The pre-historic skeltons at Tautavel are among the oldest human remains ever discovered in Europe. The Arago Cave,
very close to the village, was occupied periodically between 690,000 and 35,000 years ago. Accumulations of animal and human bones and stone tools attest to some forty different occupation periods in the cave.
The numerous human remains found in the Arago Cave come from different individuals, allowing the scientists to reconstruct the morphology of Tautavel Man.
The Arago cave is one of the largest karstic
caves in the southern Corbières region. The cave is located high up, overlooking the Tautavel Valley, and offering occupants an unparalleled view of the surrounding countryside. This observation post was ideal for prehistoric hunters, who could watch the movement of game from on high. In addition, the Verdouble River,
flowing at the foot of the cliff, was a watering place where most animals came to drink - thus providing clear advantage to the hunters of Tautavel. Near the former entrance to the cave, a path provided easy access to another hunting domain; the vast plateau, located above the cave.
Cranial remains discovered are the most numerous. The most famous among them is the skull that consists of the Arago 21 face and forehead and the Arago 47 right parietal bone. Moulding techniques were employed to fill in the missing temporal and occipital areas, using fossil bones from contemporary individuals, one from Java and the other from Swanscombe, England.
This skull is powerful, with its low, receding forehead and thick ridge over the eyes. The face is very large, with large eye-sockets. The mandibles (lower jaws) are characterized by the lack of a chin.
Mechanically, Tautavel Man had the equipment necessary for speech. A cast of the interior of the skull appears to confirm this, as it shows the presence of zones of the brain that are responsible for language. The cranial capacity of Tautavel Man, 1,100 cm3, was much lower than that of modern man. These characteristics are those of people who lived before Neanderthal Man, and whom scientists call pre-Neanderthal Homo erectus.
The various skull fragments thus brought together to offer the possibility of a new line of research. By precisely measuring the space between the eye-sockets, as well as the placement of the nose, ears and mouth, and by studying the surfaces where the face muscles were attached, it is possible to produce a sketch of what Tautavel Man looked like. This study does not, however, produce any information about flesh that was not anchored to bones (nose, lips and ears), or anything about Tautavel Man's facial and head hair or skin colour.
This site is devoted to the discovery of Tauteval Man, made up of skeletons discovered in the Arago cave in southern France. This find included the first complete front section of a 'Homo erectus' skull. The website gives information on the discovery of the skull and other bones, and presents facial reconstructions. Other sections describe the living and physical environment at the time of Tauteval man and his technology. There are introductions to the various scientific methods used in dating and analysing the skeleton. There is also a brief description of the archaeological techniques employed at the site and the fate of artefacts and ecofacts from excavations.
The township of Tautavel is approx 20km to the north west of Perpignan, and less than 90 minutes drive from Saissac.