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Les Combarelles in the Dordogne

Les Combarelles in the Dordogne

The little valley of Les Combarelles cave

Photo: Sémhur (2009a)


Les Combarelles in the Dordogne
With more than 600 images on its walls, most of them engraved, the cave of Combarelles is considered to be one of the major sanctuaries of Magdalenian culture. This extraordinary site was discovered in 1901, and was quickly authenticated by L. Capitan, H. Breuil and D. Peyrony.

Beyond the entrance of the cave, excavated by Emile Riviere in 1892, two galleries diverge. The largest one, now open to the public, is a narrow and winding passage, following a zig zag pattern for more than 240 metres.

The animals represented are finely engraved, or (more rarely) drawn in black outlines. A diverse fauna is represented, including horses, reindeer, ibex, mammoths, rhinoceros, bears, lions and a few bisons and aurochs. The identification of these often superimposed animal engravings is facilitated by their naturalistic style. This naturalism is in contrast to the exceptional assemblage of 52 anthropomorphic figures, which are more schematic, and the occasional signs (mostly tectiforms). The entire ensemble of images is attributed to the late Magdalenian, about 13 000 years ago.

Text: Sign outside Les Combarelles

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2008




Les Combarelles in the Dordogne

In front of the caves is an old plastered stone farmhouse, nestled under the rock overhang. It is by no means the first such dwelling, as can be seen by the lead sheet let into the cliff above it formerly providing weather protection to the roof, from water run off down the cliff, of a larger structure.

The farmhouse now provides shelter for tour guides, and a display area.

Source: Display in the Les Combarelles reception area.

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2008




Les Combarelles in the Dordogne Les Combarelles in the Dordogne

(Left) Entrance to the galleries of Les Combarelles, with Les Combarelles I on the left, and Les Combarelles II on the right.

(Right) Locked steel door giving access to tours of the engraved galleries of Les Combarelles I. Les Combarelles II is not open to the public.

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2008




Les Combarelles in the Dordogne

Entrance to Les Combarelles II, not open to the public.

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2008




Vezere Map









Map of sites in the Vézère Valley of France, including les Combarelles.

If you click on the map you will see a larger map with the ability to click on the marked sites and get further information.

Photo: Don Hitchcock





Les Combarelles in the Dordogne

Plan of Les Combarelles.

Photo: Bosinski et al. (2001)



Les Combarelles in the Dordogne

The plan of the images shown in their position in the cave. Note that not all the images are depicted in this schematic view.

Source: Capitan et al. (1924)



p109scan565combarellesplansm

Plan of Les Combarelles I.

This plan uses the numbering of H. Breuil.

Photo: C. Barrière
Source: Leroi-Gourhan (1984)




p111scan567combarellesonesm

Drawings of selected engravings from Les Combarelles I.

The numbers used for these drawings correspond to a different numbering system being developed by C. Barrière

2 Right wall: reindeer following each other (no. 28)
3 Right wall: reindeer following each other (no. 30)
4 Right wall: horses (no. 32 to 35)
5 Right wall: mammoth (no. 63)
6 Right wall: ibex and horses (no. 98 to 103)
7 Right wall: horse and bears (no. 101 to 106)
8 Right wall: horses and bears, doe, anthropomorphic figure (no. 110 to 116)

Photo: C. Barrière
Source: Leroi-Gourhan (1984)




p112scan568breuilcombarellessm

Drawings of selected engravings from Les Combarelles I.

9 Two reindeer facing each other
10 Rhinoceros
11 Lioness


Photo: H. Breuil
Source: Leroi-Gourhan (1984)




p112lion600dpiscan569anthropomorphsm

Engravings from Les Combarelles I.

12 anthropomorphic figure

Photo: N. Aujoulat
Source: Leroi-Gourhan (1984)




tools and godet

Upper Magdalenian lithic industry from the entry porch of les Combarelles, from the excavations by M. Archambeau:

Grattoir on a blade, unaltered small blades, a blade retouched on one side, and a godet - a small mortar used for grinding ochre.

Age: circa 12 000 - 10 000 BP

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2014
Source: Originals, le Musée National de Préhistoire, Les Eyzies-de-Tayac




tools
Tools from Les Combarelles - scrapers, burins, awls, and blades of various types.

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2015
Source: Originals, Musée d'Aquitaine à Bordeaux




Les Combarelles in the Dordogne



Entry to Les Combarelles.

Photo: Heinrich Wendel (© The Wendel Collection, Neanderthal Museum)




Les Combarelles in the Dordogne



The front of a feline, facing right. It may well be that the back of the animal never existed. This fine engraving shows a round nostril and a well marked mouth. The eye is indicated by a small flat stone. The area has been calcified, and this may well have helped preserve the image.

Photo: Heinrich Wendel (© The Wendel Collection, Neanderthal Museum)
Text: http://www.culture.gouv.fr/culture/conservation/fr/grottes/Pageshtm/CombarellesI.htm




Les Combarelles in the Dordogne



Close up of the feline head. The wall appears to have had subsequent calcification.

Photo: Heinrich Wendel (© The Wendel Collection, Neanderthal Museum)




Les Combarelles in the Dordogne



The feline above is labelled as number 52 in the 12 metre long series of drawings by Capitan and Breuil (1902a) (see the rest of these images below).

Source: Display in Les Combarelles reception area
Photo: Don Hitchcock 2008




Les Combarelles in the Dordogne



This is an engraving known as 'reindeer drinking', and is one of the best known of the cave. The animal is complete; the back is well marked, the rump is rounded, and the hind legs are marked. The antlers are huge, with wide, fingered webs, bent at right angles to the front.

Photo and text: http://www.culture.gouv.fr/culture/conservation/fr/grottes/Pageshtm/CombarelleRenneBuvant.htm




Les Combarelles in the Dordogne Les Combarelles in the Dordogne

Another version of the reindeer drinking, and a closeup of the head.

Photo: Heinrich Wendel (© The Wendel Collection, Neanderthal Museum)




Les Combarelles in the Dordogne

The engraving of the drinking reindeer on the right, and another which may be of a rhinoceros on the left.

