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Cougnac Caves - Grottes de Cougnac

frieze

Entry to Grotte de Cougnac
Photo: http://www.grottesdecougnac.com


The Grottes de Cougnac caves are near Gourdon, Lot. The site consists of two caves separated by 200 metres. The first contains many concretions, some very fine, called soda straws. The second is a decorated cave from the Paleolithic. Les Grottes de Cougnac were discovered in 1952 by Lucien Gouloumès Rene Borne, Jean Mazet, Roger, Maurice Alphonse Sauvant Boudet. The cave has many prehistoric paintings dated to the upper Paleolithic. Depictions include deer, Megaloceros, the ibex, and mammoths as well as various schematic human figures, interpreted as wounded men, virtually identical to similar figures at Pech Merle. Direct dating has been carried out by the carbon 14 method on samples of carbon used for some drawings. They showed that the paintings corresponded to at least two clearly distinct phases: one around 25 000 BP (Gravettian) corresponding to the animal figures, the other about 14 000 years before the present (Magdalenian)

The Grottes de Cougnac contains images from the paleolithic. There were 60 images of animals, 50 outlines of hands, and 3 images of humans found.

cougnacIbex

Grand bouquetin rouge, Grotte de Cougnac, Lot.

Large red ibex from the Cougnac Cave, in the Lot region.

Note the way that the placement of the ibex has been chosen so that the flowstone on the wall suggests long hair hanging from the belly of the animal.

Photo from: Agenda de la Préhistoire 2002 - 2003, a superb diary with excellent illustrations sent to me by Anya. My thanks as always.


cougnac soda straws

Ibex

Photo: GM, Panoramio

Date: 2007/07/29 18:16:55 no flash






From Bahn (2007):

Local red ochre was used to paint the figures. Cougnac was the site for the first direct radiocarbon date for Ice Age cave art. In the late 1980s, Michel Lorblanchet had a sample taken from a black charcoal dot located near the last mammoths on the right hand end of the frieze. It yielded a date of about 14 000 BP; samples of paint from one male megaloceros later produced dates of 23 610 and 22 750 BP, while the female megaloceros yielded two very different dates of 25 120 and 19 500 BP. This may indicate that the cave's art, originally produced 23 - 25 000 years ago, was touched up a few millennia later, while the dot indicates that some Magdalenians entered the cave much later and, while respecting the original art, marked the walls with their fingers quite extensively.



frieze



Grotte de Cougnac, Lot.

Large frieze of Megaloceros with their characteristic dark hump which contains muscles and ligaments to support their head and large antlers, ibex, and an enigmatic drawing of what appears to be the trunk and legs of a man with spears in the back and rump.

Photo: http://www.grottesdecougnac.com/Sitefr/index.htm




In 1990 and 1992, some samples were taken by Michel Lorblanchet and Mrs Hélène Valladas from black paintings in the Cougnac cave (Lot region), especially from the megaloceros panel and some dots made by fingers.

In 1992, Mme Hélène Valladas and her team (CNRS laboratory in Gif sur Yvette, close to Paris) obtained radiocarbon dates with these samples :

Megaloceros panel : about 23 000 and 25 000 years before present.

Dots : about 14 000 years before present. Lorblanchet (1993)

cougnac soda straws

Frieze

Photo: GM, Panoramio

Date: 2007/07/29 18:17:03 no flash




Cougnac paintings

Signs on a protuberance on a wall.

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




Cougnac  signs Cougnac  signs

Close up of the signs, and the signs in context.

The exact right angle sign shown here is most unusual in cave art.

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




Cougnac placard signs Cougnac placard signs

Typical 'Placard' signs (named after those in Grotte du Placard) may be seen on the lower parts of the wall. Similar signs are known from Pech Merle, less than fifty kilometres away, and from Cosquer, many hundreds of kilometres away.

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







signs

This is a drawing of the signs from this panel. Not all are visible in the photographs. They are in a gallery deep within the cave.

Placard type signs are known from not just Grotte de Placard, but also from Grotte de Cougnac, Pech Merle and Cosquer. These signs are from Grotte de Cougnac.

The signs are not associated with other figures.

The wounded man theme is rare in Paleolithic art, but occurs at both Cougnac and Pech-Merle, as well as Lascaux.

In both Pech Merle and Cougnac, the Placard signs are localised to a single panel, in areas deep within the cave, away from areas which are easily accessible. Neither Pech Merle nor Cougnac were inhabited, they were strictly for ceremonial purposes.

Photo: http://ma.prehistoire.free.fr/cougnac_plac.htm




Cougnac placard signs

Close up of some of the signs.

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




Cougnac  signs Cougnac  signs

The six black dots here appear to have been added at a later time to what may be a very faded tectiform in ochre.

