is 98% of human history drastically misunderstood, or am I missing something?

ARTEinEnglish9 karma

It's actually the opposite picture: Prehistory had a reputation for being egalitarian but now we understand them as having had hierarchies and various other forms of inequality. I recommend you watch Pauline's documentary as it is exactly about this issue: https://www.arte.tv/en/videos/097508-000-A/the-nobles-of-prehistory/?cmpid=EN&cmpsrc=Reddit&cmpspt=link

ARTEinEnglish6 karma

Dear Broomiester, I quite agree with you : old cliches of " short, savage lives, where copulation often equalled rape, and the strongest male ruled by brutality" had to be forgotten because it's just based on XIXth archeologists theories and our views have involved a lot since then ! (my first documentary about prehistory "Looking for Sapiens" is about this evolution of our vision : https://heritagetac.org/programs/2020-lo3mp4-85fa25)

But on the other hand, we couldn't be sure of your version of " human nature is to work on behalf of family and community, contribute, and learn" because artefacts leave no proof of this way of living...

Of course I prefer your way of seeing them ! It is closer to mine !

But my real thoughts is that we are talking about a duration of 30 000 years (when there were only sapiens and hunter-gatherer in Europe) and a very large space of thousands of km !

So what I really think, is that the most probable way to see them is to have a vision of diversity of practices. Some tribes were maybe "greedy", others "hierarchical".

Some maybe "matriarchal" other "patriarchal"... (why not ?) Some violent, others pacifists...

You just have to look at present-day humanity to figure out the diversity of the past !

The only real difference is that they were a lot more numerous than us, so less competition over territories... I guess. - Pauline

1978manx2 karma

I am very excited to watch your docs, and to have been introduced to your work!

Got very interested in prehistoric humans in the early 00’s, and it was astounding to discover how little we know.

Thanks for doing an AMA, and spreading your work.

ARTEinEnglish3 karma

Thanks a lot !!! - Pauline

ARTEinEnglish3 karma

Is 98% of human history drastically misunderstood

I agree with that too ! - Pauline

kathakloss1 karma

Hey Pauline and Jacques, thanks for doing this. What you have highlighted is a bit like the #metoo of archeology. How were the reactions in the sector on those findings on the presence of female power in paleolithic times?

ARTEinEnglish9 karma

Hi, in fact, Mr. and Mrs De Lumley found that the Lady of Cavillon was a woman in the 1990s... so archeologists had time to figure it out ! But this information was never really in the spotlight in the media and that's why I wanted to show it in a documentary. But as the movie said, we are not sure of power and status of these buried people (male or female). They could had been buried for others reasons... - Pauline

567fgh1 karma

When there are opposing archaeological theories, how is the decision made as to which is the 'final current' theory that makes it into the text books in schools?

ARTEinEnglish6 karma

Perhaps this is a slight variation to your question but there is a danger for us, Prehistorians and archaeologists, with creationism. This is not so developed in France but in certain countries it is. Here, what is taught in schools respects scientific advances but usually with a lot of delay (10 years or so for certain discoveries). There is definitely a delay between science and society. Where we have difficulties is with opposing theories such as the creationist arguments. - Jacques

ARTEinEnglish3 karma

In terms of opposing archaeological theories in general, frankly we're used to this in our field! - Jacques

ARTEinEnglish2 karma

When there are opposing archaeological theories, how is the decision made as to which is the 'final current' theory that makes it into the text books in schools?

Very good question ! (maybe more for Jacques who is the "real archeologist", I'm more of a film maker)... In my opinion, what I think is when a theory is shared by a large group of archeologists, you will see it being taught in schools and books. It needs to have been verified on a large number of archaeological sites. When it's impossible to decide between severals theories, you have to mention all of them. In fact, it depends if it is easy to prove, scientifically : for example, old time climate is very well known and for sure very cold, but we may never know what was the purpose of people who painted in the caves... - Pauline

spook12051 karma

How much meat was based in diets?

ARTEinEnglish1 karma

A lot, but it depends on the seasons, and period of paleolithic (climat very cold or less) and the disposability of vegetables.

No deficiency observed on squelettons..

- Pauline

vxxed1 karma

Given that Gobekli Tepe is the oldest archeological site unearthed, and it sits on a mountain of older, similar, larger structures, are we likely to find burial sites nearby? Does the size of the structures indicate that there may be even older, unearthed, burial sites?

ARTEinEnglish2 karma

I really don't know sorry ! - Pauline

Sternorous1 karma

So, when do you think people started populating North and South America?

I’ve always thought there was initially a west coast coastal population, any evidence for them is now under water though. Is there any way to find evidence of human habitation on the near continental shelf?

ARTEinEnglish2 karma

I know that all evidence of the beginning of populating of North and South America is definitely on the west coast, and maybe -20 000 / 17 000 years ago (or before according to new theories), or later -14 000...

There are several theories and studies are still in progress. But yes, there is evidence (Clovis point for North - 14 000...) I remember there was a problem because the oldest evidence came from South America, even if we know people came from Bering land bridge...