Photo: Heinrich Wendel (© The Wendel Collection, Neanderthal Museum)




Les Combarelles in the Dordogne



Engraving of a horse, the best represented animal in the engravings.

Photo: Heinrich Wendel (© The Wendel Collection, Neanderthal Museum)




Les Combarelles in the Dordogne horse head



This horse head is beautifully proportioned, by an artist with talent and a lifetime spent studying horses.

Photo: Heinrich Wendel (© The Wendel Collection, Neanderthal Museum)




Les Combarelles in the Dordogne



The horse head above is part of the complete horse labelled as number 18 in the 12 metre long series of drawings by Capitan and Breuil (1902a) (see the rest of these images below).

Source: Display in Les Combarelles reception area
Photo: Don Hitchcock 2008




combarellesdrawingsbreuil2gsm


Engravings on the walls of la grotte des Combarelles, after the publications of MM Capitan and Breuil.

Photo and text: Cartailhac et Breuil (1906)




Les Combarelles in the Dordogne deer



Deer with a long neck.

Photo: Heinrich Wendel (© The Wendel Collection, Neanderthal Museum)




Les Combarelles in the Dordogne



The above deer is labelled as number 113/114 in the 12 metre long series of drawings by Capitan and Breuil (1902a) (see the rest of these images below).

Source: Display in Les Combarelles reception area
Photo: Don Hitchcock 2008




Les Combarelles in the Dordogne



The overwhelming impression when in Les Combarelles is how narrow the passages are.

In this photograph we can see the cables on the roof of the cave that are used to supply power for the lights.

Photo: Heinrich Wendel (© The Wendel Collection, Neanderthal Museum)




Les Combarelles in the Dordogne running horse



Horse running with a fluid movement, beautifully realised by the artist with just a few lines.

Photo: Heinrich Wendel (© The Wendel Collection, Neanderthal Museum)




Les Combarelles in the Dordogne



This appears to be a cartoon of a human face.

Photo: Heinrich Wendel (© The Wendel Collection, Neanderthal Museum)




Les Combarelles in the Dordogne



The face above is labelled as number 76 in the 12 metre long series of drawings by Capitan and Breuil (1902a) (see the rest of these images below).

Source: Display in Les Combarelles reception area
Photo: Don Hitchcock 2008




enigmatic horse or stag



Many of the images in Les Combarelles are enigmatic, but I believe I can see on the right the dorsal and ventral line of a horse or a stag, as well as its front legs.

Photo: Heinrich Wendel (© The Wendel Collection, Neanderthal Museum)




enigmatic horse or stag in context



The above image in context.

Photo: Heinrich Wendel (© The Wendel Collection, Neanderthal Museum)




right hand side



A close up of the right hand side of the image.

When seen in isolation like this, the engraving could almost be the outline of a human figure.

Photo: Heinrich Wendel (© The Wendel Collection, Neanderthal Museum)




rear of bison



This appears to be the hindquarters of a bison.

The engraving appears almost moulded into a bas relief in this photograph.

Photo: Heinrich Wendel (© The Wendel Collection, Neanderthal Museum)




deer



This appears to be an engraving of a deer, yet the tail is more like a horse.

Photo: Heinrich Wendel (© The Wendel Collection, Neanderthal Museum)




mammoth



Mammoth.

Photo: Heinrich Wendel (© The Wendel Collection, Neanderthal Museum)




mammoth



The mammoth above is number 69 in the drawings by Capitan and Breuil (1902a).

Photo: Capitan and Breuil (1902a).




unknown



I cannot recognise an animal in this image.

Photo: Heinrich Wendel (© The Wendel Collection, Neanderthal Museum)




horse horse



Horse, facing downwards to the left.

Photo: Heinrich Wendel (© The Wendel Collection, Neanderthal Museum)




unknown



This is the outline of a cave bear, facing to the left, with head down.

Photo: Heinrich Wendel (© The Wendel Collection, Neanderthal Museum)




unknown



The image is labelled number 47 in the drawings by Capitan and Breuil (1902a)

Photo: Capitan and Breuil (1902a)




unknown



There is the head of an unidentifiable animal at centre left in this image.

Photo: Heinrich Wendel (© The Wendel Collection, Neanderthal Museum)




unknown



I cannot recognise an animal in this image.

Photo: Heinrich Wendel (© The Wendel Collection, Neanderthal Museum)




unknown



Horse head and front legs.

Photo: Heinrich Wendel (© The Wendel Collection, Neanderthal Museum)




bison or aurochs



Aurochs head facing to the front.

Photo: Heinrich Wendel (© The Wendel Collection, Neanderthal Museum)




bison or aurochs



Deer head. The head is quite bulbous or cartoon-like.

Photo: Heinrich Wendel (© The Wendel Collection, Neanderthal Museum)




comb60102cysm

Les Combarelles in the Dordogne

Facsimile of part of the engraved walls.

Source: Display in the Les Combarelles reception area.

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2008






Les Combarelles in the Dordogne

A display of some of the engravings in the cave system. These are sections of the 12 metre long 'ribbon' of drawings created by Capitan and Breuil (1902a)

Source: Display in the Les Combarelles reception area.

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2008



Les Combarelles in the Dordogne

A display of some of the engravings in the cave system. These are sections of the 12 metre long 'ribbon' of drawings created by Capitan and Breuil (1902a)

Source: Display in the Les Combarelles reception area.

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2008



Les Combarelles in the Dordogne



Monograph by Capitan, Breuil and Peyrony on Les Combarelles published in 1924 - by the serial number, the first such copy!

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2008





Sculptures of animals from the time of the artists of Les Combarelles

These finely made sculptures were in display cases in the reception area of Les Combarelles. I assume they were for sale, and I was impressed with their good proportions and detail. The artist is unknown.

Les Combarelles in the Dordogne
The sculpture of the mammoth is especially valuable because of the inclusion of a human figure at the same scale. Mammoths were the largest animals of the time in the area. They were smaller than an African elephant, about the same size as an Asian elephant, standing 3 metres high at the shoulder. Nevertheless they would have been a formidable prey to bring down. The meat and fat they carried, as well as their huge and thick hide would have made them very valuable to the people of the time. Bones and ivory could have been scavenged from mammoths which died a natural death.


