gigatos | January 27, 2022
Édouard Piette is a French archaeologist and prehistorian, born on March 11, 1827 in Aubigny-les-Pothées (Ardennes) and died on June 5, 1906 in Rumigny (also in the Ardennes).
Trained as a lawyer, he never gave up his profession as a lawman. He started as a lawyer and then as a justice of the peace in the North of France and then in Eauze in the Gers. He ended his career as a judge at the court of Angers.
He dedicated his free time to geology, and through this approach he discovered the archaeology of prehistory. Member of the Geological Society of France, in whose bulletin he published notes on the fossils of his region in 1855, he excavated Gallic and Merovingian necropolises in the Craonne region.
In 1871, due to health problems, he was prescribed a cure in the sulfurous waters of Bagnères-de-Luchon, which led him to take an interest in Pyrenean prehistory.
First, he financed and directed the excavations of the Elephant cave in Gourdan-Polignan (Haute-Garonne) from 1871 to 1875, the Espalungue cave in Saint-Michel d”Arudy (Pyrénées-Atlantiques) from 1873 to 1874, and the one in Lortet (Hautes-Pyrénées). During the construction of the Eauze train station in 1880, he saved several Gallo-Roman lapidary inscriptions from the ancient city of Elusa.
He continued with the Mas-d”Azil cave in Ariège from 1880 to 1890 where he discovered a Magdalenian horse head sculpture as well as a female figurine from the Upper Paleolithic known as “the Venus of Mas d”Azil”; finally, he excavated the Pape cave in Brassempouy (Landes) from 1894 to 1897, where he discovered, among other things, the female statuette of the Lady of Brassempouy.
He also explored tumuli from the first Iron Age, in the company of Julien Sacaze, in the region of Lannemezan, Lourdes and Tarbes.
He had a study in the south wing of the castle of La Cour des Prés in Rumigny, a property acquired by his grandfather. He gathered in this family home a rich collection resulting from his excavations and he invited the young seminarian Henri Breuil there in September 1897. It is in this house that he died.
The Piette collection
The Piette collection is one of the most beautiful collections of prehistoric art in the world. He donated it to the Musée des Antiquités Nationales in Saint-Germain-en-Laye in 1902, on the condition that his discoveries would be exhibited according to his instructions. This collection includes the famous Lady of Brassempouy, a female statuette from Gravettian in mammoth ivory, and many Magdalenian works carved in bone or antler. It is now exhibited in the Piette room.
He had Henri Breuil draw some of the works of art in his collection. A sometimes stormy friendship was born between the two men.
The hazards of history delayed the realization of the room specially designed according to Piette”s wishes to present his collections. His disciple Henri Breuil, who died shortly after his donation, took over this task, which he did not complete until 1960. The room opened but remained, for technical reasons, only open to specialists. Completely restored, it is now accessible to the public in small groups since November 29, 2008. Until then, only a cast of the Lady of Brassempouy was presented to the public in the permanent collections.
He is the inventor of the Azilian, an epipaleolithic culture succeeding the Magdalenian that he identified at Mas d”Azil.
He is the first to be interested in the meaning of the “Steatopygian Venuses” of the Gravettian period.
See, among others, “Édouard Piette”s publications on Persée”, on persee.fr.