Pech de l'Azé IV is an archaeological site in the Périgord region of southern France. It dates to the time of the Neanderthals and contains occupational debris from many millennia of Neanderthal intermittent use of the cave. This sequence of occupation begins perhaps about 80,000 to 90,000 years ago, and ends about 35,000 years ago.
Neanderthals lived in Europe between about 150,000 to 30,000 years ago and their archaeological record is best known from different cave and rockshelter sites. One of these is Pech de l'Azé IV in southern France. It was initially test excavated in the 1950s and later in the 1970s by French prehistorians, who established the general sequence of occupations at the site, as well as describing the various types of stone tool assemblages found in the different layers. We decided to return to this site for more extensive excavations for several reasons. These include the fact that the lowest deposits in the sequence contain many hearths, an uncommon finding at a Neanderthal site. There is also a very special stone tool assemblage (the Asinipodian) featuring extremely small stone artifacts in one of the layers. The sophisticated technology available today additionally meant that we could excavate the site and understand its formation over time with a far greater precision than was available to the excavators in the 1950s and 1970s.
Pech de l'Azé IV is significant for several reasons. First, it is an important Neanderthal site with a long sequence of occupations spanning a period of about 45,000 to 55,000 years during the last Ice Age (Pleistocene epoch). Second, the basal (bottom) layers at the site contain numerous hearths, which are not commonly found in European archaeological sites of this time period. Third, one of the lithic assemblages, the Asinipodian, is an unusual combination of very small and very large flakes and cores. This type of Neanderthal assemblage is known only from Pech IV. (Read about this assemblage in the Story section, Chapter 7.) Finally, isolated Neandertal teeth have also been found at the site.