Photo: Don Hitchcock 2008


Les Combarelles in the Dordogne

This Aurochs was particularly well fashioned. The Aurochs is the ancestor of modern cattle. Like most of the animals on display here, and depicted on the walls of Les Combarelles, it was a creature of the well grassed open plains and wide valleys, such as the Dordogne region in ice age times.


Photo: Don Hitchcock 2008


Les Combarelles in the Dordogne

The European Bison, like the Aurochs, were most often in herds, and the hunters would most likely have hunted this quarry in groups. Each species would have required different methods, and even different spears in some cases.


Photo: Don Hitchcock 2008


Les Combarelles in the Dordogne

The Cavebear, though nominally vegetarian, would have been a formidable adversary if it was disturbed, or if their young were endangered. Cavebears may well have been encountered by nomadic hunters returning to caves for ritual or painting purposes, since cavebears overwintered in caves, and there is plenty of evidence of cavebears in the area at the time.

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2008


Les Combarelles in the Dordogne

The Wooly Rhinoceros would have been the most dangerous animal of all during those times. Often alone, it was well able to defend itself, and almost certainly had a very aggressive response to any approach by humans. It was probably given a wide berth at all times.

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2008


Les Combarelles in the Dordogne

The Cave Lion was a huge animal. It was significantly larger than modern African lions. No doubt it was avoided where at all possible, as it would have regarded humans themselves as prey. A lone human would have had little chance against a Cave Lion.

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2008




Les Combarelles in the Dordogne

An unpublished engraving from the walls of Les Combarelles.

Photo: Capitan and Breuil (1902b)




Les Combarelles in the Dordogne

An engraving of a bovid with a mane.

Photo: Capitan and Breuil (1902b)




Les Combarelles in the Dordogne

A reindeer in full flight.

Photo: Capitan and Breuil (1902b)




Les Combarelles in the Dordogne

An engraving of an ibex.

Photo: Capitan and Breuil (1902b)




Les Combarelles in the Dordogne

Two tectiform signs symmetrically placed. Between them, an engraving of a deer or antelope.

Photo: Capitan and Breuil (1902b)











Below is an important paper by Breuil and Capitan from 1902, in which they report some signs of domestication of horses in the Magdalenian.

Figures préhistoriques de la grotte des Combarelles (Dordogne)

Prehistoric figures from Les Combarelles in the Dordogne

Capitan and Breuil (1902a)

Translated by Don Hitchcock


In September 1902 we recognised on the walls of Les Combarelles 109 perfectly distinct figures, representing a series of engraved animals of various species, the entire animal or just the head alone.

We have represented all these animals on a strip which measures 12 metres long and 12 centimetres high, at about one tenth of the natural size, and we place these here for the eyes of the Academy, as well as 27 tracings of the principal figures.

These images engraved on the walls begin at 125 metres from the entrance.

The cave has the shape of a long winding corridor, with a height of 50 centimetres to two metres, and a width of 1 to 2 metres. They extend over a length of 100 meters on each side of the cave, almost to the end, which is 235 meters from the entrance.

Engraved sometimes deeply (4-5 mm) In the Cretaceous limestone, sometimes slightly more, sometimes enhanced with a stroke of black paint, these figures measure 25 centimetres to over a metre in length. Many are coated with a calcite coating measuring a few millimetres thick and acts as a glaze on the drawings, while in other points the calcite hides them completely.

The animals represented as entire are horses, bovidae, bisons, ibex, reindeer, and mammoths, not to mention unidentified animals, various heads, and many drawings unable to be interpreted.

These drawings are always executed in profile, and show the animal at rest or walking, sometimes running. Their technique is identical to that of engraved bone or ivory found in deposits from the Magdalenian period. They have a character of precision and skill, showing the constant concern to reproduce nature as it is, with no idea of stylisation. As for the engraved bones, it appears evident that the figures have been executed by the artists of the time as exact replicas of what they saw.

The horses have variable characters; some are reminiscent of the appearance of a mule, others are similar to modern horses, as may be seen on the copies we have presented here.

The bovids are equally varied, one in particular with its large dewlap, his little head and his quite thin body. Two reindeer above, which we present also as tracings are figures with a fidelity that can leave no doubt about their identification.

Two superimposed ibex have been very exactly reproduced.

Les Combarelles in the Dordogne

Finally, 14 figures show a variety of mammoths showing animals sometimes young and entirely covered with hair, sometimes older, and with less hair. All these images are of remarkable accuracy. Forehead, long hair, shape of the ears, trunk, legs, attitude, everything is represented with a special care that leaves no doubt as to the veracity of the identifications.



Photo: Capitan and Breuil (1902a)


Les Combarelles in the Dordogne

Four images of horses showed markings indicating clearly that the animals had been domesticated. Two had a covering on the back clearly shown, another presents a kind of band around the snout and a fourth has an indication evident on the cheek, a piece of reindeer horn, pierced with holes, formerly known as a baton de commandement, and that Piette has shown was a kind of primitive bridle.

Photo: Capitan and Breuil (1902a)




On the side of one horse, there is a diamond-shaped sign, circumscribed by two strokes; on the rump of another animal, we can see three signs that have the appearance of letters. This arrangement recalls the letters that are, on the same area, depicted on some archaic Greek depictions of horses.

Other noteworthy figures include two signs in the form of brackets inclined towards each other and are deeply engraved and behind a large very precise representation of a mammoth. These signs are very similar to those that Piette noted on engraved bones he considered as representing a signature by the artist or a mark of ownership.

These are several triangular signs, with oblique lines inside (tectiform signs) These may be a coarse representation of a head or a human skull seen from the front, and some cupules

The question of authenticity of these figures can not be within the shadow of a doubt. Their technique and way of reproducing animals already allows us to consider them very old, undeniably contemporary with the engravings on bones found near hearths for which the stratigraphy and fauna can be dated exactly and point to a bygone "era of carving" referred to by Piette or the Magdalenian referred to by G. Mortillet. Moreover, the accuracy of the figures speaks clearly to the fact that they had to be executed by artists who saw the beasts they represented, and lived with them.

