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Marsoulas - La Grotte de Marsoulas, ice age art

Marsoulas - La Grotte de Marsoulas, near Salies (Haute-Garonne), is formed by layers of limestone raised vertically against other layers which then buttress each other. It is the result a fault. Around 1885, the Abbé Cau-Durban, archaeologist from Ariege, found the floor consisting of carbonaceous ash, animal bones, and worked flint. Patiently he collected many artefacts, the remains of an ice age site. The type of industry and the absence of barbed harpoons led him to believe its relative great age. The cave has since been explored thoroughly, and has revealed paintings and engravings of bison and horses on the walls, as well as artefacts from the ice age, and a huge Triton bailer shell from the sea 300 km away.

Text above translated and adapted from: Cartailhac (1902)

Marsoulas

La Grotte de Marsoulas, replica.

Photo: http://www.creap.fr/Marsoulas.htm


Marsoulas

Bison, Marsoulas.

Replica in the museum Brno Anthropos, Czech Republic.

Photo: HTO
Date: 22.05.2009
Permission: Public Domain




Marsoulas anthropomorph Marsoulas anthropomorph



Anthropomorphic engraving at Marsoulas.

Original engraving on the wall.

(left)

Marsoulas Galerie ornée : Photo Heinrich Wendel (© The Wendel Collection, Neanderthal Museum)
Photo: Wendel Collection: Marsoulas
Source: Donation
Copyright Holder(s): © [PublicAdministrativeSpace: Neanderthal Museum]
Website: https://www.nespos.org/pages/viewpage.action?pageId=50168397

(right)

Engraving of the front view of a human head, 40 metres from the entrance. The image is abstract: round eyes, broad nose and triangular, split lip.

Photo: © C. Fritz
Source: http://www.creap.fr/Marsoulas.htm



Marsoulas

Anthropomorphic engraving, Marsoulas, the same as the one in the images above.

Photo: Leroi-Gourhan (1973)




Marsoulas

In this version of the image, we can see what appears to be a long neck, not obvious in the other photos.

Photo: Leroi-Gourhan (1973)




Marsoulas

A second anthropomorphic engraving, Marsoulas. Frontal view of a face.

Photo: Leroi-Gourhan (1973)




Marsoulas tool

Tip of spear, original, Marsoulas.

The spear point is of the type known as 'Lussac-Angles'

Date: between 15 000 BP and 12 000 BP, Middle Magdalenian (III and IV)

Dimensions: 52 mm× 11 mm × 7mm - 1.9g

Material: Reindeer antler

Location: Muséum de Toulouse, MHNT.PRE.2010.0.9.2
From the excavations by Félix Régnault.
Photo: Didier Descouens , April 8, 2011
Date: 08.04.2011
Permission: Creative Commons Attribution - Share Alike 3.0




Marsoulas bone tools
Popular Science May 1892
Vol. 41, No. 1 - 150 pages - Magazine

The cave of Marsoulas, in the Haute-Garonne, France, was inhabited by man several times during the palaeolithic age. The relics of what is designated as the second occupation are interesting on account of the specimens of artistic taste they afford. Besides the usual instruments of silex, arrow-points, and the like, were found some peroxide of manganese, which was probably used in tattooing, and engraved designs ; a piece of bone adorned with a regular ornamentation, engravings very much like those found in the valley of La Vézere ; and a piece of rib having an ovibos (or musk ox) carved upon it, in which, according to the Marquis de Nadaillac, the design is treated with exact knowledge of anatomical forms, the relief is brought out by shadings, and the drawing is vigorous.




Grotte du Sorcier
At Marsoulas, there is a carved turtle pendant on a small oval with a carved hole for a string. It is unique because it was the first time that this animal was reported in prehistoric art.

This is one of many objects found during excavations by Abbé Cau-Durban from 1883. However many successive excavations have helped to disperse these objects into various private collections and several museums.

They are usually fragments of animal bones such as rib fragments engraved with a buffalo, pierced teeth, and so on.

Photo, and text adapted and translated from:
http://membres.lycos.fr/jeff31/tortue.jpg



Marsoulas plan ornamented gallery




Plan of the decorated part of the Marsoulas cave.

