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New discoveries of Middle Paleolithic human remains from the “Bau de l'Aubésier (Vaucluse, France)”

Nouvelles découvertes de restes humains du Paléolithique moyen du Bau de l'Aubésier (Vaucluse, France)
S. Lebel et E. Trinkaus


Excavations in Middle Paleolithic levels at the “Bau de l’Aubésier (Vaucluse)” during 2000 yielded a maxillary molar and a partial mandible from late Middle Pleistocene levels, plus a maxillary molar from the early Late Pleistocene. The Middle Pleistocene remains (Aubesier 10 and 11) have close morphological affinities to contemporaneous European human remains, and the Neandertal molar (Aubesier 12) falls well within Neandertal ranges of variation. The teeth are notable for a toothpick groove on Aubesier 10 and the large dental caries in Aubesier 12. The Aubesier 11 mandible exhibits extensive pathological alterations of the alveolar process, indicating serious impairment of mastication.

Nouvelles découvertes de restes humains du Paléolithique moyen du Bau de l'Aubésier (Vaucluse, France)

Des fouilles dans les niveaux du Paléolithique moyen du Bau de l’Aubésier (Vaucluse) en 2000 ont livré une molaire supérieure et une grande partie d’une mandibule des niveaux du Pléistocène moyen tardif ainsi qu’une molaire supérieure du début du Pléistocène supérieure. Les restes du Pléistocène moyen (Aubésier 10 et 11) ont des affinités morphologiques avec les autres restes humains contemporaines d’Europe, et la molaire néandertalienne (Aubésier 12) est bien dans la variation des Néandertaliens. Sur Aubésier 10 se remarque un sulcus de cure-dent, ainsi qu’une grande carie dentaire sur Aubésier 12. La mandibule Aubésier 11 montre des altérations pathologiques au niveaux des alvéoles, ce qui indique une mastication difficile.

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1Excavations at different times during the twentieth century at the “Bau de l’Aubésier”, in the “Gorges de la Nesque, commune de Monieux, Vaucluse, France” (44° 05’ N, 5° 21’ E), yielded a series of isolated human teeth from the three stratigraphic complexes, including a Middle Pleistocene Middle Paleolithic one (Layer K), an early Late Pleistocene Middle Paleolithic one (Layer IV) and an Upper Paleolithic to recent one (Layer II) (Moulin, 1904; Lumley, 1973;Trinkaus et al., 2000a). These remains, Aubesier 1 to 9, have been previously described morphologically and paleopathologically (Moulin, 1904; Lumley, 1973; Trinkaus et al., 2000a,b). Ongoing excavations at the “Bau de l’Aubésier” during 2000 yielded additional human remains, including a maxillary molar from Layer I-3 (Aubesier 10), a partial mandible from Layer I-2 (Aubesier 11) and a maxillary molar from Layer IV (Aubesier 12) (Lebel et al. , 2001; Lebel & Trinkaus, n.d.). This note is intended as an illustrated preliminary announcement of these remains; more detailed descriptions will follow.

Stratigraphic context

2The Aubesier 10 and 11 remains, from Layers I-3 and I-2 respectively, derive from anarcheologicallyrichstratigraphiccompleximmediatelybelowthelower combustion zone, layer H-1. They are associated with a relatively laminarTypical Mousterian industry and a faunal macromammalian complex indicating a later Middle Pleistocene age for the deposits (Lebel et al., 2001). This assessment is supported by thermoluminescence dating of Layer H-1 (Lebel et al. , 2001). The Aubesier 12 molar derives from Layer IV, which on the basis of its Middle Paleolithic lithic assemblage and associatedmacromammalianremains,derivesfromtheearlyLatePleistocene (Fernandez et al., 1998; Fernandez, 2001).

Aubesier 10

3The Aubesier 10 maxillary molar consists of a slightly worn right M1 or M2 with minimal marginal postmortem erosion (fig. 1). Its buccolingual crown diameter of 12,0 mm is similar to those of late Middle Pleistocene (300 to 100 ka B.P.) European maxillary molars (M1: 12.3 ± 0.9, N = 14; M2: 12.7 ± 0.8, N = 14). It is notable for its pronounced taurodontism, in which the clefts between the roots are 72.7%, 75.3% and 79.2% of the maximum height of the root; this represents expansion of the pulp chamber, as is evident between the root tips, and not merely bridging between separate roots. In addition,thetoothpresentsaclear mesialinterproximal“toothpick” groove (or abrasive non-carious cervical lesion [Levitchet al., 1994; Ungaret al., 2001]), broadest (2.3 mm) at its lingual end and tapering off buccally (fig. 1). It is shallow, polished, has sharp margins, and exhibits fine buccolingual wear striae within it.

