Postby admin » Sat Sep 12, 2015 10:02 pm

Text and composition © Editions du Seuil, Paris, 2005
Illustrations © Norbert Aujoulat, CNP, Ministere de la Culture, 2004
English-language translation by Martin Street, © 2005 Thames & Hudson, Ltd., London




The author would like to thank the following people and organizations for allowing him to publish the documents indicated below: Claude Bassier (ill. 17, based on topographical data from Claude Bassier); Valerie Feruglio (ill. 42); Philippe Jugie, National Museum of Prehistory, Les Eyzies-de-Tayac-Sireuil (ill. 43); A. M. Aujoulat, based on A. Glory (ill. 105 and ill. 109).

Editor's note: For reasons of clarity, at the publisher's discretion, some words or phrases that appeared in the original French text have been removed and are depicted by the use of ellipses

Table of Contents

• Preface
• Chapter 1: The Geological Context
• Chapter 2: The Underground Environment
o A Truly Vast Realm
o Tiered Caves
o Distribution of Caves and Rock Shelters
• Chapter 3: The Cave of Lascaux
o Access to the Site
o Architecture of the Cave
o The Entrance Zone
o The Hall of the Bulls
o The Axial Gallery
o The Passageway
o The Nave
o The Mondmilch Gallery
o The Chamber of the Felines
o The Apse
o The Shaft and the Great Fissure
o The Silted-Up Chamber
o The Rock Support
• Chapter 4: The Archaeological Context
o Portable objects
o Lighting
o Dating Lascaux
• Chapter 5: The Art of Lascaux
o The Fragmentary Depictions of the Entrance Zone
o The Hall of the Bulls
 Part 1
 Part 2
o The Sistine Chapel of Prehistory
o The Ceiling of the Red Cows
o The Panel of the Great Black Bull
o The Panel of the Hemione
o The Falling Cow
o The Upside-Down Horse
o The Red Panel
o The Passageway
o The Palimpsest of the Apse
o The Shaft Scene
o The Nave
o The Panel of the Imprint
o The Panel of the Great Black Cow
o The Crossed Bison
o The Swimming Stags
o The Figures of the Innermost Depths
o The Animals of Lascaux: An Ethological Approach
o The Horses
o The Aurochs
o The Stags
o Observations
• Chapter 6: The Construction of the Images
o The Raw Materials
o Technology of the Figures
o Elementary Markings and Instruments
o Compound and Polychrome Traces
o Distribution of Techniques
o Construction of the Figures
o Perspective
o Contribution of the Support
o Access to the Walls
o Construction of the Panels
o Horizontal Distribution of the Figures
o Vertical Expansion
o Irregular Forms
o Chronology of Parietal Events
• Chapter 7: Gesture, Space and Time
o Discovery, Research and Conservation
• Notes
• Bibliography
• Acknowledgments and credits
• Index

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Postby admin » Sat Sep 12, 2015 10:03 pm


Small engraved and painted horses, partially obscured by the Great Black Cow, Nave.

I first visited the Lascaux Cave on a winter's day in 1970. It was late afternoon, and the massive bronze door that formed the entrance to the cave obscured the diffuse light as it closed behind me. The visit to this prestigious site would take place in semi-darkness, relieved only by a few infrequent hidden lamps emitting a discreet, scattered light. There were five of us on the tour, guided by Jacques Marsal, one of the four men who had discovered the cave back in 1940.

We squeezed through the narrow entrance hall, which had arched, stone-lined walls, and proceeded through a second door to a similarly constructed hall known as the 'pediluvium', or footbath. There, before we entered the cave, we had to rinse the soles of our shoes several times, a ritual designed to eliminate any bacteria, pollen or spores and thus prevent the introduction or proliferation of harmful foreign bodies inside the cave.

As we continued, the formalin fumes of the airlock were replaced by smells that were more characteristic of the subterranean environment - those produced by the rock, the clay in the soil and the constant high level of humidity. The ground sloped, marking the beginning of the underground system, and the impression of the natural shaft that had provided access to the deeper part of the cave at the time of its discovery was visible in the roof.

Heavy precipitation over the past few days had led to the formation of a small natural drain in the highly fractured upper layer of the ceiling. The noise of the water pounding on to a tin sheet-metal cover, which acted as a channel, faded and then disappeared as we shut another door behind us. Passing through each of the different compartments on this fragmented route, there was a perceptible rise in temperature, which finally stabilized at around 12ºC.

The gallery widened appreciably as we approached the final door from above. Only twenty-odd steps now separated us from the cave's natural floor and the entrance to the decorated chambers. We remained in total darkness for a few minutes in order to let our eyes grow accustomed to the feeble lighting of the halls and to enable us to discern the colours and contours of the images on the walls more effectively. Only the discreet vibration of the pumps below - used to keep out the water - disturbed the moment somewhat. We opened the second bronze door, decorated with polished stones bearing floral motifs, and entered into the Hall of the Bulls. Silence replaced the sound of falling water, the slamming of doors and the shuffling of feet. The following half an hour was to have a profound effect on the course of my career.

In May 1980, the Superintendence for Archaeology of the Ministry of Culture decided to set up a unit - the Department of Parietal Art - for the research and documentation of prehistoric cave and rock-shelter art at the National Centre of Prehistory. The Department of Parietal Art, which I have headed up since the very start, effectively extended my area of responsibility to include all decorated Palaeolithic sites in France.

I resumed my study of Lascaux in 1988, following in the footsteps of a succession of illustrious predecessors. Strict conservation regulations restricted the amount of time I was able to spend collecting data in situ. Being forced to regulate my visits into a number of relatively brief episodes prolonged my research considerably, but it also had its advantages. It enabled me to adjust the methodology applied to the study and the various interpretations of the results, and I was able to develop methods of recording and analysis that were more specifically adapted to this environment.

Above all, this was a field study. Its principal goal was to identify the natural factors that may have contributed to the formation of the cave and to evaluate the ways in which the paintings on the cave walls were structured. The spatial organization of figures in the paintings and their chronological order were thus assessed in detail. I also needed to explore space and time in order to identify and understand the behaviour and motivations of Palaeolithic man.

I approached the analysis of these works of parietal art with the eyes of a natural scientist, basing my findings on research disciplines such as karstology [1] and ethology. [2] Extending the field of study beyond the site of Lascaux itself to the entire drainage basin of the lower Vezere enabled me to place the cave in its geological and archaeological context.
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Postby admin » Sat Sep 12, 2015 10:03 pm

Chapter 1: The Geological Context

Steep-sided landscape of Coniacian type close to Les Eyzies-de-Tayac-Sireuil.

Gently sloping topography of Santonian type, Grande Beune.

The Black Perigord, the north-easternmost region of the Aquitaine Basin, backs on to the crystalline platform of the Massif Central. The area of this study, the lower valley of the Vezere and its tributary valleys, covers two thirds of the region. Archaeological and geological considerations (ill. 4) dictated its boundaries.


The area, which is essentially limestone, extends from Condat-Le-Lardin in the east to Limeuil in the west, where the Vezere River joins the Dordogne River. The Lascaux Cave lies to the northeast, a fair distance from the concentration of decorated caves found around Les Eyzies-de-Tayac in the southwest - a region that effectively boasts the greatest density of prehistoric remains in Western Europe. There are no fewer than thirty-seven decorated caves and rock shelters [3] around Les Eyzies-de-Tayac, and an even greater number of Palaeolithic habitation sites, both under rock shelters and in the open, including Le Moustier, La Madeleine, Tayac and La Micoque.

Location of the cave of Lascaux and the studied karst region.

A succession of parallel strata follow the course of the Vezere from the northeast to the southwest, extending from the primary crystalline bedrock to rocks that were formed during the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. The Cretaceous period includes the Coniacian, Santonian and Campanian stages (ill. 5). Two geological faults have had a major effect on the area: the La Cassagne fault to the east and the Campagne Saint-Cyprien fault to the west. Both have an Armorican alignment (they run noticeably from the southeast to the northwest). The Sarlat syncline -- a fold of stratified rock in which the strata slope up from the axis was formed between these two features of tectonic origin and was itself interrupted by several secondary folds or anticlines. The latter correspond with valleys such as the Manaurie and the Petite Beune, dictating their relative positions and causing a dip in the course of the rivers flowing through the valleys.

Around Montignac, marly limestones at the base of the Santonian and a greater heterogeneity of the Coniacian layers contributed in widening the valley. Along the western edge of the drainage basin, the exposed Campanian layer also softened the landscape. Between these two poles the scenery is more spectacular. Steep-sided and narrow meanders coincide with the more resistant outcrops of the Middle and Upper Coniacian. As a result, rock faces with an average height of around 40 metres (ill. 2) were formed. These cliffs [4] developed characteristically, both along the central course of the Vezere River and in the valleys of its tributaries, particularly those of the Beune rivers. The gentler landforms of the Santonian and the Campanian, which are more varied and give the landscape a more subdued appearance (ill. 3), have developed above these formations.

5 Geological map of the lower Vezere drainage basin.

The cliffs demonstrate a certain uniformity. In general, they are split into two units of roughly equal thickness, separated by a deep, almost horizontal linear niche marking the boundary between the Middle and Upper sub-stages of the Coniacian. This geological discontinuity stretches from La Roque-Saint-Christophe, [5] the great terrace dominating the Vezere (ill. 6), to Pech-Saint-Sour, downstream from Les Eyzies-de-Tayac, on the right bank. The niche is a deep cavity, with an even floor and a convex ceiling, which sometimes reaches over 10 metres in height.

6 The great terrace of La Roque-Saint-Christophe, Peyzac-le-Moustier. This long horizontal incision marks the boundary between the middle and upper layers of the Coniacian.

7 Stretch of the Grande Beune close to the chateau of Commarque, Les Eyzies-de- Tayac-Sireuil. This flat- bottomed valley was filled by peat, breccia and travertine deposits, formed during the Holocene period.

This hollow played a major role in the settlement of communities, not only during the Middle and Upper Palaeolithic but also more recently, right up to the sixteenth century. The role of the overhanging formation was fundamental for the Palaeolithic population of the Black Perigord. It shelters the majority of the important sites of the region, such as Le Moustier, La Madeleine, Laugerie-Haute. Laugerie-Basse, Pataud and the terrace of the National Museum of Prehistory at Les Eyzies-de-Tayac. Only a few remnants of the Palaeolithic floor have survived the effects of subsequent activities on the latter terrace, but we can assume that there was an important human presence here during different periods because it is located at the confluence with the Grande Beune and faces southwest.

Along the Vezere, the altitude of this long niche differs by some 20 metres. It follows the warp of the strata that form the Sarlat syncline, which were shaped by tectonic movement. The height of the niche ranges from 35 metres above the valley floor at La Roque-Saint-Chrisrophe to 15 metres near Tursac, a third of the way along its course, before rising once again to 35 metres on the terrace of the National Museum of Prehistory.

In the valleys of the tributaries, particularly those of the Benne rivers, the rock-face formations follow a slightly different pattern. Their profiles consist of a series of steps, which make access to the different terraces much easier.

During the course of the past millennia, several geological phenomena have altered the landscape by increasing the erosion of slopes and the movement of sediments. This has affected both the discovery and the preservation of prehistoric sites, settlements or sanctuaries. A number of rock shelters and cave entrances have no doubt disappeared, having been filled in and concealed.