Photo: Wendel Collection: Marsoulas
Source: Donation
Copyright Holder(s): © [PublicAdministrativeSpace: Neanderthal Museum]
Website: https://www.nespos.org/display/PublicNesposSpace/Marsoulas+-+Wendel+collection



Marsoulas chevrons
Painting in red of a series of chevrons connected by a line.

Original painting on the wall of Marsoulas.

Marsoulas Galerie ornée : Photo Heinrich Wendel (© The Wendel Collection, Neanderthal Museum)
Photo: Wendel Collection: Marsoulas
Source: Donation
Copyright Holder(s): © [PublicAdministrativeSpace: Neanderthal Museum]
Website: https://www.nespos.org/pages/viewpage.action?pageId=50168397



Marsoulas Bison Marsoulas Bison
Painting of a bison composed of red ochre dots. Note the red line below it, with branching lines alternately positioned.

Original painting on the wall of Marsoulas.

Marsoulas Galerie ornée : Photo Heinrich Wendel (© The Wendel Collection, Neanderthal Museum)
Photo: Wendel Collection: Marsoulas
Source: Donation
Copyright Holder(s): © [PublicAdministrativeSpace: Neanderthal Museum]
Website: https://www.nespos.org/pages/viewpage.action?pageId=50168397



Marsoulas bison and graffitti
Red bison, line with alternate branches, and an enigmatic sign below of dots and lines.

Modern graffiti in black on the upper right of the image, possibly made using candle soot on the ceiling.

Original painting on the wall of Marsoulas.

Marsoulas Galerie ornée : Photo Heinrich Wendel (© The Wendel Collection, Neanderthal Museum)
Photo: Wendel Collection: Marsoulas
Source: Donation
Copyright Holder(s): © [PublicAdministrativeSpace: Neanderthal Museum]
Website: https://www.nespos.org/pages/viewpage.action?pageId=50168397



Marsoulas horse
Horse painted in red and black. The mane, head, tail and legs are in black, with most of the body in red.

Original painting on the wall of Marsoulas.

Marsoulas Galerie ornée : Photo Heinrich Wendel (© The Wendel Collection, Neanderthal Museum)
Photo: Wendel Collection: Marsoulas
Source: Donation
Copyright Holder(s): © [PublicAdministrativeSpace: Neanderthal Museum]
Website: https://www.nespos.org/pages/viewpage.action?pageId=50168397



Marsoulas red line Marsoulas red line
Thick red line in the middle of the image on the left, with two red lines below, and the rear of the horse showing on the right.

Other red lines in a pattern of uncertain meaning may be seen clearly in the right hand image, inside the dull orange image of a bison.

Original painting on the wall of Marsoulas.

Marsoulas Galerie ornée : Photo Heinrich Wendel (© The Wendel Collection, Neanderthal Museum)
Photo: Wendel Collection: Marsoulas
Source: Donation
Copyright Holder(s): © [PublicAdministrativeSpace: Neanderthal Museum]
Website: https://www.nespos.org/pages/viewpage.action?pageId=50168397



Marsoulas vault



Photo showing the vault of the gallery, with two bedding planes of limestone meeting in a V at the top.

Marsoulas Galerie ornée : Photo Heinrich Wendel (© The Wendel Collection, Neanderthal Museum)
Photo: Wendel Collection: Marsoulas
Source: Donation
Copyright Holder(s): © [PublicAdministrativeSpace: Neanderthal Museum]
Website: https://www.nespos.org/pages/viewpage.action?pageId=50168397



Marsoulas vault


Another photograph of the vault of the gallery.

Marsoulas Galerie ornée : Photo Heinrich Wendel (© The Wendel Collection, Neanderthal Museum)
Photo: Wendel Collection: Marsoulas
Source: Donation
Copyright Holder(s): © [PublicAdministrativeSpace: Neanderthal Museum]
Website: https://www.nespos.org/pages/viewpage.action?pageId=50168397



Marsoulas plan
Marsoulas, plan of the cave.

