Bourgogne Franche Comté

La Roche de Solutré, a major geological and archaeological site

This page was updated on: Wednesday, April 12, 2017 at: 6:37 pm

La Roche de Solutré, classé Grand Site de France

La Roche Solutré peaking above the vineyards

La Roche Solutré peaking above the vineyards

This impressive limestone spur is located in the commune of Solutré-Pouilly in the south of Burgundy.

It rises 493m above the plain of the Saône and boasts prime views (to the east) of the Mâconnais vineyard, Bresse, Dombes and Jura and even of the Mont Blanc in clear weather!

To the south are the village of Solutré-Pouilly and the Mont de Pouilly, to the west the old Roman road which crosses vineyards and groves and finally to the north the Roche de Vergisson (another limestone spur).

Archaeological finds made at the foot of the Roche de Solutré show that Paleolithic men already recognized the site’s exceptional situation.

The area produces also three renowned wine appellations.

The chardonnay grape variety thrives in this terroir and produces the Pouilly-Fuissé (we are here in the heart of this vineyard!), but also Saint-Véran and Mâcon-Villages.

The monks of the Abbey of Cluny planted these vineyards during the Middle Ages.

La Roche de Solutré was protected as of May 2, 1930 because of its archaeological and geological importance.

It was classified Grand Site de France on May 26, 2013.

La Roche de Solutré, a rare geological phenomenon

La Roche de Solutré is the result of a rare geological phenomenon.

Its formation goes back to the Mesozoic, when the region was covered with warm seas.

The regions' soil is therefore mostly composed of deposits of fossilized marine animals.

La Roche Solutré

La Roche Solutré

La Roche de Solutré, however, is made up of fossilized coral reefs formed some 160 million years ago!

The region was transformed during the Tertiary era under the pressure of the emerging Alps mountain range.

The tender rocks indeed collapsed under the effect of erosion and formed the Plaine de la Saône.

The hard rocks, such as La Roche de Solutré, resisted and ended up peaking above the plain.

This geological anomaly contributed to the emergence and isolation of a unique fauna and flora.

The best example are the so called Pelouses Calcicoles (an area of calcicolous plants) that grow at the summit of the Roche de Solutré.

Calcicolous plants grow only on soils rich in calcium carbonate and can’t survive in acid soils.

They are therefore unique to the site and led La Roche de Solutré to be integrated into the Natura 2000 network.

Solutrean Culture

La Roche de Solutré was occupied as soon as the Paleolithic.

Indeed, traces of occupation dating back 55 000 years were uncovered at the foot of the mountain at the place known as Cros du Charnier.

The first excavations took place in 1866.

Solutrean tools uncovered at La Roche Solutré in Burgundy

Solutrean tools

They brought to light an astonishing quantity of bones of horses, aurochs, bison and mammoths, but also many tools and flint.

They give us a fantastic insight in the life of the Paleolithic nomadic tribes.

These archaeological deposits are the most important in Europe and the site has thus left its name - Solutrean - to this specific Paleolithic culture.

The excavations were carried out until 1925 and brought to light nearly 70 human skeletons.

However, it was later proved that these bones were much more recent than previously thought.

They indeed came from a necropolis dating from the High Middle-Ages.

This also shed light on the name of the site - Cros means rock and Charnier means charnel house.

Excavations conducted in the nearby area also brought to light the foundations of two nearby Gallo-Roman villas.

One of these domains, the domain of Solustriacus, has left its name to the village of Solutré.

Musée départemental de la Préhistoire

The archaeological museum founded by the General Council of Saône-et-Loire was inaugurated in 1987.

This museum is sheltered under a dome planted with vegetation in order to blend into the protected environment.

Photos via Wikimedia Commons: Photo#1 by Vassil is licensed under CC0 - Photo#2 by Chabe01 is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 - Solutrean tools by World Imaging is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

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