Rock Art and Prehistoric Archaeology

Considerations on an underestimated source of information

 Dr.Christian ZÜCHNER
Institut fur Ur--und Fru hgeschichte
Uniwersität Erlangen-Nurnberg


? Christian Züchner 2000-06-20



The title of this article implies a contrast which actually should not exist, as rock art is as much a part of prehistoric cultures as are all the other kinds of sources with which prehistoric archaeology usually deals: stone tools, bronzes, pottery, artefacts from settlements etc. Despite this, research in the field of rock art and archaeological research in its usual sense go their own ways. This is even true of those countries where numerous rock art sites exist, e.g. in France, Spain and Italy. It is hardly ever seen and recognised as source of great importance. Certainly, this has a lot to do with the influence of some outstanding scholars of the post-war era, for in the generation of M. Hoernes, O. Menghin, H. Obermaier and H. Kühn – just to mention some Germans– this separation really did not exist yet. Especially in Germany the study of rock art is rejected by professionals as more or less exotic or even dubious, with scant regard for the possibilities of new cognition about prehistoric cultures and cultural interrelations offered by this kind of source. At best, they are handled with a few, trivial remarks on the religion of our ancestors. In the field of rock art – for the most part still a domain of laypersons – artefacts in turn are at best regarded as a means to identify and date the objects represented. Comparing analyses between pictures and archaeological finds and evidences are rather the rare exception.

It is the intention of our article to raise interest in an underestimated kind of archaeological source and to show by means of a few examples how many information could be gained from it especially for the cultures of the Copper and Bronze Age.The possibilities for cognition considered in this paper apply to different levels, going from the simple study of facts to the understanding of cultural and religious relations. Of course, a critical reader will complain about premature conclusions and comparisons and demand more precise information. This would, however, require to discuss numerous objects and observations on very different material, like grave and hoard finds, pottery decorations, objects of jewellery etc., in its development in space and time. This cannot and will not be done here by obvious reasons.


Reconstruction of the prehistoric reality

When we talk about the typology of prehistoric tools we actually only discuss fragments of fragments. This means: our sources – stone tools, bronzes, pottery fragments from graves, hoards and settlements – provide only a tiny, random excerpt of the richness of a former culture whose value for their users we do not know. And even these testimonies handed down to us are still incomplete. We talk about objects of which only the durable parts were conserved and which have little to do with what people really held in their hands. This means we categorize the durable remains of items that existed once and try to find out what they can tell us about history, social history or religion (Eggert, Veil 1998). Rock art often can provide much more precise information about what they really looked like and about their formal variety because it does not show objects as fragments but in their real appearance. A few examples may illustrate what we mean.


”Crook” (Scimitar) (Figure 1)

A typical example of the fact that rock art can help to recognize and understand nearly lost objects and its distribution are the so-called ”crooks”, a sort of scimitars (sabres) of the Copper Age. Only a single original made of copper has been preserved in Zaerzentmihály (Hungary) (Csalog 1960). However, this weapon must have been widely used and been of great significance in Ancient Europe. The ”God of Szegvár Tüzk?ves” (Csalog 1959, Idole 1973) shoulders a scimitar – not a sickle as Gimbutas (1974) presumes because the cutting edge of the blade is on the outward side – as a sign of his power. Among the objects of gold jewellery of Varna grave 36 is a miniature which served as a pendant (Varna 1988, fig. 36). While in Central Europe any evidence seems to be missing so far, in Western Europe ”crooks” appear as a central motif in rock art and in portable art although an original, i.e. a usable weapon of this type does not exist there, either. Made of slate, they are a characteristic votive in the megalith tombs of Portugal (e.g. Almagro Gorbea 1973). A number of Breton menhirs bear one or more engraved or carved representations (Shee Twohig 1981, fig. 173 etc.). Thus they qualify the aniconic steles as male warrior statues in the widest sense. The huge back stone of the ”Table-des-Marchands” roughly shaped like a human stele shows a great number of them arranged in bundles(Shee Twohig 1981, fig. 102). They seem to refer to belligerent powers. At the same time, the worship of weapons, and equally of warlords and war gods becomes evident, which dominates the thinking of European peoples even today. ”Crooks” obviously were known throughout Ancient Europe. If they hardly ever appear in the original, this may depend on the burial customs of their time. Another reason may be that they were mostly made of (hard) wood and thus were not conserved. At least in Gran Canaria there still exist some wooden specimens – however old they may be.


Daggers of the Copper and Bronze Age (Figure 2) (Figure 3)

As a rule, early daggers consist of a triangular blade which may be strictly triangular, slightly arched or, more seldom, lanceolate. They have a broad, more or less rectangular handle (e.g.Mont Bégo: Lumley 1995), or a stick-shaped handle with a mushroom-like pommel (e.g. Sion, Valtellina, Valcamonica: Anati 1967, 1968, 1972, Priuli 1985). Occasionally rivets and two-coloured inlays made of different materials are indicated. The representations suggest that the rich decoration of the dagger handles, which are known from Brittany (Gallay 1981) and Wessex (Gerloff 1975), was in fact much more common than is normally assumed and that the actual concentration on a few sites is mainly due to special conditions of conservation. Sometimes the dagger handles are formed extremely like an hour glass so that the upper end can be interpreted as a broad pommel. These types are so similar to the miniature daggers of Central Europe (Gandert 1957, Bcichácek, Moucha 1993) that they can easily be associated with each other. Rock paintings thus provide effortlessly the interpretation of these small object discussed controversially in literature.

As a rule, daggers were depicted without its scabbard. Of course there may have been types of strictly triangular shape, so that a decision about whether the weapon was bare or not would be impossible. However, this was probably rather the exception. In Valcamonica and Valtellina there are representations of daggers which are put so deeply in a scabbard, which is triangular at the lower and rectangular at the upper part, that only the arched pommel or the rivets are visible (e.g. Cemmo 1: Anati 1967, fig. 16). Precisely this type was found in the hoard of Kozí Hrbeti (Neustupny 1961, pl. 45, B?hm 1928, pl. III). Although it may have impeded quick use of the dagger it seems to have been widely used in Europe during the Early Bronze Age.


