Combarelles Cave, Les Eyzies de Tayac

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Tools found in the Combarelles Cave

Combarelles Cave is situated in Les Eyzies-de-Tayac-Sireuil.

You’ll find it at the confluence of the Petite Beune and Grande Beune Rivers and along the D47, the road leading to Sarlat-la-Canéda.

Locals had always been aware of its existence.

They even built a farm against its entrance and converted it into a stable in order to farm their cattle.

The cave entrance was superficially excavated in 1892 after the discovery of various artifacts.

However, nobody was really interested in the Combarelles Cave until 1901, when the archaeologists Louis Capitan, Abbé Breuil and Denis Peyrony officially “discovered” it.

The old farmhouse now serves as a visitors centre.

A major Sanctuary of the Magdalenian Culture

The discovery of the Combarelles Cave was a major archaeological event!

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Sketch made during the initial excavations

It consists of two galleries.

The only gallery open to the public is a 240m long winding corridor.

Its height ranges from 50cm to 2m, and its width from 1m to 2m.

It contains between 600 and 800 engravings, whose remarkable quality reflects the high level of skills of the Cro-Magnon artists (14,000BP to 9,500BP).

This exceptional Cave Art brought international fame to Combarelles Cave.

It also earned it the epithet of major Sanctuary of the Magdalenian Culture.

An exceptional diverse bestiary

Dr. Capitan and the Abbé Breuil began their excavations in 1902.

They discovered 109 representations of various animals species; these are located 125m from the cave entrance and stretch over 100m.

Most are engravings of an exceptional finesse and precision; indeed, some are 4/5mm deep.

Combarelles Cave - Mammoth

Mammoth

The few drawings depict animals whose outlines were highlighted in black.

The Magdalenian artists represented horses alone or in groups, but also mixed with other animal species such as bison, mammoths, cave bears, cave lions, reindeer, ibex, rhinoceros and Bovidae.

An extremely diverse bestiary!

The animals are mainly depicted in life size; sometimes there is just the head .

However, they are always shown in profile, either at rest or walking and sometimes running.

The engravings are often intertwined and superimposed – a ritual context or simple lack of space?

However, they are still produced with a surprising degree of precision and realism that leave no doubt about the animals identification.

A sophisticated level of artistic skills

Traces of pigments indicate that the engravings were originally painted.

Among the most intriguing engravings are those of four horses.

These are represented with with animal skins on their back and lines that undoubtedly depict harnesses!

This clearly indicated that Cro-Magnon Men had domesticated horses!

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Entrance to the site

There is also a mammoth represented with signs (2 brackets inclined towards each other) on his flanks.

These signs could either be the seal of the artist or a seal of ownership?

Tools and weapons such as assegais and bone harpoons were also found in the Combarelles Cave.

Carbon dating of the bones established that the cave was occupied from around 13.680BP to 11.380 BP.

This dating is corroborated by the fact that ibex and reindeer disappeared from the region in the last phase of the Magdalenian epoch, and mammoths at an earlier stage, due to major climate changes.

However, Magdalenian Art remains a major mystery to the experts.

Indeed, no one to this day can explain how and why it suddenly appeared then disappeared just as suddenly?

The only clue they left are these magnificent caves!

Tips: Les Combarelles Cave is open to the public only by reservation, preferably online; however, the waiting list can be as long as 3 months during the holidays.

The other option is to queue at the ticket office of Font de Gaume Cave in town.

I would then recommended to arrive at least a couple of hours before opening hour in order to secure tickets for the day.

You can indeed only buy entrance ticket on the day.

Coordinates and map for Combarelles Cave: Lat 44.936085 – Long 1.017341

Photos via Wikimedia Commons: Prehistoric tools  and Combarelles  Attribution and license  –  Animal and mammoth are Public Domain