These processes are an important factor in the study of the region's archaeology. Along the Grande Beune, a survey of the valley floor revealed 14 metres of sedimentary deposits close to its confluence with the Petite Beune. Sampling showed the presence of limestone gravels and peat, an accumulation of deposits generated by the formation of downstream travertine obstructions composed of a mixture of calcite and vegetation. The formation of these deposits seems to have occurred at the beginning of the Holocene period, well after the Ice Age and the passage of man at Lascaux. Observations made close to the chateau of Commarque (ill. 7) show that aggradation (the deposition of material by a river, stream or current) was equally prevalent along the Grande Beune during the same period. Traces of medieval activity on the rock walls, particularly alignments of scaffolding holes, are well below the present level of the Beune. This suggests that the surface of the land at the beginning of the second millennium was some 3 to 5 metres lower than it is today.

As a result of the altered profile of the tributary valleys, the long sub-horizontal niche marking the transition from Middle to Upper Coniacian has been almost entirely covered up (ill. 8). In fact, it is only visible downstream along the first 2 kilometres of the valley of the Beune rivers. Above Les Combarelles it is buried by Holocene peat and breccias; the northern Grand Abri, one of the springs fed by this decorated cave, marks the last point at which it can be identified. The change in this tributary's profile also means that the majority of traces of Palaeolithic occupation are hidden today, undoubtedly buried below several metres of sediment.

This could explain the relatively low number of inhabited rock shelters discovered in these sections of the tributary valleys: the filling-in process only applies to them, while the Vezere itself remains unaffected by these geological events. The particular distribution of habitation sites in the Black Perigord, with a significant number of prehistoric sites in the Vezere Valley but comparatively low numbers in the valleys of its tributaries, especially the Beune, is thus largely dictated by phenomena operating on a geological scale over the course of the past millennia.

8 Schematic representation of the different levels of sedimentation in the valley floors of the Vezere, the Grande Beune and the Petite Beune rivers.
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Postby admin » Sat Sep 12, 2015 10:20 pm

Chapter 2: The Underground Environment


The caves of the Black Perigord have been little studied until now. Yet, the lower Vezere Valley possesses an extensive underground environment, at the heart of which lies a particularly rich and diverse testimony to human activities.

A Truly Vast Realm

The map below (ill. 9), showing the distribution of natural caves in the Vezere Valley, enables us to evaluate the density of sites occupied by man in comparison with the natural potential of the region, and the relative locations of these caves to Lascaux. It also sheds new light on why humans occupied certain caves and rock shelters.

The irregular spread of caves, much denser in some areas, notably in the southwest, hits you immediately when you look at this map. A very high concentration of caves occupies a small area of the Vezere Valley: it extends from the confluence of the Manaurie to the cliff at Guilhem and in an easterly direction towards the Grande Beune, and it includes the entire valley of the Petite Beune.

This limited region -- which forms only 15 percent of the territory in question -- contains 153 recorded caves, almost half of the area's total. Of these, eighteen are decorated, making up 72 percent of the total number of engraved or painted caves found in the Vezere drainage basin and 12 per cent of the overall number of French decorated caves. Beyond this concentration of natural caves, the sites are a lot more scattered.

Another striking observation is the lack of sites above an altitude of 200 metres. Indeed, the majority of caves are found between 100 and 200 metres, with a maximum at around 150 metres. This can be explained in part by the presence of significant deposits of surface sediments.

In most cases, the development of the entrance zones to the caves has been horizontal. which makes access more straightforward. There are only fifteen sites at the very most at which access is obtained by means of a shaft or sinkhole.

9 Distribution map of karst cavities in the lower Vezere drainage basin.

Only some twenty of the caves are active (that is, they are traversed partially or entirely by a subterranean stream), the majority of which are located in the north of the region. Caves with sporadic or temporary watercourses are rare. Lascaux has belonged to this group since the end of the Palaeolithic period. During the course of the past millennia, the collapse of the roof at the cave entrance has modified the direction of the flow of water issuing from the interstices of the rock strata in the ceiling. Before certain areas of the cave were altered in the mid-twentieth century in order to facilitate access, this water was able to percolate at the front of the cave and plunge on to the large cone of scree sealing the entrance. The cave then functioned like a drain, with the water moving from the entrance zone towards the deeper regions, in particular the Nave, having once traversed the Hall of the Bulls and the Passageway. Large gours (calcited areas where natural dams occur), created by precipitation of the calcite carried by the stream water, are present along this entire underground course and bear testament to this phenomenon.

Tiered Caves

The formation of caves is subject to many factors, some of which influence the shape of the passages. Numerous examples show that the cross section of galleries and the way in which they develop are often unique to the geological level within which they were cut. In this area of France, the Lower Santonian and the Upper Coniacian are the two principal strata, and Lascaux is in the latter. They are about 40 metres thick. Almost 80 per cent of the group of caves studied are found within these two strata. This high proportion is linked to the optimal conditions for karstification (dissolution) within the strata and the location of so many of the entrances along the front of the cliffs, which not only facilitates their discovery but also limits their concealment behind slope deposits.

At the heart of the Coniacian level, there are two karst horizons, the Font-de-Gaume and Combarelles horizons, which are recognizable by their distinctive physical characteristics. Located at the summit, the Font-de-Gaume horizon contains almost 70 percent of the decorated and undecorated caves in the Upper Coniacian stratum of the region. Despite the extremely high number of caves, their structural features are not particularly diverse. The most widely distributed form is closely linked to the topography of the external hydrographical system and belongs to the group of so-called 'cutaneous', or superficial, passages. The particular situation of the localities gives their galleries an orientation that is to all intents identical to that of the valleys into which the caves open. Lateral corridors follow a similar logic in that their development copies that of the tributary valleys exactly. As a result, secondary lateral entrances are created. The cave of Pilier, near Beyssac, matches this description to an extreme degree with no fewer than twelve entrances, distributed irregularly in relation to the main axis and orientated on to both the valley of the Petite Beune and the minor valley of Pechmemie.

One of the peculiarities of this topography is that it promotes the exchange of air between the interior of caves and the outside. In summer, this air, which is warmer and charged with humidity, causes condensation to form on the cooler walls of the cave, a phase that is followed by drying. The presence of carbon dioxide, at elevated levels in this context (in the order of 0.2 to 4 per cent, or indeed more), forms carbonic acid, which becomes increasingly concentrated during the period of evaporation until the next cycle. These phenomena degrade the limestone walls through dissolution and can sometimes even cause an accentuated deterioration of painted or engraved prehistoric images. Signs of intense corrosion of the lithic support are observed all the time, and it often affects more than 80 per cent of the surface of the walls. The production of gas is caused by several factors, the most significant of which relates to plant cover. The permanent fluctuations recorded are the result of variations in external atmospheric pressure.

The course of the galleries is most often horizontal and takes the form of a hollow along the line of a fissure or diaclase, developed in a straight line. The resultant shape often has a greater height than width. The elevation may attain a height of several metres above floor level, between 12 and 15 metres at Font-de-Gaume. The section, relatively broad at the base, becomes progressively narrower towards the top, although it often depends on the nature of the rock. Thus, when the stratification is very heterogeneous, the sections of the gallery are different, resembling a 'keyhole' in terms of shape. This morphology is found at Lascaux.

These natural conditions allow for relatively easy movement in the cave, and major difficulties are encountered rarely. It is unusual to find narrow passages anywhere other than in the deepest branches of the cave system. The floor is sometimes covered with carbonate deposits, in the form of stalagmite floors, but more often by a fill of sandy clay.

Fewer sites belong to the Combarelles horizon, which has a more modest shape than the Font-de-Gaume. Its architecture is more uniform and linear, without side branches. The single passage often keeps to the same section, from the first few metres to the innermost depths of the cave. On the other hand, the scale of development may change significantly from one site to another, from a few dozen metres (at La Foret or Cazelle, for example) to several hundred metres (600 metres at los Combarelles). Of the twelve caves with such a contour, four are decorated: Les Combarelles, Cazelle, La Foret and La Croze-a-Gontrand.

There are numerous springs at such sites owing to the proximity of a more indurated horizon at the base of this geological sequence. In the majority of cases, their outflow is permanent and quite significant. Furthermore, there is a close connection between the entry zone into these systems and the deep sub-horizontal niche, visible on both sides of the vezere.

Distribution of Caves and Rock Shelters

In this region, most of the decorated and undecorated caves, including Lascaux, are found in the base of the Lower Santonian and the Upper Coniacian. For the most part they open on to a cliff, a position that allows a more explicit perusal of the landscape during prospecting and an immediate identification of the entrances to cave systems. To a certain extent, this explains why there are so many of them. However, this is not the case at Lascaux, where the entrance is on a smooth slope. Nevertheless, a survey using microgravimetry [6] of the subsoil topography, which is today buried below slope deposits, reveals the existence of a small ledge at the present entrance to the site (not to be compared with the cliffs further downstream, however, from Sergeac on). These observations, which were confirmed by archaeological excavations carried out at the base of the entrance, allow us to pinpoint the highly inconspicuous outline of the entrance porch during the Upper Palaeolithic.

The rock faces bordering the Vezere (ill. 10) often appear degraded and give the edges of the plateaux a ruinous appearance, a feature accentuated in some places by the exposure of ancient karst systems dissecting their summits. For the most part, these cliffs do not show any secondary projections, giving an absolutely vertical profile to the entire formation, which can exceed 40 metres in height. In the valleys of the Beune, on the other hand, the formations have less pronounced ridges, and their vertical development is divided into terraces (ill. 11).

10 Elevated karst in the Vezere Valley. At the foot of this cliff, which has no intermediate terrace, is the horizontal niche that shelters the prehistoric site of Laugerie-Basse.

These different observations show that the state of preservation of the two geological units differs profoundly from one valley to the next. In the Vezere, karst structures are either high up (and therefore difficult to access) or are broken down by erosion, which explains why so few caves have been recorded. In the Beune, however, the same stratigraphic series preserves its entire uniformity from the confluence (with the Vezere) to the heads of the larger and smaller valleys. The terraced form of these cliffs facilitates access to the different levels.

11 Terraced incline of a cliff, the contour of which facilitates access to the caves, region of the Petite Beune, Les Eyzies-de-Tayac-Sireuil.

12 Distribution map of decorated caves and rock shelters occupied during the course of the Upper Palaeolithic in the lower Vezere drainage basin.

This situation is totally reversed in the rock-shelter formation (in the form of a long horizontal niche). On both sides of the Vezere, it retains the same form throughout the entire steep-sided section of the drainage basin and is only interrupted by the confluences of the tributary valleys, between Thonac and Les Eyzies-de-Tayac. Furthermore. it is not particularly difficult to gain access to this group of rock shelters. They are never more than 30 metres above the valley floor, and access is often facilitated by a talus deposit. As explained in Chapter 1, however, in the principal tributary valley -- that of the Beune -- this same horizontal niche disappears below fluviatile deposits above Les Combarelles. which explains why so few shelters were found there.

