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Old World Paleolithic and Smithsonian Institute

Old World Paleolithic and Smithsonian Institute

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Published by Josip Šarić

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Published by: Josip Šarić on May 22, 2011
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For twenty years, from 1907 to 1926, Dr. Henri Martin, a Pa-
risian medical doctor and the excavator of La Quina, in
Charente, France, corresponded with Smithsonian officials.
They wrote about exchanging North American material for
Middle Paleolithic collections from La Quina and about scien-
tific issues regarding the Neanderthals. The first of three acces-
sions of La Quina material from Martin was made in 1907. In a
letter dated 6 February 1907, probably to Walcott, Martin
wrote: "I have just received your box containing the 2 humeri
of bisons which I had asked for. They give me the greatest
pleasure and will enable me to make comparisons with our
Quaternary bison. I shall at once forward some Mousterian
flints from La Quina for the U.S. National Museum, and am
glad to know that they are esteemed in America. Our distant
Stone Age is abundantly represented in France, and the few
specimens that I shall send you will probably fill a gap in the
museum." Months later, on 12 May, Martin sent the material to
the Smithsonian and wrote: "Finally I have sent you a case of
worked flint, demonstrating the Mousterian period. I have
found them in the site of La Quina (Charente) France. I should
have sent them to you long since, in exchange for the two fine
humeri of the bison which you sent me, but I have always de-
layed the sending—being much occupied with my many pa-


In 1913, a second collection of artifacts from La Quina was
received in a transaction arranged by Dr. Charles Peabody of
the Peabody Museum of Harvard University, Cambridge, Mas-
sachusetts. Peabody queried Head Curator W.H. Holmes on 13
June about the Smithsonian's interest in receiving a donation of
La Quina material: "May I trouble you as far as to ask whether
the National Museum has any of the 'Mousterien' flints and
marked animal bones from La Quina (Charente, France). As I
think I told you Dr. Henri Martin presented three series (partly
excavated by Mrs. Peabody & myself) and is anxious (I think)
that one of these should be presented in his name to the United
States Government." On 18 June, Assistant Secretary Rathbun
replied to Peabody: "We shall be very much pleased to receive
one of the series of the specimens above mentioned, which you
believe Dr. Henri Martin wishes presented in his name to the
United States Government." In a letter dated 28 June, Peabody
wrote to Holmes: "I take pleasure in forwarding you this day a
box containing 12 packages containing 6 specimens each (with
an extra package containing 2 specimens; also a piece of brec-
cia)—75 in all, being the collection of palaeoliths from La
Quina, (Charente), France, presented by Dr. Henri Martin, 50
rue Singer, Paris." The inventory listed scrapers, gravers, rude
worked flakes, flakes, chips, tooth of reindeer, tooth of horse,
bones of ox, bones of Cervus dama (?), and 1 piece of breccia.
Rathbun sent letters of acknowledgment to Peabody and to
Martin on 16 July.

Martin and Hrdlicka met in 1912, after Martin had made ma-
jor discoveries of Neanderthals at La Quina. Hrdlicka made
some of his major anthropological conclusions based upon the



La Quina specimens. Like Hrdlicka, Martin thought that the
Mousterian had shown an increase in technological sophistica-
tion from its earlier phases and was indicative of a gradual tran-
sition from earlier stone-tool industries (Spencer, 1979; Spen-
cer and Smith, 1981). Hrdlicka corresponded with Martin on
matters relating to La Quina and the acquisition of casts of the
recovered Neanderthals. On 27 August 1913, Hrdlicka re-
quested additional information on La Quina from Martin, not-
ing that he was writing a brief summary of the most important
discoveries in Europe relating to "early man," for inclusion in
Smithsonian publications. Hrdlicka thanked Martin for sending
the La Quina cranial and postcranial casts in exchange for Na-
tive American crania and requested additional cast reconstruc-
tions. From 1922 to 1926, Hrdlicka and Martin corresponded
regarding the acquisition of casts, and during a visit to France
in 1923, Hrdlicka met with Martin. After the visit, Hrdlicka
wrote to Martin on 12 November 1923, indicating his interest
in the site: "I have brought back a very vivid recollection of
your site at La Quina. You have a hard and long work before
you and I trust you will be able to carry it out to the end for it
seems to me that the deposits are bound to give you such valu-
able information; they are quite unique in some of their fea-
tures. I shall be glad to hear of any discoveries that you may
make." Further evidence of Hrdlicka's intense interest is shown
in his letter to Martin dated 8 May 1926: "I suppose that before
long you will be leaving again for your cherished spot in south-
ern France. I hope that sooner or later you may excavate again
in the old and rich Mousterian layers which in all probability
contain additional treasures. At all events please remember that
every bit of news from you as to the progress of your work will
always be of genuine interest to me; and should you discover
any new skeletal remains I should endeavor to make it known
at once in a proper form in our country."
A third exchange was made in 1924 for additional specimens
from La Quina. On 14 December 1923, Dr. Henri Martin wrote
to Secretary Walcott, inquiring about the possibility for acquir-
ing faunal material for comparative purposes: "At the sugges-
tion of my friend Dr. Hrdlicka I write to ask whether you could
let me have by way of exchange some skeletal pieces of the
blue fox. A skull, even if defective, and some bones of the
limbs would be sufficient for me. I could send you some
bones—teeth principally—of the reindeer, bison and Mouste-
rian horse, as well as Ursus spelaeus." On 7 January 1924, W.
de C. Ravenel, who was the administrative assistant to Secre-
tary Walcott, replied: "I take pleasure in announcing the trans-
mittal to you of one skull and four feet and leg bones of the
Alopex." Martin responded to Walcott on 26 January, indicating
his pleasure with the faunal remains and describing the ex-
change material that he would be sending: "I thank you for the
sending which I have received containing skeletal pieces of the
blue fox. These bones are very precious to me to compare those
of the Mousterian fox of the Charente which differs from our
present fox: and the fossil fox has affinities with the one from
Alaska. I am sending you some pieces; but in Charente I own

numerous specimens, while in Paris I cannot send you any im-
portant series. Nevertheless here I have made a selection of
pieces from the museum." The collection consisted of five
Mousterian flint scrapers and three worked bones. In the letter
of 26 January, Martin provided one photograph and three
sketches of bones. The photograph is of a first phalanx of a
horse, in Mousterian context, noted to have "utilisation pro-
One sketch is of a first phalanx of a bovid, from Upper
Mousterian deposits. On the sketch Martin noted that there is
on one face of the anterior section a zone of grinding, suggest-
ing the piece was used for compression. In the sketch of the left
astragalus of a reindeer, there are traces on the internal face
corresponding to disarticulation of the tibio-tarsals. The third
sketch is of a first phalanx of a horse found in the Upper Mous-
terian deposits. On the anterior face there are deep grooves.
Ravenel, administrative assistant to the Secretary, sent a formal
acknowledgment to Henri Martin on 22 April 1924 for the col-

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