The Japan Times
September 19, 2000

Relics of neolithic Paris to be on view

PARIS (AP) Thousands of years before the Bateaux Mouches began plying the Seine with sightseers, Neolithic Parisians cruised the river in dugout canoes, fishing and trading with their neighbors upstream.

Three 6,000-year-old dugouts, each hewn from a single oak log, were unveiled Thursday, the centerpiece of a new wing of the Carnavalet Museum scheduled to open later this year.

The 6-meter-long canoes, which experts date to 4500 B.C., were unearthed by French archeologists in 1990 at the start of an ambitious urban renewal program along the banks of the Seine at Bercy, in southeastern Paris.

"The site is the most spectacular of its kind ever found in Paris and shows that the city is much older than we had thought," said Philippe Velay, archaeology curator at the museum.

Velay said a few vestiges of Neolithic man were found under the Louvre courtyard when the museum was undergoing renovations in the 1980s.

The Neolithic period, characterized by polished stone tools, pottery and agriculture, ranges from 8000-3500 B.C.

"The two communities were a few kilometers apart, but it's probable that they had contacts with each via the river, which was nearly 2 km wide in some places," Velay said.

Among the objects unearthed were a polished ax, wooden bow and a fish hook, as well as beaver, turtle and wolf remains.

"This suggests that the earliest Parisians were concerned primarily with their own survival, and hunted and fished for food," Velay said in an interview.

Perfectly preserved fragments of ceramic bowls and cups (some only the size of a fingernail) a flint and a millstone were also found, and are among the earliest signs of man's increasing ability to craft objects for his daily use.

Velay said some 50,000 objects including 11 canoes were found in all. One boat was split inadvertently in half by a bulldozer working on the site.

The canoes were found about 8 meters underground, perfectly preserved by the humidity in the soil.

"The biggest challenge was figuring out a way to make sure that their discovery was not the first step towards their disappearance," said archeologist Philippe Marquis, who made the discovery in September 1990.

"We had to make sure they didn't just dry out and crumble, and basically, we just kept them wet using an ordinary lawn sprinkler," he said.

The canoes, some large enough to hold six people, underwent a 2.1 million franc ($280,000) treatment at a special laboratory in Grenoble to stabilize the condition of the wood. They will be displayed under glass, in temperatureand humidity-controlled cases.

Other finds from the site include a double burial containing the skeletons of two children, aged 9 and 5, curled in the fetal position.

BOATING ON THE SEINE - Workers restore a dugout canoe, one of 11 unearthed at Bercy in Paris, along with many other artifacts dated to around 4500 B.C. AP PHOTO