This topographical difference thus reveals a higher concentration of habitation sites, located mainly in the Vezere Valley, and an inverse proportion in the Beune. Similarly, there are numerous decorated caves in the Beune Valley, in sharp contrast to the Vezere Valley (ill. 12). The specific distribution of sites, caves or rock shelters is essentially governed by a combination of factors of geological origin, linked to the formation of landscapes, the erosion of outcrops and the phenomena of valley infilling.
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Postby admin » Sat Sep 12, 2015 10:22 pm

Chapter 3: The Cave of Lascaux

13 The Lascaux hill. The formation projects into the valley.

Lascaux Cave's geographical position places it some distance from the major concentrations of decorated caves and habitation sites that line the downstream stretch of the Vezere and its tributaries.

The present entrance to the cave, 185 metres above sea level, overlooks the valley floor by 105 metres. The road linking Montignac and Lascaux passes through the entire Coniacian sequence. The underground system is developed most completely in the uppermost part of this horizon. The first strata of the Santonian appear approximately 5 metres above the present entrance.

The cave is integrated into a hilltop formation, the summit of which is today masked by important slope deposits. These deposits smooth the outline of the hill, a phenomenon resulting from distortion of the Santonian basement rock (ill. 13). It is one of the characteristic features of the landscape.

Access to the Site

A relevant question is how humans gained access to the cave in the Upper Palaeolithic. As with the other caves in this region, once you get past the first 30 metres, the underground passage has changed very little since that time. Only the sectors close to daylight have been subjected to natural changes, although these have sometimes been considerable.

Several clues allow us to sketch out an initial answer, particularly with regards to possible entrances to the system. Indeed, a group of geological, morphological, palaeontological and conservational arguments allows us to support the hypothesis of a second entrance to the cave of Lascaux at the end of the Great Fissure.

The level corresponding to the ceiling of the cave is characterized by poorly indurated and highly fractured rock, which makes the formation of a rock face impossible. The entrances used by Palaeolithic man never opened widely on to the valley, in fact quite the opposite. At that time, the immediate landscape was restricted to a barely visible ridge shared by both possible entrances. The similar contours oft he openings and their location at the same level suggest that they were filled in at the same moment in time. This could have been caused by the collapse of part of the ceiling of the porch, erosion of their frontages, the influx of mudflows or the effects of solifluction phenomena (the transport of surface sediments resulting from the alternate freezing and thawing of soils). If you compare Lascaux with other caves belonging to the same geological level, you notice the same superficial character of the system, suggesting multiple entrances.

At the end of the Great Fissure, where the second entrance would have been located, the morphology of the chamber confirms that it is identical to that of the present entrance to the site. Its collapsed ceiling is very close to the outside surface and touches the top of a scree deposit that partly fills the gallery. An absolutely identical formation also blocked the present entrance before it was removed to make room for the engine room. At the wall of the Shaft Scene, other elements support this suggestion, notably the initial narrowness of the passageway connecting the Apse to the Shaft and the broadened cross section of the underlying gallery (ill. 14). This combination of factors accentuates the difficulty of passing from one space to the next and makes a return to the upper level almost impossible without proper equipment, something that was recognized at the time of Lascaux's discovery.

During the course of excavations conducted by Andre Glory, numerous remains of bones were unearthed. Almost 95 per cent of the remains came from cervids (reindeer and red deer), but wild boar and horses were also present. The remains also included microfauna. Apart from bats, several other species were identified: edible dormouse, garden dormouse, hare, water vole, hedgehog and frog. With the exception of the blue hate, all species show differing degrees of affinity with the entrance passages to the subterranean world. J. Bouchud, [7] who analysed the fauna at the site, questioned how these remains of micro-mammals arrived in the cave, attributing their presence to either predators or water. He ruled out the latter, since the Shaft bas not been affected by water with the exception of some percolation that bas deposited a fine calcite encrustation over the archaeological levels. A potential predator was a possibility, but this is pure speculation as no bone remains of carnivores have ever been recovered.

Predator or not, an external access to this branch of the system must have existed. Neither the edible nor the garden dormouse penetrates more than a few tens of metres into the interior of caves. The other species in particular the frog and the hedgehog were unable to gain access to the upper level, which indicates that these animals were restricted to the Shaft, the Great Fissure and the Silted-up Chamber. This presupposes an opening to the outside world very close to the place of their burial.

14 The Shaft. A difference in altitude of 6 metres separates the Apse from the bottom of the Shaft. The Scene, hidden by a projection of the cave wall, unrolls on the wall facing the descent by ladder.

One feature of this type of underground architecture with several openings is that the limestone deteriorates by dissolution. a phenomenon related to the exchange of air between the outside and the cave. This observation and the traces of corrosion on the walls thus give us another clue. We have mentioned the chemical processes linking condensation of water to carbon dioxide, as well as their effects on the limestone support. At Lascaux:, this phenomenon is accentuated by the presence of an important updraft of carbon dioxide at the base of the Shaft, [8] and measurements taken daily show that this can reach a concentration of 6 per cent.

15 A ramp provides access to Lascaux, which is sealed from the outside world by a monumental door.

The zones affected by this form of deterioration are not distributed randomly bur are governed by two factors that determine the different actions of the corrosion: the geometry of the galleries and the direction of atmospheric circulation. This affects the condition of the walls and indicates the main directions of air flow.

A detailed analysis of those sectors affected at Lascaux has highlighted a particular axis of circulation, which has made the deterioration in the Apse and the Passageway more pronounced than in the Nave or the Chamber of the Felines. The majority of the pigment applied to the walls or the ceiling has disappeared as a result of this decay. The most damaged area is near the opening to the Shaft, bur the upper part of the Apse has also been affected: of the two great horses, which decorated the entire ceiling, only a few engraved lines remain, while the colouring matter survives only as a ghostly image. The Passageway bears the same scars, and only the painted figures in the lateral niches (particularly over the first 3 metres) are intact. On the fan-shaped surface on the right wall of the Hall of the Bulls, at the entrance to the Passageway, the hindquarters of the fourth bull and the great aurochs's head have also deteriorated. This series of observations proves the existence of a major flow of air, which made its destructive effects felt throughout all the sections of the gallery between the present-day entrance zone and the top of the scree deposit of the Great Fissure. It would therefore seem that there were indeed two distinct entrances to the Lascaux system: the one that is in use today (ill. 15), and the other, at the end of the Great Fissure, which was filled in by slope deposits and thereby concealed following the passage of Palaeolithic man. [9]

Architecture of the Cave

Lascaux has traditionally been divided into seven sectors (ill. 16) according to topography: the Hall of the Bulls (also known as the Rotunda), the Axial Gallery, the Passageway, the Nave, the Chamber of the Felines, the Apse and the Shaft. The undecorated portions are also included in this book, however. namely the entrance zone. the terminal passage, the Mondmilch Gallery (between the Nave and the Chamber of the Felines), the Great Fissure and the Silted-up Chamber (located beyond the Shaft).

Excluding the terminal passage, the final extension of the Axial Gallery and the umbilicus of the Silted-up Chamber, the system of galleries accessible to man -- in all around 235 metres long -- can be split into three distinct rectilinear segments of unequal length. They are divided along three major axes: the first, at an angle of 1200 relative to north, comprises the entrance zone, the Hall of the Bulls and the Axial Gallery; the second, orientated north-south, includes the Passageway, the Nave, the Mondmilch Gallery and the Chamber of the Felines; and the third segment, consisting of the Shaft and the Great Fissure, is at right angles to the second, with an east-west orientation. Beyond this, in a chamber following an identical orientation to the first segment, an important scree deposit marks the intersection between the extremity of the Great Fissure and the opening of the Silted-Up Chamber on the left.

The longitudinal sections reveal the different levels of the cave, which gets progressively deeper from the present- ay entrance to the Chamber of the Felines. It drops 13 metres from the entrance to the Axial Gallery, a further 19 metres to the base of the Shaft and then another 20 metres to the bottom of the south shaft in the Chamber of the Felines.


The space between the present entrance and the Hall of the Bulls, some 20 metres long, is divided into four sections or airlocks. These partitions are designed to protect the decorated zones from external, potentially harmful climatic influences.

When the cave was first discovered, a great cone of scree filled the entrance zone. In 1948, however, it was levelled off to make the path wider, and access to the cave was facilitated by the introduction of a stairway. The installation of an air-conditioning system a few years later necessitated the removal of part of the sedimentary formation.

Differences in ground level and the changing nature of the porch, the facade of which has been cut back several metres since the Palaeolithic, have altered the appearance of the entrance over time. This is linked to the last incidence of subsidence in the roof, which buried archaeological layers dating to the same period as the parietal works of art. The ground surface formed by the scree cone followed a slight slope of around 20°, and the foot of the talus deposit was 5 metres further back than at the time of the discovery (ill. 17).

From the entrance, the extremely fragmented upper layer acts as a drainage system. Water is filtered through the 1. 5metre- thick rock stratum until it reaches the base, where it is prevented from going any further by a marly layer some 30 centimetres thick (located above the ceiling of the fourth airlock and beyond). The water diverted in this way percolates through the facade, which is chamfered by erosion. It used to flow across the scree talus towards the Hall of the Bulls, but now it is collected and pumped out of the cave.

During the Upper Palaeolithic, the less pronounced slope led towards an oblong hall. Today, this is cut off by the partition that separates the Hall of the Bulls from the rest of the cave system. The cross section of the entrance area prefigures that of the Hall of the Bulls. Shaped like a diabolo, it is divided into two levels of approximately equal height, separated by a ridge.


The Hall of the Bulls is a natural progression from the airlocks and retains the same characteristics (ill. 18). It is 19 metres long and varies in breadth from 5.5 metres at the entrance to 7.5 metres at its widest point, next to the opening to the Passageway.

16 Planimetric record of Lascaux and location of the principal figures and panels.


1. Black horse's head
2. Unicorn
3. Frieze of the black horses
4. Head of the first bull
5. Great red and black horse
6. Second bull
7. Brown horse
8. Frieze of the Small Stags
9. Third bull
10. Red cow
11. Fourth bull
12. Black horse in the forequarters
of the fourth bull
13. Small black stag
14. Polychrome headless horse
15. Bear
16. Fifth bull
17. Red cow followed by her calf
18. Head of a bull


1. The Red Cow with the Black Collar
2. Frieze of the yellow small horses
3. The Cow with the Drooping Horn
4. Red cow painted on the ceiling
5. Great Black Bull
6. Frieze of the heads of yellow cattle
7. Red cows covered
by the Great Black Bull
8. Panel of the Hemione
9. Galloping Horse
10. Feline
11. Yellow horse and polychrome horse
12. Upside-down Horse
13. Red Panel
14. Confronted Ibexes
15. Superposed horses
16. Large red quadrangular symbol
17. Falling Cow
18. Solitary head of a bull
19. Frieze of the Small Horses


1. Traces of a painted equid
2. Hindquarters and beginning of the
belly line of a painted equid
3. Head of a bison
4. Procession of engraved horses
5. Horse rolling on the ground
6. Engraved ibex and painted hooves
of an equid
7. Engraved and black painted horse
8. Horse with the turned-back foot
9. Heads and horns of cows
10. Red drawing of a headless equid
11. Engraved ibexes and horses
12. Two horses engraved one above
the other
13. Bearded Horse


1. Stag with Thirteen Arrows
2. Fallen Stag
3. Third great stag
4. Horse and aurochs
5. Confronted stags
6. Confronted ibexes
7. Upward-turned Horse
8. Panel of the Musk Ox
9. Horse with Claviforms
10. Frieze of the painted and engraved stags
11. 'Chimney' sign
12. Small Sorcerer
13. Great Reindeer
14. The two bison
15 'fend-la-bise' Stag
16. Major Stag
17. Great stag and horse with merged
18. The Hut
19. Engraved stag on black background
20. Great Sorcerer
21. Red horse
22. Yellow horse


1. Rhinoceros
2. Six black dots
3. Man
4. Bison
5. Bird
6. Black horse


1. Panel of the Ibexes
2. Panel of the Imprint
3. Panel of the Great Black Cow
4. Crossed Bison
5. Frieze of the Swimming Stags


1. Niche of the felines
2. Horse in frontal view
3. Quadrangular signs
4. Crossed bison
5. Panel of the horse
6. Tree house
7. Sign XIII
8. Head and horns of a bison
9. Six red dots

17 Longitudinal stratigraphic section from the entrance to the Hall of the Bulls at different periods: during the Upper Palaeolithic, the 12 September 1940 and in its present state.

