A long throwing spear invented in the Upper Palaeolithic. Only the points remain, generally made from reindeer antler. They were attached to the end of long wooden shafts, which no longer survive, as is the case for the majority of objects made from wood at this time.  The Magdalenians put flint bladelets on sagaie points to make them more dangerous to prey.


Sediments, both fine and coarse (clay, silt, sand, gravel or pebbles) transported and deposited by flowing water.

André Leroi-Gourhan

André Leroi-Gourhan (1911-1986) was an autodidact, brimming with curiosity. His interest in oriental languages led him towards the field of ethnology, and in particular the study of comparative techniques. In the 1930s, he played an active role in the creation of the Musée de l’Homme in Paris. After the second world war he became a teaching professor at the university of Lyon and the Sorbonne, and added prehistory to his scientific interests. In 1967, he created the CNRS “Prehistoric Ethnology” research team, to which many researchers currently working at Étiolles now belong. The methodological revolution inspired Leroi-Gourhan during the field campaigns at Arcy-sur-Cure (Yonne) in 1946 and at Pincevent (Seine-et-Marne) from 1964. He also developed structuralist theories on the recent European Palaeolithic, which were popularised by his talks at the Collège de France and in several books. 

Around 12,500-11,000 BCE

A culture that appeared in Western Europe after the Magdalenian, in around 12,500 BCE. It is known to have continued until 11,000 BCE, when open birch woodland, followed by pines, replaced the great steppes. Over the course of the years, reindeer disappeared from these latitudes and deer became the dominant prey species. Hunts became more planned and nomadic movements became more frequent. Items made from bone matter became rarer as flint knapping techniques become simpler. It is at this point that the animal artworks that were so typical of the recent European Palaeolithic, especially the Magdalenian, appeared. It appears that caves were no longer religious sanctuaries. A profound ideological revolution accompanied the transformation of lifestyles. 



Flint tool with a thick or broad point made using retouch. Use-wear analysis shows that these tools were often used during the Magdalenian to work bone.


Long or short, very narrow blades produced by the knapping of stones. Typical of the Upper Palaeolithic in Eurasia, they were generally added to weapons to make them more dangerous to prey, either in the form of a point or a lateral cutting edge.


Long narrow flakes produced by the knapping of stones. In Europe during the Upper Palaeolithic, most flint tools had blades which had been knapped using rather sophisticated methods that varied between cultures. The Magdalenians had very exacting standards, in particular at Étiolles, where the lengths of certain blades were a veritable feat.


A stone tool (generally made of flint) that was very common in the Upper Palaeolithic. It has a chisel-like edge that could have been used to engrave bone.


Piece of a hard material (such as flint) used for knapping. It is abandoned when it is no longer possible to make the desired products, for example the blades used by the Magdalenians.


On a core, the edge made by the knapper when shaping the stone to be knapped.


A study, made in advance, generally using trenches, of the potential archaeological impact of planned large developments affecting the subsoil. If interesting discoveries are made, preventive excavations may be ordered by the Ministry of Culture.

Drainage basin

A drainage basin, or water catchment, is an area drained by a river or stream. The size of this zone is influenced by the position of the outlet, which is the point at which all the streams heading towards a basin meet. The drainage basin is limited by drainage divides, crested ridges separating it from other drainage basins. Drainage basins are therefore linked to the morphology of the terrain, notably its slopes.  


A short and wide product resulting from the knapping of stone. 


For the last 2.6 million years (the Quaternary), the Earth’s climate has been marked by cycles of alternating cold glacials and more temperate periods called interglacials. Glacials last approximately five times longer than interglacials and for the last 600,000 years each cycle has lasted approximately 100,000 years. This cyclical pattern is linked to the position of the Earth in relation to the sun, and in particular to the periodic oscillations of its orbit. The Weichselian is the name given to the last glacial in Northern Europe. The interglacial which followed it, around 12,000 years ago, is called the Holocene. The archaeological remains found at Étiolles date from the Tardiglacial, the period which marked the end of the Weichsel and the transition towards the Holocene.


A metamorphic rock.

Habitat structure

Term introduced by André Leroi-Gourhan for the analysis of the Magdalenian site of Pincevent (Seine-et-Marne). It refers to a significant group of archaeological remains. A distinction is made between evident structures, visible in an excavation (for example, a hearth, flint scatter or line of stones) and structures deemed latent, which are revealed by analysing the space, such as areas for the disposal of flint waste or stones reassembled by refitting.