The cave is in an Upper Thanetian limestone.

Explorations :

- Abbé Cau Durban, 1883 - 1884.
- F Regnault, L Jaummes, discovery of engravings, 20.04.1897.
- Rivière, F Regnault, Cau Durban, 06.05.1898.
- F Regnault, L Jaummes, E Castailhac, 04.08.1902.
- E Castailhac, Abbé Breuil, 18.08.1902.
- E Castailhac, Abbé Breuil, 1905.
- R Jeannel, 12.08.1907.
- Comte Begouen et Rusell, 1931.
- SMSP - F Maksud, D Quettier, F Bréhier, full topography of the cavity and the two successive siphons 25.08.1997.

Closed entrance, preceded by a short canyon formed by the collapse of the vault.
Gallery 4 m wide, 30 m from the constriction at the entrance, level ground.
Sloping ground for ten metres.
Stream in the very narrow gallery, 43 m long.
Siphon 22 m long (2 bells) descending to - 6 m, heavy clay.
The source is located 1 m above the Laouin and 10 m below the cave.
Could drain the valley of Spades Porte, ESE of the cave.
Photo: http://cds31.free.fr/Htm/Grottes/marsoulas.htm









Note sur les dessins préhistoriques de la grotte de Marsoulas

Cartailhac Émile (1902)

Translated by Don Hitchcock


La Grotte de Marsoulas, near Salies (Haute-Garonne), is formed by layers of limestone raised vertically against other layers which then buttress each other. It is the result a fault. Around 1885, the Abbé Cau-Durban, archaeologist from Ariege, found the floor consisting of carbonaceous ash, animal bones, and worked flint. Patiently he collected many artefacts, the remains of an ice age site. The type of industry and the absence of barbed harpoons led him to believe its relative great age. The research was discontinued, at the time when they came to the best chambers, because of the danger presented by the sloping roof, completely fractured over a length of five metres and whose blocks detached and fell from the roof from time to time.

Abbé Cau-Durban had seen a few lines painted in red ochre on the left hand cave wall. He had neglected to examine them, assuming them to be very modern. The cave has been known and visited for a long time, and on the wall surfaces visitors had engraved names, dates, and other graffiti. A few years later, Mr. Félix Regnault, of Toulouse, the Paris Museum which has some fine palaeontological specimens , had the occasion to visit Marsoulas with M. Jammes, leader of the work of zoology at the University of Toulouse, and as they heard of the discoveries by M. Rivière in the cave of la Mouthe at Les Eyzies (Dordogne), and Mr. Daleau in the cave Pair-non-Pair, at Marcamps (Gironde), they examined the red lines and saw that they were a set of signs. There were at the top two or three animal silhouettes in black and red. At the invitation of Mr. Regnault, M. Rivière came to Marsoulas, noted the reality of the observations without any conclusion and without adding anything.

I could not join them, and it was not until much later, 2nd August 1902, I went to the cave. Meanwhile, developments of importance had occurred. MM. Dr. Capitan and Abbé Breuil had observed, and published in part, the innumerable engravings and cave paintings at Combarelles and Font de Gaume, in Les Eyzies. M. Rivière, by clearing the galleries of accumulated deposits, had greatly increased the number of engravings at la Mouthe, and finally, a discovery made some time ago, misunderstood at the time and overlooked quite wrongly, was that of the cave paintings of Altamira, near Santander, in Spain, by M. de Sautuola, was recalled to our memories.

Thus informed, I had no difficulty in recognising that the Marsoulas frescoes fell into this same category of works of art. I could show my companions, MM. Regnault and Jammes, line drawings that enhanced, corrected or complemented the contours, the use of halftones and darker shades or even black to make the modelling, or make some parts more prominent. I discovered, in addition, other painted figures and especially a quantity of shallow engravings without any colour, often delineating oxen, and sometimes horses. I noted, finally, characters of authenticity and antiquity of all the works, including superimposed stalagmite concretions.

