The site of Roche de Solutre is one of a series of ridges or cuestas in the southern part of the Maconnais region of Burgundy, France. The cuestas are oriented from east to west and are separated by broad valleys with minor streams. The archaeological site at Solutre is located at the base of the southern face of the Roche de Solutre.
The discoverer and first investigator of the site, Adrien Arcelin, tried to explain the mass of horse bones revealed during the 19th century excavations by describing Palaeolithic hunters driving herds of up to 600 animals at a time over the edge of the rock. This concept of Solutre as a ‘horse-jump’ site found favour in the late 1800s and was upheld even as late as the 1950s. However, in 1956 Jean Combier re-interpreted Solutre as a place to which hunters periodically returned to kill horses which were passing through the valley during their seasonal migrations.
At the beginning of the 1990s, the interpretations could be summarised as follows:
- the site was used almost exclusively as a kill-site, at which horses were the most frequently hunted species of large game, but where reindeer and bison were also occasionally taken.
- small bands of between 6 to 12 horses were intercepted in the valley below Solutre rock and either driven up against the base of the rock and slaughtered there or chased into a corral-like enclosure and killed.
A low proportion of juvenile horses were interpreted as the result of selective killing of adults and releasing of the young. The vast number of individual horses, many articulated remains, the scarcity of butchery evidence and the lack of evidence of transportation of skeletal elements away from the sites suggested that large numbers of horses were killed at any one time and that their intact carcasses were not fully exploited. The minimal butchery may reflect the way in which the horses were hunted. It is suggested that the horses were ambushed as they followed a migratory trail. Hunters would have killed as many horses as possible before the herd panicked and took flight. This method would have produced many carcasses, from which perhaps only a few were selected for further processing. Reindeer, on the other hand, showed more intensive evidence of butchery, indicative of full utilisation of their carcasses.
Examination of the cementum bands of the teeth showed that the horses died at Solutre from spring through to autumn (February to September), with the greatest concentration occurring in summer. Reindeer, on the other hand, were hunted in winter and spring.
Although death of perhaps one or two of the horses at the site due to natural causes cannot be ruled out, the location of the site precludes mass deaths of herds as observed at river crossings, deaths at waterholes or death due to bogging in quagmires. The bulk of the horse remains are therefore interpreted as resulting primarily from the hunting activities of the Magdalenian population. However, carnivores also utilised the carcasses extensively and were probably responsible for the destruction of some elements, e.g. the sacrum. This is interpreted as the opportunistic scavenging of the remains of animals killed by Magdalenian hunters, although the intensive gnawing means that the possibility of some carcasses by carnivore kills cannot be ruled out.
Reference: Turner, E. 2005. Results of a recent analysis of horse remains dating to the Magdalenian period at Solutre, France, pp 70-89. In Mashkour, M (ed.). Equids in Time and Space. Oxford: Oxbow.