Since these animals, the ibex and reindeer, disappeared from our land at the end of the late Magdalenian, while the mammoth disappeared probably even before the end of that period, it follows that these representations date from this period whose antiquity not able to be evaluated exactly, even in centuries, but only very roughly, and if we really wanted to have the figures they could be traced back to 10th or 12th millennium before our era and possibly even more remote than that.

These multiple manifestations of a precise art, sincere, true, equipped with a learned technique are all the more remarkable in that they appeared suddenly, already very sophisticated, and they disappear no less suddenly, without going through a period of decadence. There is then no more sign of them in subsequent epochs, and apart from a few stylised or symbolic examples here and there, they have disappeared.

The study of prehistoric art events on the walls of caves give therefore a view of a history of the origins of art.

This is of such great importance that we deemed it necessary to present this report of the results of our initial investigations to the Academy.





Les Combarelles II

Adapted from Leroi-Gourhan (1984), part of a chapter written and illustrated by Norbert Aujoulat.

Translation by Don Hitchcock


Les Combarelles II in the Dordogne

The plan of Les Combarelles II at left is by N. Aujoulat and H. Nielsen.

Les Combarelles II is no longer open to the public.

As we enter the porch, Les Combarelles I is to the left, and Les Combarelles II is to the right. The tunnels are similar in general character. For Les Combarelles II, there is a winding profile, with a slope of 8 metres over the 103 metres of the cavity. The cavity can be split into three sections, of substantially equal length. The first, of 35 metres, is very winding, and was the site of extensive excavations by E. Rivière. The second, of 36 metres in length, has a rectilinear layout, and includes all the known engravings of this cave.

A stalagmitic curtain obscured eastern access at the southern end of the two ended tunnel, near the present entrance to Les Combarelles I; a sandy-clay deposit clogged the western entrance towards the north of the tunnel, thus sealing, before the intervention of A. Pomarel, the two potential entrances to this cave.

The last 33 m is distinguished by its multiple floors and its numerous side chambers. This cave makes the hydrogeological junction between the valley of Les Combarelles and the valley of the Beune. Its entrance stands at the bottom of a large abri, facing the departmental road D47.

Originally, a large amount of fill clogged the entrance vestibule and partially obstructed the first thirty metres of this cavity. At an unknown time, this soil level was lowered to facilitate the establishment of a barn, under the porch. At the end of the last century, when E. Rivière undertook the excavation of the archaeological deposit of the right branch of Combarelles, it had been the subject of earlier research by Abbé Chastaing.

A sondage indicated to the latter the presence of a very rich Magdalenian level. During a meeting of the French Association for the Advancement of Science (August 11, 1894), E. Rivière reported on the results obtained during the campaigns from 1892 to 1894: 'We found a considerable quantity of cut flints which were in the thousands. two bone harpoons, one with a row of barbs, the other with two; needles, awls, spear heads with large bevels, pierced teeth and shells, engraved bones ... ' (Rivière, 1894).

Although these objects have no stratigraphic identity, their belonging to a Magdalenian culture is attested in particular by a harpoon with double row of barbs (upper Magdalenian), and a bone rondelle, with two holes, decorated with radial incisions (Middle Magdalenian).




Les Combarelles in the Dordogne

Entrance to Les Combarelles II.

Photo: Don Hitchcock 2008




During the course of a sondage, located on the left of the first steps of the access staircase to Les Combarelles I, J.-Ph. Rigaud, in 1968, collected stone tools which confirmed the occupation of the site in the Middle Magdalenian. Originally, the diverticulum on the right was interrupted in the axis of the gallery only by a very narrow vertical crack. In their monograph (1924) devoted to the Combarelles, L. Capitan, Abbé H. Breuil and D. Peyrony already noticed the possibility of an extension at the foot of the right wall, a few metres from the bottom, and noted: 'it is quite probable that excavations pursued at this point would reveal... a certain length of filled corridor, and if the ground rose, perhaps another practicable gallery' (Capitan et al., 1924)

Probably taking into account these observations, A. Pomarel, in 1934, opened, through a filling of ossiferous breccia and clay, a passage giving him access to the decorated gallery. The careful observation of the walls led him to discover the first engravings of the cave. They were authenticated shortly thereafter by D. Peyrony, then partially recorded and published in 1952 by Abbé H. Breuil.

Description of the figures:

Before its excavation, the corridor of linear axis was barred in its median part by a stalagmitic flow. The first engravings appear one metre from this bottleneck, initially difficult to cross. They are distributed on the left and right walls, on the vault, and inside a chimney. The description of the figures will be in this order. The reference point, or zero point of the planimetric positioning of the works, is located downstream of the end of the concretion.

With reference to the zero point, and on the left wall:

• At one metre, a rock outcrop somewhat altered, suggesting a profile of bird (1)
• At two metres, a finely incised contour of a mammoth, obscured by a calcite veil (2)
• At two meters fifty cm, a curvilinear line (3)
• At five meters ten cm, an oval sign engraved on a cornice (Fig. 8) (4)
• At sixty centimetres to the right of the preceding, a second curvilinear line (5)
• At ten metres, a Rhinoceros tichorhinus (woolly rhinoceros), length 66 cm (6) surmounted by a small oval sign (Fig. 5) (7)
• Fifty centimetres separate this last from a bison of a substantially identical size (8) (Fig. 4);
• Located on the same horizontal line between fourteen metres and sixteen metres, an engraved sequence of several animals and signs (A). They are, in order, as follows: a mammoth (A 9), a first bison, seen from the front (A 10), a cervid or goat (A 11), a second bison (A 12), whose head seems to take the place of of a reindeer or deer (A 13), followed by a third bovine (A 14). The front hoof of a horse (A 15) completes the composition of this frieze (Fig. 3)
• Four metres further on, two engraved panels, with uninterpretable tracings, put an end to the decoration of this wall (16-17).