The walls are made up of three superimposed levels. The upper, concave level features a single line of three cupolas of decreasing diameter, followed by a short row of smaller connecting cupolas, extending over 4 metres at the far end (before the entrance to the Axial Gallery). It is separated from the level below by a pronounced horizontal ridge. The central level, which runs along both walls, evolves from an inconspicuous sub-vertical formation at the entrance into an overhanging mass (with a maximum inclination of 70º) at the fur end of the hall. Moreover, its breadth quadruples from 1 to 4 metres. The combined effect of these two layers and the omnipresence of the painted images are significant, making you feel surrounded on all sides, and in this sense the alternative name given to the hall -- the Rotunda -- is very apt. The third level, which compensates for the increased difference in altitude, is quite modest at the entrance to the hall, but accounts for a third of the wall's height at its centre. We call it the bench.

18 In the Hall of the Bulls, the decorated surface occupies the central part of the raised wall, which is distinctly corbelled.

Since the departure of Palaeolithic man, only the floors have been modified. In the majority of places, Andre Glory's test trenches reveal much the same sequence. At the base there is a deposit of alternating layers of fine sand and laminated clay, ranging in thickness from 2 metres in the Passageway to 4 metres in the Shaft and sealed by a compact, sandy band of clay of between 3 and 10 centimetres. Most of the portable archaeological finds were collected at its surface. A later but similar deposit of sediment only partially covered the Palaeolithic floor. During the Postglacial period, a very significant calcite deposit was formed along the subterranean watercourse. Four major petrified gours, with an average diameter of 4 metres, lie along the central axis of the Hall of the Bulls. The outflow towards the Passageway caused similar sedimentation beyond the hall, right up to the threshold of the Chamber of the Felines. However, the concretion (the hard, solid mass formed by the accumulation of calcite) of the floors allowed the deposition of clay layers along the left side of the gallery up to the foot of the wall.

The calcite cover is 20 centimetres thick on average, although some of the calcite natural dams are as much as 40 centimetres high. The physical traces of prehistoric man are buried below this layer in the clay sediments. The original floor of the gallery lies on average 30 centimetres below its current level.


The Axial Gallery (ill. 19) is over 22 metres long and follows an almost identical orientation to that of the Hall of the Bulls. The floor has a gradient of 10 per cent, which becomes slightly more pronounced at the far end, beyond the Chinese Horses. For the purposes of this book, the passage has been divided into three sections of roughly equal length. The limits of these sections have been determined by two constrictions in the walls of the gallery, where the passage narrows to less than 60 centimetres wide. With visitors in mind, the first constriction was widened by removing a pronounced formation at the foot of the right wall.

A cross section of the passage shows that the Axial Gallery is shaped like a keyhole. Like the Hall of the Bulls, it has remained unchanged since the Upper Palaeolithic, with the exception of the floor Unfortunately, the floor has been disturbed several times since the cave's discovery and there is very little information about its original state. Trenches were dug for electric cables and ventilation ducts from the entrance right up to the terminal passage, disturbing the stratigraphy of the floor along the entire length of the gallery.

The stratigraphic sequence is identical to that in the other sectors of the cave. The archaeological layer, above the sterile fill of alternating bands of laminated clay and pal, grey sand, contained a relatively large number of portable items - in particular cores, flint bladelets and knapping waste, with traces of wood charcoal and fragments of colouring materials. This layer was sealed by 10 centimetres of compact clay and a thil calcite encrustation, formed by a flow of water trickling down the entrance. Compared to the palaeosol of the Hall of the Bulls, there is a difference in height of 3 metres. However, preliminary observation made by Henri Breuil [10] shortly after the discovery and recorded by Jacques Marsal showed that the floor at the entrance to the gallery formed a ridge that was almost 1 metre higher than its current level -- subsequently worn down by the huge number of visitors passing through. Local drainage of the fill or the collapse of animal burrows may have played their part. Indeed, at the entrance to the Passageway, at the base of the left wall, there were badger claw marks.

The third segment of the Axial Gallery has a relatively complex structure and confined space compared with the linearity and impressive size of the cave system thus far. A major constriction at the base of the passage marks the location of the Upside-down Horse (ill. 20), from which point the passage takes a meandering course, turning through 300º. The ceiling height drops significantly over this 7-metre section, from 3.2 metres at the entrance to 1.2 metres at the far end of the gallery.

19 The entrance to the Axial Gallery illustrates perfectly the morphology of the passageway, showing its 'keyhole-shaped' cross section in particular

A cross section of the gallery highlights the clear gap at the base of the wall where the lower level has crumbled away, creating a projection in the rock around which the image of the Upside-down Horse unfurls. Immediately before this formation the same break in the strata forms a series of small adjacent cavities, a few centimetres in size. On the opposite wall there is a deep fissure some 20 centimetres wide, which runs the length of the Red Panel, the final composition in this passage.

Beyond these last representations, there is a narrow sub-horizontal passage. It is some 15 metres long, but then becomes blocked by a sandy-clay obstruction.

20 The second narrowing of the Axial Gallery marks the entrance to the location of the Upside-down Horse.
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Postby admin » Sat Sep 12, 2015 10:25 pm


A gallery of more modest proportions (ill. 21) gives you access to the second part of the system. It is 4 metres wide on average, and no more than 17 metres long, but there is a very noticeable difference in the ceiling height, which ranges from 2 to 2.4 metres. The current ceiling is higher than it used to be: deposits in the central section of the passage were removed to create an extra 1 to 1.4 metres of head room for visitors.

On the whole, the Passageway is rectilinear, but it does not have the symmetrical opposing walls that have been recorded elsewhere. In fact, it is more like a meander. Broader than it is high, its walls are characterized by a series of alternating and staggered hollows and projections. The broad juxtaposed alcoves are known as conches.

Research by Andre Glory shows a recurring stratigraphy, in every way identical to that already seen, distinguished only by the lateral slope of its layers. This incline has affected the course of the subterranean stream. A stalagmite floor, some tens of centimetres thick and fragmented, is marked by a succession of small petrified pools. It covers the entire width of the gallery at the entrance to the Passageway, but accounts for just one third of the floor at the far end.


The Passageway opens to an intersection of galleries. The Apse and the adjoined Nave (ill. 22) are to the right. Eighteen metres long, with an average width of 6 metres and a ceiling height of between 2.5 metres at the entrance and 8 metres at the far end, the dimensions here are similar to those of the Hall of the Bulls. The floor has a 19 percent gradient, and a short, more level stretch marks the start of the Mondmilch Gallery.

21 The rectilinear development of the Passageway disguises the meandering form in which it was hollowed out. This can be identified, however, due to a succession of projecting formations that alternate regularly along the two sides of the gallery.

A voluminous oblong cupola covers two thirds of the hall, its formation mirroring the symmetry of the lateral walls. The two walls get progressively wider, and the hall is at its most spacious in the centre. This sub-ovoid structure is typical of Lascaux's different underground spaces and occurs both in isolation and in combination with other components. Examples include the sections from the entrance to the Upside-down Horse, from the Shaft to the Silted-up Chamber, and from this intersection to the Chamber of the Felines.

22 General view of the Nave.

On the lower section of the wall there is a ledge - otherwise known as the bench which is separated from the panel above by a pronounced, continuous niche. It begins close to the Panel of the Imprint and reaches a maximum height of 3 metres under the figure of the Great Black Cow. The ledge was very important to the Palaeolithic artist, providing a broad platform on which to work and enabling him to position himself with ease without the need for scaffolding. This natural platform is interrupted close to the panel of the Crossed Bison, in which the bison have been integrated into a deep concave niche in the wall.

The frieze of the Swimming Stags is on the west wall, opposite the Great Black Cow. Here, the surface of the bench, which was narrow and horizontal at the entrance, becomes broader and continues at an oblique angle.


Some 20 metres separate the Nave from the Chamber of the Felines (ill. 23). The zone between these two segments, a more modest extension of the Nave, is usually called the Mondmilch Gallery. The ceiling height here reaches a maximum of 8 metres, although the passage is never more than 2 metres wide. It takes its name from the chalky mondmilch that coats the gallery - a stalagmite encrustation that can reach a height of almost 4 metres. There is a marked absence of figures in this sector. The friable state of mondmilch surfaces, on which it would be impossible to preserve traces of art even if there were any, makes them highly unsuitable platforms for any form of graphic expression.

23 Entrance to the Mondmilch Gallery, which connects the Nave to the Chamber of the Felines. At an undetermined point in time the stalagmitic formations on the walls were subjected to significant deterioration, which explains why they are undecorated.


The Chamber of the Felines is a 3D-metre-long rectilinear corridor, blocked at its distal extremity by a plug of argillaceous calcite (ill. 24). It is distinguished from the other galleries by its rather small dimensions and barely passable nature. The whole length of the route is strewn with small irregularities, all very diverse in character, which make passage arduous.

24 The approach to the Chamber of the Felines is more constricted than the preceding galleries, marked in particular by the crossing of the southern Shaft. Six red dots signal the end of this final extension.

The walls of the vault are all very fragmented in appearance. A 45° ramp stands at the entrance, leading to the first engravings in a narrow space of ovoid form. This is followed by a still narrower and lower passage, and then a second and third alcove. A narrow channel excavated by Andre Glory facilitates passage through the Chamber, but you have to crouch down.

Suddenly a vertical shaft appears before you, barring the way: 5 metres deep and 4.5 metres long, it extends across the entire width of the gallery. Today, it is crossed by means of a metal footbridge. Here, from this central point to the far end of the gallery, there is a noticeable increase in humidity. Over the last 10-metre stretch, the floor is characterized by a covering of sticky clay. The Chamber becomes so narrow that you can go no further.


The long gallery runs in a north-south direction and has just one intersection, on its western side. The Apse (ill. 25), leading to the Shaft, the Great Fissure and the Silted-up Chamber, is ar this junction. The Apse was created in an identical way to the majority of galleries at the site, as a cross section shows (ill. 26). The overall structure, an oblong cupola, is surmounted by a second enclosed form of similar geometry. There are no traces of calcite on the walls.

In the most remote part, a secondary enlargement called the Apsidiole provides access to the top of the Shaft. When the cave was first discovered, the floor was a lot higher than it is today, but around 1.5 metres of sand and clay were subsequently removed from the surface in order to facilitate tourist access. A metal platform now separates the Apsidiole from the upper Shaft, replacing the original filling.

