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Au coeur des premières manifestations graphiques du Paléolithique supérieur : nouvelles découvertes dans la grotte des Bernoux (Dordogne)

Abstract : Study of the Grotte des Bernoux (Dordogne, France), begun in 2011, is part of the current trend for the critical re-examination of pre-Magdalenian decorated caves. This approach is based on the new consideration of these periods permitted by the discoveries in the 1990s of major sites in France such as Chauvet (Ardèche), Cosquer (Bouches du Rhône), or Cussac (Dordogne), as well as La Garma (Cantabria, Spain). Grotte des Bernoux, with its original characteristics regarding themes and form, represents a perfect site for the confrontation of its graphic data with these new discoveries. Situated at Bourdeilles, the cave opens at the foot of a small steep slope along the major bed of the Dronne river. It was discovered at the beginning of 1920s and was the object of a study by Denis Peyrony, who carried out the first inventory of the representations as well as an excavation at the cave entrance. The cave consists of a single gallery which spreads in a rectilinear way over some twenty metres, and the rock art representations are located in its first part. Originally including three documented figures (a mammoth, a rhinoceros and a bear, according to the most generally accepted identifications), in the current state of the study the inventory lists twenty-three graphic entities among which are six identified animal figures and four non-identified. New discoveries and parallels with the previously known images have contributed valuable data for the cultural and chronological insertion of the cavity, especially taking into consideration the fact that the archaeological material from the cavity provides very succinct information : the excavations carried out by Denis Peyrony in the 1930s yielded very little material (only 62 pieces), not particularly significant, comprising some Mousterian elements and others, probably stemming from the early phases of the Upper Palaeolithic. Re-examination of the walls of the Grotte des Bernoux revealed several major graphic discoveries. The first concern the entrance panel, which represents the main panel in the cave. Next to the first mammoth, which remains the most characteristic by its outline, two others were identified. One of them is attached to the first one and presents similar proportions (around 80 cm wide) ; the second one is situated in a lower section of the wall and has a more concise outline. On the other hand, only the head of the large rhinoceros remains. Six metres from the entrance, the figure previously known as a bear has been proved to be a feline. This new identification was permitted by graphic and computer graphic processes, in particular through 3D modelling by photogrammetry, which allowed the modern soot which impairs the interpretation to be removed, as well as the contemporary overdrawings which give the illusion of engraved outlines. The new interpretation of the figure is based on the elongated and nipped-in shape of the head. Beyond this entrance panel another area with Palaeolithic images was found where lines had already been located by other researchers (Delluc, B. and G., 1979). Ten metres from the left wall of the entrance, where the gallery narrows, is a panel including several engravings made with different technical characteristics than those known to date. Among them is, for example, the head of a small horse (only about ten centimetres) marked by the absence of any anatomical details. In addition, the discovery of totally new paintings diversified the techniques found on the walls of the cave. Two panels of red outlines were located ; the first one, on the right wall, showed the presence of signs (dots and lines) and of a continuous outline of which the nature remains indeterminate (an incomplete triangular sign, possibly an animal head). These paintings are different from natural red lines and suggest, in their very vestigial state, a Palaeolithic pictorial group on a larger scale. Today the Grotte des Bernoux represents a significantly renewed array of rock art including in particular signs, new paintings and engravings, some of which have technical characteristics previously unknown in the cave. All these elements point to a fairly rich cave, a homogeneous thematic and stylistic horizon proper to the pre-Magdalenian phases, and more particularly to the Aurignacian. The contribution of the study of the representations is indisputable, especially in a context of limited and unspecific archaeological materials, and highlights the importance of re-examining decorated caves in order to improve our understanding of the cultural panorama of the earliest Upper Palaeolithic societies in Europe.
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Submitted on : Monday, May 9, 2016 - 3:33:34 PM
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Stéphane Petrognani, Robert Eric, Didier Cailhol, Élisa Boche, Claire Lucas, et al.. Au coeur des premières manifestations graphiques du Paléolithique supérieur : nouvelles découvertes dans la grotte des Bernoux (Dordogne). Bulletin de la Société préhistorique française, 2014, 111 (3), pp.413-432. ⟨10.3406/bspf.2014.14430⟩. ⟨hal-01313101⟩



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