A TOUCH OF FRANCE – Abbé Henri Breuil and the rediscovery of prehistoric humans

Abbé Henri Breuil and the rediscovery of prehistoric humans

by A. Hurel, France

Arnaud HUREL
Research Engineer
National Museum of Natural History, Paris

Prehistory emerged as a discipline in the second half of the 19th century, an era in which any developing intellectual enterprise was informed by the ideology of progress. The material products of prehistoric humans— the stone and bone artifacts unearthed by excavation, and the pattern of their evolution over time—were interpreted as confirmation of continuous improvement. At the turn of the century Abbé Henri Breuil (1877-1961) was among those who overthrew this interpretation. His research revealed the existence of authentic prehistoric societies and showed that human history could not simply be subsumed into a history of techniques. In particular, it was his enormous contribution to the recognition of Paleolithic rock paintings that brought home the realization that the mental world of prehistoric humans was both rich and complex. Catholic priest cum prehistorian, Breuil built up a body of work comprising over a thousand references remarkable for their originality, reliability, and vitality. In his hands, a fashioned stone or a cave painting were not abstractions but objective expressions of an act of creation and technical skill that opened a window onto the past. Breuil’s work documented the biological unity of the human species at the same time as its cultural diversity spanning the divides of continents and millennia. Breuil’s crowning and enduring achievement was arguably the creation of the Institute of Human Paleontology which, with the generous support of Prince Albert I of Monaco, was inaugurated in Paris in 1910. To this day it has remained a beacon for paleontologists throughout the world, both thanks to its cutting-edge research and as a repository for the artifacts and publications of the early days of paleontology.

Medicographia. 2013;36:253-262 (see French abstract on page 262)

Top-of-page frieze: based on drawings by Henri Breuil
of paintings in the Combarelles cave at Les-Eyzies-de-Tayac.
© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée de la Préhistoire des Eyzies)/Franck Raux.

Gallery of Hominids, designed and sculpted by paleoartist Elisabeth Daynès, with “Mandal Man” (Homo sapiens) in the forefront,
www.daynes.com. © Photo S.Entressangle/E. Daynès/Lookatsciences – Reconstitution Elisabeth Daynès Paris.

Prehistoric humans are part of our world. Their stone tools and their sculptures in ivory or bone, like the images they produced—especially the magnificent Paleolithic bestiaries in the painted caves of France and Spain— people our imagination and belong to our own world and mental representations. There is no doubt that it is largely thanks to Abbé Henri Breuil (1877-1961) that the 21st century is so familiar with art forms and artifacts that go back tens or even hundreds of thousands of years. From the seminary of Saint Sulpice, at Issy-les-Moulineaux just outside Paris, to the Collège de France, where in 1929 he became the first professor of prehistory, via the Institute of Human Paleontology, and from Europe to Asia via Africa, Breuil built up a body of work that was both scientific and accessible. He had a profound influence on what we know of prehistory and how we view it.

The setting for an encounter

The modern world first encountered its Paleolithic ancestors in the mid-19th century when artifacts began to afford researchers their initial glimpses of prehistoric humans. The encounter began with the discovery of the mobiliary (or portable) art of the Upper Paleolithic depicting extinct animals such as mammoths. From 1865 onwards, the Reliquiae Aquitanicae produced by Édouard Lartet (1801-1871) and Henry Christy (1818-1865) gave European scholars a window onto a vanished world.1 Alongside the stone tools which the two men found in proximity to extinct animal remains, readers discovered plates depicting a multitude of enigmatic objects. All were magnificently engraved or delicately sculpted and could be dated to Man’s remotest antiquity. In the words of the anthropologist Gabriel de Mortillet (1821-1898), readers felt they were glimpsing “the childhood of art” as opposed to “the art of a child.”

In their attempt to reconstitute this previously unknown world, pioneer prehistorians constructed an image of prehistoric humans and their mentality by mixing biology and physical and intellectual skills according to the same linearly transformist approach. They developed classifications based on a naturalist model in which a series of material cultures succeeded one another in a process of emergence, extinction, and substitution. The classification system was built around the everyday objects of prehistoric humans. The history of Man became the history of the objects he produced, with ages named according to the technical progress achieved, as uncovered by archeologists. The works of prehistorians were an account of these material “civilizations” that extended all the way from the barely modified flints of the hypothetical half-human half-ape Anthropopithecus, through the polished stones of the Neolithic Age, to the weapons of the first Metal Ages. The discoveries of the burial sites, cave paintings, and cave engravings that emerged in the 1870s to 1880s undermined this narrative. They pointed no longer simply to a tangible culture but to entire systems of mental representations reflecting complex symbolic, magical, and even spiritual thought processes. Such systems pointed so far back in time that they contradicted the prevailing evolutionary narrative. As a result, and for several decades, the authenticity of burial sites and cave art was contested, prompting accusations of hoax or scientific error.