The following week, the Congress of the French Association for the Advancement of Science was sitting at Montauban. Regnault and I announced these facts, and two of our colleagues, MM. Chauvet and Daleau, came at our invitation, and together we toured the caves, as well as MM. Rivière and Breuil. Finally, at my invitation, M. l'abbé Breuil joined me in the careful study and survey of the various drawings at Marsoulas. We should publish them in l'Anthropologie, but I am pleased to submit them here before the Academy, to be the first to be informed.

The entry to the grotte de Marsoulas, at first reasonably high and wide, soon, after twenty metres, is reduced to a narrow triangular corridor where one must walk on one's knees. The ground is level for forty metres; then you must crawl down a slope, and arrive at a stream and unexplored galleries, the ground being formed of soft and deep clay.

Engravings and paintings began as soon as we crossed the threshold, but here they are most frequently damaged, adversely affected by modern engravings and inscriptions. Soon they emerge from these deplorable additions, and they can then be observed unsullied, not only on elevated surfaces above the level that the hands of visitors can reach, but also lower down in the corridors that they have fortunately been unable to get to easily. In the descent to the stream, the engravings are more distinct than anywhere else. The paintings do not extend to this point.

Everywhere we could see that one or other of the designs descended below the present ground level. For some of the artworks we have identified, we are concerned that the movement of silt or animals has worn the rock and erased the lightest engravings. Careful excavations will permit us to know to what archeological level the figures penetrate.

If the cave began at the current threshold (a portion is perhaps collapsed), and if the entrance was the same as it was during the ice ages, daylight, especially at sunset, lit the first part of the main panel of paintings. Beyond that, however, it was necessary to use artificial light to make these drawings, which are more skillful and more interesting than those depicted on copies, as they embrace all the contours of the wall, and often take advantage of accidents of the rock contours. We see them disappearing, continuing into depressions where our eye is unable to get in front of them and see all of the animal, yet they are represented exactly.

No doubt the prehistoric artists did not draw their pictures in the difficult situations that we see now, but they did leave engravings on the ceilings, and we can presume the existence of floors, when we consider how the figures are aligned, and the work was never done in a lazy afternoon. However, we still need to explain this fact, which caused the first skepticism about the ceiling frescoes of Altamira: the absence of any stain of black smoke on rocks that have so well preserved the fragile traces of red or black pigments and the slightest scratch.

The engravings, whatever their size (and there are some whose heads are reduced to two or three centimetres, while others although rare, are almost half natural size), are treated like those other ornamental objects of bone and ivory which we have, and are the legacy of our most interesting reindeer or ice age. We have many bison and cattle depicted, some horses, probably an ibex , maybe a deer. No reindeer, no mammoth. The paintings are unique in that they emphasised such different, exaggerated characteristics resulting in strange patterns: those of Altamira were disconcerting.

There is the same impression, though attenuated, in Font de Gaume and Marsoulas. On the other hand, given the rigour of the life of hunters of that time, their wish to reproduce nature exactly, we can probably learn from these paintings some information for the benefit of the description of these former species.

We have to study if there is not an intentional choice in the species represented: why, for example, there are so many bison and cattle, and so few other animals. Below the level of the Marsoulas paintings, there is a considerable body of signs that M. Regnautt has reported and that we have carefully noted. Although one of these signs - the principal one - is placed in the middle of a bison, and was painted later than the bison, I firmly believe they are all from the same era as the painted figures of animals. But it is certain that these signs overlap in many places the lines of the images. Secondly, I have not seen any of the signs of that kind simply engraved. It is also possible that the engravings were completed as a group, even prior to all the paintings. This needs to be checked with others.

M. l'abbé Breuil, during our investigations, could not help noticing the similarity of those signs with some coloured pebbles from the Mas-d'Azil. Have our paintings come from the late Paleolithic period, when at that time when we see such a wide use of the colour red such as that with which the human skeletons themselves were covered? In this approximation one can object that the aurochs appears to have had its maximum abundance long before that, and in the Dordogne, the painted aurochs and the engraved mammoths are contemporaries. Does a difference in latitude imply a difference of wildlife?