The Holocene is the name given to the interglacial which followed the lastglacial, and is the epoch of the Quaternary in which we live today. This epoch, warm in comparison to that which preceded it, began around 12,000 years ago. From an archaeological point of view, the Holocene comprises all of history after the Palaeolithic, beginning with the Mesolithic. The environment was initially transformed by the naturally warming climate and the recovery of vegetation that accompanied it. Since the Neolithic and the invention of agriculture, the impact of humankind on the environment has increased in line with the rise in population. At Étiolles, the Neolithic period is marked by layers of colluvium, sediments deposited at the bottom of slopes after erosion, in this case primarily soil erosion.


Societies which obtain the majority of their resources by hunting (possibly also by fishing and capturing small animals) and from plants. The quantity of the resources available varies with each season. These societies are generally nomadic. In some cases they may settle in a region where there is a year-round abundant supply of resources, or in places where one particular resource can be acquired in large quantities and stored. Social inequality can be seen in these sedentary societies, whereas nomadic hunter-gatherer societies are noted for the absence of social hierarchy.


The shaping of stone by removing flakes to make a tool. Various knapping methods are known, and can be used to identify cultures and as chronological markers.


A long weapon, held in the hand rather than being thrown.


Very fine sediments transported and deposited by winds during the very cold periods of the Quaternary


The study of molluscs. The shells of land invertebrates, such as the different types of snail, are preserved in sediments. From the appearance of the shell in each layer it is possible to determine the species, and thus know the ambient climate, the level of humidity and the type of vegetation.


Fragments of rocks eroded and transported by glaciers, which accumulate at their edges, varying according to the scale of the freeze. 

Perforated baton

Known from the beginnings of the Upper Palaeolithic in Europe, this type of instrument, made from reindeer antler, often contains one large perforation at the place where the branches of the antler meet. There are various unconfirmed hypotheses relating to its perhaps multiple uses: a straightener for sagaie points, a cleat for holding ropes and an instrument for weaving. These objects are frequently broken at the top of the hole.


Photogrammetry is a method for surveying an object, structure, or even an entire site, in three dimensions. It involves the acquisition of a large number of images (ensuring comprehensive coverage), which are then analysed and processed using specific algorithmic software to add volume or bulk. When combined with various measurements, photogrammetry generates images, to scale, in two or three dimensions. Based on the principles of parallax and stereoscopy, this method is particularly useful for digitising archaeological objects or sites. The discipline’s development is such that today it can generate 3D reconstructions swiftly, and with such accuracy that researchers are able to work, measure and study remains off-site.

Photogrammetry is steadily being taken up by every archaeological discipline, from parietal art to urban archaeology and the study of objects retrieved from excavations. It also offers new avenues for research, such as in deep-water archaeological deposits, where photogrammetry is now replacing drawings done by hand.


Flint tool with a narrow pointed end, achieved thanks to retouch. Use-wear analysis shows that these tools were often used during the Magdalenian to pierce pieces of leather in order to assemble them.

Planned excavations

Archaeological research carried out in the framework of a scientific programme defined with the relevant departments of the Ministry of Culture, whose results are regularly evaluated by experts. This type of excavation is commonly seen at locations like Étiolles, where the terrain being excavated is not under threat of development. Étiolles is the property of the departmental authorities in Essonne, which participates in the development of this scientific programme and finances the excavations, alongside the Ministry of Culture.

Preventive excavations

While the excavations at Étiolles are “planned excavations”, the majority of archaeological research in France today is preventive, with the prevention of destruction in mind. Unplanned rescue excavations are no longer carried out. Since 1992, when European countries signed a convention for the protection of archaeological heritage, sondages are used from the impact study stage (see diagnostic) which precedes large-scale developments affecting the subsoil. The archaeological potential of a site is evaluated using trenches. If significant finds are made, the ministry can order a short excavation, added to the budget of the development project. As there is only a short time during which archaeological work may take place, highly effective teams from the relevant public bodies, such as the INRAP, the relevant departments of certain local authorities, and private companies approved by the administration, are required.


A type of bird which is well adapted to the cold and which today lives at high altitude.


The name of the most recent geological period, which began 2.6 million years ago. At our latitude, this long period has been marked by numerous large-scale variations between cold (glacials) and temperate climates. During the coldest periods there was significant erosion of rocks, producing sediments which accumulated elsewhere, having been transported by flowing water (alluvium) or wind (loess), or deposited, thanks to gravity, at the bottom of slopes (colluvium).