Such was the setting in which the young Henri Breuil embarked on his career as a prehistorian. From the start, at the turn of the 20th century, his work bore testimony to the striking complexity of prehistoric societies. For more than 60 years, Breuil put his stamp on prehistory studies from Europe to Africa, and as far as Asia. His work, which was both innovative and massive (his bibliography runs to over one thousand references), reflects his unusual background, that of a man with a dual vocation as scientist and Catholic priest, albeit with a ministry unattached to any parish. Breuil was a convinced evolutionist and an exemplary exponent of the non-overlapping magisteria (NOMA) solution that Stephen Jay Gould was to propose a century later to the supposed conflict between Science and Faith.2 The unmistakably religious dimension to his work comes across in his insistence on “Truth” and in his determination to reconnect with the humanity of our prehistoric forebears by studying their behavior and the objects they produced. Breuil devoted his life to uncovering the unity and aspirations of Man not only across the divides of time and space, but also across the transformations wrought by evolution. He tracked this common thread in the subtlety of line displayed by Paleolithic artists and at a wider level in the manifest richness of the prehistoric humans’ mental world.

The discovery of cave paintings

Breuil entered the Parisian seminary of Saint-Sulpice in 1895. The following year, the natural sciences and prehistory course taught by Abbé Jean Guibert (1857-1914) introduced him to Man’s prehistoric past and the theory of evolution. It was a “true revelation.” Just one year later, in the summer of 1897, realizing that it was not enough to read the scientific journals and that real understanding came only from work in the field, Breuil visited the prehistoric sites of south-west France. He was forever on the move afterwards, traveling the world in search of new sites and artifacts. His initial trips were confined to the Périgord, more particularly to Eyzies-de-Tayac, a little town that within a few years proclaimed itself the capital of prehistory. He studied several of its classic sites, including the Cro-Magnon rock shelter that had become so celebrated after yielding several human fossils in 1868. This trip also gave the fledgling archeologist the opportunity to meet his first prehistorians, who must have been taken aback by the young seminarian in the ill-fitting cassock who seemed to have embarked on an imperious quest to see and know everything about prehistory.

Plumbing the depths of the history of Humanity—giving birth to a new science:
Henri Breuil (1877-1961). © Jacques Boyer/Roger-Viollet.

One such encounter, with Édouard Piette (1827-1906), who was working on the Brassempouy caves in the Landes, was to change Breuil’s life. Across the age gap, mutual esteem developed in the course of long discussions between the two men. Under the elder man’s watchful eye, Breuil discovered an archeological excavation technique that favored the stratigraphic or layered approach. Piette admired the young priest’s enthusiasm and draughtsman skills, going so far as to commission drawings from him of artifacts from his vast collection to illustrate his publications.

Piette remained one of the three key figures in Breuil’s personal Pantheon who shaped his scientific development and fostered his career: Émile Cartailhac (1845-1921), an archeologist from Toulouse who gave the young priest the credibility he needed if he was to take his place at the prehistorians’ high table, and a doctor, Louis Capitan (1854-1929), who opened his eyes to the complexity of the prehistoric eras revealed in cave paintings and stone artifacts.

Breuil first met the doctor-archeologist in 1898, at a time when Capitan was a leading figure in the prehistorian community. Capitan had completed his medical studies at the Faculty of Medicine in Paris in 1878, but for the previous six years had regularly attended Mortillet’s prehistory lectures at the School of Anthropology. His curiosity was such that he also took the ethnography course taught by another medical doctor, Ernest- Théodore Hamy (1842-1908), at the National Museum of Natural History as well as attending lectures by Théodore Vacquer (1824-1899), who was the first to seriously explore the Roman and medieval archeology of Paris. Capitan managed to conduct his regular medical career (as a pathologist and bacteriologist) in the Paris public hospital system while at the same time indulging his passion for archeology and his collections of artifacts. In 1892, his appointment as a lecturer in pathological anthropology at the School of Anthropology officialized this combination of careers. In 1894, he was made professor of medical geography, before taking over Mortillet’s mantle as professor of prehistoric anthropology on the latter’s death in 1898.

