The Paleolithic Cave Art of France


Niaux Cave
Visitors to the Niaux Cave in Franc
in the early 20th century
Until the end of the eighties, it was impossible to date paintings directly, as the quantity of pigment necessary for such an analysis was too excessive. Accelerator mass spectrometry now enables us to obtain a date with less than one milligram of charcoal. Consequently, a number of direct dates are now available for six French caves : Cosquer, Chauvet, Cougnac, Pech-Merle, Niaux, Le Portel. When the caves have only got engravings (Les Combarelles, Cussac) or red paintings, or black paintings made with manganese dioxide (Lascaux, Rouffignac), it remains impossible to get a direct date because of the lack of organic material. Chronological attributions are then made with time-honoured methods, generally by taking advantage of the archaeological context whenever possible or from stylistic comparison with other better dated sites. For example, when the Cussac cave was discovered in the Dordogne in October 2000, Norbert Aujoulat and Christian Archambeau attributed its engravings to the Gravettian because of the similarities with Pech-Merle and Gargas (Aujoulat et al. 2001). When, in August 2001, a 25,120 BP ± 120 date was obtained from a human bone in the same cave, it corroborated the initial estimate of those specialists (op. cit.).
Chronology of Paleolithic Cave Art in France
Parietal Site Image Age BP Culture
Le Portel Paleolithic Cave Art 11.600 ± 150 BP Magdalenian
Trois-Freres Paleolithic Cave Art 13.000 ± BP
Rouffignac Paleolithic Cave Art 13.000 ± BP
Niaux Paleolithic Cave Art 14.000 ± 11.500 BP
Le Cap Blanc Paleolithic Cave Art 15.000 ± 14.000 BP
Altamira Paleolithic Cave Art 17.000 ± 13.000 BP
Cosquer (Phase 2) Paleolithic Cave Art 19.000 ± BP Solutrean
Lascaux Paleolithic Cave Art 20.000 ± BP
Le Placard Paleolithic Cave Art 21.000 ± 20.000 BP
Cougnac Paleolithic Cave Art 25.000 ± 14.000 BP Gravettian
Pech-Merle Paleolithic Cave Art 25.000 ± 16.000 BP
Gargas Paleolithic Cave Art 27.000 ± BP
Cosquer Paleolithic Cave Art 27.000 ± BP
Chauvet Paleolithic Cave Art 32.000 ± 30.000 BP Aurignacian
Luc Vanrell, Jean Courtin & Jean Clottes examining engravings in the Cosquer Cave
Luc Vanrell, Jean Courtin & Jean Clottes
examining engravings in the Cosquer Cave
Among well-established facts, the most important is the duration of cave art, over at least twenty millenia. The oldest dates are so far those of the Chauvet Cave (between 30,000 and 32,000 BP) and the most recent one that in Le Portel (11.600 ± 150 BP).
Such an immense duration implies several consequences. First, the acknowledgement that in order for such a tradition to persist under such a formalised form for such a long time, it must have meant that a strong compelling form of teaching existed. The fundamental unity of Paleolithic art, obvious as it is in its images and in the activities around it, could not but for that have persisted for so many millenia. It is also a fact that the apparent great number of painted or engraved caves and shelters is not much when compared to the duration of Paleolithic art. This means that there must have been an art in the open which has not been preserved in France, and also that the images, in hundreds of shelters and caves may have been destroyed or buried and concealed for a number of reasons.
Dr Jean Clottes examines the Chauvet Cave
Dr Jean Clottes examines Chauvet Cave
dated to between 30,000 and 32,000 BP
Until a rather recent date, the evolution of art was believed to have been gradual, from coarse beginnings in the Aurignacian to the apogee of Lascaux. The recent discoveries of Cosquer, Chauvet and Cussac have shown that that paradigm was wrong, since from as early as the Aurignacian and the Gravettian very sophisticated techniques had already been invented. This means that forms of art evidencing different degrees of mastery must have coexisted in different places and times and also that many artistic discoveries were made and lost and made again thousands of years later. The evolution of Paleolithic art was not in a straight line, but rather as a seesaw.
The Paleolithic Cave Art of France
bradshaw foundation donate help
Mailing List

