Rebecca (Torgerson) Fetzer was the 2015 Ritzenthaler Museum Research Internship Award Recipient. Through the fall she worked with the Milwaukee Public Museum’s French Paleolithic faunal collection dating from approximately 70,000-10,000 years ago, corresponding with Neanderthals and early modern humans. The faunal material consists of over 200 pieces composed of animal bones, fragments, worked bone tools, and conglomerates of bone fragments embedded in a mineralized soil matrix. It was collected from ten sites and locations of the valley of the Somme River in Northern France and caves of Southern France, including the Gironde, Garonne, Dordogne and Vezere valleys. The first curator and custodian at the MPM Charles Doerflinger collected the majority of the faunal remains. Other parts of the collection were amassed by American field schools, such as the American school in France for Prehistoric Studies (ASPR) led by Henri Martin at the Upper Paleolithic site of La Quina. Most of the objects in the collection lack proper provenience by today’s systematic archeological fieldwork standards, consisting simply of an association with a particular site or region. Many of the artifacts were collected from rock shelters or local farmers.
Through a review of museum documentation and the literature on the history of collecting, it was found that French Paleolithic archaeological material and its acquisition by personal collectors and museums has a significant history, not just in its country of origin, but in North America and Britain as well. The primary interest of museums in these collections stemmed from national agendas and the social and economic factors of the time (1869- 1945). Thousands of French objects from bones to stones were dispersed to museums throughout these countries, many with scant archaeological provenience. The story of the individual collectors and the museums that house the material is integral to understanding how these types of collections reflect early human and faunal prehistory in Europe, as well as how they reflect the history of collecting.
Research and data collection will continue into the summer and consist of a preliminary identification and inventory of all faunal material. Individual bones and fragments will be identified by element, taxon, and cultural or natural modification. In addition, metric data on individual elements will be taken where possible, as well as photographs of each object.
Completion of this project will allow for a more thorough understanding of the history French Paleolithic collecting as whole and will make the collection available to future researchers as new technologies and/or methodologies may evolve for studying this type of material.