A more detailed morphological analysis and survey of the events that led to the modification of these spaces can throw light on the difficulties encountered by Palaeolithic man in gaining access to the bottom of the Shaft. At that time, the infill of the Apse was only a fraction of this formation. It was connected to that of the Shaft by a large opening in the rock, hollowed out 2 metres below, and at the front of the Apse. The friable aggregate jutted right out towards the inaccessible lower layers. If this deposit did not exist, the Apse and the Great Fissure would form one and the same gallery. Two factors may have been responsible for the difference in floor height: the greater potential for sediments to drain from the base of the deposit close to the Shaft, and a wider passage below, facilitating the movement of materials through gravity.

The layer of deposit thinned out from the Apse to the Shaft, where it jutted out like a ceiling over the underlying gallery. The longitudinal section reconstructed in the diagram opposite (ill. 26) shows how the line of the floor and the ceiling converged, causing the ceiling height to drop to under 50 centimetres along part of the passage. It was only possible to reach the far end of the passage - and the sheer drop into the gallery below - by crawling.

25 General view of the Apse. In the most secluded part of this egg-shaped space is the entrance to the Shaft.

26 Longitudinal section of the gallery, across the Apse, the Shaft and the beginning of the Great Fissure.

On the day the cave was discovered, without any special equipment, exploration of the cave was limited to a reconnaissance. The four explorers could only just make out the upper part of the Shaft, but in order to gain access to it Marcel Ravidat had to lower the very loose, powdery floor by some 15 centimetres. The following day, the teenagers returned to the spot with suitable equipment. The edge of the Shaft was weak due to the type of sediments and the thinness of the deposit, and the nature of the place made it impossible to climb down the 5 metres that separated them from the bottom. They were forced to seek another solution. They found it some metres from the edge, in the first part of the meander, where it was possible to stand up. The floor at this point was pierced by a half-moon-shaped hole, some 30 centimetres in diameter. They enlarged it to permit a person to pass through and placed a log across the gallery. This was to prevent their rope from cutting into the filling and causing further sediment to fall.

This piece of information provided by Marcel Ravidat [11] shows the difficulties encountered along this route and the near impossibility of gaining access in this way. The lack of any significant sedimentation since the time of Palaeolithic man - if there has indeed been any at all- means that the passage could not have been refilled Of, more precisely, narrowed. Furthermore, owing to the shape of the narrow tunnel, which curves back on itself, it would have been impossible to use a ladder or climbing pole to assist in the descent. Climbing with one's own bare hands would have been a risky option, as the bell-shaped cross section of the underlying gallery prevents any climbing in opposition.


Though the name 'the Shaft' is rather inappropriate, the term has been traditional for so long that we will continue to use it. This segment is in fact nothing more than a recess in the proximal part of the Great Fissure. We should make it quite clear that this complex is not on a lower level of the system, as is sometimes stated (although the name 'Shaft' may encourage this confusion), but a continuation of the preceding spaces. In fact, the ceiling of the Shaft is at the same horizontal level as that of the Passageway. The same is true of the Crossed Bison in the Nave and the panel of the Shaft Scene. The Great Fissure is, at most, 10 metres high and 30 metres long. It is relatively wide at first (over the first third or so of its length), but the walls converge towards the far end, making the passage less than 70 centimetres wide in places. A significant scree deposit, more clayey at the top, obstructs two thirds of this space. A continuous slope at an average angle of30° brings you up to the same level as the Shaft entrance, and the last third of the gallery takes you higher still.

The profile of the gallery has changed as a result of human intervention. The excavations of Henri Breuil and Severin Blanc in 1949, followed by those of Andre Glory between 1960 and 1962, played a significant part. Successive alterations at the entrance to this part of the system have also made their mark - notably the removal of the sandy clay heap that blocked the top of the Shaft, and the transfer of clayey sand from the floor of the Passageway during the modifications for tourists. During his investigations, Andre Glory removed all the debris and lowered the level of the floor by between 70 centimetres and 3.5 metres compared with its original height at the time of the discovery.

The western end of the Great Fissure finishes in a low, 1-metre-high hall. Ovate in form, it is capped by a truncated cupola. Its centre is blocked by a scree of limestone plaques, the result of a roof collapse. Numerous plant roots tap the moisture of the filling.
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Postby admin » Sat Sep 12, 2015 10:27 pm


The entrance to the Silted-up Chamber lies at the far end of the Great Fissure, on the lower left side, 3 metres below the top of the scree cone. Twelve metres long and 6 metres wide, the Chamber resembles the entrance zone of the cave in its morphology, although the very significant sandy filling hides this similarity. The rock here is extremely gritty and friable, with numerous scars left by exfoliation. For these reasons the walls were never decorated, or at least we have never discovered any engraving or trace of colouring matter. A partially blocked corridor, some 20 metres long, leads off the Chamber.

The Rock Support

The search for and selection of suitable surfaces for graphic expression was determined by various factors: the mechanical properties of the rocks, for instance, the morphology of the support and the accessibility of the walls. Palaeolithic man had to gauge these different data and then adapt to the circumstances.

Other factors also entered the equation, such as the dirtiness of the walls. Particles of dust are in constant circulation in the atmosphere and often settle on horizontal surfaces. This contamination, which sometimes changes the colour of the wall from a very pure white to dark brown or anthracite grey, can radically reduce the wall's reflective properties. Palaeolithic man clearly took this into account: there are virtually no paintings or engravings on such sloping surfaces, particularly in the Hall of the Bulls, the Axial Gallery and the Nave where the decoration is concentrated on the overhanging level above.

The morphology of the walls results either from the removal of material, by chemical or mechanical decomposition, or from the addition of material by re-crystallization, with or without the incorporation of the residual fill of the cave (particularly clay). Human action reflects this duality as a rock surface is either incised, in order to engrave a line or scrape a surface, or added to in the form of a painting or drawing. The texture of the support and its relief played a major role in deciding which technique or tool to use, as well as determining how well works were preserved over time.

27 Substrate with a powdery surface. The character of this surface is linked to the very gritty nature of the rock, caused by carbonate and silicate particles rendered friable by corrosion. It extends through the entire southern part of the cavity, from the Passageway to the Chamber of the Felines.

Detailed analysis of the rock supports reveals a great deal of variability in surface conditions. At Lascaux more than a dozen different types have been isolated in this way. They are distinguished by their granularity, their hardness, their morphology and their reflectivity. We have defined these types as 'forms': They are divided into two basic categories: one relates to the solid rock, and the other incorporates the coating elements that have been added during the course of the evolution of the cave (clay, calcite or other secondary products).

28 The carbonate encrustation here takes on a form characterized by spicules, small calcite needles that grow in all directions. This type of surface is found primarily in the Hall of the Bulls.

In the first category, the surface condition is the result of decomposition, either by erosion or by corrosion, or most often by a combination of the two. Most of the time the chemical factor obscures the mechanical effects of water or exfoliation, which are always very close to the intersections between strata. This is the most common type of form and covers approximately two thirds of the total surface of the cave. Granularity, but above all the degree of hardness of the material, characterizes these wall surfaces, which are also the most susceptible to decomposition. Many were engraved. The most fragile supports are characteristic of the entrance zone, the Silted-up Chamber and its extension. The rock is plastic for 1 to 2 centimetres and heavily saturated with water, which is not conducive to the long-term preservation of paintings or drawings. Nevertheless, engravings should have been able to survive, but we have discovered no trace of them. Proximity to the entrance may explain this, as this zone is rarely decorated.

Powdery surfaces are the most common (ill. 27). A certain surface weakness is evident on this fairly dry type of support. Effects of corrosion remain superficial and limited to the upper few millimetres of the much harder rock. It is repeatedly transected by fissures filled with calcite, which is more resistant and thus remained in slight relief, as on the panels of the Swimming Stags or the Great Black Cow. The presence of iron oxide in the limestone gives it an ochreous colour, which, reduces its reflective properties.

Concretions in the Hall of the Bulls and the Axial Gallery are riddled with the scars of exfoliation, where the surface of the walls has flaked off. They are generally found at the boundaries of stratified layers and may be caused by tension in the rock. There, the reflection of light is much weaker than on the surface of the concretions, reducing the contrasting effect of colour and thus giving a certain unevenness to the image.

The second category, associated with the deposit of clay and, above all, calcite, affects much of the Hall of the Bulls and the Mondmilch Gallery and the entire Axial Gallery. There are also small islands of calcite along the first few metres of the Passageway. For the most part, these surface conditions result from chemical processes caused by reactions between percolating water, the limestone and carbon dioxide, which is always in a high concentration in this environment. These forms are found most often on the primary surface, but they also affect secondary phenomena, such as deposits of clay. Differences in the level of hardness are so insignificant in this case that it is less relevant as a determining factor. The granularity is far more important: the choice of technique used to execute the figures will often be governed by the extent and configuration of the microtopography of the support.

The most important form at Lascaux is the spicular one (ill. 28), not in terms of its extent within the cave, which is restricted to the Hall of the Bulls, but because of ies exceptional photometric properties. It is created around calcite needles, between 3 and 5 millimetres long and with a diameter of less than 1 millimetre, which are grouped together in small adjoining clusters. The coherence of these surfaces is disturbed only by infrequent gaps, most of which have been filled by a transparent calcite flow. This form covets three quarters of the middle band of the Hall of the Bulls, and there is only one discontinuity (the corroded surface between the hindquarters of the fifth bull and the head of the sixth). The morphology of these concretions reveals minor and very localized variation. Its exceptional optical qualities, with a higher coefficient of reflectivity, compensate for the relative roughness of the background.

The 'cauliflower' form (ill. 29) is equally characteristic of Lascaux's walls. From just inside the entrance, its distribution affects the entire Axial Gallery, with the exception of the upper half of the first third of the gallery and the ceiling of the following enlargement. It is also present at the entrance to the Passageway and, discontinuously, along the left wall. There are numerous indications that the entire ceiling of this last sector was covered by this calcite at an undetermined period. Surfaces less exposed to thermal and hygrometric variation still preserve this evidence, particularly along the first 3 metres from the entrance and on both sides of the gallery, where some large paintings of animals still survive. The white surface has a macroscopically undulating appearance, with randomly distributed, irregular elements measuring between 5 and 15 millimetres in diameter. The majority are solid, although some are shaped like small hollow domes.

The 'rice grain' form (ill. 30) is found less widely than its 'cauliflower' counterpart. However, it is the main reason that the Lascaux works are of such a high quality. Its relatively fine-grained texture and maximum reflective properties make it the perfect background. Several of the most prestigious figures of parietal art were executed on this support, despite a lack of accessibility or constraints imposed by a distorted ceiling or wall. The Axial Gallery's four red cows and the frieze of the Chinese Horses are the prime examples. Indeed, only the first third of the Axial Gallery has painted surfaces. Beyond this point, access becomes increasingly difficult, precluding the continued exploitation of this type of surface.

29 The more solid 'cauliflower' concretions cover the walls in the lower part of the Axial Gallery.

30 At the other extreme, this foundation with a micro-topography resembling grains of rice covers the interior surface and the projections of the ceiling in the Axial Gallery.