- Pauline

AgoraRefuge2 karma

This is a really interesting topic and it's not often we get to talk to someone with your expertise.

What I am really curious about is boats. From my very limited reading, it seems like the peopling of the Americas happened really quickly in terms of how people were dispersed. The time it took to get from what is now Alaska/Canada to the southern tip of South America is so short from what I've read.

Do knowledgable people think that maybe sea travel, at least along the coast, was involved as well as walking in terms of dispersal across the continents?

That also kind of makes me want to ask, do we know just how old are boats and seafaring are?

No worries if you don't get to this, but if you do, I am very curious about your answer!

ARTEinEnglish2 karma

I remember that yes, boats along the west coastline, is one of the most plausible hypothesis to explain how they get from north to south so quickly...

But the oldest boats we found in archeology are much later... (of course it is wood, so the conservation has not been very good !) I think there is one example in Mesolithic (the last period of Palaeolithic) around - 10 000 years ago, and much more in Neolithic around -5 000 (canoe, "pirogue" in french). Some of the neolithic canoes are visible in museums.



But some "kayak" very primitive boats are possible too...



AgoraRefuge1 karma

Fascinating, thanks for the links!

ARTEinEnglish1 karma

You're welcome!

see_you_in_space1 karma

Hey Jacques and Pauline! Thanks for doing this AMA! I will be traveling to the British Isles this fall seeking out ancient burials and megaliths. Can you recommend me some of your favorite spots in that area? I know you’re mostly based out of France but I thought that I would ask. Thanks!

ARTEinEnglish6 karma

Of course! The British speciality is definitely megaliths! This is more Protohistory (very hierarchical) but there are some extraordinary sites. Obviously Stonehenge.


This documentary is worth a watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iq4xM8TLWc0

- ARTE admin

ARTEinEnglish5 karma

Hi ! Thanks for your question ! There is a very well-known palaeolithic grave found in Britain, it is called "The red lady of Paviland" (but it is a young man !) and it was the first paleolithic burial found in 1823 if I remember well... It is around -33 000 years old. So around the same period (gravettian) as the graves that we talked about in the documentary.


I think it is shown in a museum in Cardiff.

Another paleolitic burial : you have Cheddar Man (-10 000 years old)


- Pauline

see_you_in_space2 karma

Thank you so much! I’ll try to check them out when I’m over there!

ARTEinEnglish1 karma


Jarix1 karma

I'm just listening to Sapiens by Yuvah Noah Harari.

If you are familiar with it can you tell me if you are aware of any glaring mistakes or concerns that i would be best made aware of?

ARTEinEnglish2 karma

I read it a long time ago, it was quite true (I mean, close to what archeologists know) as far as I remember. I have to re-read it to answer your question more precisely ! But I think it's a good book to start with. -Pauline

Jarix1 karma

Thanks for the reply and the AmA

ARTEinEnglish1 karma

You're welcome!

MrIndira1 karma

Do you think that your work mores so proves the existence of the Abrahamic God or disproves it?

ARTEinEnglish13 karma

Do you think that your work mores so proves the existence of the Abrahamic God or disproves it?

In my opinion, it is not related. The purpose is not to prove the existence of God or not, but to explore archeologic artefacts to understand our very old past and human peoples that lived long before us !

Yes, science could prove that human life started much longer ago than the Bible says, but does it disproves the existence of God ? I don't think so. Everyone is free in their religious belief. - Pauline

desanex1 karma


what's the deal with the paleolithic european bear cult and the ainu people?

ARTEinEnglish1 karma

what's the deal with the Palaeolithic european bear cult and the ainu people?

Very good question ! I think the bear cult was spread around Europe a lot before the Christian era. So maybe across the north pole, there might have been some cultural exchanges.

On that topic, you could have a look at this very interesting work :

"L'Ours. Histoire d'un roi déchu", Michel Pastoureau, Éditions du Seuil, janvier 2007

(I hope it exists in english ! "The bear, the story of a fallen king". Michel Pastoureau)

And for works about the spread of myths around the World: Jean-Loïc Le Quellec


or Julien d'Huy "Cosmogonies".

- Pauline

shadowbannedguy11 karma

Where can I watch the documentary in French?

ARTEinEnglish2 karma

Voici le lien du film en français : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L4822mnIMik

Disponible gratuitement jusqu'au dimanche 18 juillet ! - Pauline

ModeratelySalacious1 karma

What is your expert opinion on recent findings/theories/hypotheses in regards to potential comet/meteor impacts during the Younger Dryas period? Specifically in regards to Robert Schoch and Randall Carlson?

ARTEinEnglish1 karma

Never heard about this theory. Sorry ! - Pauline

Link__1 karma

How is your research inclusive to trans and non-binary folks, whose histories have been erased throughout history?

ARTEinEnglish1 karma

Unfortunately it's almost impossible when you find artefacts to guess who was using them (man or woman or trans or non-binary...) So for prehistory, nothing could be said on that as far as I know !