Halberds (Figure 4)

Excavated halberds consist of a triangular blade made of copper or bronze with a strong rib in the middle, and of a straight handle of wood or, especially in Central Germany, of bronze (ORíordaín 1937, Lenerz-de Wilde 1991). However, the examples of Mont Bégo (Bicknell 1913, Lumley 1995) and Valcamonica (e.g. Luine: Anati 1982, Montecchio: Anati 1976, fig. 82) prove that this was not the only form that existed. There is a great number of types with different blades, handles and forms of hafting that are unknown among archaeological finds.

Halberds are regarded as a key form of Early Bronze Age. However, rock art shows, by its combination with other weapons, that they already existed in the Copper Age. It is highly probable that they can be traced back to Neolithic bone artefacts like those known from the Swiss lake dwellings (Corboud, Pugin 1992). That means the controversial debate about the origin of halberds – Ireland, Central Germany, Italy or Spain – is meaningless, for it only refers to a few mostly late forms. At the same time, rock art proves that halberds were much more widely used than distribution maps pretend (Lenerz-de Wilde 1991). In Valcamonica and at Mont Bégo hundreds of halberds were depicted which figure only marginally in archaeological literature. If all engraved examples of the Iberian Peninsula are taken in consideration then what results is a much more regular spreading than the bronzes suggest. It seems to be mostly unknown that at Oukaimeden in the Atlas mountains (Morocco) there are numerous, very precisely drawn halberds so that this region should not be disregarded (Malhomme 1959-1961, Chenorkian 1988, Züchner 1998, Rodrigue 1999). Metal finds only reflect special customs of depositing but not the prehistoric reality.

The view was taken that halberds did not serve as real arms but rather as a kind of sceptre. One of the reasons may be that they mainly come from hoards and only occasionally from graves. Fact is that daggers, halberds, ground plans of houses, maps etc. are depicted on Mont Bégo, in Valcamonica and in the High Atlas without any difference being noticeable between the individual motifs. On a stele in Arco at Lake Garda (Italy) (Bagolini et al. 1992) halberds are as much part of the warrior′s equipment as are its daggers and other objects.


Shields (Figure 5)

Original shields from the Copper and Early Bronze Age are more or less unknown. However, rock art of Italy and Spain shows a great number which provides an idea of what it looked like. A lot of them can be seen in Luine (Valcamonica) (Anati 1982, figs. 144-146) and in Northern Spain (e.g. Idolo de Pe?a Tu: Hernández Pacheco et al. 1914, see also: Almagro Basch 1972, Bueno Ramirez 1990, Bueno Ramirez, Balbin Behrmann 1992, Züchner 1998). They are always of the same type. Surprisingly, there are none of them among the thousands of weapons of Mont Bégo, at least if they are not meant by some simple rectangle. The usual form of the shields of these periods seems to have been rectangular, often with a rounded or semicircle-shaped upper edge. Sometimes eyes, eyebrows and a nose give them a human appearance. The shield and the protecting deity merge into one entity so that an identification to be find in the literature as shield as well as idol may well be justified (Züchner 1998).


Settlements and agriculture (Figure 6)

Evidence from excavation and aerial photography normally provides only a limited insight in the structures of settlements and field systems of the Neolithic and the Early Metal Ages. They tell us even less about the elevation of buildings, as usually only ground plans or vague positions of posts have been conserved. Especially in this respect rock art provides information which otherwise would be difficult to obtain.

Topographic representations, which means maps in the broadest sense, are an important element of prehistoric rock art (Züchner 1986/87, 1989, 1994 a, 1996, Arcà 1999). Two main types can be differentiated which replace each other at the turn from the Copper to the Bronze Age. First, there are more or less regular rectangles which are subdivided into smaller parts in different ways. Some are structured simply, others in a very complex way. Apart from single ones, there are also greater entities which are connected with each other. This type belongs mainly to the Copper Age and is common in the Alps area, in Spain and in the Moroccan Atlas mountains. But it can also be found in the megalith tombs of Portugal, Spain and Brittany. In literature this rectangular type is sometimes called ”land registers” (Malhomme 1959-1961, Searight, Hourbette 1992) and looks very similar to the ”Celtic Fields” which still exist in South England (Fleming 1988). They go back to early prehistory and seem to have been the usual form of agriculture in many parts of Neolithic Europe. The fact that this type occurs in megalith constructions of West Europe (Shee Twohig 1981, figs. 37, 38, 93 etc.) and other, chronologically similar context, justifies its dating into the forth and third millennium B.C..

In the course of the Early Bronze Age these grid patterns are replaced by more complex maps in Valcamonica, on Mont Bégo and in Galicia. Now they show very concretely more or less extended farms and villages with their gardens, fields, paths and roads. They provide a very concrete idea of the settlement structures and the land use during the Bronze and Iron Age.


Cultural interrelations (Figure 7)

Rock art can sometimes say more than artefacts do about cultural interrelations covering great distances and about the exchange of goods and ideas (Acosta 1968, Züchner 1985, 1994 b, 1995). In this respect, only two examples will be given.

When comparing the daggers (Chenorkian 1988) of Mont Bégo with those of Valcamonica, it is striking that in both areas totally different handles and pommels are to be observed. The rectangular or approximately hour-glass-shaped form of Mont Bégo which not infrequently is ornamented, point to comparable objects from Western Europe, Brittany and England, but also to the bell beaker daggers of North Spain and to the engravings in Morocco. There are, however, no daggers with a stick-shaped handle and an arched or semi-circle-shaped pommels which may be decorated with rivets. This form occurs in the Upper Italian Remedello Culture, but is mainly distributed in the Eastern Mediterranean. This means the cultural relationships tend much more towards the Near East than to the neighbouring regions in the west and north. Branigan (Branigan 1966) emphasized the relation of the Remedello daggers with those from Crete many years ago. And indeed, in Crete there are some original pommels of the Early Bronze Age which could as well belong to the Remedello daggers (Zervos 1956, figs. 199, 293).

In a similar way halberds testify to relationships covering even those areas where bronze artefacts are rare. Despite the great distance between England, Ireland and Mont Bégo, all the types which Harbison (Harbison 1969) has distinguished in Ireland, are present in the approximately 450 pictures of this sacred mountain. Some of them are so precise and the similarities are so great that the respective types were obviously commonly known, even if apparent lack of finds seems to deny such interrelations over such distances at first. Together with other arguments it becomes obvious that Morocco is closely linked to the Atlantic cultures of the Bronze Age as well, although from this country there exists only very few evidence so that it is neglected by European scholars, as a rule(Züchner 1998).

