ArtsLookUp.com Logo

Gabillou Cave

Grotte de las Agnelas, 13,000 BC
Magdalenian engravings, Sorcerer

Main A-Z Index

CONTENTS

Artist's impression of the Sorcerer rock carving at Gabillou Cave
The famous anthropomorphic rock engraving known as the 'Sorcerer', at Gabillou Cave in the Dordogne. Image by José-Manuel Benito/Locutus Borg. (Public Domain).

Gabillou Cave: A Summary

Gabillou Cave (Grotte de Gabillou) is a small privately owned Paleolithic cave in the Western part of the Dordogne.

Its prehistoric art consists mostly of rock engravings, and dates to the era of Magdalenian art (15,000-10,000 BC).

According to the French scholar Jean Clottes, Gabillou's cave art shares many characteristics with Lascaux Cave, so even though the forms and proportions of the two sites are different, they can be considered twin caves.

The main highlights of Gabillou's cave art are the two engravings known as the "Sorcerer", and the "Hare".

For more about the chronology of rock engraving in France, see: Prehistoric Art Timeline (from 540,000 BC).

Location

Gabillou Cave, also known as Grotte de las Agnelas, is the only decorated cave in the valley of the Isle river, although it is very close to the Vézère Valley.

The Vézère Valley is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with 37 paleolithic caves containing some of the greatest paintings and engravings ever made by Ice Age hunter gatherers. See Vézère Valley Caves, for details.

Some of its sites include:

La Ferrassie (60,000 BC)
Abri Cellier (36,000 BC)
Abri Castanet (35,000 BC)
Abri du Poisson (23,000 BC)
Cap-Blanc (13,000 BC)
Rouffignac Cave (11,000 BC)

In July 1942, Grotte de Gabillou was classified as a historic monument of France.

Discovery

For many decades a house stood in the entrance to the cave. Access to the cave's interior was blocked by a wall.

In 1940, the partial collapse of the wall led to the discovery of the main cave passage along with the parietal art on its walls.

It was reportedly discovered by M. Charmarty and M. Truffier, and the ensuing art finds were announced to the Historical and Archaeological Society of Périgord.

In 1955, the house and land containing the cave was purchased by Jean Gaussen, who in 1964 published a book about the paleoart in the passage.

Back to top

Cave Layout

The cave is accessible only via the basement of a house and and entrance is restricted to researchers with relevant qualifications.

The entrance leads directly into a spacious antechamber, whose walls were destroyed long ago, although a few minor groups of engravings are still visible.

A narrow, twisting 60cm-wide passage extends into the hillside for about 30 metres. Bearing in mind that the term "chamber" refers to a slight widening of a narrow passage, there are three notable chambers in the cave.

These are: the "Chamber of the Red Horse" (Salle du Cheval Rouge), the "Choke Point" (L'Etranglement), and the "Chamber of the Hare" (Salle du Lièvre).

Apart from the few engravings in the antechamber, all the rock art at Gabillou is in the main passage.

Gabillou Engravings

In total, Grotte de Gabillou contains more than 200 engraved drawings. They are dated to the Magdalenian period of Upper Paleolithic art, around 13,000 BC.

They include: 56 horses, 21 reindeer, 18 birds, 12 bison, 8 ibex and some bears and rabbits.

Some of the animal figures are depicted in motion, while others are seated.

In addition, there are two important human figures: one shows a woman giving birth, another - known as the "Sorcerer" - shows a part human, part animal figure, with beard and horns.

Chamber of the Red Horse

Highlights in the Chamber of the Red Horse ("Salle du Cheval Rouge"), include:

Dr. Stéphane Petrognani and Georges Sauvet have compared the horse engravings at the Grotte de Gabillou with those at Lascaux, a few kilometres away. They also point out that Gabillou horses often have clearly defined sensory organs like eyes, ears, mouth and nose.

L'Etranglement

Highlights in L'Etranglement (the Choke Point), include:

Back to top

Chamber of the Hare

The Hare Chamber ("Salle du Lièvre"), located half-way along the passage, is the most decorated part of the passage gallery.

At one time, it was only accessible to someone crawling on all fours or worming their way along, on their stomach.

Highlights in the Chamber of the Hare, include:

The "Sorcerer"

At the very end of the passage, in a spot that is not easily accessible, we find the engraving of the "Sorcerer".

The figure faces to the right towards the depths of the cave and has a number of human characteristics: an upright posture, a slender torso, an extended arm with a hand, two well drawn legs and a left foot.

In contrast, the head, which has horns depicted from a semi-frontal viewpoint, the mane, and the tail, are those of a bison.

This is a half-human, half-animal creature, which has been interpreted in several ways.

The "Sorcerer" was obviously an important figure. Its remote location, where only one or two people could see it, draws attention to the difference between Gabillou and the larger Lascaux, whose chambers could accomodate far greater numbers of visitors.

Shamanism was a well-known feature of Stone Age culture, and images of these sorcerer-type figures are present in several other caves, including Trois Freres in southern France and Fumane Cave in northern Italy.

For more, see: Shamans in Paleolithic Art.

Abstract Signs

Gabillou also contains a wide variety of abstract signs, such as:

Related Articles

For more about prehistoric cave art in France, see the following:

For details of the earliest artworks, see Oldest Art in history.

References

(1) "La grotte à gravures de Gabillou". (Gabillou Cave of the Engravings.) David, Pierre; Hervé, Martine; Gauthier, J.; Malvesin-Fabre, G. (1952). Comptes rendus des séances de l'Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres. 96 (1): 116–118.
(2) "La parenté formelle des grottes de Lascaux et de Gabillou est-elle formellement établie?" (Is the formal relationship of the Lascaux and Gabillou caves formally established?) Petrognani, Stéphane; Sauvet, Georges (2012). Bulletin de la Société préhistorique française. 109 (3): 446.
(3) "Cave Art" Jean Clottes. Phaidon. ISBN 978-0-7148-5723-7.

Back to top


Home