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Sainte-Eulalie Cave

Engravings & abstract signs
Dating to 18,000-12,500 BC

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Summary

The Sainte-Eulalie cave (Grotte de Sainte-Eulalie) is one of numerous decorated paleolithic caves in the Lot region of southwest France.

It is noted for its rock engravings of animal figures, as well as its painted abstract signs, which were discovered shortly after the First World War. In 1993, the cave was classified as a historic monument.

The cave is in private ownership and is not open to visitors.

Location

The cave is located in the commune of Espagnac-Sainte-Eulalie, on the eastern edge of the Parc naturel régional et Géoparc des Causses du Quercy, Lot.

Other decorated caves in the Lot region, include: Pech-Merle (Cabrerets), Cougnac Cave (Gourdon), Roucadour Cave (Thémines), Cantal Cave (Le Verdié), and Pergouset Cave (Saint-Géry).

Excavation

The cave art was discovered in early September, 1920, by Abbé Amédée Lemozi (1882-1970), a prehistorian and a priest at Cabrerets, 25 kilometres south-west of Sainte-Eulalie, who also examined the famous Pech Merle Cave.

He was informed of the cave by Abbot Moulènes (parish priest of Espagnac) and the architect Gabriel Andral. Lemozi excavated Sainte-Eulalie over a 15-year period, finishing in 1935.

Physical Description

The Sainte-Eulalie cave consists of two galleries, upper and lower.

The lower gallery measures 14 metres in width and 6 metres in height. It runs 3.7 metres above the low-water mark of the Célé River, and floods during periods of exceptional rain.

The upper gallery, which is 5.5 metres wide and 2.4 metres tall, is roughly 8 metres higher than the lower gallery, and much drier.

All the parietal art is located in the upper gallery, although both passages were occupied by Homo sapiens during the Magdalenian period. Indeed, the upper passage may also have been occupied during the Solutrean period.

Cave Art at Sainte-Eulalie

The cave art consists of 28 rock engravings of animal figures, and 31 abstract signs, all dating back to the Solutrean or Magdalenian period, between 18,000 and 12,500 BC.

The animal representations feature reindeer, horses, ibex, a bear and a wild boar, as well as a single small unidentified creature. The signs are either linked to the animal figures or interspersed between them.

The Signs

There are 8 different types of abstract signs at Sainte-Eulalie, including:

Abstract signs, symbols or motifs dominate the art of the Upper Paleolithic, but scientists still have no idea of their meaning.

The most we can say is that these pictographs conveyed some piece of information that must have been understood by visitors to the cave.

In this sense, they may represent the earliest form of graphic communication. See also: What's the Meaning of Cave Art?

References

(1) La grotte de Sainte-Eulalie à Espagnac (Lot) (The cave of Sainte-Eulalie in Espagnac) Michel Lorblanchet, Françoise Delpech, Philippe Renault, Claude Andrieux. Gallia Préhistoire Année 1973 16-1 pp. 3-62.
(2) Abbé Amédée Lemozi, Paleolithic paintings and engravings discovered in the caves of the communes of Espagnac-Sainte-Eulalie and Cabrerets (Lot), pp 256-262, in Bulletin of the Prehistoric Society of France, 1920, volume 17, no 11.

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