31 Due to its unstable plastic properties, intimately linked to the surrounding hygrometry, mondmilch is unsuitable for engraving and even more so for drawing or painting.

Calcite-covered clay, caused by sediment fill, coats the ledge running around the lower part of the Hall of the Bulls and has a very high optical density. As it dried, the fragmented clay coating was broken up by carbonate infiltration. Subsequent wetting of the walls removed the clay, leaving only its impression, which has led to false interpretations of these phenomena as Palaeolithic images.

Alteration of the calcite results in two differentiated forms, one due to corrosion of the encrustation, and the other to chemical alteration of the surface, which develops into mondmilch. The former has only been identified in the Passageway, particularly along the left wall and on the ceiling. The second is very localized and restricted to a section intermediate between the Nave and the Chamber of the Felines. It extends 1.5 metres above floor level along both sides of the gallery, which is 21 metres long and has an average width of 1.2 metres. Only the basal part is affected by this encrustation. As a result of a biochemical reaction over an undetermined period of time, at least part of the stalagmite deposit developed into mondmilch (ill. 31). The plasticity of this material, which forms a milky, whitish mass, several centimetres thick and with a very irregular surface, varies according to the degree of humidity of the underlying rock. These properties made such walls unsuitable platforms for parietal art. However, before the process of deterioration the underlying stalagmite must have had more suitable properties. It cannot be ruled out that Palaeolithic depictions once existed on these walls.

The transparency of the laminar form makes it difficult to find. This calcite veil has concealed some decorated areas, particularly in the Shaft and the Hall of the Bulls, between the third and the fourth bulls. It replaces the spicular encrustation in those parts initially exposed to corrosion, more particularly at the intersection with the Axial Gallery.

The massive form is restricted to the Hall of the Bulls and the Axial Gallery and is always present intermittently. It is linked to the penetration of the coating of marly by thinly scattered, small openings or fissures in the cave roof, which let water drip through. This phenomenon encourages the growth of calcite in the form of short, squat stalactites, some tens of centimetres long, which develop in the hollows of the deep cavities of the roof. The only concretion of this type in the Axial Gallery, immediately next to the Great Black Bull, was formed as a result of a fissure that runs along the ceiling in the central part of the gallery. In the Hall of the Bulls they ate more numerous and visible on both sides of the horizontal ridge that marks the uppermost level. Some of them rest on the projection of this formation. above the second and the sixth bulls, and the others are located below the overhang close to the third, fourth and fifth bulls. One variant is formed by a crystallization of 'butterfly wing' type, above the first bull's head. The conjunction of these calcite deposits and the aurochs head theme, which is found as many times as this concretion exists in Lascaux (i.e. seven), is quite remarkable.

The pedunculate form (ill. 32) only applies to a small section of the subterranean space. It is found in two areas: on the lower part of the left wall at the entrance to the Hall of the Bulls and below the first projection to the left of the entrance to the Axial Gallery. Its morphology resembles that of a club: it has a distal excrescence 2 to 3 millimetres in diameter but can be over a centimetre long. The only figure recorded in this environment is a small silhouette of a horse painted in black.

Even less common is the rhomboid form (ill. 33), which is the result of the juxtaposition of macro-crystals measuring some 8-10 millimetres along their edges. Its surface area is limited to some tens of square centimetres at the entrance to the Hall of the Bulls, on the lower ledge of the left wall.

32 The pedunculate form of calcite outgrowths is only found over a small area of the Hall of the Bulls and the Axial Gallery.

33 Even more infrequent is the macro-crystalline type, found only on the left wall close to the entrance to the Hall of the Bulls.

The heterogeneity of supports leads to important variations in their characteristics. particularly in their photometric properties. The ability of a surface to absorb light plays a major role in determining how the parietal art is viewed. It is far harder to make out a painting that absorbs more light than its background, regardless of the colour of pigment used. partly because those areas where the paint has been less thickly applied become less visible. These factors had a huge influence on Palaeolithic man's experiences of the cave, as they affected the type and importance of the material used to light up an area. A chromatically dense wall implies the concomitant use of several sources of light. This might explain the abnormally high number of lamps recovered during excavations carried out at the foot of the Shaft Scene. In a more favourable setting where the surfaces are particularly reflective, such as the Axial Gallery or the Hall of the Bulls, a single lamp would suffice to illuminate the entire hall.
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Postby admin » Sat Sep 12, 2015 11:28 pm

Chapter 4: The Archaeological Context


Typically, one special feature of Palaeolithic sanctuaries is the scarcity of objects made of stone and bone. This is true of several recently discovered and well-protected sires, including Cosquer (Bouches-du-Rhone), Chauvet (Ardoche) and Cussac (Dordogne), and cannot therefore be attributed to vandalism. Lascaux is an exception to the rule, however, and is noteworthy for both the relative quantity and the specific nature of the material found there.

Portable Objects

After the discovery of the Lascaux Cave, objects were found on the floor and the slopes of the walls, highlighting how little sedimentation has taken place in the cave since the Palaeolithic. The portable objects left behind by Palaeolithic man are not always easy to find, however. In a few areas of the cave, such as the entrance zone, certain processes have affected the ancient ground surface and hidden any archaeological remains.

Roof collapse has been a key factor in the entrance zone. According to Andre Glory, there have been two major episodes of destabilization there. Variations in temperature caused the walls and the ceiling over the first few metres of the entrance to deteriorate further to different degrees ranging from a few flakes to the collapse of blocks of rock. As we have seen, the movement of slope deposits also played a part in its infilling. Another factor is linked to the water collected in the marly layer above the entrance. The flow of this water, directed towards the cave interior by the slope of the cone of scree, disturbed the distribution of archaeological remains lying along its route and deposited a thick layer of calcite on two thirds of the floor, from the Hall of the Bulls to the Mondmilch Gallery and, to a lesser extent, towards the Axial Gallery. Another factor lies in the peculiar configuration of the galleries at the junction of the Apse and the Great Fissure. Before it was modified, the sandy-clay floor formed a plug between the two walls overhanging the Shaft. Small variations in humidity led to its continuous and regular disintegration, and the detached material progressively covered the archaeological floors at the foot of the Shaft Scene, 5 metres below.

There are few surviving records of the exact locations of archaeological finds in the early days. After the Second World War, however, as access to the cave was being improved for tourists, various excavations were conducted. Henri Bteuil, Severin Blanc and Andre Glory were the only ones to carry out excavations there in line with the scientific norms of the time. Breuil and Blanc undertook a study of the Shaft in 1949, but between 1952 and 1963 Glory made extensive records of excavations in the whole cave. In the early 1960s, Glory oversaw the installation of an air-conditioning system, which was designed to extract air from various parts of the site - at the foot of the panel of the Upside-down Horse, for example, and at the entrances to the Nave and the Mondmilch Gallery. Work for the air-conditioning system entailed burying sheeting 60 centimetres in diameter 80 centimetres deep, and Glory was thus able to conduct a sample excavation of the entrance zone.

From the data collected during these excavations and their subsequent analysis, it would appear that Lascaux was visited by humans on three occasions during the Upper Palaeolithic. A few rare fragments of charcoal, the oldest proof of human presence, were found in the Passageway, the Nave and the Shaft, indicating that the initial visits were brief. A relatively large number of very diverse objects, dating from the same time as the parietal art, are attributed to a second occupation of the site. The purpose of many of the objects found remains unclear. Some were used for lighting or to decorate the walls. Others appear to have been for everyday use, such as jewelry, various tools and fragments of reindeer or red deer bone. Evidence for the third, most recent period of human use is only found in the first part of the cave on the scree, but it can also be seen in the calcited pools of the Passageway and directly below the Upside-down Horse. It seems that several people occupied the entrance during the Holocene. Rare traces of charcoal are the only evidence of this stay, and it is unclear whether these people penetrated into the sanctuary. The fragments found in the deeper parts of the cave could very well have been transported there by runoff-water.

34 Block of haematite showing traces of use over the entire surface, from the excavations by Andre Glory, 1959.

The criteria established to categorize objects by use are sometimes tenuous. The portable objects linked to drawing and painting include five grinding stones, three mortars and twenty-three limestone and schist plaques. The surfaces of these objects were stained by pigments, which enabled us to determine their function. It is more difficult to identify the tools used for engraving, however, and only very hard materials such as flint can be categorized with any certainty. Analysis has shown that only a very limited number of the pieces - bladelets, flakes, burins or scrapers - recovered at Lascaux bore traces that could be attributed to engraving.

Studies carried out on the raw materials used as colouring agents [12] led to the identification of a number of categories, as well as providing some insight into their preparation and utilization. These materials in the form of powder, small chunks (ill. 34) or plaques - are accretions of metallic oxides, essentially of iron and manganese (ill. 35). Some traces have been interpreted as crayons. Nevertheless, the extensive studies we have made of the paintings and drawings themselves have never provided any evidence to support this hypothesis, even in the initial phases of positioning the figures. In effect, it looks like these marks were caused by scraping with flint tools in order to break down the chunks into powder.

Various clay objects have also been found at the site, although it seems unlikely that they could have served any practical purpose in decorating the cave. Nonetheless, it is through such inconspicuous objects that you sense the presence of the people - adults, adolescents or children. In the shapes of these objects you can see the traces of timeless actions over a plastic type of material. One such object is a roughly rectangular block (ill. 36), which bears traces of fingerprints.

35 Block of manganese.

36 Block of shaped clay, on which several fingerprints were recorded.

37 Element of jewelry showing the intentional perforation of the shell. This shell of Sipho, collected from a beach, shows the existence at the time of exchange or movements over significant distances.

Objects found during the excavations by Henri Breuil and Severin Blanc, 1947-49. Portable objects, lithic items and bones are rarely found in the context of parietal art. Here too, Lascaux forms an exception. Three hundred and fifty pieces were unearthed, including blades, backed bladelets, scrapers, burins and flakes.

We also managed to identify several small fragments of clay that looked like they had been idly compressed between the thumb, index and middle finger of both hands.

The second assemblage might be related to ritual activities and comprises many different types of objects, including jewelry (mainly shells), spearheads, remains of bones and lithic elements. There are sixteen shells (ill. 37) in total, most of which are fossils, collected randomly at various points since the cave's discovery. Three have perforations, indicating that they were used in items of jewelry. Yvette Taborin [13] identified both their species and their source: originating from Touraine and western France, they demonstrate the existence of exchange patterns or movements of groups of people over distances of several hundred kilometres. Among these objects, there is also a small pebble of ovoid form. Someone has shaped it to look like a marine gastropod, pointing one of its ends and incising its lower surface to imitate the spirals of a shell.

If traces found on some elements of the lithic assemblage (ill. 38) can be linked to engraving, other far more pronounced ones may be associated with woodworking. Indeed, on several occasions a number of relatively large charcoal fragments have been collected in the cave. Furthermore. backed bladelets dominate, making up 70 of the 112 tools identified. They are closely associated with the spearheads, especially in the Shaft and, to a lesser extent, in the Apse and the Passageway. Analysis shows that only one of their two longitudinal edges was sharp. The opposite edge and the ventral face of some of these bladelets were coated in a pinkish organic substance - mastic, which is rarely preserved. One of them revealed the slightly concave imprint of the object it was mounted into, a wooden shaft or baton of cervid antler. These objects therefore belong to the group of complex composite tools.