For ethnography, I know that there are some examples in some native tribes of trans identity which was very respected at old time. So why not some similar examples in prehistory ? But as I said, there are no material clues to say anything about that... Sorry ! - Pauline

RollinTHICpastry1 karma

Thanks for taking time to do this! Here’s my favorite question to ask Archeologists because it usually prompts some interesting discussion: are you a lumper or a splitter?

ARTEinEnglish2 karma

Thank you for your question...but this is more a question for an Anthropologist…I don't feel i can answer. - Jacques

ARTEinEnglish2 karma

Is there a link to the way of classifying flints ? Sorry I don't really understand your question... - Pauline

chop-diggity1 karma

How do you feel about the claims of the Native Mounds at Louisiana State University being the oldest man made structures known in existence? They’re dated to about 5500 years old, but some suggest that they’re more like 10,000+ years old.

ARTEinEnglish1 karma

Hi thanks for this information. I didn't know about the Native Mounds.

All that I know is that the oldest structures made by man are in Terra Amata in Nice (evidences of hut) which are 400 000 and 380 000 years old and the Lazaret cave (evidence of huts and fire) 130 to 170 000 years old ... and of course the strange structures of Bruniquel (Neanderthal -70 000)...

But it depends on what you mean by "structures".

I had a look on the internet about Native Mounds; they are quite similar to megalithic structures in Europe (tumulus, Neolithic - 10 000 to -2 500). So its seems possible. (why not ?) Very interesting indeed ! - Pauline

chop-diggity1 karma


I don’t know how people claim the things they claim. It’s definitely worth a look; who knows. I’ve been there many times and they make me FEEL.

Thank you for your reply!

ARTEinEnglish1 karma

No problem!

adrift981 karma

What would happen if you discovered that the people you studied had written records? Would you have to change professions?

ARTEinEnglish1 karma

Not at all - it would be amazing ! Unfortunately, so many sites are known now (thousands and thousands) and there are no written records.

The only abstract signs we have (in caves) couldn't be called "writing"... some studies are still in progress with it (works of Eric Robert, http://www.creap.fr/participants-eric-robert.htm)

I guess we could prove one day that they have signification for a large community (for example from south west of France to Spain) because sometimes we find the same sign far away in many caves. (ex : aviforme, claviforme)

But I'm quite sure that we would never understand their exact language and meaning. Unfortunately ! -Pauline

gunnathrowitaway1 karma

How often do archaeologists find grave goods, and do the grave goods confirm or challenge Western notions of strict gender binary?

ARTEinEnglish2 karma

About strict gender binary, we really have no information at all.

About grave goods in general, for paleolithic, yes it is often but not systematic. Some have flint (used or not) with them, and others have objects sometimes : figurines of horses (Sounghir), ornaments, bone points (Lady of Cavillon), sometime needle (in a child grave - no gender found), weapons...

No evidence of differences between men, women or children. Some have evidence, others don't. In english, you could learn more with the excellent work of the archeologist Paul Pettitt :


(wonderful book, very complete !!!)

- Pauline

Krawald1 karma

Bonjour, et merci pour ce documentaire très intéressant. When you talk about nomadic societies, would they be travelling in cyclic patterns, coming back to the same places year after year? Or was it more complicated? Also, we will probably never know, but we know that many Native American and South American nomadic tribes did tend to the land around them to make sure it grows plants useful to them, to the extent that some describe the Amazon as "a giant food forest". Do you think it is possible that Gravettian societies would have done something similar? And a third question: what is the furthest that we know a Gravettian trade good has traveled? Did that high quality flint come from specific places?

ARTEinEnglish1 karma

Dear Krawald, thanks a lot for your questions ! First of all, about cyclic patterns, yes, it is very likely that they were coming back to certain sites regularly - we know that from stratigraphy. Even if we couldn't tell exactly if months or years passed between 2 settlements, we could assume that the group has the memory of a place when layers of occupation are very close to the previous one. (Lots of example in Périgord south west France, and also in the Paris region)

About your second question, we couldn't compare the Amazonian to the Gravettian world because Gravettian was a very cold period and steppe zone (no trees or very few). But the reasons of the cyclic patterns were because they were following venison. They could also have had other reasons to move: finding some special flint for example... or occhra, or shells, or rare materials.

The furthest example of travel during the Gravettian period is maybe around 100 or 200 km for flint, and maybe 200-300 km for shells. But ideas (is it long distance travel or exchanges between tribes to cover such distance?) travelled even further : we know that by the way of knapping flint (from Portugal to the east of Russia) and also by the venus figurine found across a distance of 3000 km and very similar at the same period (from south west of France to Malt'a in Russia).

And yes high quality flint came from specific places. Example of origins of flints found on a site in south of France (Gargas) : https://www.researchgate.net/figure/Cartographie-des-provenances-des-silex-outils-du-niveau-gravettien-de-Gargas-fouilles_fig3_258173000

- Pauline