(b. Aubigny, Ardennes, France, 1827; d. 1906)
Although trained as a lawyer and active as a magistrate, Piette is best known for his archaeological and paleontological research. he made major contributions to Paleolithic archaeology by his own discoveries, his championship of Paleolithic art, his special study of Paleolithic portable art, and his ideas on the classification of the Paleolithic. He discovered Gourdan, Lortet, Mas-d’Azil and Brassempouy, all sites of Paleolithic art, and excavated prehistoric barrows at Avezae-Prat, Bartres, Osun, and La Halliade, near Lourdes.
Mortillet’s proposal for classifying the Paleolithic into chellean, Mousterian, solutrean, and Magdalenian was later modified by inserting the acheulean between Chellean and mousterian. piette’s scheme divided th Paleolithic into the amygdalithic, Niphetic, and Glyptic periods. the Amygdalithic was characterized by hand axes and comprised the Chellean and Acheulean. The Niphetic was Mortillet’s Mousterian. The Glyptic, or“ag des beaux-arts,” was characterized by the presence of art. Piette divided it into three staes: Papalian or Eburnian, characteized by sculpture in relief and in th round; Gordanian, characterized by ngravings and of a time when animals now extinct still existed; and Lorthetian, also characterized by engravings, particularly on reindeer bone, but not associated with any extinct fauna. Piette’s scheme was never adopted; but his collection of portable art, now at the Musee des Antiquites Nationales at st.-Germakin-en-Laye, is one of the most important collections of Palcolithic art in existence. his L’art pendant l’age du renne (1907) was beautifully illustrated with 100 plates by J. Pilloy. Accpting the authenticity of the Altamira paintings, which had been disputed since their discovey in 1875, Piette claimed that they were Magdalenian in date and described them as authentic in his Équides de la periode quaternaire d’apres les gravures de ce temps (1887).
In 1887 Piette began digging at Mas-d’Azil (Ariege) in the foothills of the Pyrenees, about forty miles southwest of Toulouse. Here the Arise River tunnels through the rock for over a quarter of a mile; and in this great tunnel, on both banks of the river, Piette excavated two rock shelters and found, above a rich Magdalenian deposit, a thick layer containing flat harpoons of staghorn, and pebbles painted with red ochre mixed with bones of red deer and wild boar. To this post-Magdalenian industry Piette gave the name Azilian. He believed that the pebbles represented an early form of alphabetic writing.
In 1879 still another amateur archaeologist and lawyer, Edmond Vielle, found an industry of posl-Paieolithic character in the Aisne, which he labeled the Tardenoisian. The Azilian and the Tardenoisian were the first industries of what is now called the Mesolithic. Piette established this period between Paleolithic and Neolithic but called it the Metabatic Age, or Age of Transition. Like his other names, it was not widely adopted.
See Collection Piette: art mobilier préhistoriaite (Paris, 1964), with a preface by Henri Breuil, introduction by Andre Varagnac, and a catalogue by Marthe Chollot. See also G. E. Daniel, A Hundred Years of Archaeology (London, 1950), 122-126, 131-132, 232.