Cave of the Trois-Frères

Coordinates: 43°1′52″N 1°12′30″E / 43.03111°N 1.20833°E / 43.03111; 1.20833
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Cave of the Trois-Frères
Grotte des Trois-Frères
Entrance to the Grotte du Tuc d'Audoubert, 1912
Cave of the Trois-Frères is located in France
Cave of the Trois-Frères
location in France
Alternative nameLes Trois Frères
RegionAriège, southwestern France
Coordinates43°1′52″N 1°12′30″E / 43.03111°N 1.20833°E / 43.03111; 1.20833
Typelimestone karst cave complex
Part ofThree cave-complex
Periodslate Upper Paleolithic, 13,000 BC
Associated withPaleo Humans
Site notes
ArchaeologistsHenri Breuil

The Cave of the Trois-Frères is a cave in southwestern France famous for its cave paintings. It is located in Montesquieu-Avantès, in the Ariège département. The cave is named for three brothers (French: trois frères, pronounced [tʁwa fʁɛʁ]), Max, Jacques, and Louis Begouën, who, along with their father Comte Henri Begouën [fr], discovered it in 1914.[1] The drawings of the cave were made famous in the publications of the Abbé Henri Breuil. The cave art appears to date to approximately 13,000 BC.[2]


Sketch of Breuil's "The Sorcerer"
Drawing of the cave cricket engraving

One of the paintings, known as "The Sorcerer", is the "most famous and enigmatic human figure" with the features of several different animals, whose exact characteristics remain a matter of debate.[3]

Engravings featuring what appear to be several birds and a cave cricket were found on a fragment of bison bone at the junction of Trois-Frères with the Grotte d'Enlène. The grasshopper was portrayed with such fidelity that the insect's species has been determined.[4][citation needed] It is thought to be the earliest known representation of an insect.[5]

A variety of engraved animals are found on the cave walls, including lions, owls, and bison. Of particular note is a horse overlaid with claviform (club-like) symbols,[6] and an apparently speared brown bear vomiting blood.[7]

Aside from the "Sorcerer", other human-like figures can be seen at Trois-Frères, such as the man-bison, and a character known as the "small sorcerer" who appears to be playing a nose-flute.[5] Also of interest is an etched representation of a 59 cm long phallus that follows the contours of the cave walls.[8]

Tuc d'Audoubert[edit]

Clay sculpted bison from Trois Frères (facsimile)

The Trois-Freres cave is part of a single cave-complex formed by the Volp River. The complex is divided into three caves; the central Trois-Freres, Enlène (French pronunciation: [ɑ̃lɛn]) to the east, and the Tuc d'Audoubert (pronounced [tyk dodubɛʁ]) to the west.

The Tuc d'Audoubert was discovered by the three teenage brothers in 1912. The galleries are situated on three levels; the River Volp flows through the lowest, the middle contains decorated galleries known as the La Salle Nuptiale (The Bridal Room) and La Galerie des Gravures (The Gallery of Engravings), while the upper has further decoration in La Chatière and Salle des Talons (Hall of Claws) and finishes in the Salle des Bisons (Hall of Bisons).[9] In 2013 the Tracking in Caves project tested experience based reading of prehistoric footprints by specialised trackers of Ju/'hoansi San with great success.[10]

The Salle des Bisons contains two masterfully modeled bison, which were sculpted in clay with a stone spatula-like tool and the artist's fingers. The pair are among the largest and finest surviving prehistoric sculptures.[11]


  1. ^ "Young Folks Find Cave Art". The Independent Record. August 15, 1957. p. 12. Retrieved November 13, 2021 – via
  2. ^ "Trois Freres". Encyclopedia britannica. Retrieved December 27, 2016.
  3. ^ "Trois Freres Cave, Ariege: Sorcerer Rock Engraving". Visual-arts-cork com. Retrieved December 27, 2016.
  4. ^ Connell, Evan (2001). "Olduval & All That". The Aztec Treasure House. Washington, D.C.: Counterpoint. p. 37. ISBN 1-58243-162-0.
  5. ^ a b Bégouën H., 1929: À propos de l'idée de fécondité dans l'iconographie préhistorique, Bulletin de la Société préhistorique française, 26, 3, pp 197–199.
  6. ^ Sieveking, A., 1979: Cave Artists (Ancient Peoples and Places)
  7. ^ Breuil H., 1930: Un dessin de la grotte des Trois frères (Montesquieu-Avantès) Ariège, Comptes rendus des séances de l'Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, 74e année, N. 3, 1930. pp. 261–264.
  8. ^ Bégouën E., Bégouën M., 2013a: Découverte d'un grand phallus gravé magdalénien dans la grotte des Trois-Frères (Ariège), Bulletin de la Société Préhistorique Française, Tome 110, numéro 1, janvier-mars 2013, p. 127–129.
  9. ^ Bégouën R., Clottes J., 1991: Portable and Wall Art in the Volp Caves, Montesquieu-Avantès (Ariège), Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society, 57, pp 65-79.
  10. ^ "'Tracking in caves': On the trail of pre-historic humans -- ScienceDaily". sciencedaily. Retrieved February 4, 2017.
  11. ^ Kleiner, Fred (2009). Gardner's Art through the Ages: The Western Perspective, Volume 1. p. 36. ISBN 978-0495573609.

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