Gravettian Painting and Associated Activity at le Moulin De Laguenay (Lissac-Sur-Couze, Correze)

By Melard, Nicolas; Pigeaud, Romain et al. | Antiquity, September 2010 | Go to article overview
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Gravettian Painting and Associated Activity at le Moulin De Laguenay (Lissac-Sur-Couze, Correze)

Melard, Nicolas, Pigeaud, Romain, Primault, Jerome, Rodet, Joel, Antiquity



If the excavation of caves with paintings is relatively rare, the reason is simple: decorated caves that also have intact deposits, such as the cave of Fontanet or the Reseau Rene Clastres in the Ariege (Clottes 1993), are hard to find. Many discoveries of cave art were fortuitous--made by inexperienced people, including children, untrained amateurs or treasure hunters--and investigations of the site did not necessarily follow. More recently a series of important sites has been discovered not only featuring cave art but with substantial deposits which have remained intact since the departure of the people of the Upper Palaeolithic. Examples from France are Cosquer (Bouches-du-Rhone; Clottes & Courtin 1994; Clottes et al. 2005), Chauvet (Ardeche; Clottes 2001; Geneste 2005), Cussac (Dordogne; Aujoulat et al. 2002) and Vilhonneur (Charente; Airvaux et al. 2006; Henry-Gambier et al. 2007). Examples from Spain are found in the caves of El Miron (Cantabria; Gonzalez Morales & Straus 2009), La Fuente del Salin (Cantabria; Moure Romanillo & Gonzalez Morales 1992), La Garma (Cantabria; Arias Cabal et al. 1996), La Vina (Asturias; Fortea Perez 1995) and Tito Bustillo (Asturias; Balbin Behrmann et al. 2003). Whenever opportunity offered, i.e. when a sterile layer sealed the Palaeolithic occupation layer, excavations were carried out at right angles to the decorated walls; this was the case in the caves of Enlene in the Ariege (Begouen et al. 1996), Cougnac in the Lot (Lorblanchet 1994) and the Grande Grotte of Arcy-sur-Cure in Burgundy (Baffler & Girard 1998).

These investigations have led to new thinking about how decorated caves were used (cf. Lorblanchet 1994). The objective is to determine precisely the activities which took place before, during and after the episodes of ornamentation, while avoiding the pitfalls of over-interpreting ritual activity (Pigeaud 2005a & b, 2007). It is of course highly likely that the underground space of decorated caves was sacred, but we shall never be able to prove it. It is therefore necessary to remain aware of all the possibilities for explanation offered by the archaeological data. Not everything is ritual in a decorated cave, but neither is everything functional. Any person in the Upper Palaeolithic who entered a decorated cave would have known that there were images on the walls, and these would have influenced their behaviour, whether consciously or not. It is up to us to identify what may have been the product of a symbolic activity or the result of an ephemeral or even frivolous gesture.

We present here a study of the decorated cave of the Moulin de Laguenay (Lissac-sur-Couze, Correze), a very specific case, which, in our opinion, does much to advance this debate.


The cave of Le Moulin de Laguenay is located south of Brive-la-Gaillarde (Correze), in the parish of Lissac-sur-Couze in south-western France (Figure 1). The cave is narrow and runs about 35m in a north-westerly direction (Figure 2). The entrance area has collapsed: the current entrance is a small slit, some 0.5m in diameter, opening onto rubble consisting of large blocks (Couchard et al. 1984). Beyond this heap of rubble, the fill follows a slight incline towards the back of the cave, where the vault is 6m wide and about 3.5m high. The cave continues as an inaccessible low conduit. The best preserved images (five) are to be found at the back of the cave, in a kind of oval measuring 2m in length and 1.5m in width (Figure 3). A zone of red dots applied by blowing occupies a central position on the ceiling (Figure 4) and two negative hand stencils are located opposite this zone: hand no. 1 points along its length and hand no. 2 along its width (Figure 5).



Between 2002 and 2005, a 6[m.sup.2] sondage located at right angles to the zone of red dots and negative hand stencil no.

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Gravettian Painting and Associated Activity at le Moulin De Laguenay (Lissac-Sur-Couze, Correze)


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