Caves of Gargas

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Caves of Gargas
Grotte de Gargas.jpg
Interior view taken by Félix Régnault before 1910
Location Aventignan, Hautes-Pyrénées
Coordinates 43°03′19″N 00°32′10″E / 43.05528°N 0.53611°E / 43.05528; 0.53611

The Caves of Gargas in the Pyrennes region of France are known for their cave art from the Upper Paleolithic period - about 27,000 years old.

The caves are open to the public.

Location[edit]

The caves are located near the town of Aventignan in the Hautes-Pyrénées department in south-western France, at the edge of the Haute-Garonne close to Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges.

History[edit]

Bovine incisor, pierced for ornamental use – Gravettian period - Félix Régnault collection at the Muséum de Toulouse

Human occupation[edit]

The caves of Gargas have yielded evidence of occupation (bones, lithics (Stone tools), and Portable art) from the Mousterian to the Middle Ages, but it is most famous for its paintings and engravings of the Upper Paleolithic.

The paintings have numerous negative hands made by the stencil technique. The hands are red (ochre) or black (manganese oxide), using a mixture of iron oxide and manganese crushed with animal fat, and sprayed around the hand against the wall. Some have one or more fingers absent which lead to hypotheses of diseases, frostbite and ritual amputation, but most researchers prefer the symbolism of bending one or more fingers.

Many figurative engravings are also present in other parts of the caves, depicting horses, bison, aurochs, ibex and mammoth. Carbon-14 dating of a bone stuck in a crack in a wall decorated with hand stencils revealed close to 27,000 years BP, indicating that the cave was frequented in the Gravettian period. It is surmised that the Hands paintings probably date from this period.

Discovery[edit]

The two chambers of the caves began to be scientifically explored and documented at the end of the 19th century by Émile Cartailhac and Abbé Henri Breuil, but it was Felix Regnault who discovered the hand-print images in 1906.

Tourism[edit]

The caves are classified as a historic monument, Schedule 2, and is open to the public.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Bibliography[edit]

  • Foucher Pascal, San Juan-Foucher Cristina, Rumeau Yoan, La grotte de Gargas. Un siècle de découvertes, Édition Communautés de Communes du Canton de Saint-Laurent-de-Neste, 2007, 128 pages.