The young
Henri Breuil
a seminarian.

© Saint-Germainen-Laye, Musée
d’Archéologie Nationale,
© Direction des Musées de France, 2006.

Saint-Sulpice Seminary, in Issyles-Moulineaux,
near Paris. Built in the early years of the 17th century, the Seminary (on the French National Heritage
list) continues to train priests from France and several other countries.

© Photo Myrabella Wikimedia Commons. All rights reserved.

When Breuil first met him, Capitan was campaigning to set prehistory studies on a new footing by transforming the methods of work and rethinking basic concepts in a multidisciplinary approach that combined the natural sciences, human sciences, and archeology. This framework conferred a new dimension on excavation by interacting artifacts on the one hand with their stratigraphic setting and on the other with the early producers of these material cultures. Capitan taught Breuil the rudiments of prehistoric archeology viewed from this multifaceted approach, introduced him to his collections of artifacts, and joined him on field trips. He impressed upon him the need, if he was to understand the tools created by prehistoric humans, always to take the raw materials they used as his starting point. Capitan also encouraged Breuil to develop a technological approach that took every category of object into account (“experimental pieces, failed pieces, cores, sizeable fragments, flakes and unworked blades, finished tools that had never been used, tools that had been damaged in use then repaired, and finally tools definitively discarded as no longer fit for purpose”).

Statue of the Eyzies Prehistoric Man, by Paul Dardé (1931).
The statue is a landmark towering over the village of Les-Eyzies-de-Tayac, in the Dordogne region in France, a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1979. Geologist Louis Lartet discovered the earliest known remains of Homo sapiens sapiens (Cro-Magnon Man) dating back between 47 000 and 17 000 BP, in the rock shelter (Abri Cro-Magnon) above the village.

© gettyimages/HUGHES

On one of their joint trips Breuil and Capitan made a crucial discovery. In the summer of 1901, having just received his certificate of higher studies in geology along with his license to celebrate Mass—he had been ordained at the end of 1900— Breuil set off on a new field trip. At the beginning of September he met up with Capitan and local primary school teacher cum prehistorian, Denis Peyrony (1869-1954), at Eyzies-de- Tayac. After some work at the Laugerie-Haute site, focused on its Magdalenian strata, the trio began prospecting in the valley of the Beune, a small tributary of the river Vézère. On September 2, candles in hand, they entered a cave in the hamlet of Combarelles. Progress was laborious. Several times, Breuil could only squeeze through the twists and turns of the narrow passage by removing his cassock. As for Capitan, he was unable to negotiate a particularly tight bend and remained blocked half-way. The others eventually reached the cave, to be confronted by an unbelievable spectacle on the walls, still pristine after thousands of years: around one hundred figures of horses, reindeer, bears, mammoths, cattle, and ibex. Rooted to the spot, Breuil spent a dozen or so hours documenting the paintings.

A few days later, by which time Capitan and an exhausted Breuil had already left the Périgord, Peyrony informed them that another painted cave had been discovered near the one at Combarelles. All hurried to the new site. On September 21 they entered the Font-de-Gaume cave to be met by the spectacle of almost 200 animal figures, including polychrome paintings of bison, some of which measured almost 2.5 meters across. Capitan and Breuil made charcoal sketches of several dozen images on large sheets of printing paper.

Presentation of their two discoveries to the Academy of Sciences and Academy of Inscriptions and Belles-lettres set the proverbial cat among the prehistorian pigeons. Other caves decorated with paintings or engravings had been reported in the past but had never been recognized as authentic. Since 1895, prehistorians had been sharply divided over La Mouthe, another cave near Combarelles. But the most emblematic example of the refusal to recognize Paleolithic cave art came in 1901, involving the Altamira cave near Santander in Spain.

In 1879, Marcelino Sanz de Sautuola (1831-1888) discovered a huge number of paintings, each more beautiful than the other, in the Altamira cave. Captivated by his discovery he published an illustrated brochure the following year describing the site and its wealth of images. He was convinced that the paintings dated from the same period as the profusion of Paleolithic archeological material in the cave floor. Press reports brought Altamira international fame. Visitors flocked to the site. Some were quick to question whether the paintings were as old as claimed while others denounced promotion of the site as a discredit to genuine prehistory studies. In order to settle the question, the French paleontologist Édouard Harlé (1850- 1922) inspected the site in 1881. His report recognized the age and authenticity of the cave floor material but doubted that it was contemporaneous with the wall paintings, some of which, it hinted, may only have been of recent manufacture. In a more general judgment, he considered the skills—both creative and technical—of the cave artists as incompatible with the prevailing estimate of prehistoric capabilities. Prehistoric humans were considered incapable of executing the vast polychrome frescoes that covered the cave ceiling.