Marsoulas has a number of these signs, well spread out. One might assume that they are ornamental fantasies. It is not permissible to allege, however, that they are the result of an individual whim, since, in some details our signs connectin one sense to the series at Font de Gaume, and on the other to the series at Altamira, poorly studied elsewhere. Did they have a sense known to insiders, an intentional value?

Many questions are raised by our findings. We already have seven caves, perhaps eight, with engravings or paintings of this kind, and each has its special features. Overall, this is an ethnographic fact of utmost significance.

Text above translated and adapted by Don Hitchcock from: Cartailhac (1902)






La Campagne de Fouilles de 1931 à Marsoulas, Tarté et Roquecourbère

Begouen Comte, Russell J. (1933)
Translated and summarised by Don Hitchcock


…After receiving the permission of Fine Arts, the cave being classified as a historic monument, it was decided, by mutual agreement, we would start in July on excavations of the terrace in front of the cave. It was necessary to clear away a large mass of earth and stones, which allowed us also to make some interesting observations about the changes that the ground had suffered since Quaternary times.

Note first that the original entrance of the cave was located several metres in front of the current one, or at least the entrance was preceded by a kind of rock canopy, forming a rock shelter or abri whose ceiling collapsed, which is something that we see in many archaeological sites. There was a layer of more than two metres, near the present entrance, under a layer of topsoil not exceeding one metre. Below is a clay layer, resting on rock, which leads through cracks to the existing creek bed underground, which we meet at the bottom of the cave.

Marsoulas coupe


Coupe des fouilles en avant de l'entrée.

Couche (level) I: humus.
Couche II: restes de l'ancienne terrasse paléolithique, terre et blocs éboulés (on voit la place du triton).
Couche III: argile à ours.
Couche IV: roc couvrant le cours actuel du ruisseau.
La couche archéologique du travertin et les foyers (hearth) 1 et 2 sont marqués en grisé.

Cut of the excavation in front of the entrance.

Layer (level) I: humus.
Layer II: remains of the ancient Palaeolithic terrace, earth and fallen rocks (we can see the position of the triton shell which was found here).
Layer III: clay
Layer IV: rock covering the current course of the stream.
The archaeological layer of travertine and hearths 1 and 2 are marked in grey.


Text and photo: Begouen et al. (1933)



Along the wall of the fault that caused the excavation of the cave, and partially covered by layers I and II, is a deposit of white travertine and spongy, from a lateral runoff of water charged with lime. It consists of three layers, the lower, therefore the oldest, is compact and sterile, the second, greyish, includes coal, flint and back pieces, which appear to have been rolled. The flints are very rare, very cacholonés (having a white patina that obscures the opalescence of flint over millenia - Don ) and decomposed to the point of sometimes not being distinguishable from the travertine. The upper part is sterile and friable.

There were in this layer II two small hearths. The first gave hardly anything, except a few flints, The second, located near the present entrance of the cave and measuring 30 by 60 cm, was strongly impregnated with red ochre. We found few items there, but we picked up throughout the undisturbed layer some bone and flint of the Aurignacian type, enough to recognise that the deposits were Palaeolithic.

As for the lithic industry, there is a beautiful heavily retouched rock crystal scraper (grattoir), which was sent to the Museum of Toulouse join other pieces of rock crystal obtained previously by M. l'abbé Cau-Durban. But although fragments of amorphous hyaline quartz (quartz with a bluish opalescent cast due to the presence of chalcedony - Don ) are sometimes found in prehistoric sites, tools of rock crystal are quite a clear exception, except in the Solutrean.

With regard to the bone industry, we collected some fragments of spears, sometimes slightly ornamented; a kind of scraper made ​​from a piece of bivalve shell, Capulus ungaricus, severely worn, with a hole for suspension, and having its edge internally decorated with incisions.

Bonnet shell


(The common name of Capulus ungaricus is the bonnet shell. It is a species of small sea snail, a marine gastropod mollusk in the family Capulidae, the cap snails. The reason for the name is most clearly seen in the small example shown on the right - Don)

Photo: Georges Jansoone (JoJan)
Date: 28 January 2011
Permission: Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license




Marsoulas triton
But the most remarkable piece is a huge Triton nodiforum shell, found in the middle of layer II. It is intact, except for a hole caused by an unfortunate blow from a pickaxe, and rather fossilised, but the nacre inside is still slightly pink. It is known that this species inhabits temperate seas, is not present in the ocean beyond the Charente, and is rare in the Mediterranean.