Numerous other examples of these material and cultural contacts could be mentioned, but this would go to far here. It may be sufficient to draw attention to the manifold interrelations between Atlantic Morocco and Europe revealed by the engravings of High Atlas mountains (Morocco), Spain, France and Italy (Züchner 1998).


Hoard and individual finds (Figure 8)

Since the Copper Age at the latest, precious objects were deposited isolated or in hoards of smaller or bigger size in many parts of Europe; in caves, moors, springs, under rocks and in other remote places. As is known, the reason for this depositing was very controversially discussed. They were interpreted as offerings, as hidden goods of traders or as hideaways in connection with military conflicts. The hoards are too different to just mention one reason for its depositing. Rock art at least can provide arguments important for the understanding of early hoards. In Tyrol, Valcamonica and Valtellina there are steles and stele-like stones (Anati 1968, 1990) of more or less human appearance. On some of them there are sets of weapons whose combination is more or less the same as that one of hoards and grave goods of the same period. Here, the individual weapons and other items - belts, neck rings, ornamental discs, groups of animals and fields - were drawn in one moment. They form an entity and did not accumulate in the course of an unknown space of time. They correspond to equipment of the person depicted, be it an outstanding warrior or a deity. The importance of the person is represented by these objects and can be emphasized by ”multiple equipment” in the same way as there are grave equipments with just a single weapon or a simple set and graves in which the deceased was buried with several specimens of each type of arms. This means that pictures and real objects are two facets of the same custom and the same belief.

There also is a clear connection to the early hoards. Their composition often is similar to that one engraved into steles and stele-stones. Objects can be present once or multiple, according to the importance of the offering person or of the addressee. This shows that depicted and real hoards are offerings backed by a concrete meaning. The same applies to the respective individual finds from extraordinary situations. Depicted and deposited items are the two sides of one custom. They are votives or gifts offered to certain deities at special events, like those at Christian pilgrim churches. The differences are probably more of a local than a content-wise nature and complement one another.



It was the intention of this contribution to draw attention to a rich and widely-spread kind of source which is hardly noticed in prehistoric studies in Central Europe and often even rejected as not serious. It was only possible to mention some selected examples here. But it would cause no difficulties whatsoever to cite numerous other convincing examples in order to show the close connection between the different remains of prehistoric cultures and by this outline a much more colourful picture of past epochs than archaeological artefacts, often so austere, allow.


Selected bibliography

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Almagro Gorbea M. J. 1973: Los ídolos del Bronce I Hispano: Bibliotheca Praehistorica Hispana 12. Madrid.

Anati E. 1967: I Massi di Cemmo: Pubblicazione del Centro Camuno di Studi Preistorici 3. Breno.

Anati E. 1968: Arte preistorica in Valtellina. Archivi di Arte Preistorica 1. Capo di Ponte.

Anati E. 1972: I pugnali nell’arte rupestre e nelle Statue-Stele dell’Italia settendronale. Archivi di Arte Preistorica 4. Capo di Ponte.

Anati E. 1976: Evolution and Style in Camunian Rock Art. An inquiry into the formation of European civilisation: Archivi di Arte Preistorica 6. Capo di Ponte.

Anati E. 1982: Luine - Collina Sacra: Archivi di Arte Preistorica 8. Capo di Ponte.

Anati E. 1990: Le statue-menhir. Relazione preliminare. Bolletino del Centro Camuno di Studi Preistorici 25-26, 269-356.

Arcà A. 1999: Fields and Settlements in Topographic Engravings of the Copper Age in Valcamonica and Mt. Bego Rock Art. In: Della Casa Ph. (ed.) 1999: Prehistoric alpine environment, society, and economy. Papers of the international colloquium PAESE '97 in Zurich. S. 71-79. Bonn.

Bagolini, B. Lanzinger A. & Pedrotti 1992: Rinvenimento di quattro statue stele ad Arco (Valle della Sacra – Trentino meriodinale). Atti della XXVIII Riunione Scientifica. Istituto Italiano di Preistoria e Protostoria 1989 (1992), 355-370.

Bicknell C. 1913: A Guide to the Prehistoric Rock Engravings in the Italian Maritime Alps. Bordighera.

Bcichácek P. & Moucha V. 1993: Die úneticer Kultur in B?hmen und der obere Donauraum. Archeologické rozhledy 45, 460-465.

B?hm J. 1928: Poklad bronzovych dyk na Kozích Hrbetech. Památky Archeologické 36, 1-14.

Branigan K. 1966: Prehistoric relations between Italy and the Aegean. Bulletino di Paletnologia Italiana vol. 75, NS XVII, 97-109.

Bueno Ramirez P. 1990: Statues-menhirs et stèles anthropomorphes de la Péninsule Ibérique: L’Anthropologie 94, 1990, 85-110.

Bueno Ramirez P., Balbin Behrmann R. 1992: L′art mégalithique dans la Péninsule Ibérique. Une vue d′ensemble: L’Anthropologie 96, 1992, 499-571.

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Eggert M. K. H. & Veit U. (Hrsg.) 1998: Theorie in der Arch?ologie. Zur englischsprachigen Diskussion. Tübinger Arch?ologische Taschenbücher Band 1. Münster.

Fleming A. 1988: The Dartmoor Reaves. Investigating Prehistoric Land Divisions. London.

Gallay G. 1981: Die kupfer- und altbronzezeitlichen Dolche und Stabdolche in Frankreich. Pr?historische Bronzefunde Abteilung VI.5. München.

Gandert O.F. 1957: Der Hortfund von Berlin-Lichtenrade und die n?rdliche Verbreitung der Aunjetitzer Kultur: Jahrbuch der R?misch-Germanischen Zentralmuseums Mainz 4, 1957, 23-62.

Gerloff S. 1975: The Early Bronze Age Daggers in Great Britain and a Reconsideration of the Wessex Culture: Pr?historische Bronzefunde Abteilung VI,2 .München..

Gimbutas M. 1974: The Gods and Goddesses of Old Europe. 7000 to 3500 BC. Myths, Legends and Cult Images. London.

Harbison P. 1969: The Daggers and the Halberds of the Early Bronze Age in Ireland: Pr?historische Bronzefunde, Abt. VI,1. München.

Hernández Pacheco E., Cabré J., Conde de la Vega del Sella 1914: Las pinturas prehistóricas de Pe?a Tu: Comisión de Investigaciones Paleontológicas y Prehistóricas 2. Madrid.