On the right side:

• At four metres ninety cm, a very altered mammoth profile (18)
• At ten metres eighty cm, a panel incorporating several curvilinear and rectilinear lines whose meaning remains to be defined (19)
• At three metres further on, a Saïga antelope and a curvilinear sign (Fig. 7) (20-21)
• At fifteen metres, a triangular sign (22)
• At fifty centimetres further on, a horse with a static rear hoof, a raised front hoof, and with a 'goose rump' or 'jumping rump' (a rump which inclines sharply downwards, the slope of the pelvis being significantly greater than 30 degrees with the horizon) (Fig. 6) (23).

The sequence on the right ends on an indeterminate figure, at sixteen metres seventy cm (a ruminant according to Breuil) (24).

Two engravings adorn the ceiling of the gallery, one located at fifteen metres forty cm, the other at seventeen metres thirty cm. The first is similar to a bison head traced on a rocky outcrop whose ridge marks the edge; only the eyes and horns have been incised (25). The second, inserted inside a concavity, could be identified as a mammoth (26).

At the level of the rhino-bison pair, a subvertical chimney was decorated with three bisons (27-28-29) (Figure 1).

Turned to the right, they occupy the corners of an imaginary triangle, the point of which is directed downwards. A sign comparable to a tectiforme precedes the juxtaposed bovines (30). Inside the outline of the bison adjoining this figure is the head and neck of a horse (31). On the opposite wall, a second sketched equine (32) (rump) complete the decoration of this chimney. The current layout of this vertical duct did not allow us to confirm the identity of a figure placed at a high level (10 metres), which could be a mammoth (33).

Bison, Les Combarelles II in the Dordogne

Bison number 28

Photo: Norbert Aujoulat, in Leroi-Gourhan (1984)




Panel A, Les Combarelles II in the Dordogne

Panel A, left side.

Photo: Norbert Aujoulat, in Leroi-Gourhan (1984)




Panel A, Les Combarelles II in the Dordogne

Panel A, right side.

Photo: Norbert Aujoulat, in Leroi-Gourhan (1984)




Conservation

The commercial exploitation of a cave inevitably and irreparably affects graphic wall representations. These degradations occur during successive developments, visits, or when the site is abandoned. Les Combarelles II has undergone these three phases. Although the opening to the public was episodic and the groups formed in each case were small, the fact remains that the rubbing of clothes on the walls has greatly altered certain areas more exposed than others, especially the Rhino-Bison pair. It was threatened by the very sensitive action of a current of air caused by the removal of the filling at the two ends of the decorated corridor. An effective closure has recreated the initial and ideal conditions for conservation.

 Les Combarelles II in the Dordogne

Various engravings.

Photo: Norbert Aujoulat, in Leroi-Gourhan (1984)








Les Figurations Humaines Pariétales de la Grotte des Combarelles

par Monique et Claude Archambeau

Translation: Don Hitchcock


maphumanfigurescombarellessm

Map of human figures on the walls of la Grotte des Combarelles.

Photo: Archambeau (1991)



Abstract

A study of the fifty human figures known at Combarelles were used to set up a typology. The chronological situation of the drawings has now been accurately determined. The human figures are regularly associated with the animal most frequently represented in each cave. We believe that they may constitute evidence for an anthropocentrism, which could be at the centre of a new overall theory.

The large number of human figures contained in the Combarelles cave is an exceptional fact in parietal art . The study of this set allowed us to make a typological and chronological classification of them. Their distribution in space as well as the representations which are associated with them can have value here as a model, given the sampling and the duration of frequentation of this cave (fig. 1).

When it comes to human representation, we come up against two difficulties. The first belongs to the Prehistoric people themselves because they have always voluntarily represented the human being in a schematic way and this particularly in the Magdalenian. The second can be summed up in terms of anthropocentrism. First of all, anthropocentrism of Cro-Magnon men who seem not to have escaped what constitutes the very foundation of our 'humanity'. Secondly, the anthropocentrism of the prehistorian who reads and interprets the symbolic environment of human representations with its culture and its morality. As much as the reading of horses, bison or mammoths may seem simple, the interpretation of human figures is more difficult. Proof of this may be taken from the fact that led Abbé Breuil and his peers to omitted to include human representation in figurative animal art, when he himself had identified a large number of them both at Combarelles and in other caves.

If there is to be a new attempt at a synthetic study of prehistoric parietal art , it will be necessary to give its rightful place to human representation. In order to preserve our readings from any abusive interpretation, we will call human figure a representation which includes at least one character specific to the human being. We have thus taken into account the following characteristics, which seem to be the canons of representation :

• the rectilinear dorsal-lumbar line
• the 'carrying of the head' in the extension of the back on a slender support, the neck
• the biped position
• both eyes seen from the front

To these main characters, which allow us to identify humans, we add secondary characters already used by L. Pales to determine sex when possible:

• male sex - Adam 's apple, facial hair and penis
• female sex : breasts, large belly and vulva

Knowing that realism can not be a criterion of determination by definition, and since it is necessary to use the right word and not the abusive interpretations of our predecessors, we will eliminate from our vocabulary the terms of anthropomorphs, hybrid animal , sorcerer, mask ...

Statements

The engravings from the Combarelles cave, like all engravings in general, are not easy to identify, particularly for questions of the evolution of surface states and patinas. We will not develop here the different conservation conditions depending on whether they are engravings or paintings.

As a general rule, in the decorated caves, the engravings are numerous and superimposed. In order to make our interpretation as objective as possible, we have developed a survey method consisting of an orthonormal reference of definitive and juxtaposable dimensions, thus systematically squaring the wall (Archambeau, 1982 ).

The measurement of the third dimension, which we obtained from the frame to the wall, allowed the construction of level curves indicating the inclusion of the figures in the reliefs. These two stages of the survey are perfectly superimposable, since they are carried out according to the same metric reference.

At Combarelles, the representations which are continuous on the walls allow the reassembly of the various readings carried out from 50 cm to 50 cm, which makes it possible to codify all the features contained in this fixed space . We proceed as by stripping the wall according to the different levels of intervention.

We used the straightness of a beam of light placed perpendicular to the frame and then noted the discernible features on a sheet of non-deformable glass. Our mobility as well as the mobility of light are essential to distinguish the different lines on the walls of the Combarelles. It seemed very important to us to publish readings located in space, which are therefore controllable and reproducible.