Fig. 1 - Mesial view of the Aubesier 10 right M1 orM2,showingthecleartoothpick groove extending from the lingual side of the cervix.


Aubesier 11

4The Aubesier 11 mandible is preserved from the left C1/P3 interdental septum to the beginning of the condyle, with minor damage to the right symphyseal area (a postmortem crack with slight separation of the adjacent pieces) and to gonion, plus loss of the coronoid process (fig. 2 to 4). The mandible presents a series of morphological features that align it closely with later Middle Pleistocene Neandertal-lineage specimens, including a rounded and strongly retreating anterior mandibular symphysis, the incipient presence of a mental trigone, a modest planum alveolare, an inferior lingual torus, the anterior marginal tubercle at P4/M1, the mental foramen at the level of the P4/M1 interdental septum extending to the M1, a short and broad corpus, a prominent horizontal lateral eminence, a distinctive retromolar space in norma lateralis, an open mandibular foramen (the absence of lingular [horizontal-oval] bridging), a prominent superior medial pterygoid tubercle, and the intersection of the mandibular notch crest with the middle third of the mandibular condyle.

5These features occur in between 50% and 100% of late Middle Pleistocene Neandertal lineage mandibles (Lebel et al., 2001). In particular, Aubesier 11 resembles morphologically most closely the late Middle Pleistocene “La Niche (Montmaurin)”1mandible,differing only in the presence of a clear retromolar space.

Fig. 2 - Superior view of the Aubesier 11 mandible.


Fig. 3-Lateralviewof the Aubesier 11 mandible, showing the corporeal and ramal morphology and the resorptionofthelabial / buccal alveolar bone.


Fig. 4 - Medial view of the Aubesier 11 right mandibular posterior corpus and ramus, showingthemorphological configurations of the medial pterygoid insertion and the mandibular foramen, plus the fenestrationfromtheM3 socket.


6The Aubesier 11 mandible is most notable for its extensive pathological alteration of the alveolar process. The M2 was lost antemortem, and many of the other teeth were probably lost prior to death. All of the labial alveolar bone from the left C1 to the right M3 and the lingual alveolar bone from the left mid-M1 to M3 was resorbed antemortem, and there are fossae from periapical abscesses in the vicinities of the incisors and the M3, including a lingual fenestration from the M3 socket. Furthermore, the right C1 and P3 root tips remain within their sockets, approximately 1 cm below the preserved lingual alveolar bone, but experienced antemortem attrition. The etiology of these lesionsremains unclear, but it is likely that the extensive alveolar resorption, dental loss, and abscesses were the products of antemortem trauma and/or dental attrition leading to extensive periodontal-endodontal lesions, whose presence would have made mastication painful and mechanically ineffectual. In this, Aubesier 11 is unique among known Middle Pleistocene or earlier human specimens in having significant impairment of mastication.

Aubesier 12

7The Aubesier 12 maxillary molar consists of a moderately worn right M1 or M2 with postmortem loss of a chip of enamel from the distobuccal crown corner and of most of the lingual root (fig. 5). The tooth morphology is unremarkable for a Neandertal M1 or M2, and its buccolingual diameter (12,2 mm) is close to the means of European Neandertal M1s (12.0 ± 0,8 mm, N = 25) and M2s (12.5 ± 1,1 mm, N = 18). There is no evidence of taurodontism.

Fig. 5 - Distolinguoradicular view of the Aubesier 12 right M1 or M2, showing the carious defect in the roots.


8The Aubesier 12 molar is exceptional for its large root caries. The distolingual corner of the cervical half of the root has been eroded by a caries, which extends around the corner of the root, up into the crown, and into the pulp chamber. The internal surfaces are undulating and eroded, and the preserved margins are rounded. The opening reached a maximum diameter of 7,2 mm. The carious lesion is accompanied by hypercementosis around most of roots, indicating associated periodontal involvement in the lesion. This specimen joins a small but growing sample of Mediterranean Neandertals, including Banyoles 1, Kebara 27 and Aubesier 5 (Lalueza et al., 1993; Tillier et al., 1995; Trinkaus et al., 2000b), with dental caries.