Idole 1973: Pr?historische Idolkunst. Kultbilder und Opfergaben aus Ungarn. Ausstellung des Ungarischen Nationalmuseums Budapest in Verbindung mit der Pr?historischen Staatssammlung im Münchner Stadtmuseum, 8. Februar bis 23. april 1973. Ausstellungskataloge der Pr?historischen Staatssamllung Band 1. München.

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Shee Twohig E. 1981: The Megalithic Art of Western Europe. Oxford.

Varna 1988: Macht, Herrschaft und Gold. Das Gr?berfeld von Varna (Bulgarien) und die Anf?nge einer neuen europ?ischen Zivilisation. Ausstellung in: Moderne Galerie des Saarland-Museums Saarbrücken 1988. Saarbrücken.

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Züchner Chr. 1986/87: Kartenbilder des 3. und 2. Jahrtausends v. Chr.: Mitteilungen der Fr?nkischen Geographischen Gesellschaft 33/34, 1986/87, 321-344.

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Dr. Christian
Institut für Ur- und Frühgeschichte
Universit?t Erlangen-Nürnberg
Kochstr. 4/18



Christian Z點hner

Grotte Chauvet Archaeologically Dated

Communication at the

International Rock Art Congress IRAC ?8 - Vila Real ?Portugal

(6-12 September 1998)

I am very grateful to J. Clottes for his kind permission to use drawings taken from his publications for my comparative plates (letter 1998-XI-12). For detail see appendix "Comparative plates". Drawings: Marlies Kemper, Erlangen. We refer always to the German edition of Chauvet et al. 1995.


The Grotte Chauvet was discovered at Christmas 1994. It is situated near the upper end of the huge Ard鑓he Canyon in front of the famous Pont-d碅rc, a natural bridge spanning over the river. Only a few days later the information about the discovery of a unique, extremely old cave sanctuary spread all over the world. A beautiful picture book came out only a few months later (Chauvet et al. 1995). It has been the main source of our knowledge and discussion up to now.

In 1995 Clottes took the view in an epilogue to the book of Chauvet et al.(1995) that the art of Grotte Chauvet is more or less homogeneous and originates from the Solutrean period (Clottes in Chauvet et al. 1995, 110-113). At that time, AMS-dates were not yet available. Clottes himself emphasized, that direct dating of rock art may yield very useful results, but should not be used uncritically (Clottes 1994; 1997; cf. also Rosenfeld & Smith 1997). But the tide turned immediately after the publication of the first AMS- und 14C - dating. A stratigraphical sequence of black paintings (ca. 32,000 - 30,000 BP) - calcite layer - black torch mark (ca. 26,000 BP) yielded seemingly coherent results: the dates of the stratigraphically earlier paintings are higher than that of the torch marks on the calcite layer covering some paintings after an unknown span of time (Clottes et al. 1995). As a consequence of these very high AMS-dates, Grotte Chauvet is now considered to be an Aurignacian sanctuary, previous to all other cave art. This opinion is taken for granted by different authors. The dates figure in modern comprehensive publications, although they are totally inconsistent with the traditional and generally accepted history of palaeolithic art (e.g. Lorblanchet 1997, 267-270). This "classical" chronology is not an evolunistic, theoretical one, but based mainly on archaeological criteria taken from stratigraphical observations at prehistoric sites, from superpositions of paintings and engravings and the comparison with portable art coming from settlement layers. Nevertheless archaeological argumentation is getting out of fashion (Lorblanchet & Bahn 1993). Stylistic dating is declared to be questionable by some authors. "Radiocarbon determinations have been privileged on the basis of their status as the results of objective, scientific research, an attitude clearly rooted in what Feyerabend (1975) called the socially privileged status of science" (Rosenfeld & Smith 1997, 409). But in fact, even those colleagues, claiming we are living in a post-stylistic era and denying the validity of archaeological argumentation, use style for dating, whenever direct dating is not possible. Stylistic observations are naturally not safe from errors, but are used with very good results by classical archaeology, art history, linguistics etc. Even prehistoric research argues with the "style", i.e. the "typology" of prehistoric objects. No one would accept a Magdalenian harpoon as Aurignacian, a Medieval dagger as a Bronze Age one only because of a radiocarbon date. Such a determination would be rejected as aberrant. The origin of the suspicion of stylistic dating may be that "stylistic analyses" in prehistoric literature are normally very superficial and are never up to standard customary in history of art or Greek and Roman archaeology.

AMS-dating of rock art yielded at Niaux and other caves results in accordance with our expectation (Clottes 1994; Clottes et al. 1992; Valladas et al. 1992; Z點hner 1993). Therefore we cannot reject dates only because they do not fit to our concepts. But we may not trust in direct dating uncritically. At Grotte Cosquer (Clottes & Courtin 1995) for instance the dates of two black bisons, which are not identical, but very similar, differ about 8000 years (Clottes 1997; Clottes et al. 1996)! That is a very long space of time even in palaeolithic scale covering Gravettian and Solutrean periods, i.e. the art of Pair-non-Pair, Le Combel, Pech-Merle and parts of Lascaux! (Figure 1). The sequence of the Cueva de Parpall?near Valencia proves that style and type of animals and symbols changed considerably during these millennia (Villaverde 1992; Villaverde Bonilla 1994). We are not able to imagine, that artistic conventions stayed in one cave nearly unchanged about eight millennia, all the more Cosquer and Parpall?belong to a kindred cultural sphere and have many details in common.

