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Andre Leroi-Gourhan (1911 - 1986)

 

The name of the French scientist Andre Leroi-Gourhan is known today to everyone, studing primitive history and primitive art in particular. He came into science when a great number of materials had already been accumulated and their new comprehension was required. Basing himself on the achievements of his forerunners - Edouard Piette, Henry Breuil and others, Leroi-Gourhan made a great contribution in the study of the Palaeolithic art. He wrote about 400 scientific publications in different fields of archaeology, ethnography, history of religion.

Andre Jorge Leandre Adolf Leroi-Gourhan was born in Paris in a family of an engineer. Still in his childhood he acquired a passion for natural history, having seen in the museums of his native city skeletons of the died out animals, bones of the Cro-Magnon man and the Neanderthal from Chapelle-ou-Sen, stone tools and ethnographical collections. In the oriental languages school in Sorbonna he first got a degree in Russian - in 1931, and then, in1933 - in Chinese philology. He got a Doctor's degree in 1935 in Sorbonne. In 1936 he went with an ethnographical expedition in the Far East. Acquaintance with the ethnographical collections of the Parisian and London museums, practical study in Japan formed Leroi-Gourhan's vast outlook, first as an ethnologist, studing the evolution of material culture and then - as an archaeologist, palaeoanthropologist, pri-historian, studing material and spiritual culture of the primitive man in detail.

In 1945 he was appointed as a deputy director of the Museum of the Man, then - Professor of the University in Lyon, since 1956 - Professor of Sorbonna, since 1963 director of the Ethnology Institute, an honored Professor in College de France, a member of the Institute of France ( an Academician).

Although Leroi-Gourhan has no purely ethnographical works, the ethnographical material is widely presented in his many significant publications: ("Evolution et technique" (1943-1945) in two volumes, "Le Geste et la parole" (1965), "Mecanique vivante" (1983).

Leroi-Gourhans's methodological working-outs in the field of practical archaeology were of great importance. Studing Palaeolithical sites of Arcy-sur-Cure and Pincevent, he had worked out a series of important for the European archaeology of that time principles of the excavation process ( a complex approach to the investigation of a monument, a complete stratigraphic investigation with the help of working pits and thorough clearing of layers, accurate fixation and registration of the received data, photography, drawings, models).

His studies in the cave paintings and prehistoric art are the most significant and interesting. In that field he has gathered many new facts and worked out his own methodological basis. His analysis of styles and comparison of petroglyphs with small form objects helped to create a new theory of style inconstancy in Palaeolithic paintings and basing on its real changes in time make chronology more accurate. Together with Annette Laming-Emperaire, Leroi-Gourhan developed Max Raphael's structuralistic approach, suggested in the middle of 30s, and spoke against direct ethnographical comparativism. He suggested to reveal the inner structure of the representations in themselves ("Les Religions de la Prehistoire", (1964), "Prehistoire de l'art occidental", (1965). In these works Leroi-Gourhan also put forward a hypothesis that the man's most ancient mythological notions about the world are reflected in the Palaeolithic paintings.

Andre Leroi-Gourhan was an outstanding organizer and teacher. He taught in the Lyons University, in Sorbonne, in College de France. In 1946 he organized a center of an ethnological education in the Museum of the Man, in 1948 - a documentation center of pre-historic studies and in 1962 - at the Chair of Ethnology in Sorbonne - a center of pre-historic and proto-historic studies.

In 1952 Leroi-Gourhan was elected the President of the French Pre-Historians' society. He also was a member of different scientific commissions, a participant and organizer of international scientific meetings. After Henry Breuil's death in 1961 he took up his place on the "pre-historic Olimpus"; he received many suggestions from the editors to write introductions to different publications. Being in the course of many years the editor of "Gallia Prehistoire" magazine he made this publication very authoritative in scientific circles.

Andre Leroi-Gourhan's activity was appraised according to his deserts. In 1974 he was awarded with the Golden medal of C.N.R.S. (National Center of scientific researches in France). In 1978 - Grande Prix of the national archaeology of the Ministry of Culture; in 1979 - the Golden Medal of the Academy of Architecture, national prize of the Fissen fund and Legion of Honour. In 1980 he became "immortal", that is he was elected in the Academy.

Not all the scientific theories were undoubtedly accepted by researchers, some of them did not stand the test of time, but on the whole Andre Leroi-Gouhran's scientific meaning is invaluable, and he is, for sure, the key figure in studing both Palaeolithic art and pre-historic culture in general.

Main publications:

LEROI-GOURHAN A. Le geste et la parole. TT. I - II Paris, 1964-65.
LEROI-GOURHAN A. Prehistoire de l'Art occidental. Paris. 1965 (1971,1998).
LEROI-GOURHAN A. Dictionaire de la prehistoire. Paris, 1988.

 


 

  

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