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




Cougnac   signs Cougnac  signs

Signs further to the right of the six black dots, on the next panel. There is an indistinct line drawing on the right of the left hand image that may be of the head and forequarters of a horse.

The closeup on the right reveals another sign hidden by shadow in the left hand image. Both are of open ended oval shapes, the one on the right having two dots within it.

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




Cougnac  signs

Closeup of the signs on the right hand side of the left hand image above.

Here are two groups of two and four black dots, a group of two red dots, and a similar open ended oval sign to the others on its left.

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




Cougnac  signs







This is a dramatic image of the signs in context.

Here we can see clearly another version of the drawing of the head and shoulders of a horse.

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




Cougnac  panel

The main panel of paintings at Cougnac.

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




Cougnac  Megaloceros Cougnac  Megaloceros
On this important panel we can see at left a Megaloceros with characteristic black hump on the shoulders which was necessary for the muscles and tendons to hold up the immense weight of the head and horns.

Overlapping that is another in outline, again with a black hump, then to its right is the head and forequarters of a Megaloceros in red ochre.

On the red outlined Megaloceros is the famous wounded man, with three spears in his back, then to the right is a well painted Ibex, then a Tahr and another less well drawn Ibex.

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




Cougnac  Megaloceros

This image shows the first two Megaloceros on the left, with the dorsal outline of a mammoth and the top of its head, completed in red ochre.

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




Cougnac  wounded man Cougnac  wounded man

On this red Megaloceros is outlined the 'wounded man' with three spears in his back, a deer on the neck of the Megaloceros, and a well proportioned and painted Ibex.

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




Cougnac  wounded man

The 'wounded man' has two spears in his back, and one in his upper thigh or buttock. No blood has been indicated, it is a simple outline in black.

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




Cougnac  Ibex Cougnac  Tahr

Close up (left) of the left hand Ibex, and (right) of the Tahr and the right hand Ibex.

It seems to me that the left Ibex and the Tahr were done by the same talented artist, and the third Ibex by an amateur or a child.

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




Cougnac  panel Cougnac  Ibex

Looking back at the previous panel, and the next panel which contains an Ibex outlined in red ochre.

Note the way that the chain has been attached to stalagmites!

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




Cougnac  Ibex

Closeup of the Ibex.

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




Cougnac  signs Cougnac  wall

(left) Some enigmatic paintings, now covered in calcite. Although this clouds the paintings to some extent, it also has a wetting effect which enhances the colour, and also protects the paintings from damage.

(right) The wall continues past some flowstone, with another wounded man on the next panel.

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




Cougnac  wounded man Cougnac  wounded man

In this image we can see the outline of a red ochre mammoth completed in a thick red line, with another 'wounded man' in black, with many spears stuck in his naked body overlapping it, two large black horns of an ibex, a diagram of a mammoth with straight back, his head and trunk, then the black outline of the skull and the beginning of the back of a mammoth, and frequent pairs of fingerprints in black and red.

These paintings have been drawn on a thick coating of calcite on the walls, some of which were covered subsequently with a thin veil of calcite. Depending on the humidity of the underground environment and the water status of the walls, the legibility of the paintings varies. In the autumn in general painted strokes are very visible; by contrast in winter (the period in which this photograph was taken), the features become less distinct. The attenuation of the colours is probably due to a temporary clouding of the veil of concretion deposited on the paintings. The phenomenon has a periodic nature, and closely follows climate fluctuations.

Photo: Heinrich Wendel (© The Wendel Collection, Neanderthal Museum)
Text: adapted and translated from: http://www.culture.gouv.fr/culture/conservation/fr/grottes/Pageshtm/3191.htm




Cougnac  wounded man Cougnac  wounded man

Closeup of the 'wounded man'.

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




Cougnac  wounded man

This is a good view of the right hand part of the main panel, with an Ibex and the Mammoth and wounded man visible.

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









Une représentation de Tahr (Hemitragus) à Cougnac?

A representation of a Tahr (Hemitragus) at Cougnac?

Koby (1956)

Translation Don Hitchcock


Visiting Cougnac II in the spring of 1953 we were struck by a drawing which seemed to represent a Tahr, as there are still in the Himalayas. Méroc et Mazet (1953) describe in Cougnac "four big cervids, a deer, five elephants, three human figures and seven ibex, a pair of black horns, two animals drawn in black. The legs of one ibex disappeared in flowstone draperies that simulate a long fleece along its belly. A second is characterized by its small straight tail, whose boldness is exaggerated by three prickly hairs at its end."