A significant number of objects, twenty-eight in total, are made of bone and antler, including intact or fragmentary spearheads (ill. 39), three pins, one one-eyed needle and an awl, as well as a worked antler spall and a modified reindeer antler beam. The presence of these objects poses a problem in the underground context. Nevertheless, the decorations on some of them confirm that they are contemporary with the iconography of the walls. On one of the fragments a succession of nested angular motifs is visible, identical to those engraved on the flanks of the red deer and the horse in the Apse, at the junction with the Passageway. This same motif is incised on the handle of the pink sandstone lamp discovered in the Shaft. Identical observations can be made regarding another intact spearhead and on two other fragments, the characteristic cruciform signs of which are repeated on the walls, particularly in the Axial Gallery (behind the Great Black Bull) but also in the Passageway (on the rump of the horse on the right wall, close to the Apse). On the same horse is engraved a line of dashes in the form of parentheses, motifs resembling those found on the reindeer antler beam. A final example is another spearhead, on which the star-like decoration. composed of unconnected elements, links it to figures on the walls notably the equid facing the abovementioned horse.

39 Spearheads found during the excavations by Henri Breuil and Severin Blanc, 1947-49, featuring cruciform incisions or convergent nested elements

This catalogue of motifs - found in the parietal works of art, the portable bone and antler assemblage, and the material used for illumination - testify to the homogeneity of the ensemble. Even before undertaking a more thorough analysis of the parietal art, these observations provide an insight into the unique and uniform character of this sanctuary.
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Postby admin » Sat Sep 12, 2015 11:30 pm


Palaeolithic man used several types of lighting to explore the underground environment. The narrowness of the cave entrance - limiting the penetration of daylight to only a few metres - and the nature of the system of galleries made it necessary to use some form of lighting. In some caves, marks on walls, ledges or floors, where Palaeolithic man snuffed our torches and lamps, and traces of hearths survive to this day. Different types of lighting were used for different activities: hearths illuminated one whole sector, torches aided passage through the cave, and lamps produced a more defined light for artistic activities.

We know that lamps were certainly used at Lascaux. The other forms of lighting, based on calcined organic material, are more difficult to locate and identify. However, the huge number of charcoal fragments recovered -- moved and dispersed by the flow of underground water or the movement of man -- would suggest that there were indeed hearths. They were not preserved in their original condition, but pieces of charcoal from them were carried away by water and scattered, or trampled. As for torches, no traces of smuts have been discovered on the walls at Lascaux. The high density of the figures painted and engraved on the walls and respect for the art and the walls might explain this absence.

Lamps at that time were made of durable minerals, and many have survived. Chance discoveries and excavations have yielded more than a hundred specimens. The majority are simple limestone slabs, sometimes with a slight concavity where the combustible material (animal fur) would have been placed. This natural depression makes it easy to identify these objects as lamps, but often there are also black carbonaceous residues and, in cases of prolonged use, even red colouration.

40 Lamp of rose-coloured sandstone, found at the foot of the Shaft Scene during excavations by Andre Glory, 1959. It bears two signs on the upper face of the handle

Two of the portable objects recovered during Andre Glory's excavations in the Shaft merit closer inspection. One, a tallow-burning lamp made of pink sandstone (ill. 40), is intact, but the other, a rim, is just a fragment of a second lamp. The complete lamp is much more elaborate than the other examples. Measuring a maximum of 22.4 centimetres by 10.6 centimetres and with an average depth of 3 centimetres, it was manufactured in the shape of a tennis racket. There are remains of combustion in the concave section, identified as carbonized fragments of juniper and coniferous wood. The edge of the hollow is blackened over several centimetres. The handle is decorated with two nested engraved symbols, identical to those found on the walls of the Apse, the Axial Gallery, the Nave and the Chamber of the Felines, as well as on a spear. An engraved longitudinal line runs between and separates the two sets of incisions. The fragmentary rim bears similarities to the intact lamp as they were both manufactured in the same way.

The majority of these objects were found at the foot of the Shaft Scene and the panel of the Great Black Cow in the Nave. These two locations also have the highest levels of carbon dioxide in the cave: here, the concentration of carbon dioxide often lies between 1 and 3 per cent, or indeed more, and ir can exceed 6 per cent in the Shaft. These concentrations vary during the year, reaching their highest in summer and autumn. It may just be a coincidence that the majority of lamps were found where carbon dioxide levels are at their highest. However, it is possible that the high concentration of carbon dioxide necessitated the use of the numerous lamps found in those locations, as the flame of a candle or oil lamp would be affected by a carbon dioxide concentration of 2 per cent and is often extinguished when it exceeds 3 per cent.

Dating Lascaux.

The relatively important assemblage of portable objects recovered in situ and the limited number of incursions into the deep galleries of the cave during the entire Upper Palaeolithic have helped in working out the chronology of Lascaux. The inaccessibility of the entrance -largely due to its position on the mid-slope of a smooth-faced hill, where it has been subject to extensive solifluction, and its instability - ensured that the cave remained relatively undisturbed. During certain periods, the entrance was entirely closed up. The entrances to cave systems in this type of topographical relief ate always of modest dimensions and thus difficult to locate, limiting access and human intrusion.

In areas characterized by steep walls and high overhangs, such as the region around Les Eyzies-de-Tayac, the situation could not be more different. These formations favour permanent access to the underground realm. Located at the foot of a cliff, the caves are less susceptible to natural phenomena and have been much easier to find over the course of time. Thus, at Font-de-Gaume, just as at La Mouthe, La Greze or Oreille-d'Enfer, parietal art and excavations reveal several occupations of the same site, from the Aurignacian up until the Upper Magdalenian (ill. 41). (...)

41 Chronology of parietal art during the Upper Palaeolithic.

Henri Breuil and Denis Peyrony were the first to assess the chronology of Lascaux, looking at parietal art and portable objects respectively. Both of them established an association with the Upper Perigordian (known today as the Gravettian). For Breuil, the chronology of the Palaeolithic parietal art depended on two cycles: one Aurignacian- Perigordian, the other Solutrean-Magdalenian. Using the stratigraphy of decorated rock from Abri Labattut and Abri Blanchard (Aurignacian), he was able to date Lascaux's art. The blocks from Abri Labanut and Abri Blanchard depicted a cervid and a bovine, and aurochs or bison respectively. For Breuil, the morphology of the animals and the technique of their engraving bore striking similarities to works in the Hall of the Bulls or the Axial Gallery. But the most marked difference lay in the use of perspective, particularly in the horns and hooves of the bovines. Breuil noticed a distortion of the contours of the great aurochs: the right horns follow a simple curve, whereas the left horns are marked by a double curve. Furthermore, the hooves seem to face the onlooker.

Annette Laming-Emperaire drew a different conclusion from Breuil's findings, pointing out that the features of this iconography could in fact be attributed to both of the two major cycles. Severin Blanc, on the other hand, thought that part of the art was probably Solutrean-Magdalenian in origin. In support of his thesis, he quoted certain conventions that have little in common with Perigordian art, particularly the treatment of the limbs in the background - the way in which they ate separated from the body through the use of a blank, and the animation given to the animals in the double inflection of the legs.

Each theory had its advocates and detractors. In 1951, one of the very first radiocarbon tests was carried out. Fragments of charcoal from excavations in the Shaft were analysed in Chicago at the laboratory of Willard Libby, who pioneered the method. The results seemed to corroborate the second theory, assigning a date of c. 15,500 BP (Magdalenian) to Lascaux. (BP stands for 'Before Present'.) After some controversy, the theory developed by Henri Breuil was subsequently abandoned.

Andre Glory refused to be swayed either way. Then, as his research was at quite an advanced stage, he collected a lot more data and started to develop his own chronology. Furthermore, when he had new samples of charcoal from his excavations in the Passageway and the Shaft dated, the results yielded dates of 17,190 ± 140 BP and 16,000 ± 500 BP respectively, which backed up the theory that the portable objects belonged to an ancient phase of the Magdalenian. On the other hand, the charcoal washed into the cave and found immediately below the calcited basins of the Hall of the Bulls and the Passageway, together with that recovered from the debris cone in the entrance woe, showed a possible occupation of the site during the Mesolithic. This last attempt to enter the cave, which was perhaps merely an occupation close to the entrance, has left absolutely no trace of portable objects or colouring matter. The weighted mean of the five more recent dates is 8380 ± 60 BP.

Another theory carne from the prehistorian Andre Leroi-Gourhan. Distancing himself from Breuil, Leroi-Gourhan subdivided the evolution of prehistoric art into five periods: a prefigurative period, followed by four phases or styles. His work, though not focusing on Lascaux, made reference to its iconography in the definition of Style III (defined as the end of the Solutrean to the Lower Magdalenian). This Style III possesses specific characteristics: '... animals with inflated bodies and diverging short feet, horns of bovines in which the front horn is a simple curve whereas the rear horn is sinuous, bison horns depicted in front-view, deer antlers in a specific perspective, the brow tine in the background parallel to the beam of the antler in the foreground, and with a double or triple brow time.'

The well-dated sites of Fourneau-du-Diable and Roc-de-Sers served as reference points. They enabled Leroi- Gourhan to specify that, 'it would be... rational to think that Lascaux is Solutrean and it cannot be ruled out that the most ancient figures are of this period'. [14] This implies multiple occupation of the cave at different periods, suggesting a certain heterogeneity of the works of art involving both the animals and the geometric signs. Leroi-Gourhan emphasized this: 'Lascaux would comprise...three phases: the phase of partitioned rectangular signs... the phase of bracketed signs, which are few in number and correspond to the period in which the Chinese Horses were executed in a style already close to that of the old Style N and, finally, the phase of true claviform signs which is already in the old Style N .... This scheme of suppositions is accordingly concrete enough to locate the entire art of Lascaux between the second half of the Solutrean and the beginning of the Middle Magdalenian.' [15]

Nevertheless, a few years later, study of the lithic and organic portable objects and the stratigraphic analysis of the sections cut by Andre Glory brought further changes to Leroi-Gourhan's scheme. Arlette Leroi-Gourhan and Jacques Allain [16] directed the work, which narrowed down estimates of the chronology and attributed Lascaux to the Magdalenian II. The study convinced Andre Leroi-Gourhan that the sanctuary was created over a limited period of time with stylistically homogeneous figures.

These successive corrections show the difficulties in establishing a precise and secure chronological scheme. Furthermore, a radiocarbon result of 18,600 ± 190 BP, obtained in 1998 [17] on a sample removed from a fragment of a reindeer antler baton from the excavations of Henri Breuil and Severin Blanc at the foot of the panel of the Shaft Scene, [18] rends to raise the former age estimates, placing the art at the boundary between the Upper Solutrean and the Badegoulian.

This new information calls for a review of the preceding hypotheses. Unfortunately, the paintings and drawings of Lascaux do not contain charcoal. We therefore have to use other methods of analysis and compare our results with data from better-dated Palaeolithic sites. This comparative analysis is based on a broad range of data, ranging from the portable lithic and organic objects to the formal characteristics of the figures in the paintings and the composition of the panels. The themes depicted in the art and the landscapes surrounding the cave are also important factors to take into consideration.