The Harlé report disqualified the Altamira site for over twenty years. It ceased to be spoken of in scientific circles except with reference to its archeological material. The paintings were forgotten, until the proposal by Capitan and Breuil in 1901 to align Combarelles, Font-de-Gaume, and Altamira in a mutually authenticating chain of Paleolithic artistic achievement reincorporated the Spanish site into the scientific canon.

Doctor Joseph Louis Capitan (1854-1929):
physician, anthropologist, and prehistorian.

© Roger-Viollet.

Artist and primitive cease being incompatible concepts

In the space of a few years a rapid succession of similar discoveries— in France, in addition to Combarelles and Font-de- Gaume, there was La Mouthe in 1895, Pair-non-Pair in 1896, Marsoulas in 1897, Mas-d’Azil in 1901, and Bernifal in 1902— began to convince skeptics of the cave-painting prowess of prehistoric humans. A revolution in prehistorian mentalities was under way. Conversions started to be reported. In 1902, Cartailhac, who had led the movement of nonbelievers in Paleolithic artistic achievement, with particular respect to Altamira, published a brave autocritique, a “Skeptic’s mea culpa.” He admitted having been “complicit in an error committed twenty years ago, an injustice that needs to be clearly recognized and made good.” He then went further still, pronouncing the be frescoed Spanish cave totally rehabilitated on the strength of Breuil’s work and joining the young priest on a personal visit to Altamira.

Cranium of a young prehistoric bear (aged approximately 2 years),
dated 35 000 BP, found in the Font-de-Gaume cave (Prat excavations).
National Prehistory Museum of Les-Eyzies-de-Tayac.

© RMN-Grand Palais (musée de la Préhistoire des Eyzies)/Franck Raux.

Altamira, Spain, cave painting of a charging buffalo. Printed color halftone reproduction. Émile Cartailhac & Henri Breuil. In: Cartailhac
E, Breuil H.
La caverne d’Altamira à Santillane près Santander (Espagne). Monaco: Impr. de Monaco;1908.

© akg/North Wind Picture Archives.

After a three-week mission, the two men came back from Spain, their arms full of Breuil’s notes and sketches and their heads reeling from all their discoveries. Breuil’s portfolio reflects not only the beauty of the polychrome bestiary they were privileged to study but also the young priest’s skill as an artist-documentalist working by candlelight in a damp cave. In France, Breuil and Cartailhac informed the scientific community of their work but had problems raising the requisite funds for publishing a monograph that would do justice to the beauty of the Altamira paintings and their interplay of colors. The two men were fortunate in being able to present their Spanish and French sketches to Monaco’s Albert I (1848-1921). At the end of 1904, the Prince made them a proposition they had never dared hope for: he would personally shoulder the cost of pub- lishing the Altamira book and even undertake to publish a series of books promoting “cave wall paintings and engravings from the Reindeer Age.” He then went further by offering to finance all the research Breuil would need to undertake in order to complete these projects. The Monaco head of state thus provided crucial support not only for the recognition of cave art but also for Breuil’s career at a time when French universities had yet to recognize prehistory as a discipline and when the separation of Church and State tended to marginalize ordained academics. Four years later saw the publication of a magnificent volume, The Cave of Altamira at Santillana del Mar, Spain, in a run of 600 copies on large-format paper. Its main features were its 205 figures and 37 plates, 22 of them four-color, based on Breuil’s records, but also its multiple photographs overlaid with transparent paper that enabled readers to understand where each painting featured in the whole. Prince Albert immediately distributed the volume— long since a collectors’ item—to his network of scientific correspondents.

Drawings by Henri Breuil of mural paintings
and engravings in the Combarelles cave at Les-
Eyzies-de-Tayac, picturing a mammoth, bisons,
and horses. In: Capitan L, Breuil H, Peyrony D.

Les Combarelles aux Eyzies (Dordogne). Paris,
France: Éditions Masson;1924. © RMN-Grand

Palais (musée de la Préhistoire des Eyzies)/Franck Raux.