The hypothesis, that the paintings of Grotte Chauvet could be the creation of outstanding Aurignacian artists antedating all known art, is taken for granted in present literature (e.g. Clottes 1995; 1996), and spread all over the world by mass media. This fact and the uncritical acceptance of science by non-scientists prevent an unprejudiced consideration of the chronological problems. But in my opinion, there are enough valid arguments to assume that the magnificent drawings and paintings of Grotte Chauvet are not the creation of some outstanding Aurignacian artists, having no predecessors and no successors, but belong mainly to Gravettian, Solutrean and Early Magdalenian (Z點hner 1995; 1996). The argumentation, "dangerous animals" (Hahn 1986; Clottes 1995; 1996) are the typical fauna of Aurignacian art and therefore the AMS-dates are reliable and vice versa, is a classical circulus vitiosus. The same "dangerous animals" could also be taken as a typical Magdalenian fauna! Dates around 15,000 BP would fit very well to the mass of lions, cave bears, rhinos etc. coming into fashion at the turn of Early to Middle Magdalenian at Lascaux (Cabinet des felines; Leroi-Gourhan 1965, 256), Le Gabillou (Gaussen 1964), La Marche (Pales & Saint P閞euse 1969) etc.. Hahn磗 concept of "Kraft und Aggression" (power and aggression) as leitmotiv of Aurignacian art should not be valid even in his own sphere of work in SW-Germany! It is only one facet of the Aurignacian art, as there exist also statuettes of a bison, a horse and a human being at the Vogelherd, i.e. of a "normal" fauna. It is extremely dangerous to argue with such a small number of objects. They may be a very small section of a greater whole we do not know. The quality of the ivory statuettes points by itself to an artistic tradition testified only at three sites in SW-Germany (Vogelherd, Geissenkl鰏terle, Hohlenstein-Stadel) (M黮ler-Beck & Albrecht 1987; Werberger 1994) and one in Austria (Stratzing-Rehberg) (Neugebauer-Maresch 1989). The Aurignacian art of France is restricted to so-called vulvas, some footprints of lions or cave bears and very simple animals (Delluc 1991). There may be some reasons to assume that the engravings of Pair-non-Pair belong to the Aurignacian and not to the Gravettian layers of the cave (Delluc 1991). But even if this scope could be proven as correct, there exists no resemblance between Chauvet and Pair-non-Pair.

As Grotte Chauvet is accepted as an Aurignacian sanctuary by outstanding authorities on French rock art, a refutation of AMS-results requires a detailed and really conclusive argumentation. It would be useful to draw up the stylistic development of each species of animals on the basis of well dated examples (GRAPP 1993). Only then differences and congruences would leap to the eyes even for those who are not trained in stylistic analyses and who have no profound knowledge of palaeolithic art in general. This effort requires a long experience with palaeolithic art, an enormous amount of comparative material and an extensive discussion of each detail. By obvious reasons we have to confine us to the most convincing parallels and refrain from discussing the discriminating elements. Unfortunately, the basis of our argumentation is still very small. We are forced to rely on the splendid publication of Chauvet, Brunel Deschamps, Hillaire and the articles of Clottes. Future will bring to light many other details and supplementary arguments.

Only future will prove whether we are right or not. Whatever will happen, severe problems will raise: Why are the AMS-dates nearly twice as high as the archaeological ones? Or how can we explain vice versa the fact that so many details of the Aurignacian paintings return after a brake of about 15,000 years in the Early and the beginning of Middle Magdalenian?

The art of Grotte Chauvet

Apart from engravings mostly unpublished until today, there are two main groups of representations at Grotte Chauvet: a red and a black series of drawings and paintings. The red ones are centred near the ancient entrance, the black ones in the interior part of the cave Clottes 1998, 117-122). There are some superpositions proving the red series as the earlier one (Clottes in Chauvet et al. 1995, 81-116). The colour by itself is not a criterion to distinguish between old and young! Red and black may be used at the same time. Decisive are mainly differences in details, themes and symbols. Indeed the differences between red and black series could not be greater. The red one is characterized by signs like dots, handprints, bracket- or breast-like signs etc. and static animal silhouettes, the black one by other types of signs and species of animals, by naturalism and sometimes by powerful movement. Whereas the red series has mainly parallels in Gravettian or Early Solutrean art, the black series corresponds in many details with the cave and portable art of Early and to a less degree of Middle Magdalenian, even if there is also a great number of special features not known in other caves up to now.

The age of the red series

If we accept the stratigraphical sequence of AMS - dates and of the red and black pictures, we are forced to consider the red ones to be of Aurignacian if not of even earlier origin. An analysis of signs and animals contradicts such a conclusion.

For detailed information about the selected examples see the adherent list of comparative plates. We refrain from references to generally known cave sanctuaries, as we take for granted prehistorians are familiar with them.

Handprints: handprints occur all over the world in many different areas and cultures. But in Europe they are restricted to palaeolithic cave art and wherever we have some information about the age of negative handprints, they originate from Gravettian period (Abri Labattut, Abri du Poisson: Delluc 1991, 158, 222; Fuente del Sal韓: Moure-Romanillo et al. 1984/85). Positive hands may belong even to Early Solutrean. (Figure 2)

Dots: red and black dots are widespread in cave art. They start perhaps in Aurignacian, if not in Late Mousterian period. The "cupules" on the tombstone of a Neanderthaler磗 grave at La Ferrassie (Peyrony 1934) may be considered to be the sculptured version of such dots. Single dots, irregular and well structured groups of dots are a typical element of Gravettian and Solutrean cave sanctuaries. They got out of use during the first half of Magdalenian, are unknown in Upper Magdalenian sites (cf. also Villaverde Bonilla 1994) and re-appeared in portable art not until the Azilian. Handprints and dots occur side by side e.g. at Pech-Merle, i.e. they are typical signs of Gravettian period. (Figure 3)

Butterfly or birdlike signs: these signs of Grotte Chauvet have no exact parallel in other caves. But anyway they are unique. Most similar are the breastlike sign of Le Portel (Ari鑗e) (Beltr醤 et al. 1966, No. 22), the reliefs in the Roc de V閦ac Cave (Dordogne) (Atlas 1984, 242) and the ivory pendants of the Gravettian site of Doln?Vestonice (Moravia) (e.g. Freund 1957). At least one of Chauvet磗 signs (Chauvet et al. 1995, Fig. 15) has much in common with the red drawings of La Pasiega (Breuil et al. 1913, Fig. 21) in northern Spain. The "butterflies" of Chauvet may be the realistic predecessors of the varied family of so-called "signes en accolade" (bracket signs) or of "Le Placard type". (Clottes et al. 1990). Excavations at Le Placard proved them as Solutrean. But there are firm arguments to assume an earlier origin of the type. (Figure 4)

Crosses: this very simple sign is not as unique as declared in some publications. 慍rosses?exist at Lascaux (Salle des Taureaux) and are dated to the end of Solutrean or the beginning of Magdalenian (Leroi-Gourhan & Allain 1997). They may originate even earlier. The cross of Grotte Chauvet seems to be connected with a fringed rectangle. But the photo in the picture book does not allow a reliable statement. (Figure 4)