Email Sign-Up
website updates


First Name

Last Name


bradshaw foundation ishop tshirt
Homepage About the Foundation Contact Us Facebook News Articles Twitter List of Research Papers Professor Stephen Oppenheimer Travel Index About the Expeditions Forthcoming Expeditions Bespoke Expeditions Enquire Practical Information History of Exploration Welcome to the iShop Film Downloads DVD's Sculpture Prints Clothing Messenger Bag eBooks INORA Downloads About iLecture Films Shipping & Handling iLectures In Conversation Video Stories Travel Films Read the reviews Join the free Mailing List Bradshaw Foundation Facebook Friends of the Foundation Archive Index World's Oldest Rock Art Africa Documentary Films South Africa RARI Giraffe Carvings Niger Namibia Western Central Africa Africa Paintings Gallery Tanzania The Tuareg People Tuareg Salt Caravans Gilf Kebir Archive Index San Rock Art Paintings San Bushman San Rock Art Film Origins Centre Johannesburg Archive Index Arizona Baja California Baja California Film Coso Range Talking Stone Film Nevada Oregon Territory Australia Archive Index Introduction Bradshaw Paintings Kimberley Region The Unambal Hugh Brown Leif Thiele Gallery Dan Clark Grahame Walsh Ian Wilson Bradshaws / Gwion Gwion Archive Index Introduction Origins of the British Stonehenge Sounds of Stonehenge The British Museum British Isles Megaliths Gower Peninsula Rock Art Mendip Hills Prehistory Northumberland Rock Art Red Lady of Paviland Stone Age Mammoth Abattoir Western Canadian Rock Art Archive Index Huashan Rock Art Yinchuan Museum Rock Art Festival Field Trip Gallery Itinerant Creeds Inner Mongolia & Ningxia Vanishing Civilization Life in Rock Art (PDF) Tibet Tibet Photographs Dazu Rock Carvings Tiger Motif Archive Index Chauvet Cave Lascaux Cave Niaux Cave Cosquer Cave Rouffignac Cave Portable Art Defining Rock Art Tuc d'Audoubert Bison Dr. Jean Clottes Index UNESCO World Heritage Introduction Cave Paintings Gallery Visiting the Chauvet Cave Return to Chauvet Cave Investigating the Cave Venus & Sorcerer Werner Herzog Film Chauvet Publications India Archive Index Rock Art Central India Pachmarhi Hills India Rock Art Gallery Middle East Archive Index Middle East Inroduction Rock Art of Iran Rock Art of Saudi Arabia United Arab Emirates Rock Art Ancient Geometry Middle East Colonisation Rock Art in Finland Tanum Rock Art Museum Thor Heyerdahl Archive Index Introduction America's Oldest Art? Pedra Furada Bolivian Rock Art Campeche Island - Brazil Checta Petroglyphs - Peru Cueva de las Manos Santa Catarina Island - Brazil Rock Art in Britain Campeche Rock Art Petroglyphs El Salvador - Corinto Cave Hand Rock Art Paintings Tibetan Rock Art United Arab Emirates Uzbekistan Yinchuan Rock Art Museum Introduction Ice Age Art Gallery Claire Artemyz Jill Cook Interview Cycladic Introduction Cycladic Gallery Introduction Geometric Signs Chart Research Methodology Geometric Signs in France Sign Types/Countries/Regions Bibliography Ancient Symbols in Rock Art Newsletter Archive Download Issues Introduction Genetic Map Professor Stephen Oppenheimer Further Reading Origins of the British BBC Documentary Origins Index Origins Overview 13 Big Questions Stanley Ambrose Homo Floresiensis Herto Skulls Homo Dmanisi Liujiang Skull Introduction Sentinels in Stone Easter Island Rock Art Birdman Cult / Motif Sea & Marine Creatures Design & Motifs Dr Georgia Lee Easter Island Map Contemporary Art Glossary Conclusion Thor Heyerdahl Introduction When & Who Built It? How Was It Built? The Area Sounds of Stonehenge Meaning of a Pyramid Pyramid Studies Pyramid Superstructure Pyramid Substructure Pyramid Preparations Pyramid Building Saqqara Nabil Swelim Temples of Malta and Gozo Research in the Caucasus The Keselo Foundation Homo Dmanisi Ancient Toolmakers Index Introduction Descent into the Cave The Decorated Caves Shamanistic Experience Spring Initiation Rites Summary Page 1 Page 2 Page 3 Page 4 Professor John P. Miller Motif: Eternal Index Han Meilin Bruce Radke Christian Tuki Gordon Ellis-Brown Site Map Search the Website Glossary of Terms & Definition Podcast on iTunes Other Websites Contact the Foundation