Analysing the lithic assemblage brought into the cave by Palaeolithic man requires a different approach to the study of habitation sites) be they temporary or permanent, in the open or under rock shelters. The cave functioned as a type of filter, encouraging the painters and engravers to select only part of the range of tools available to them. This is why it is misleading to classify the portable objects by looking merely at the quantities recovered, such as the high number of backed bladelers. Moreover, the majority of collected objects, including the backed bladelets, needles and spearheads, could just as well belong to the Solutrean as the Magdalenian.

As Andre Leroi-Gourhan originally pointed out, analysing the forms depicted at Lascaux suggests that the cave's parietal art could date back to the Solutrean. The paintings and engravings do call to mind the works at Fourneau-du-Diable or Roc-de-Sets, which have been convincingly identified as Solutrean rather than Magdalenian art. This analysis, based upon morphological comparisons between the outlines of the animals, was recently criticized after radiocarbon tests carried out in other caves seemed to raise doubts over the accuracy of the method. Such was the case at the Chauvet Cave, although careful study of the Chauvet figures shows that the most accomplished ones, particularly those in the panel of the Horses or the End Chamber, do not fit into any defined framework. Indeed, some of their characteristics are unlike any other known specimens.

Form-based comparisons continue to be used today to date parietal art, without recourse to radiocarbon tests. A whole host of decorated caves discovered over the last ten years were originally dated by hypotheses rather than physical methods, including Cussac, Pestillac and Lagrave (Lot) and Cosquer. When radiocarbon dates have been obtained later (as is the case with Cussac and Cosquer), they have confirmed the initial attributions.

Geometrical signs tend to back up the connection made between the Lascaux art and the Solutrean. In the cave of Le Placard (Charente), Louis Duport discovered a long panel, engraved with numerous depictions of animals and signs. Excavations directed by Jean Clottes [19] placed these works in the Solutrean. Among them, he recognized several signs, which he called the 'Placard type'. They are identical in their form to the 'chimney' signs in the caves of Cougnac and Pech-Merle (Lot). Furthermore, he noticed the similarity of the shape with the large black 'curly bracket' sign that underlines the diptych of the first Chinese horse at Lascaux.

In addition, the Confronted Ibexes drawn on the right wall at the end of the Axial Gallery are not dissimilar to those shown in bas-relief at Roc-de-Sers. At this same Upper Solutrean site there is also the rare image of a man confronted by a horned animal, in this case a musk ox. This scene is repeated at Lascaux at the base of the Shaft, with the bison, so it seems, replacing the musk ox. Both of these sites also feature a bird, a theme rarely encountered in this context.

42 Depiction of two aurochs on both faces of a palmate reindeer antler, Le Placard, Vilhonneur, Charente.

43 Aurochs executed in bas-relief (detail and overall view), Abri du Fourneau-du-Diable, Bourdeilles. Research of Denis Peyrony, 1924.

The fauna represented on the walls of Lascaux indicates a relatively temperate climate, particularly in those scenes in which aurochs are depicted. However, palaeontological research shows that almost no bone remains of this species have been found from the period in the region. This period, stretching from the Upper Solutrean to the Badegoulian, is regarded as the coldest of the Upper Palaeolithic. [20] One problem is that it is extremely difficult to distinguish between aurochs and bison bones, and a significant proportion of the total recovered remains unidentified. Nonetheless, there are several paintings that show man encountering this species. There are also depictions of aurochs at other, accurately dated sites, including Fourneau-du-Diable and 10 Placard, where a palmate reindeer antler was discovered with engravings of aurochs on both faces (ill. 42). One face of the block from Fourneau-du-Diable bears several depictions (ill. 43) in bas-relief. This contemporaneous depiction of bovines on the walls of Lascaux and on the portable objects of several Solutrean prehistoric sites suggests that this animal was observed in the vicinity of Lascaux or further south, where the recovered fauna has proved its existence. Moreover, studies carried our recently on climatic variation during the Upper Palaeolithic show that - contrary to what had been said up to the 1990s - these fluctuations in temperature were often considerable but very brief. Such abrupt changes of climate would certainly have resulted in north-south migrations of animal populations, with very short periods of stability, which would partly explain the very elusive presence of the aurochs in the Black Perigord.

In a chronological study of the art of Lascaux it is always important to remember that the various hypotheses only contemplate a time scale limited to, at most, one and a half-millennia, a relatively short period of time. In the special context of parietal art, where works are only rarely associated with archaeological levels in situ, as at Pair-non-Pair or Le Placard, in particular, and in the absence of datable organic pigment, we have little chance of achieving greater accuracy.

The cultural attribution is also worthy of investigation. Once again, analysis of the pictures is able to provide some of the answers. The confrontation between the man and the bison takes on its full significance when it is compared with similar images in other decorated caves. In the Vezere drainage basin, it is found in a less elaborate form at Saint-Cirq (only the head of the bison was engraved), and at Bara-Bahau (an abbreviated version, which contains the head of a bison and a phallus). A similar image can be seen at Gabillou. in the valley of the Isle, but this time the two motifs are merged into a single representation. that of the bison-man. At Villars, further to the north, in the drainage basin of the Dronne, the scene takes on a form identical to that at Lascaux.

These comparisons can be taken even further, as the locations of the sites provide us with even more· information. Indeed, Lascaux. Saint-Cirq, Bara-Bahau. Gabillou and Villars, decorated caves possibly belonging to this chronological period, are all located on smoothly sloping hillsides and share similar landscapes in the immediate proximity of their entrances. This latter point distinguishes them from the decorated caves of the Middle Magdalenian Font- de-Gaume. Rouflignac, Les Combarelles or Bernifal -- which open into the heart of a far more steep-sided relief. The same is true of Solutrean-Badegoulian habitation sites, which are also located on hillsides, overlooking an open landscape, in contrast to the majority of sites of the Middle and Upper Magdalenian. These observations suggest that notions of territory, whether sacred or profane, are linked intimately and uniquely to a specific period of the Upper Palaeolithic. a concept we will need to examine more closely.
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Postby admin » Sat Sep 12, 2015 11:32 pm

Chapter 5: The Art of Lascaux


In studying the works on the walls of this site, it is necessary to look at not only the figurative representations (animals and man) but also the schematic elements, particularly the signs, and the indeterminate figures. The marks that do nor fall into these three categories - such as traces of activities, impacts of tools, sprayed colouring materials. colours for painting, abrasions, smears or deposits of charcoal- will not be taken into account here.

Lascaux boasts 1,963 registered figures, making it the most impressive Palaeolithic decorated cave. With the exception of the Mondmilch Gallery and the Silted-up Chamber, where the walls do not lend themselves to painting or engraving. and the second part of the Great Fissure, which is really only an access area, there are figures in all of the galleries and halls.

The distribution of these figures is uneven (ill. 44). The majority - over half of the total number - are on the walls of the Apse, although it only accounts for an estimated 6 per cent of the total decorated surface of the cave. The density of figures here is exceptional. The Passageway has the second highest number. And yet, because these two sectors lack visual impact, it is not always easy to see the high proportions of figures on first inspection. This has as much to do with the technique used (engraving) as the poor preservation of the figures or the less favourable characteristics of the support.

Humans play an inconspicuous role at Lascaux: the one human depicted is located well away from the more accessible sectors. Animal themes, on the other hand, are distributed throughout the cave and, with 915 figures, dominate the entire iconography. As some are in such a poor state of preservation, only 605 of the 915 have been accurately identified. Some species, especially the bovines, have such strikingly similar characteristics that it is very difficult to tell the bison and aurochs apart. In some cases the features by which we recognize the subject are restricted to the horns or hooves. Both the aurochs and the bison have these features, hence the high number of figures assigned to the general classification of 'bovine family'. Others have been painted or engraved in a highly ambiguous manner, such as the Unicorn. Horses are depicted the most frequently, with 364 representations, forming 60.2 percent of all identified animals, followed by stags with 90 representations (14.9 per cent). Aurochs and bison account for 4.6 per cent and 4.3 per cent respectively, plus there are 51 unidentifiable animals that are classified simply as bovines. Rare animals include 7 felines (1.2 per cent), one bird, one bear and one rhinoceros.

The proportion of each animal type varies from one sector to the next, sometimes to a significant extent. The equids, with quite an even distribution excluding the Shaft, is the only group in which this is not the case. The cervids, well represented in the Hall of the Bulls and, to a lesser extent, in the Apse and the Nave, are less prominent on the walls of the Axial Gallery, the Passageway and the Chamber of the Felines. The ibexes show an inverse distribution pattern.

44 Numerical distribution of the animals represented in the Lascaux. Cave

This interchange of animals is also recorded for the bovine species. The aurochs, which are particularly prominent in the first two sectors, both in terms of their numbers and especially in their dimensions, are replaced by bison in the other sectors. The very different placement of these two types of bovine is also noteworthy. The bison occupy a marginal position in relation to the different underground spaces, such as the Axial Gallery and the Chamber of the
Felines, and in specific compositions, such as the Red Panel, the Imprint and the Shaft Scene. By contrast. the aurochs take a central role in the Hall of the Bulls and the panels of the Great Black Cow and the Falling Cow, in the most easily accessible sectors.

The numerous signs account for almost 22.1 per cent of the ensemble. They have a similar distribution to the animals, but there are some differences. Again, it is the Apse. with 228 units, that contains the greatest number of geometric figures, followed by the Passageway with 81. There are between 25 and 35 signs in each of the other sectors. The huge diversity of the signs is based on three fundamental geometric elements: the dot, the line and surface area.


45 Sequence of the left wall of the Hall of the Bulls.

As we have seen, another special feature is their close graphic relationship to the portable objects - especially the spearheads, which feature motifs that are identical to those engraved or drawn on the walls. The same is true of the pink sandstone lamp previously mentioned. Its handle, decorated with nested signs, features a geometrical image found repeatedly in the iconography of the walls. Thus, there are close connections between the parietal art and the decorations on portable objects, but there are also connections between disparate portable objects with very different functions.

The number of indeterminate figures or incomplete traces in anyone sector may have been determined by their location in the sanctuary. While in the first two sectors most of these can be classed as trial paintings and unfinished outlines that are difficult to interpret, the difficulty in identifying the figures in the Passageway and the Apse lies not in their representation but in their very poor state of preservation. In the worst affected areas, the heavily corroded and distorted figures often disappear from the more exposed surfaces and only survive in concavities. Another factor that makes figures difficult to identify is the extreme superimposition of the outlines, particularly in the Apse.

Whether the figures were depicted individually or in groups, positioning was influenced by several parameters constraints connected with problems of perspective or the physical environment. These constraints did not govern the choice of themes, nor did they influence how the elements in different ensembles were ordered, but they did playa major role in determining the general shape of compositions within the limits imposed by structure (the ridges, ledges or projections of the walls, for instance).

The Fragmentary Depictions of the Entrance Zone

Above all, the entrance zone is a means of access. Its function as a transitional space explains to a large extent why so few figures have been identified there. There are only four that have been accepted as Palaeolithic: three red figures on the left wall, and a single broad and diffuse black mark on the opposite wall. They are all situated in the modern engine room, at the same height as the present-day floor and a few decimetres above the deposit that originally filled the entry to the gallery.

46 The fourth and fifth bulls dominate the right wall graphically. The other themes remain very discreet, varied and few in number, indeed sometimes unfinished, contrasting in this aspect with the panel on the facing wall
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