Rectangle crossed by lines: rectangles crossed by lines or with fringes at both sides are well documented at La Pileta (rock art) (Breuil et al. 1915; Dams 1987) and at Cueva de Parpall?(portable art), where they do not occur before the Late Solutrean (Villaverde-Bonillas 1994). (Figure 4)

Animals: In contrast to signs, animals by themselves give no good information about their age. "Dangerous animals" are not confined to one period! They are only one facet of their time, "gentle" or "normal" animals, like horse and bison, the other. Most species occur during the whole upper palaeolithic. Only the percentage of representations changes considerably in the course of time. Relevant information about the age of red animals can be gained only by general stylistic elements. A striking feature is the fact that most red animals of Grotte Chauvet are drawn with great experience. The artists would be able to show the animals realistic and three-dimensional, i.e. with four legs, one behind the other in correct perspective, like the painters of the black series. But it was not their intention to do so; they preferred two-dimensional silhouettes with one leg per pair or legs arranged side by side. According to the Parpall?sequence and some other complexes of portable art, three-dimensionality is gained during Upper Solutrean and only since then regularly used (Villaverde 1992). The style of the red animals, not their species, fits very well to that of Cougnac: the Megaloceroses are drawn very exactly, but only as silhouettes. Cougnac is dated by AMS-measurements and other reasons to Gravettian (Lorblanchet 1993; Valladas et al. 1993) or the Early Solutrean. A supplementary argument yields the Great Cave of Arcy-sur-Cure (Baffier & Girard 1998): a red cave bear, datable to Gravettian by good reasons, could also be taken as part of Chauvet磗 bestiary. (Figure 5)

From these and other observations we should conclude: the red series of Grotte Chauvet, as far as we can judge from the preliminary reports, originates mainly from Gravettian. Some very roughly outlined animals may be older, perhaps even Aurignacian, others may belong already to Early Solutrean. As Villaverde Bonilla worked out by his analysis of the well stratified material of the Cueva de Parpall? the emergence of new lithic artefacts does not coincident with breaks or dividing lines in palaeolithic art. According to him, the transition from early to Middle Solutrean brings much more new tendencies in art, than that of Gravettian to Early Solutrean (Villaverde Bonilla 1994; Z點hner 1997).

The age of the black series

The differences between red and black series could not be greater. The red series is characterized by some special types of signs and static silhouettes of animals species, the black one by other signs, by three-dimensionalism and movement and by a great variety of species.

Signs: Only a few signs have been published up to now. Unfortunately, nothing is known about the most decisive type, centred at the end of one branch of the cave: the Gallery of Lattices. If these lattices are not only crossing lines, but in fact structured symbols, they belong to the Final Solutrean or Early Magdalenian according to the sequences of Parpall?(Villaverde Bonilla 1994) and Abri Lachaud (Cheynier 1965), like those of Lascaux, Le Gabillou etc. A great black vulva near the so-called sorcerer at the end of the cave is difficult to date (Chauvet et al. 1995, fig. 93). But it is definitely not an Aurignacian, but most likely a Magdalenian type. Wavy lines combined with animals (Chauvet et al. 1995, fig. 30) are a typical phenomenon of Magdalenian symbolism according to rock art and portable art. (For the origin and development of wavy lines see e.g. Villaverde Bonilla 1994).

Rhinoceros: Rhinos occur from Aurigancian to Magdalenian in Eastern and Western Europe in form of statuettes, engravings and cave art. In Western Europe most of them belong to the Magdalenian in general (Lascaux, Rouffignac, Les Combarelles, Trois-Fr鑢es, La Colombi鑢e/Ain etc.) (good examples in: Graziosi 1956; Leroi-Gourhan 1965). The black rhinos of Grotte Chauvet are totally different from the red ones in details, movement, perspective, etc. One of the AMS-dated rhinos is very similar to an engraving of Trois-Fr鑢es, which shows according to the photo in B間ouen & Breuil 1958 (Pl. XVI, b) even the curious M-like ears. The black rhinos of Chauvet are unique in some way, but they differ totally from the red ones. Some of them would not surprise in cave sanctuaries of Middle Magdalenian. (Figure 6)

Bovids: Male and female bovids (bos primigenius) are in contrast to bisons a favoured motive of Gravettian, Solutrean and Early Magdalenian (Badegoulian) in France and Spain, but they appear even later in Magdalenian context (e.g. Mas-d碅zil, Grotte de la Mairie ?Teyjat, Levanzo etc.; cf. Graziosi 1956). General habit, proportions and details of representations change in the course of time considerably. Only one detail may be cited. The horns of bos primigenius are shown in twisted perspective from the beginning of cave art until Early Magdalenian (e.g. in Lascaux) and sometimes even later. In contrast to the ancient style, the horns of the aurochses of Grotte Chauvet are seen in strict side view, pointing forward in an S-curve. This way to represent the horns of bos primigenius - the exact congruence is important - came into fashion during Early Magdalenian and continues until Late Magdalenian. It is to be found from Western Europe to Southern Italy (e.g. Cueva de Parpall? Mas-d碅zil, La Vache, Grotte de la Mairie, Le Trou de Chaleux, Levanzo etc.). One may argue that there are some bovids with horns pointing forward at Cueva de Parpall?(Villaverde 1992) and Ebbou (Graziosi 1956) of Early to Middle Solutrean context. But this does not contradict to our argumentation, as the heads and bodies of these animals differ fundamentally from those of Chauvet and other Magdalenian examples. (Figure 7)

Bisons: They occur during the whole upper palaeolithic art in Eastern and Western Europe. But the earlier representations like those of Pech-Merle differ from the Magdalenian ones (e.g. in Font-de-Gaume, Altamira, Niaux etc.) in general and from that of Grotte Chauvet in particular in its whole habit and in many details. Some of the few published bisons of Chauvet have good pendants in other caves. The manner in which the heavy head and voluminous body of the AMS-dated bison (Chauvet et al. 1995, fig. 92) are represented, is exactly comparable with reliefs and paintings of Angles-sur-l碅nglin, Font-de-Gaume or El Pindal. Other details, like the mane falling between the horns, hanging from the back line etc. are documented at caves of France and Spain too. The long line of bison heads seen in front view is unique in cave art. But rows of animal heads seen in profile or front view are a characteristic element of Magdalenian portable art (good examples in: Graziosi 1956). (Figure 8)