9The additional later archaic human remains from the “Bau de l’Aubésier” therefore add to our samples of late Middle and early Late Pleistocene human fossils from southeastern France. They are notable for the morphological affinities of the Aubesier 10 and 11 late Middle Pleistocene remains to contemporaneous European human remains, for the toothpick groove on Aubesier 10, the extensive pathological alterations of the Aubesier 11 alveolar process, and the large dental caries in Aubesier 12.

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Fernandez (P.) 2001, Étude paléontologique et archéozoologique des niveaux d’occupations moustériens au Bau de l’Aubésier (Monieux, Vaucluse). Implications biochronologiques et palethnologiques, Thèse de Doctorat, Université Claude-Bernard Lyon 1.

Fernandez (P.), Faure (M.), Guérin (C.), Lebel (S.) 1998, Stratégie de chasse des Néanderthaliens du Bau de l’Aubésier ; choix et opportunisme, in économie préhistorique : les comportements de subsistence auPaléolithique, XVIIIe Rencontres Internationales d’Archéologie et d’Histoire d’Antibes, Éditions APDCA, Sophia Antipolis, p. 309-323.

Lalueza (C.), Pérez-Pérez (A.), Chimenos (E.), Maroto (J.), Turbón (D.) 1993, Estudi radiogràfic i microscòpic de la mandíbula de Banyoles: patologies i estat de conservació, in J. Maroto(éd.) La Mandíbula de Banyoles en el Context dels Fossils Humans del Pleistocè, Centre d’Investigacions Arqueològiques de Girona, Sèrie Monogràfica 13, p. 135-144.

Lebel (S.), Trinkaus (E.) n.d., A carious Neandertal molar from the Bau de l’Aubésier, Vaucluse, France, J. Archaeol. Sci. (in press).

Lebel (S.),Trinkaus (E.),Faure (M.), Fernandez (P.), Guérin (C.), Richter (D.), Mercier (N.),Valladas (H.), Wagner (G.A.) 2001, Comparative morphology and paleobiology of Middle Pleistocene human remains from the Bau de l’Aubésier, Vaucluse, France, Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. USA 98 : 11097-11102.

Levitch (L.C.), Bader (J.D.), Shugars (D.A.), Heymann (H.O.) 1994, Non-carious cervical lesions, J. Dent. 22: 195-207.

Lumley (M.A. de) 1973, Anténéandertaliens et Néandertaliens du bassin méditerranéen occidental européen, Étud. Quatern. 2 : 1-626.

Moulin (F.) 1904, L’abri moustérien du Bau de l’Aubésier, Bull. Soc. Préhist. France 1 : 14-20.

Tillier (A.M.),Arensburg (B.), Rak (Y.), Vandermeersch (B.) 1995,Middle Palaeolithic dental caries: new evidence from Kebara (Mount Carmel, Israel), J. Hum. Evol. 29: 189-192.

Trinkaus (E.), Lebel (S.),Bailey (S.E.) 2000a, Middle Paleolithic and recent human dental remains from the Bau de l’Aubésier, Monieux (Vaucluse), Bull. Mém. Soc. Anthropol. Paris ns 12: 207-226.

Trinkaus (E.), Smith (R.J.), Lebel (S.) 2000b, Dental caries in the Aubesier 5 Neandertal primary molar, J. Archaeol. Sci. 27: 1017-1021.

Ungar (P.S.), Grine (F.E.), Teaford (M.F.), Pérez-Pérez (A.) 2001, A review of interproximal grooves on fossil hominin teeth with new evidence fromOlduvai Gorge, Arch. Oral Biol. 46: 285-292.

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Référence électronique

S. Lebel et E. Trinkaus, « New discoveries of Middle Paleolithic human remains from the “Bau de l'Aubésier (Vaucluse, France)” », Bulletins et mémoires de la Société d’Anthropologie de Paris [En ligne], 13 (1-2) | 2001, mis en ligne le 14 janvier 2010, consulté le 16 janvier 2018. URL :

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S. Lebel

Département des Sciences de la Terre, Université de Québec à Montréal. Case postale 8888, succursale Centre Ville, Montréal, Québec H3C 3P8, Canada, (E-mail:

E. Trinkaus

Department of Anthropology, Campus Box 1114, Washington University, Saint Louis MO 63130, USA (E-mail: & U.M.R. 5809 du C.N.R.S., Laboratoire d’Anthropologie des Populations du Passé, Université Bordeaux 1, 33405 Talence, France

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