Cave of Two openings
Gravettian animal engravings
Therianthropic figure: 26,500 BC
The Grotte des Deux-Ouvertures (Cave of Two Openings), also known as the Grotte des Ours (Cave of the Bears), is one of several Stone Age sites clustered around the famous Chauvet-Pont-d'Arc Cave, in the French Ardèche.
It is noted, in particular, for its rock engravings, the oldest of which have been indirectly dated to 26,500 BC.
To see how Deux-Ouvertures' rock carvings fit into the evolution of Stone Age culture, see: Timeline of Prehistoric Art (from 540,000 BC).
The Deux-Ouvertures Cave sits at the end of the Ardèche River gorge, downstream from Chauvet, where the river reaches open country.
The region is a centre of prehistoric art, with numerous paleolithic caves in the vicinity including: Grotte de la Bergerie de Charmasson, Chabot Cave, Grotte de la Combe d'Oulen, Grotte du Deroc, Grotte d'Ebbou, Grotte de Mezelet, Grotte aux Points, and Grotte de la Tete du Lion.
The history of Deux-Ouvertures predates the arrival of modern man. In the beginning, it was occupied by bears - hence its nickname "Grotte des Ours".
Then Neanderthals moved in, who were in turn displaced by 'modern' hunter-gatherers known as Cro-Magnons.
It was these Cro-Magnons who produced the cave's engravings and paintings, although this took place over a long period of time, lasting until the Magdalenian (15,000-10,000 BC).
During modern times, the Cave of the Two Openings was used for centuries as a sheep shelter.
This, together with the presence of a large stalagmite blocking access into the cave depths, meant it wasn't until 1985 that the cave galleries were first entered and described.
In 1990, Deux-Ouvertures cave was listed as a historical monument and is now considered to be an important centre of Stone Age culture in the Ardèche valley.
The Grotte des Deux-Ouvertures stretches for about 140 metres (455 feet) in length, and contains several chambers, such as Bears Gallery, Torch Marks Hall and Claw Marks Chamber.
In 1987, following the earlier discovery of its engravings, the cave was surveyed and excavated by archaeologists J-L. Porte and B. Gély. A few specialist investigations were conducted in 1990 by G. Onoratini, and in 2007 by M. Philippe.
Then, in 2008, a Swiss archaeologist - Julien Monney - led a multi-disciplinary investigation of the cave.
As part of this examination, samples of charcoal and calcite were collected and dated by Accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) and Uranium-Thorium (U/Th) technologies, respectively.
In addition, researchers used X ray fluorescence to analyse samples of pigments.
These tests dated the cave engravings to 27,000-25,000 BC, confirming the great antiquity attaching to paleolithic art in the Gard-Ardeche-Herault region of France.
As well as analysing the rock art, several other operations have been conducted in the field, including the 3D digitization of the site, as well as a series of paleontological, geoarchaeological and ichnological (trace fossils) studies.
The petroglyphs at Deux-Ouvertures, most of which are found in a remote area of the cave, feature around 30 incised figures of mammoths, horses, aurochs, bison and a male Alpine ibex.
There is also an indistinct hybrid creature, a half-human, half-animal located in the Claw Marks Chamber, which resembles the 'Sorcerer' discovered at Gabillou Cave, in the Dordogne.
Here is a short selection of other French caves with significant collections of engraved drawings.
(1)"Saint-Martin-d'Ardèche – Cave of the Two Openings. No. 2210879 (2012-2014)." Julien Monney. ADLFI. Archaeology of France - Information. April 23, 2015.
(2) "The cave of the Two Openings: gaze and memory: perception of a Palaeolithic decorated cave at the exit of the Ardèche gorges." Monney J., Baracchini L., Lateur N. and Stocchetti S. Ardèche Archaeology, No. 27. 2010, pp.3-12.