Nouvelle Aquitaine Section

Combarelles Cave - Vezere Valley - Dordogne

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Combarelles Cave, Les Eyzies de Tayac

Combarelles Cave is situated at the confluence of the Petite Beune and Grande Beune Rivers, along the D47 road that leads to Sarlat-la-Canéda.

Locals had always been aware of the cave 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!

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 the 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 indeed discovered 109 representations of various animals species.

Located 125m from the cave entrance, they stretch over 100m.

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

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

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, ans 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.

Prehistoric tools found in Combarelles

A sophisticated level of artistic skills

Traces of pigments indicate that these engravings were originally painted.

Among the most intriguing engravings are those of four horses.

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

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

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 Combarelles.

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 still remains a major mystery to the experts.

No one to this day can indeed explain how and why it suddenly appeared and disappeared just as suddenly!

The only clue they left are these magnificent caves!

UNESCO listed the Combarelles Cave as a World Heritage Site in 1979.

Tips: Les Combarelles Cave is open to the public with prior booking, 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.

Department of Dordogne - Les Eyzies de Tayac Sireuil
Coordinates: Lat 44.936085 - Long 1.017341

Photos via Wikimedia Commons: header - Prehistoric tools - Animals - mammoth
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