A short while later, Breuil accepted Prince Albert’s patronage for all his work. In Spain he was continuing with his cave explorations and new finds were coming in quick succession. The Prince understood the situation in which the European practitioners of prehistory found themselves: many were unrecognized by any university and had neither funding nor an institution behind them that would allow them to undertake long-term scientific activity. This inspired Albert I to set up an institution that would make open-ended research possible. He used Breuil as a key consultant in the setting up, in Paris in 1910, of the Institute of Human Paleontology, where Breuil was to spend the rest of his career as professor of prehistoric ethnography.

As a leading champion of cave art, Breuil was able to provide archeological and geological evidence for dating it to ten or twenty thousand years in the past. He was relatively unconcerned with interpretations of the art itself. Although he favored the hypothesis that it served a magical function he was happy to leave debate on this topic to his friend Capitan. When it came to theory, he preferred to follow a novel approach based on the principle that the cave paintings were not instances of random art or works created in isolation. He sought to show that the art reached back into the very beginnings of human history, that it had been integral to human existence for many thousands of years, and that it was subject to organized codes and practices transmitted down the generations. Breuil established a chronology based on a form of cave wall stratigraphy derived from his observations of superimposed designs and changes in painting technique. At the same time, he argued that the similarities in content and design between the various decorated caves were evidence that proper schools and traditions of artistic practice had developed in the Paleolithic period on both sides of the Pyrenees within veritable prehistoric societies.

The Paris Institute of Human Paleontology (Prince Albert I of Monaco Foundation),
inaugurated in 1920 (architect Emmanuel Pontremoli, who also designed the interior
decoration down to the very last fixture), the brainchild of paleontologists Henri Breuil,
Marcellin Boule, and Émile Cartailhac. The Institute is the spiritual “alma mater” of
every paleontologist throughout the world to this very day.

Photo F. Scheffler © Institut de Paléontologie Humaine, Paris.

Breuil continued to tweak this basic dating system throughout his career, accommodating each new discovery until publishing his magnum opus in 1952, Four Hundred Centuries of Cave Art. The book presented several dozen decorated sites but placed its emphasis squarely on what he dubbed the “six giants” of Quaternary Period art: Altamira, Font-de-Gaume, Combarelles, Trois-frères, Niaux, and Lascaux. The Lascaux cave complex was discovered on September 16 1940: Breuil visited it just five days later. One look at the magnificent paintings convinced him that they were both extraordinary and genuine. He spent three days at the site drawing up an enthusiastic initial report for the French Institute. A few days later he welcomed the French weekly L’Illustration to the site for a photographic report by Pierre Ichac (1901-1978), whose article introduced the general public to the latest and perhaps grandest jewel of Paleolithic art. Lascaux quickly became world famous, perhaps most of all after the series of color photographs published by Life magazine in 1947. Breuil worked on the site up until December 1940, but surprisingly—partly, no doubt, because he considered that aside from their esthetic perfection the paintings did not fundamentally call his personal theories on the chronology of Paleolithic art into ques- tion—he was not prepared to undertake an exhaustive study of the site himself. He preferred to entrust the task to others in whom he had confidence and he even had preliminary works carried out to facilitate this for them. The construction work, followed by an increasing number of visitors, had an irreversible impact on the caves’ conditions of preservation. Young Maurice Thaon (1918-1999) was tasked with the preliminary documentation of the site. Next came a huge photographic campaign undertaken by Fernand Windels (1893-1954). In 1941, Breuil left France after the country had been divided by the German occupation. He reached Spain and Portugal before settling in South Africa in order to continue his research. His only subsequent field trip to Lascaux was in 1949 to undertake some brief excavation. In 1952, he entrusted fellow priest André Glory (1906-1966) with the task of documenting what he himself had left undone.

Reproduction of mural paintings in the Hall
of Bulls in Lascaux cave by Maurice Thaon
(1910-1965). Located at Saint-Germain-en-Laye,
Musée d’Archéologie Nationale and Domaine
National de Saint-Germain-en-Laye.

© RMN-Graind Palais (Musée d’Archéologie Nationale)/
Loïc Hamon.

Glory did his best over the following decade (1952-1963), given the great difficulties imposed by the flocks of tourists and increasingly intensive commercialization, only to die in a road accident before completing the monograph he had been preparing on the site.

