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Cantal Cave

Le Verdié, Lot
Cave paintings & abstract signs

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Summary

Cantal Cave (Grotte du Cantal) is one of numerous paleolithic caves situated in the Lot department of France. It is home to a small number of cave paintings, dating back to the final phase of Magdalenian culture, around 10,000 BC.

It is best known for its array of abstract signs and symbols, most of which were introduced into France during the Aurignacian period, by modern Homo sapiens arriving in Europe from the Middle East.

There is little evidence of human occupation of the cave, thus it likely served as a sanctuary for ceremonial or ritualistic events, perhaps held against a backdrop of parietal art.

The cave was listed as a historic monument on February 9, 1993. Unfortunately, it is closed to the public and cannot be visited.

Location

The Cantal cave is situated on the left bank of the River Celé, upstream of Cabrerets and roughly 300 meters from the bridge leading to the village of Cornu, at a place called Le Verdié.

The narrow path which leads to the entrance, is flanked on one side by an imposing cliff 150 metres in height, and, on the other, by the banks of the Celé.

Other notable decorated caves in the Lot, include Pech-Merle (Cabrerets), Roucadour Cave (Thémines), Cougnac Cave (Gourdon), Pergouset Cave (Saint-Géry), and Sainte-Eulalie Cave (Espagnac-Sainte-Eulalie).

Others include: Grotte de Cassegros (Trentels), Grotte Christian (Bouziès), Le Cuzoul-de-Mélanie (Cabrerets), Grotte du Papetier (Sauliac), Grotte Mazet (Payrignac), and Grotte de Pestillac (Montcabrier).

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Archaeology

The archaeology of the cave has been examined by several prehistorians, including Abbé Amédée Lemozi (1882-1970) who also studied the famous Pech Merle Cave, Canon Armand Viré (1869-1951), Abbé Breuil (1877-1961), Raymond Vaufrey (1890-1967), Denis Peyrony (1869-1954), and Michel Lorblanchet.

The cave paintings were discovered by Lemozi, in 1920, and authenticated by Vaufrey and Breuil, in 1923.

Surveys carried out near the entrance to the cave, have found no evidence of prehistoric occupation. This suggests the cave functioned as some kind of sanctuary for ceremonies and/or rituals.

Cave Layout

The Cantal Cave is 166 metres in length, after which it becomes impassable, due to the extremely low ceiling.

The main passage, which has the monotonous symmetry of a tunnel, is 3.5 metres in width and averages 3 metres in height, except near the entrance where the ceiling is 4.5 metres high.

Because the cave is prone to flooding, any human occupation during the Stone Age was likely to have been temporary.

The walls of the cave are coloured red as a result of red-coloured clay silt, but there are no visible speleothems.

Cave Art at Cantal

The first cave art appears on the ceiling - 90 metres from the entrance - about 3 metres above floor-level.

To the right, is a 0.65-metre long painting of a bovid in profile. The style is highly schematic, recognizable only by the horns, one of which is traced in black.

The legs and hindquarters of the animal are missing. The muzzle is also mostly missing; only the lower jaw is indicated.

Lower down, after a gap of about half a metre, we see a smaller (0.35 metres long) image of a deer.

This is equally schematic. We can see the two antlers, the muzzle, the shoulder, and the line of the back, and finally a leg clearly thrown forward.

Between the bovid and the deer is an unidentified figure, in the shape of a large flattened sandal, roughly 0.4 metres in length by 0.2 metres in width.

The perimeter of the drawing is indicated by a punctuated line, comprising 92 separate dots.

All three figures are surrounded by other lines and dots, and are painted in red, using ochre pigments from the locality. They are accompanied by a few black lines.

Lastly, some 20 metres beyond this group of images is a large red patch, also on the ceiling, which is similar to one found in the Pech Merle cave.

Abstract Signs and Symbols

Upper Paleolithic art in caves is dominated by abstract motifs. These comprise a group of about 32 signs, of which 8 can be seen at Cantal.

They include the following types:

Dating

All the pictographs at Grotte du Cantal have been indirectly dated to the last years of the Magdalenian, around 10,000 BC.

References

(1) La Grotte du Cantal, vallée du Célé, près Cabrerets (Lot) A. Lemozi. Bulletin de la Société préhistorique française (1937) 34-4 pp.213-223

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