This last animal is the one which may be a Tahr. Of the three species, the best known, Hemitragus jemlaïcus occurs in the mountains of the Himalyas. It is a beautiful animal which can sometimes be seen in zoos. Its height is 90 cm, and can reach a weight of 100 kg. While the head and legs have short dark hair, the neck and front are covered with lighter fleece which in winter can reach or exceed 30 cm in length. The hair on the head is a greyish brown.

tahr and ibex tahr and ibex



Tahr and Ibex drawn on the walls of Cougnac

Photo: (left) Koby (1956)

Photo: (right) http://www.mrugala.net/Histoire/Prehistoire/France,_Perigord_&_Quercy,_Grottes/

Original Source: GEO N°281 de juillet 2002




At Cougnac, the animal that we take for a Tahr is found, serendipitously, on the same panel as a true ibex, so it is possible to compare them and also to photograph them on the same film. We see at first glance that the upper animal is clearly distinguishable from the lower. The horns of the first are shorter than the second, in which they form almost a semicircle. Doubtless it could be objected that the first animal is simply a female ibex. The horns alone would dismiss this identification. Indeed in the Tahr the horns are short and the front edge is sharp. The length, measured in a large male following this edge does not exceed 25 cm.

But there are still other distinctive characters: our Tahr's head is thinner and more elongated than the Ibex. The line of the back is nearly straight and is not interrupted by the bent neck.

Finally, the Tahr head and legs are black, unlike the Ibex of the cave. In weighing the pros and cons it seems that the probability that it is a Tahr is much greater than it being a female ibex.

tahr



Tahr

Photo: 22.08.2004 in Hagenbecks Tierpark, Hamburg by Michail Jungierek
License: This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license






If the Tahr existed in France during the Pleistocene, it might be said that we should already have found its bones in the deposits. To which we reply that these bones may have been confused with those of other goats, including the ibex.

But we have more relevant data: the skeletal remains of Tahr were actually found a long time ago, not far from Cougnac. Indeed, remnants of this kind had already been exhumed at the end of last century by Bonal in a small cave of the Céou Valley, near Sarlat. They were described by Harle and Stehlin in a communication to the Geological Society of France in 1913. There was, in particular, a skull fragment with the root of the horns, teeth, etc. These pieces are in the Basel museum, as well as in Villeneuve-sur-Lot. According to Cartailhac they were accompanied by the appearance of Mousterian flint.

Charles (1952) reports having found Tahr in the two caves: the Vallon des Cedres, massif de la Sainte-Baume (Var) and at l'Adaouste (B.-du-Rh.) each time with a fauna adapted to cold and wet conditions. M. Charles compared the teeth of the Tahr with those of a Hemitragus jemlaïcus at the Muséum de Marseilles and specifies that it is impossible to distinguish the fossil teeth from those of extant species in the Himalayas.






cougnac soda straws cougnac soda straws




cougnac soda straws

An excellent set of photographs of the soda straws from the roof of the first chamber of the Grottes de Cougnac, which has many beautiful calcite concretions.

Photo: pinsecfan, Panoramio

Date: May 2010




cougnac tunnel

One of the passages at Cougnac, with smooth walls.

Photo: http://www.relinquiere.com/region/cougnac-gallery




cougnac tunnel

The passage divides in two.

Photo: http://www.relinquiere.com/region/cougnac-gallery




References

  1. Bahn P., 2007: Cave Art: A Guide to the Decorated Ice Age Caves of Europe, Frances Lincoln Ltd
  2. Charles R., 1952: Faune pleistocene du Vallon des Cèdres. Bull. Soc. préhist. fr., p. 294.
  3. Charles R., 1952: Faune des couches paléolithiques de la grotte de l'Adaouste. Bull. Soc. préhist. fr., p. 487.
  4. Jaubert, J., 2008: L'art pariétal gravettien en France : éléments pour un bilan chronologique », Paléo, 20 | 2008, 439-474.
  5. Koby F.-Ed, 1956: Une représentation de Tahr (Hemitragus) à Cougnac ?, Bulletin de la Société préhistorique française 1956, tome 53, N. 1-2. pp. 103-107.
  6. Lorblanchet M., 1993: Payrignac, grotte de Cougnac, datations de pigments pariétaux au radiocarbone, Bilan scientifique 1992 (SRA DRAC Midi-Pyrénées), p.99-100.
  7. Lorblanchet M., 1995: Les grottes ornées de la Préhistoire. Nouveaux regards Paris : Éd. errance, 288 p.
  8. Lorblanchet M., Labeau M., Vernet J., Fitte P., Valladas H., Cachier H., Arnold M., 1990: Étude des pigments de grottes ornées paléolithiques du Quercy., Bull. de la Soc. des Études du Lot 2, p. 93-143.
  9. Méroc et Mazet, 1953: Les peintures de la grotte de Cougnac (Lot). L'Anthropologie, p. 490





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