It lives in depths from 25 to 75 metres, and is uncommon on sandy shores. Its average size is about 25 cm, rarely reaching 30 cm, with a width of 17 cm. But the Marsoulas example measures 31 cm. by 18 cm., so it is of an exceptional size. It had remained exposed for a long time on the shore, as its shell was strongly attacked by Clione snails, or 'Sea Angels'. The top had been broken during its lifetime and had healed. The edge of the shell was broken over a width of 2 to 3 cm., widening towards the base. It has, moreover, very clear indications of wear suggesting that the shell was heavily used, perhaps for drinking.

Text and photo: Begouen et al. (1933)



Marsoulas triton
The presence of marine shells in this deposit in the centre of the Pyrenees, 250 to 300 km from the nearest sea, is not at all surprising. All Pyrenean deposits give scallop, conch or cowrie shells, but this is the first time we have encountered a shell of this size, and one wonders exactly how this remarkable piece was used.

This species is now called Charonia lampas

Text: Begouen et al. (1933)
Photo (also of the specimen from Marsoulas): http://membres.multimania.fr/jeff31/grotte58.jpg



Marsoulas triton
Conch (instrument)

Magdalenian

Locality : Marsoulas cave, Marsoulas, Haute-Garonne France.

Searches in 1931 by Henri Begouen (University of Toulouse), and J. Townsend Russell (Smithsonian Institution).

Muséum of Toulouse MHNT.PRE.2010.0.1.2

Size: 31 x 18 x 18 cm

Photo: Didier Descouens
Permission: Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.



Marsoulas triton


A modern Charonia lampas lampas form nodifera Lamarck, 1822, Morocco. 20 cm. acquired 1987.

Photo: MerlinCharon
Date: 28 January 2011
Permission: Public Domain



The fauna collected is sparse but normal: fox, reindeer, horse and aurochs.

The clearing of the entrance has necessarily increased the size of the opening. This has resulted in air penetrating more thoroughly and more deeply into the cave. The consequences were not long in making themselves felt. Visiting Marsoulas again in the warm days of last summer (1932) with M. l'abbé Breuil, we found that the condensation zone of atmospheric moisture extended until it stretched as far as the beautiful bison painted with red dots, which was previously out of reach. The walls were covered up to this point of the cave with small droplets of dew.

We know the damage that water containing carbonic acid causes to paintings and engravings in corroding walls, as at les Combarelles.

We immediately, as was our duty, advised the administration of Fine Arts should be covered by a low wall with a solid door, to stop this dangerous influx of outside air, and it is hoped that the Ministry will not delay in making the necessary arrangements.

If we insist on this point it is because we have unfortunately seen that prominent scholars, enjoying uncontested authority in anthropology, but unfamiliar with the cave, do not believe in the harmfulness of this condensate.

We hope now that the entrance is clear, we can continue to follow the program outlined and complete these searches, deep inside the cave, despite the difficulties of such a task, given the limited strength of the ceiling beyond the heap of pieces already collapsed. One once nearly crushed l'abbé Cau-Durban. But surveys have shown that previous excavators have not explored everything, and we hope to continue their discoveries.






References

  1. Begouen Comte, Russell J., 1933: La Campagne de Fouilles de 1931 à Marsoulas, Tarté et RoquecourbèreMission Franco-Américaine de Recherches Préhistoriques, Toulouse Édouard Privat, Libraire Éditeur 14, Rue des Arts, 14, 1933
  2. Cartailhac É., 1902: Note sur les dessins préhistoriques de la grotte de Marsoulas, Comptes-rendus des séances de l'Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, 46e année, N. 5, 1902. pp. 478 - 483.
  3. Leroi-Gourhan A., 1973: Prähistorische Kunst: d. Ursprünge d. Kunst in Europa, Herder, 1973 - 601 pages


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