This close reading of the walls has identified about 200 new representations, including 15 human figures, and we are still discovering more. In this context, Father Breuil's numbering , which is still the only one used to this day, constituted a limit to identification in his inventory. We got around the difficulty by building a drawer system , based on its numbering by panels.

Systematic study of human representations

We present here the statements according to the different stages of wall analysis. Some statements are made with a single line and indicate a state of conservation that does not allow an analysis of the line, but their reading remains possible.

Other statements are made in two stages: first a synthetic reading of the human figure and its immediate environment, then an analytical reading of the human figure alone, each time it is possible to note a particular impact of the representation technique. We will indicate, in this case, the thickness of the lines, their section, their inclination and their depth.

Finally, some statements must be superimposed on the level curves , in order to understand the framing in space and the use of the forms of the walls.

combarellesfig2sm


Figure 2.

(MCA stands for Authors' New Discovery)

Photo and text: Archambeau (1991)




N° 0-1 : Geometric type human representation (fig. 2)

This engraving, located on the ceiling, is the first identifiable representation currently known in the cave. It is located 3 m before the first panel indicated by Abbé Breuil and about 67 m from the door.

In the case of such a schematic representation, the determination of a human is difficult. However, it is by analogy with other figures of the same type in the cave that we can advance an interpretation. The use of canons is applied here: the very arched dorso-lumbar line is made in a single line up to the extension of the thigh and the ventral line is very schematic.

In the particular case of geometric type figurations, the dorso-lumbar line can only be that of a human. Indeed, the very straight back , the very accentuated lumbar arch and the prominent buttocks form a curved line that can not be confused with the cervico - dorsal line of a bison or a horse.

This type of representation is usually female, but on this figure no character allows us to identify the sex.

combarellesfig2sm


Figure 3.

N° 3-1 : Geometric type human representation (fig. 3)

In this area, it is not possible to find Abbé Breuil 's interpretation. It is true that a few scratches, probably due to the old work of lowering the ground, may have destroyed certain features. Nevertheless, taking into account all the engravings existing at the place where Abbé Breuil saw the front legs of reindeer n° 3, we identify the thigh of a schematic female figure of geometric appearance, which resembles. many in n° 11-2 (see below p. 58), while a relief was used to symbolise the chest.

The belly is bigger than in other geometric figures but the principle of construction from a stereotyped diagram is respected. This figure has no head or arms. Next to it, despite a difficult reading due to the flakes and a calcite flow, we can recognise the cervico-dorsal line of a horse.

Photo and text: Archambeau (1991)




fig4combarellessm


Figure 4.

No. 4 : Enigmatic representation (fig. 4)

The conservation of surfaces makes it difficult to reading this figure. Since Abbé Breuil's readings, clay has been rubbed on the wall, which has considerably degraded certain features that were already poorly preserved. Today we only see one eye for sure and no ear.

A few lines seem to represent the right arm, but everything in this figure is schematic. However, a human representation is recognised by the general position of the body and the leg and the 'carrying of the head'. The reading of Abbé Breuil, who identified mammoth tusks starting from the head, is attractive, but the quality of the support does not allow us today to be so precise in determining these appendages. However, our reading remains consistent with Father Breuil's general interpretation.

The evolution of the conservation of the support, aggravated by thick calcite flows, does not allow us to judge the choice of the location that the engraver was able to determine.

This is the reason why it did not seem necessary to construct the level curves for this figure.

In this particular case, if one day we must speak seriously of masked men, we will certainly have here an example as convincing as the 'Horned God' of Les Trois Frères.

For the time being, we place this figure under the heading of enigmatic representations of human figures.

Photo and text: Archambeau (1991)




fig5combarellesbsm


Figure 5.

No. 11: Indeterminate (fig. 5)

Abbé Breuil classified this representation among the probable and vague human figures because its statement could suggest a silhouette.

A more systematic reading of each feature suggests an organised whole but it is impossible to attribute any human character to it. We have recognised in the cave other representations whose structure is close to this one, which are perhaps organised signs, such as, for example, the set of curved lines which are just to the right of this figure.

Photo and text: Archambeau (1991)




fig6combarellesbsm


Figure 6.

No. 11-1: Geometric type human representation (fig. 6)

This human figuration was discovered by Claude Archambeau in 1978.

Abbé Breuil did not see this figure or the following one, certainly because they are in a very low area at the level of the old ground. Indeed, the mattress of branches on which he was supported above the puddles of water must have covered these figures, however obvious.

This representation of geometrical appearance is close to n° 67 (1) (cf. infra, p. 70) very well known at Combarelles. This figure, like those that resemble it, seems to be made with large, sure strokes, without repetition, like a stereotyped pattern. Its feminine character with a strong breast is absolutely clear.

It would be a representation, with only one breast, in absolute profile except for the small protuberance that ends the breast and that could be a representation of the nipple. The location of this figure in an area of dangerous passage for its conservation has contributed to the wearing away of some clayey parts that could suggest a voluntary patina.

Immediately to the left of this figure and partly above it, another set of lines seems organised. The reading is difficult because the lower part of the features is very degraded. However, with intense lighting, we seemed to recognise the thigh of another human representation, without head, whose back would be drawn on the usual model of the curved line.

The two ovals would represent the opulent breasts of a woman seen from a three quarters viewpoint. The line that draws the thigh is very degraded by splinters of calcite clay, so that it is almost impossible to determine if it is a degraded line or an effect due to the relief. We will therefore not retain this reading in our count of human figurations.

Photo and text: Archambeau (1991)




fig7combarellesbsm


Figure 7.

No. 11-2: geometric type human representation (fig. 7).

This is a human figure located 20 cm to the left of the previous one (n° 11-1) and discovered at the same time by Claude Archambeau.

These two figures have a 'family resemblance' but they are totally different in their way of representing humans. The feminine character of this representation, without a head or arms, is evidenced by a swollen belly and a voluminous breast rendered by the use of natural nodules. By its shape and the use of a natural relief for the realisation of the breast, this representation is to be compared to n° 3-1.