Felines: Statuettes of felines are common in Aurignacian and Gravettian art of Central and Eastern Europe, but nearly unknown in Western Europe before the Early Magdalenian. Since that period, felines are not very frequent, but regularly depicted in cave and portable art (Lascaux, Le Gabillou, La Marche, Trois-Fr鑢es, Les Combarelles, La Vache etc.). (Figure 9)

Horses: Horses are one of the main subjects of palaeolithic art. Different modes or styles of representation came into fashion and disappeared in the course of millennia. The most beautiful horses of Grotte Chauvet have much in common with the horses of the "nave" of Lascaux around the great black cow. There are some similarities to the black horses of Grotte Cosquer too, which are dated to 18,820 ?310 BP and 18,840 ?240 BP, i.e. to Solutrean, at least in one case (horse 1: Clottes et al. 1992), whereas horse 5 is dated much earlier ( 24,730 ?300 PP: Clottes et al. 1996). (Figure 10)

Megaloceros: The great deer is mainly known from earlier upper palaeolithic, whereas it does not occur during Magdalenian. Most famous are the representations of Pair-non-Pair, Le Combel and Cougnac of Gravettian. A little known relief of Roc-de-Sers (Upper Solutrean) (Martin 1932, Pl. II.1) may represent a megaloceros, too. It is dated stratigraphically to Upper Solutrean. At Cosquer, this species belongs to the black series dated to the same period by AMS. At least one great deer of Grotte Chauvet (Chauvet et al. 1995, Fig. 72) has similar curious stick-like legs as its counterpart at Grotte Cosquer (Clottes & Courtin 1995, Fig. 109). Such a curious styling of legs is unusual but known from some caves in France and Northern Spain in contexts suggesting a Late Solutrean or Early Magdalenian age (e.g. La Pasiega: Breuil et al. 1913, Nr. 34; Lascaux, small deer in the Salle des Taureaux: Bataille 1955, 52). (Figure 11)

Groups of animals and lines of animal heads: In many palaeolithic caves there exist rock surfaces full of animals drawn one above the other, so that it is nearly impossible to decipher them (e.g. La Lluera I, Pech-Merle, Trois-Fr鑢es). Real groups or flocks of animals like those of Lascaux came into fashion only since Late Solutrean or Early Magdalenian (Badegoulian) period. Herds are a popular motif of Magdalenian portable art. Lines of animal heads are a characteristic feature of Magdalenian portable art (good examples in Graziosi 1956). Bison heads engraved in front view carved into a shoulder blade of La Madeleine (Paillet 1996, Fig. 2) could be taken as sketches of the line of black heads at Chauvet. (Figure 12)

Deer: Representations of deer are centred on Gravettian, Solutrean and Early Magdalenian (e.g. Chuff韓, Covalanas, Lascaux etc.). Later they get scarce especially in France, but they are never totally missing.

Reindeer: In contrast to deer, reindeer is nearly unknown in rock art and portable art before Middle Magdalenian (Le Gabillou, Trois-Fr鑢es, Les Combarelles, Tito Bustillo etc.). Even then it is not as much depicted as one should assume from its importance as a prey. Its occurrence in cave art is therefore a very important hint to the age of the paintings.

Owls: Owls are rare in Pleistocene art, but there exist some very fine examples at Trois-Fr鑢es and Enl鑞e (?) (B間ouen & Breuil 1958, Pl. XI, Pl. XXXI b), Le Portel (Beltr醤 et al. 1966, Nr. 2) and La Vi馻 (Fortea et al. 1990, Fig. 5.1) of Middle Magdalenian times.

Mammoth: Only a selection of red and black animals has been published. Chronologically, they should belong to the respective series.

Ibex: This species is common during whole upper palaeolithic art. Chronologically, they should belong to the respective red or black series.

Sorcerer: The so-called sorcerer or bison-man (Cauvet et al. 1995, Fig. 93) would be a clear hint to a Magdalenian origin, if he is in fact an anthropozoomorphic creature (Z點hner 1972). Judging by the published photo it is not. It seems that there are two superimposing figures on the panel: a bison and two legs of a human being (?) of Magdalenian type, looking in different directions.

Movement: There are many other details at Grotte Chauvet which are comparable with those of other cave and portable art of Franco-Cantabria. We confine us to one example: the lively movement of some animals. It is exactly comparable to the bestiary of Lascaux, dated by good reasons to Final Solutrean and Early Magdalenian, and to a smaller degree to the engravings of Parapll?Cave of the same period. It is present neither before nor later. Animals of Gravettian, Solutrean and Middle to Upper Magdalenian are normally static: compare e.g. the animals of Cougnac, Pech-Merle, Font-de-Gaume, Niaux and Lascaux. (Figure 13)

From these and other arguments we have to conclude that the majority of black paintings - as far as published until today - was created at Early Magdalenian (Badegoulian). Some elements may be of Late Solutrean, the latest ones even of Magdalenian III-IV. In my opinion, Grotte Chauvet houses two different sanctuaries: one centred in Gravettian (red series), the other in Early Magdalenian period (black series). Further research may prove that there are some (red) drawings of Aurignacian period too and that it was used continuously from Gravettian to early Magdalenian as cave-sanctuary. The earlier sanctuary includes many elements well known from other sites, even if some species of animals, like cave bears, are rare in early art. The "black" sanctuary may appear singular at first sight. In some way it is in fact. There exists no sanctuary with so many rhinos and lions, organized in great herds, even if one or two species prevail in other cave, too: mammoth and rhino at Rouffignac, bison and mammoth at Pech-Merle, horse, aurochs and deer at Lascaux etc.. The way many of the black rhinos are drawn is still unknown. But all elements - animals and signs - as well as many significant details occur in rock art and portable art of Magdalenian. The mixture of known and unknown elements is not in contrast to our experience. The palaeolithic art of Spain, France and Italy follows the same general trends in the course of millennia, but each region has its special character: Dordogne, Pyrenees, Cantabria or Andalusia have their unmistakable features. Little is known about the Mediterranean caves, but we suppose future will bring new light into this area.


If we assume that the AMS dates are physically correct, then there must exist reasons causing results contradicting to archaeological evidence. Even if we rule out contamination, other events may entail aberrant results. One could be that prehistoric artists prepared charcoal with sub-fossil wood buried in river terraces or under glacial dunes. The idea may seem fantastic at first sight. But in fact there exists wood which survived in glacial sediments some hundred thousand years in very good condition. Roots and tree trunks of Aller鴇 look sometimes so fresh that they cannot be distinguished from recent ones at first sight. Black paint prepared of this material today would appear 11,000 years old! The seemingly coherent sequence of dates may be explained by the fact that Gravettian people lightened fire and torches in the cave (Bednarik 1994 a.b). As its charcoal rests on the surface even today, it could be re-used by any later visitor to make some strokes. But there may be other reasons falsifying results of AMS dates too.