Prehistoric cultures elsewhere

It soon became apparent that Western Europe was too narrow a theater for the theoretical framework for describing prehistoric civilizations that Breuil was developing based on the two principles of the biological unity and cultural diversity of the human species. Already, in the different style and content of Spanish cave wall art, Breuil could see evidence of migration and interactions within the Mediterranean basin. He felt it was imperative to go further afield and explore new horizons. Between the two World Wars, he changed the scale of his field research by turning to Africa and Asia, prompted by the opportunities afforded him by each new discovery.

Breuil first visited South Africa in 1929. He stayed there for protracted periods in the Second World War and then up to 1951. While associate professor in the department of prehistoric archeology at the University of the Witwatersrand (‘Wits’) in Johannesburg and holding a research post in the department of archeology, he discovered a different form of parietal art in the course of several archeological and geological expeditions in South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Namibia, documenting Middle and Late Stone Age artifacts and, above all, thousands of rock paintings. This huge volume of work, much of it still dormant in the Wits archives, surfaced only in a few monographs and the controversy over the identification and origins of the Brandberg Mountain painting that he dubbed the White Lady.

Jesuit Father and paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
and Father (Abbot) Henri Breuil (1877-1961) at the
Ming Tombs in China, on 7 April 1935. © Fondation Teilhard de Chardin,

Paris, France/Archives Charmet/The Bridgeman Art Library.

Peking Man Site Museum at Zhoukoudian
(周口店遗址), Beijing, China. © Imaginechina/Corbis.

In Asia, Breuil played a leading role in the study of Sinanthropus pekinensis. Thanks to his contacts with the Jesuit Émile Licent (1876-1952), who set up the Hoang Ho Pai Ho Museum in Tianjin that was to become the Chinese Museum of Natural History, Breuil encouraged his friend, the Jesuit paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881- 1955), to head a mission exploring the Yellow River basin (1923-1924). Teilhard ended up spending almost 17 years in the Middle Kingdom. As honorary adviser on questions of paleontology to the Geological Survey of China, he took part in the excavations at Zhoukoudian, which in 1929 uncovered the fossilized remains of several Homo erectus specimens (Sinanthropus pekinensis). It was immediately apparent that these ranked as perhaps the oldest human remains hitherto identified. Ensuing debate on the practices and technical skills of Peking Man enabled Breuil to share in the study of these discoveries. Working from Teilhard’s reports at his Paris desk, Breuil became convinced that Sinanthropus pekinensis was responsible for the artifacts discovered in conjunction with the human remains in the Zhoukoudian caves. To test this view he traveled to the site at the invitation of the Geological Survey of China and also the Rockefeller Foundation, which was supporting the Zhoukoudian-based Cenozoic Research Laboratory.While there, he examined thousands of items discovered at the site (quartz fragments, bones, antlers) and became convinced beyond doubt that they had been deliberately carved, fashioned or adapted in the Paleolithic Period by Sinanthropus, who had also learned how to use fire. He was quick to publish his conclusions in Europe, ignoring the reservations of the scientific community in China, headed by Teilhard who was much more circumspect as to the level of civilization achieved by Sinanthropus.

Prehistoric African cave paintings, drawings by Henri Breuil.
Paris, Musée du Quai Branly. © RMN-Grand Palais/Michel Bellot.

However, further excavation followed by a second field trip in 1935 to complete his analysis of the artifacts confirmed Breuil’s initial hunch: Sinanthropus was indeed Homo faber and the tools he made were many and varied, even if no relationship could be found with contemporaneous European counterparts.


After the Second World War, a new generation of research workers began to debate and even question Breuil’s hypotheses. Different issues emerged following a general review of working methods. The entire research and career framework that Breuil had been so successful in negotiating was thrown into question. Prehistoric studies came under new constraints: the emergence of the concept of heritage, both national and international, led to the prioritization of archeological site protection, with Governments becoming the main stakeholders in archeology and research being organized into teams and projects.

Father Henri Breuil receiving an Honoris Causa degree at Cambridge,
in 1920, with Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig, a British
senior officer during World War I. Institut de Paléontologie Humaine, Paris.

1. Lartet É, Christy H. Reliquiæ Aquitanicæ. Being contributions to the archæology and palæontology of Périgord and the adjoining provinces of southern France. vol 2. London, UK/Paris, France: Williams & Norgate/J.B. Baillière; 1865- 1875, pp. 302 & 204.
2. Gould SJ. Nonoverlapping Magisteria. Nat Hist. 1997;106:16-22.
Further reading – Hurel A. L’Abbé Breuil: Un Préhistorien Dans le Siècle. Paris, France : CNRS Éditions ; 2011.