Also known as carbon-14 (14C). A radioactive isotope in carbon absorbed by all living things and whose radioactive atoms decay following the death of the organism, disappearing entirely after 50,000 years. This fact means that the age of some organic (bone and coal) remains from the Upper Palaeolithic can be estimated by calculating how many carbon-14 atoms remain. This estimate is less exact as you go further back in time and also depends on fluctuations in the amount of carbon-14 in the atmosphere. For the period being studied at Étiolles, the estimate is correct to within 500 years.


A method for the reassembly of fragments of a block of stone (knapped or fire-cracked). Reassembly makes it possible to trace the movements of these different fragments around the habitat. In the case of the intentional knapping of flint, it is also possible to disassemble the refitted block in order to identify, movement by movement, the order logically followed by the prehistoric knapper.

Rescue excavations

Before the 1990s and the elaboration of preventive excavations, with the associated legislation and dedicated bodies, the term “rescue excavation” was used for urgent and unplanned archaeological interventions which took place when accidental discoveries were made during work at subsoil level. The absence of preventive work at this time led to much destruction and no intervention by archaeologists.


The shaping, by removing small amounts, of a piece of stone produced by knapping in order to create the desired form for its use as a tool, for example, a point, a blunt end or a cutting edge.


A bone instrument used to retouch products made from the knapping of rocks.

Saiga antelope

A herbivore, previously widespread in the Eurasian steppe and now living in central Asia.


A flint tool whose edge contains small, regular convex shapes, achieved using retouch. Use-wear analysis shows that these tools were often used during the Magdalenian to prepare leather from animal hides, in particular to remove any flesh stuck to the epidermis.


Deposit of rock particles broken down by erosion, particularly when deposited by flowing water.

Siliceous rock

Sedimentary rock containing silica, such as flint, quartz or sandstone.


A family of rodents which likes steppes. Also known as “ground squirrel”.


Refers to both the accumulation of layers of rock and its study, which makes it possible to determine chronology (the deepest level being the oldest) and how the rock was deposited (at Étiolles, by flowing water in what is now the Ru des Hauldres or in the Seine, depending on the time).


An instrument of varying hardness and flexibility made from stone (for example, sandstone) or reindeer antler and used to knap flint.

Striking platform

On a core, the surface on which the knapper strikes using a striker to remove the products of knapping, such as blades and bladelets.


The Tardiglacial is the climatic period which marked the end of the last glacial, the Weichselian. It coincided with the first signs of a warming climate and deglaciation following the Last Glacial Maximum (around 20,000 years ago), the coldest period of the last glacial. In north-west Europe the Tardiglacial was marked by strong and fast oscillations in climate, between colder and more temperate periods, with average annual variations in temperature between these periods of the order of 5°C. The archaeological remains found at Étiolles date from the Tardiglacial, but due to imprecise dating have not yet been attributed to a specific climate. This is one of the subjects of the research taking place on the site.


In its strictest sense, the study of techniques.


Definitions of this term vary depending on whether it is being used by geographers, specialists in animal behaviour or anthropologists. In the context of prehistory, it is often used in the narrow sense of referring to the area of space that a group of hunter-gatherers would travel across annually in order to provide for its dietary and material needs. Each human group had its own system for the perception of the space that it travelled through: as well as perfect knowledge of the available resources, these prehistoric societies must have had some symbolic perception of the territory they inhabited and travelled across.


From the Greek words thērion, for wild animal, and anthrōpos, for human being. A therianthrope, which may be male or female, is a deity or creature with both human and animal attributes, for example, the Egyptian goddess Sekhmet, who has the body of a woman and the head of a lion. It can also be used to refer to a human being which can turn into an animal, and vice versa, such as a werewolf.

Use-wear analysis

A method for examining the surfaces and edges of prehistoric tools at different levels of magnification (from the naked eye to an electronic microscope) in order to determine how they were used. Traces can be more or less visible depending on the hardness of the worked material, as well as the strength and speed of the movement applied. Therefore, the point on a projectile may contain significant cracks if it has struck the bone of its prey, while a tool used to soften an animal skin will only show microscopic wear. To interpret the origins of these traces or of more obvious damage, it is necessary to compare them with traces obtained on experimental replicas used for diverse activities, for example, launching projectiles and working animal hides.


The study of animal remains with the aim of reconstructing the relationships between humans and animals on an archaeological site. Prior to domestication this relationship was based on hunting. Zooarchaeologists try to establish which species were hunted and butchered, in what season and in what quantities. They also try to determine hunting techniques and strategies based on what we know of the behaviour of certain prey species and what they would require in terms of butchery (which would need to be collective in the case of herd animals, for example).