Research started only at Grotte Chauvet and it is too early to jump at conclusions! Future will show what really happened there. In my opinion, Chauvet and his friends have not discovered the oldest cave sanctuary of the world, but - regarding its age and importance - a second Lascaux.

Comparative plates

Figure 1: From Gravettian to Badegoulian: 8000 years of Palaeolithic art: Pair-non-Pair (Gravettian): Delluc 1991, Fig. 43; Grotte Cosquer ("Gravettian"): Clottes et al. 1996; Grotte Cosquer ("Late Solutrean/Badegoulian"): Clottes et al. 1992; 1994; Badegoule: Cheynier 1949, Fig. 13; Lascaux: Late Badegoulian (Bataille 1955, 113); Pech-Merle: Lemozi 1929, Pl. 30.

Figure 2: Positive and negative hand silhouettes of Gravettian period: Grotte Chauvet: Chauvet et al. 1995, Fig. 26, 91; Fuente del Sal韓: Moure-Romanillo et al. 1984/85, Fig. 2, 5; Labattut: Delluc 1991, Fig. 113; Pech-Merle: Lorblanchet 1997, 179; Abri du Poisson: Delluc 1991, Fig. 160.

Figure 3: Red dots of Gravettian and Solutrean period: Grotte Chauvet: Chauvet et al. 1995, Fig. 11, 13, 26; Chuf韓: Almagro Basch 1973, Lam. 63 B, XV B; Pech-Merle: Lemozi et al. 1969, Pl. 53.77.

Figure 4: Red signs of Grotte Chauvet and parallels in cave art: Grotte Chauvet: Chauvet et al. 1995, Fig. 9, 20, 24; Grotte Cosquer: Clottes et al. 1997, Fig. 1.4; Doln?Vestonice: Vialou 1992, Fig. 74; Lascaux: Bataille 1955, 61; Pasiega: Breuil et al. 1913, Fig. 21, 22; Pech-Merle: Lemozi 1929, Pl. 45; Pileta: Breuil et al. 1915, Fig. 13; Placard: Clottes et al. 1990, Fig. 13; Portel: Beltr醤 et al. 1966, Lam. XXXV, 22; Roc de V閦ac: Atlas 1984, 242.

Figure 5: Red animals of Grotte Chauvet: naturalism and two-dimensionality in the art of Gravettian and Early Solutrean: Grotte Chauvet: Chauvet et al. 1995, Fig. 19, 21, 23; Arcy-sur-Cure: Baffier & Girard 1998, Fig. 52; Cougnac: Lorblanchet 1997, 174, 175; T阾e du Lion: Lorblanchet 1997, 236.

Figure 6: Rhinos of Gravettian (upper line) and Magdalenian (lower lines): Grotte Chauvet: Chauvet et al. 1995, Fig. 27, 53, 69, 86; Rouffignac: Atlas 1984, 205; Trilobite: Baffier & Girard 1998, Fig. 16; Trois Fr鑢es: B間ouen & Breuil 1958, Pl. XVI b.

Figure 7: Bull heads of Middle and Upper Magdalenian type and of Late Solutrean and Early Magdalenian type (last line): Grotte Chauvet: Chauvet et al. 1995, Fig. 50; Lascaux: Bataille 1955, 50, 51; Parpall? Villaverde Bonilla 1994, Vol. 1, 386, Fig. 55

Figure 8: The AMS-dated black bison of Grotte Chauvet and bisons of Middle Magdalenian (III-IV) period: Grotte Chauvet: Chauvet et al. 1995, Fig. 92; Altamira: Breuil & Obermaier 1935, Pl. XLII; Font-de-Gaume: Capitan et al. 1910, Nr. 16, 19, 45, 50; Isturitz: Saint-P閞ier 1947, 413, Fig. 7.5; Niaux: Beltr醤 et al. 1973, 147.99; Pindal: Alcalde del R韔 et al. 1911, Fig. 74; Trois-Fr鑢es: B間ouen & Breuil 1958, Fig. 12.

Figure 9: Lions of Grotte Chauvet and other sites of Aurignacian and Middle Magdalenian: Grotte Chauvet: Chauvet et al. 1995, Fig. 61, 77, 78, 79; Ald鑞e: Vialou 1979, Fig. 10; La Marche: Pales & Saint P閞euse 1969, Pl. 3, 10; Vogelherd: M黮ler-Beck & Albrecht 1987, Pl. 5.

Figure 10:Horses of Grotte Chauvet and horses of Late Solutrean and Early Magdalenian: Grotte Chauvet: Chauvet et al. 1995, Fig. 51; Grotte Cosquer: Clottes & Courtin 1995, Fig. 61; Lascaux: Bataille 1955, 102.

Figure 11:Megaloceros in cave art: a selection of different periods: Grotte Chauvet: Chauvet et al. 1995, Fig. 68, 72; Grotte Cosquer: Clottes & Courtin 1995, Fig. 109; La Gr鑪e: Delluc 1991, Fig. 171; Pair-non-Pair: Delluc 1991, Fig. 65; Pech-Merle (Le Combel): Lemozi et al. 1969, Pl. 12.17.

Figure 12:Lines of animals and heads in front view of Middle and Upper Magdalenian: Grotte Chauvet: Chauvet et al. 1995, Fig. 82; Gourdan: Graziosi 1956, Pl. 88 a, c; Isturitz: Graziosi 1956, Pl. 62 c, 89 a; La Madeleine: Paillet 1996, Fig. 2; Mas d碅zil: Graziosi 1956, Pl. 62 b; Massat: Graziosi 1956, Pl. 88 f; Teyjat, Grotte de la Mairie: Graziosi 1956, Pl. 88 b.

Figure 13: Movement in Final Solutrean and Early Magdalenian: Grotte Chauvet: Chauvet et al. 1995, Fig. 62, 68, 69, 75; Lascaux: Bataille 1955, 78, 79, 85, 100.



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?1999 by Dr. Christian Z點hner - Institute of Prehistory - University Erlangen-N黵nberg Kochstr. 4/18 ?D-91054 Erlangen GERMANY

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