Cougnac Caves - Grottes de Cougnac
Entry to Grotte de Cougnac
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, megaceros, 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.
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.
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 dat of about 14 000 BP; samples of paint from one male gegaloceros later produced dats of 23 610 and 22 750 BP, while the female megaloceros yielded two very different dates 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.
Grotte de Cougnac, Lot.
Large frieze of Megaceros 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.
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)
Panel showing a mammoth outlined in red, a human pierced with spears, the head, trunk and back of a mammoth done in a thick red line, 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 and text translated from: http://www.culture.gouv.fr/culture/conservation/fr/grottes/Pageshtm/3191.htm
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.
Placard type signs can be seen on this wall. Similar signs are known from Pech Merle, less than fifty kilometres away, and from Cosquer, many hundreds of kilometres away.
Une représentation de Tahr (Hemitragus) à Cougnac?
A representation of a Tahr (Hemitragus) at Cougnac?
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 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.
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 it a long time ago, not far from Cougnac. Indeed, remnants of this kind have 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 especially a skull fragment with the root of the horns, teeth, etc. These pieces are in the Basel museum, partially in Villeneuve-sur-Lot. They were accompanied by the appearance of Mousterian flint, according to Cartailhac.
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 of the Himalayas.
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
- Bahn P., 2007: Cave Art: A Guide to the Decorated Ice Age Caves of Europe, Frances Lincoln Ltd
- Charles R., 1952: Faune pleistocene du Vallon des Cèdres. Bull. Soc. préhist. fr., p. 294.
- Charles R., 1952: Faune des couches paléolithiques de la grotte de l'Adaouste. Bull. Soc. préhist. fr., p. 487.
- Jaubert, J., 2008: L'art pariétal gravettien en France : éléments pour un bilan chronologique », Paléo, 20 | 2008, 439-474.
- 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.
- Lorblanchet M., 1993: Payrignac, grotte de Cougnac, datations de pigments pariétaux au radiocarbone, Bilan scientifique 1992 (SRA DRAC Midi-Pyrénées), p.99-100.
- Lorblanchet M., 1995: Les grottes ornées de la Préhistoire. Nouveaux regards Paris : Éd. errance, 288 p.
- 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.
- Méroc et Mazet, 1953: Les peintures de la grotte de Cougnac (Lot). L'Anthropologie, p. 490