The rock here is very flaked and, as far as the preservation of the line is concerned, it seems that the engraving is posterior to the flaking of the hardened clay, unless what can be seen has happened as at les grottes du Ker de Massat in Ariège, the figures engraved on clay were made with a sharp tool, so that when the clay flakes off as it dries, the line remains on the rock below. It is regrettable that the lower part of this figure was obliterated by mortar applied during the installation of electrical wiring.

Photo and text: Archambeau (1991)


fig8combarellessm


Figure 8.

N° 19-1: Geometric type human representation (fig. 8).

Abbé Breuil had noted these features, which he called 'parasites', on horse n° 19, covered with several horizontal or oblique lines. We propose to interpret them as a human figuration, due to the balance of the silhouette. We discern a trunk with two arms apart, the arm placed on the right draws an arc of a circle, while the other is folded. The head and legs are not identifiable. We therefore read a human figure, without distinction of sex, seen from the front or from the back, whose character is rather geometric.

The similarity of representation with certain human figures on plaques found by G. Bosinski in Saalfeld is surprising. In this example, three characters identical to that of les Combarelles seem to be holding hands.

Photo and text: Archambeau (1991)


fig9combarellessm


Figure 9.

N° 27 (1): Undetermined (fig. 9)

This figure is not on the ceiling as Abbé Breuil had indicated, but 250 cm after mammoth n° 26, at prehistoric ground level.

In this part of the cave, the support is poorly preserved. Indeed, the absence of a calcite crust makes the rock fragile. It is therefore very likely that the conservation conditions have damaged the features of this figure. It is an incomplete representation, without an eye, whose nose is included in a relief. Only the 'carrying of the head' could make us classify it among the human representations; which, although Abbé Breuil described it as 'distinctly human', is not, in our opinion, of a sufficient character for that classification.

Photo and text: Archambeau (1991)


fig10combarellessm


Figure 10.

N° 27 (2): Undetermined (fig. 10, no. 1)

With regard to this representation, it is difficult to follow Abbé Breuil in his interpretation. Perhaps we could place this organised figure in the series of 'undetermined' that Abbé Breuil seldom used for Les Combarelles whereas he used a lot of the term 'masks, fantastic'. It could also be a 'sign'.

N° 27 (3): Expressive human representation (fig. 10, no. 2)

This figure is included in the hindquarters of a very schematic and disproportionate horse. Although deformed, she has aspects that can be human: like the 'carrying of the head' on possible shoulders. But the profile is very surprising, it goes beyond the prognathism ( protrusion of the lower jaw - Don ) often depicted in this cave, and is rather reminiscent of the head of a bird.

Photo and text: Archambeau (1991)


fig11combarellestopsm


Figure 11.

N° 31: Realistic human representation (fig. 11)

In this representation, we find with certainty the thigh, the leg and the foot of a human in a seated position. On the other hand, the body is questionable. Abbé Breuil saw a body leaning forward because he was taking into account features that he 'hardly isolated from many parasitic features'. The representation of the eye which could bring some credit to this reading does not actually exist, they are only portions of lines and cracks: nothing confirms its existence.

The nature of the support, clay of decomposition which forms a striated and calcified veneer, is the only argument which makes it possible to imagine the lines in continuity. These are not engravings. The state of preservation of this portion of the wall makes it difficult to read and therefore interpret these different features.

We propose another reading which takes into account the nature of certain deeply engraved lines and associates them by technical assimilation with the lines of the thigh. This hypothesis shows a straighter body than in the previous case. The position remains correct for a seated man.

But the features forming the body are in fact the hind legs of horse n° 30, associated with some reliefs and cupules which can be interpreted as a head. Only the invoice of the features, which thus isolate themselves among the others, allows the identification of a human. To conform to our definition of the representation of man and following Abbé Breuil's first interpretation, we will only take into consideration this lower limb in a seated position which is very characteristic of the human figuration; we will consider this document as expressive figurative.

As always in the Palaeolithic, the foot is a simple outline. The expressive character of a lower limb corresponds to an exceptional representation to which is added the sitting position. Known seated representations are often on the ground (cf. n° 32-1). It is also necessary to underline the relation of this figure with the representation of the horse. The man seems included in a group of horses. Thigh, leg and foot are drawn on a fairly smooth surface while the surrounding surfaces are less regular. As very often at Combarelles, the engraving is located on the most suitable flat surface.

It is not impossible to conceive of a voluntary visual phenomenon which could have a symbolic value, concerning the use of the hind legs of the horse as the body of the seated man.

This remark has been made on other figures (cf. n° 45). Prehistoric people voluntarily used parts of representations to make others, certainly not for the sake of economy of line. The recognised association of man and horse here is frequently found at Les Combarelles.

Photo and text: Archambeau (1991)


fig12combarellessm


Figure 12.

N° 32-1: Geometric type human representation (fig. 12)

Its geometric design and the outline of a single line bring this figure closer to nos. 67, 3-1 and 11-2.

It seems that this female representation, very arched, with a prominent breast, although only suggested, is in a seated position, which is surprising for this type of representation. It is usually called 'the Venus of Tursac' by analogy with the eponymous Venus, mainly because of its position and its arched and slender appearance.

This figure fits in the neckline of horse n° 32.

Photo and text: Archambeau (1991)


fig13combarellessm


Figure 13.

N° 36-1: Indeterminate (fig. 13)

Abbe Breuil saw a bear's head in this face. However, the representations of bears remaining doubtful at Combarelles, he often wavers between an attribution to a bear or to an anthropomorph.

Here, it is difficult to find the figure of the bear, given the important selection he made of the features. By trying to take into account all the features, figured against the front legs of reindeer n° 36, we can discern a muzzle and a neck with a possible, although very schematic, horse's head. Just in front of this muzzle, an organised figure resembling a frog or toad seems built around a large disproportionate eye. We say 'human' by analogy, but the interpretation remains enigmatic.

Photo and text: Archambeau (1991)


fig14combarellessm


Figure 14.

