Terra Amata

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Site type:
Open air
43.69, 7.28
Homo sapiens

Terra Amata (Italian for "Beloved Land") is an archaeological site in open air located on the slopes of Mount Boron in Nice, at a level 26 meters (85 ft) above the current sea level of the Mediterranean. It was discovered and excavated in 1966 by Henry de Lumley. The site, originally on a prehistoric beach, contained tools of the Lower Paleolithic period, dated to about 400,000 BCE, as well as traces of some of the earliest domestication of fire in Europe. The site now lies beneath an apartment building and a museum of prehistoric Nice, where some of the objects discovered are on display.



A very different interpretation of the site was given later by another archeologist, Paola Villa, who dedicated part of her doctoral thesis to the same site. She argued that the conclusions reached by De Lumley were more conjectural than compelling. She said it was equally likely that the stones were naturally deposited through stream flow, soil creep or some other natural process.

Villa also argued that stone artifacts from the different proposed living floors can be fitted together, showing that artifacts have moved up and down through the sediment column. Thus, the supposed living floor assemblages are most likely mixtures of artifacts from different time periods that have come to rest at particular levels. There was, she said, therefore compelling evidence that the site was subjected to relatively invasive post-depositional processes, which may also be responsible for the stone 'arrangements'.

Villa argued that de Lumley had greatly overestimated the state of preservation of the original site, and that it was impossible to accurately date the objects because the layers could not be considered independent of each other. She also said that the site should be dated later than 380,000 BCE to approximately 230,000 BCE.