Rouffignac is an enormous cave system, stretching nearly 10km2 in total area over multiple levels and chambers. Though known and visited for many centuries, as is evidenced by both written records and the graffiti that cover many of its walls, it was only in 1956 that its prehistoric art was first recognised and authenticated. Known as ‘The Cave of the Hundred Mammoths’, Rouffignac’s walls are alive with black manganese drawings of mammoths, horses, ibexes, and bison. Although this art is dated to c.13,000 BC, they may be even older as claw marks scouring some of it have been attributed to a bear that was extinct 20,000 years ago, and some animals here are of species belonging to the earlier period the earlier period. On the softer walls and ceilings appear beautifully sketched mammoths and horses, anthropomorphic faces, and a single gentle face of a bear, drawn with flint tools and fingers.
Finger fluting is found in every chamber where there is figurative art – many chambers have none. And in every chamber with finger flutings, there is at least one, but usually two or more, that indicate the presence of children. Some of the flutings appear ‘organised’, with clear upright units and space around them, reminiscent of writing in our own time period. Others have a free-flowing quality, suggesting that the creator was moving either wrists or hips or both in the creation of the flutings. In only one instance do lines run along the side walls, perhaps to help one find one’s way in the dark. In fact, over the years, they were amazed by the absence of such lines, which suggested that the people who explored these caves did so with great confidence, as they would have had to navigate undulating clay floors pocked with bear pits, using only grease lamps for light.
This article is an extract from the full article published in World Archaeology Issue 50. Click here to subscribe