No. 42-1: Human head (fig. 14)

It is a figure organised around the reliefs of the ceiling vault, which is relatively disordered. The features are angular, deeply engraved; they accentuate the natural form of the reliefs and integrate others as if the Magdalenians had seen the figure by its reliefs alone, and had then engraved it to make it more real. The eye is a natural cup that has been slightly abraded in its upper part.

A rock prominence suggests an upper jaw. The shape of the relief is perhaps the origin of a prominent lower jaw, which is not very anatomic for a Cro-Magnon, but is frequently represented. The relief also suggests an occipital chignon that the graphics have not corrected; here again there is a similarity, for example, with certain figures from La Marche.

It is a very realistic figuration although accompanied by primitive human characters or perhaps only exaggerated by the form of the natural relief used under the same conditions as for the animal representations. It is located above several horses.

Photo and text: Archambeau (1991)


fig15combarellessm


Figure 15.

No. 42-2: Enigmatic representation (fig. 15)

The cephalic drawing of this figure gives it a certain human character but the whole remains enigmatic. The very exaggerated prominence of the lower jaw is very reminiscent of n° 82. The eye here is well marked; it seems to be an important part of the representation.

The organisation of the lines figured around the reliefs makes the overall reading difficult. It is above all the general aspect of the support, associated with the lines, which makes it possible to interpret this figuration. The proximity of n° 42-1, twenty cm before, whose technique is identical, allows a reading by analogy. This figure, like the previous one, is located just above two horses.

Photo and text: Archambeau (1991)


fig16combarellessm


Figure 16.

No. 45: Realistic human representation (fig. 16)

Abbé Breuil saw in this representation 'lines that had remained misunderstood'. However, in his concern to spot highly figurative animals, he eventually interpreted them as the two front legs of a horse. No line can represent the shoulder of this beast.

On the other hand, the formation of the deeply and largely engraved lines, as if enlarged in a U to accentuate them, seems to show a standing human silhouette, seen from the back or from the front. The hips are well marked, the legs have a very human movement, the leg placed on the right is extended by a finger appendage finely engraved.

In the reading, there is nothing to associate it directly with this human representation, but it is indeed an organised symbol. The absence of a head is not a problem. We know, in fact, a large number of headless representations in prehistoric art.

The ibex superimposed on the horse has its head precisely above the body of the human representation. Very deep strokes are deliberately continuous from the top of the body to the bottom of the legs. One can think that after the realisation of the animals, the appearance of a human body was such that a Magdalenian cut deeply into the rock to make the contours appear. The ibex was drawn first, the horse was made later, then many lines came to obliterate these two figures and it is from these lines that we see the voluntary widening of the incisions revealing the human figuration.

It seems that the only feature, the dorso-lumbar line, which was missing to express this silhouette, was made after the animal figures. The Magdalenians therefore deeply recut all the parts that could make it possible to recognise a human body. It is also necessary to note this very frequent association of man and horse. The level curves of this portion of support showed us that the human representation was precisely engraved on the only roughly flat part: it occupies it entirely between two concave parts which represent the bellies of the horse and the ibex. As in the case of n° 31, there is reuse of a part of the horse's body (the front legs) to express the legs of the human subject.

Photo and text: Archambeau (1991)


fig17combarellessm


Figure 17.

No. 48: Expressive human representation (fig. 17)

We classify among the human representations a figure that Abbé Breuil had interpreted as a small bison. It seems difficult to follow him down this path. Despite a significant thickness of calcite, it is possible to recognise a head, the cervico-dorsal line and the representation of a shoulder.

The nose seems well noted and the eye is obvious. At the level of the shoulder, one can note the beginning of an arm. The whole gives this figure a somewhat fetal but very human form. A set of streaks on the body is associated with it and can be compared to a set of identical lines on n° 31. The forward leaning position is unrealistic but frequent in prehistoric human representation.

This figure is located under the belly of a large horse. We rank it among the expressive figurative representations.

Photo and text: Archambeau (1991)


References

  1. Archambeau, G. & C., 1991: Les figurations humaines pariétales de la grotte des Combarelles, Gallia préhistoire, tome 33, 1991. pp. 53-81; doi : https://doi.org/10.3406/galip.1991.2285 https://www.persee.fr/doc/galip_0016-4127_1991_num_33_1_2285 Fichier pdf généré le 12/11/2020
  2. Bosinski, G., D'Errico F., Schiller P., 2001: Die gravierten Frauendarstellungen von Gönnersdorf, Stuttgart : Franz Steiner, 2001
  3. Capitan L., Breuil H., 1902a, Figures préhistoriques de la grotte des Combarelles (Dordogne). Comptes-rendus des séances de l'année.. - Académie des inscriptions et belles-lettres, 46e année, N. 1, 1902. pp. 51-56..
  4. Capitan L., Breuil H., 1902b, Gravures paléolithiques sur les parois de la grotte des Combarelles près des Eyzies (Dordogne) Bulletins de la Société d'anthropologie de Paris, V Série, tome 3, 1902. pp. 527-535.
  5. Capitan L., Breuil H., Peyrony D., 1924, Les Combarelles aux Eyzies (Dordogne), Paris, Masson, 1924, 192 p., 128 fig. (Archives de l' Institut de Paléontologie humaine).
  6. Cartailhac, É., Breuil H., 1906: La Caverne d'Altamira a Santillane près Santander (Espagne) Imprimerie de Monaco, 1906.
  7. Leroi-Gourhan A., 1984: L'Art des cavernes : Atlas des grottes ornées paléolithiques françaises, Relié – 1 décembre 1984
  8. Rivière E., 1894, Nouvelles recherches anthropologiques et paléontologiques dans la Dordogne, Association française pour l'Avancement des Sciences, 23e Congrès, 1894, Caen, t. 2, p. 709-722, 6 fig. , 1 pl.
  9. Sémhur, 23 September 2009a, Wikipedia. Personal work. Licensing of this work: Permission: I, the copyright holder of this work, hereby publish it under the following license:
    This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 1.0, 2.0, 2.5 Generic license and the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.
  10. Sémhur, 25 September 2009b, Wikipedia. Personal work. Licensing of this work: Permission: I, the copyright holder of this work, hereby publish it under the following license:
    This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 1.0, 2.0, 2.5 Generic license and the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.





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