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Jean Clottes attends tribute
Thursday 26 October 2023

An article by Pedro Lima, science journalist and author, on hominides.com - Bouquets of tributes to Jean Clottes - reports on the recent tribute to Jean Clottes at the Centre Jean Clottes in Tarascon-sur-Ariège (Parc de la préhistoire), France.

Jean Clottes tribute Pedro Lima Tarascon-sur-Ariège Parc de la préhistoire France rock art
Jean Clottes in the centre of the amphitheatre that bears his name in the Prehistory Park – Credit Pedro Lima.

As night fell on the majestic mountain scenery that surrounds the Parc de la préhistoire de Tarascon-sur-Ariège, on Saturday 21 October, each and every one of the participants (about a hundred) in the afternoon of meetings and exchanges organised around the great prehistorian Jean Clottes, now retired, was aware that they had lived precious moments, imbued with humanity. Deeply moved, the specialist of a global rock art to which he has devoted his life took the floor for the first time, to say how much this day had touched him, and filled him with joy, before retiring.

Jean Clottes tribute Pedro Lima Tarascon-sur-Ariège Parc de la préhistoire France rock art
Robert Bégouën and Jean Clottes – Photo Pedro Lima.

An afternoon dedicated to the researcher born 90 years ago in Espéraza in the neighbouring Aude, but a thousand miles away from a pompous tribute, quite the contrary. In the presence of his family, the "la" was given, from 14 p.m. to the reception of guests belonging to the community of archaeologists in the broad sense and sometimes from far away (France, Spain, India ...), by the sensitive notes of a duet of flute (Isabelle Bagur) and guitar (Jean-Paul Raffit). Before Pascal Alard, from the departmental council of Ariège, instigator and moderator of the day, warmly thanked the prehistorian, seated in the front row, for his immense work in favor of the knowledge and dissemination of the prehistoric heritage of Ariège.

Jean Clottes tribute Pedro Lima Tarascon-sur-Ariège Parc de la préhistoire France rock art
Friends and colleagues gathered around Jean Clottes on October 21, 2023 – Credit Pascal Alard.

Then, it was Count Robert Bégouën, curator of the Volp caves and fellow traveller, who recalled with humour and empathy the complicit moments shared with Jean Clottes and the teams of excavators during the long adventure of research in the very rich cave of Enlène, sister cavity of those of the Tuc d'Audoubert and the Trois-Frères. Throughout the afternoon, each intervention and round table, in the packed amphitheatre that bears his name, was an opportunity to evoke a facet of the immense work accomplished by Jean Clottes for the understanding and sharing of the archaeological heritage, and not only parietal: prehistory of the Lot from its origins to the Iron Age, megalithisms of Quercy and elsewhere, Ariège caves... Until the 1990s and the study of the two "stars" that were Cosquer and Chauvet, then the journeys on all continents (except Antarctica!) to discover the rock art of the world, which was his great passion.

Laughter was never far away, as when his friend Jean Courtin, present by videoconference, evoked the gastronomy and crockery sessions in the Calanque des Goudes near the Cosquer cave that they studied together... Or when a film shot in India with Meenakshi Dubey-Pathak, present in Tarascon-sur-Ariège, showed the researcher in the most acrobatic positions to find the right angle to take a shot of a wall decorated with animals or anthropomorphs. More seriously, Sidi Mohamed Iliès, a tourist guide and founder of the Anigourane association for the preservation of the rock art of Niger, who was prevented from travelling because of the situation in his country, evoked in a filmed interview Jean Clottes' affection for this country, its Tuareg inhabitants and its rock art, underlining the unbreakable link that united him to the prehistorian. The quality of relationships once trust had been established, openness to others and the willingness to share, including with the media and the general public, came back as a common thread throughout the exchanges. His availability was undeniable, his confidence and even his support, despite his overload of work, which the author of these lines would like to testify with gratitude, from the first phone call made in 1995 during a report in the Portuguese Côa valley to an unforgettable joint visit to the Lascaux cave in 2011.

Around the closing buffet, his Spanish companions, who had come from neighbouring Cantabria, sang the song "Santander la mariñera" and paid tribute to the rock art specialist who worked tirelessly to recognise the importance of the decorated caves in their region. Delighted, Jean Clottes fell into the arms of his friends after the last notes... Proof that song and music also express, and sometimes better than speeches, the reality and depth of human things.

Pedro Lima

Read more about prehistorian Jean Clottes

News article in French

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