Rouffignac Caves - History and Facts | History Hit

Rouffignac Caves

Fleurac, New Aquitaine, France

The Rouffignac Caves house a myriad of Palaeolithic paintings and are part of the UNESCO listed region of the Vézère Valley.

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About Rouffignac Caves

The Rouffignac Caves (Grotte de Rouffignac) stretch for eight kilometres near Les Eyzes, southwest France and contain a huge array of Stone Age cave paintings, primarily of mammoths.

Rouffignac Caves history

The Rouffignac caves has been known of since the fifteenth century, when clay was extracted from it. Writes and travellers from centuries ago commented in their memoirs about the caves and the fascinating images on the walls inside them.

In the late 1940’s, a group of cavers explored the galleries and noticed several images, but they didn’t realise these images were Palaeolithic. On 26 June 1956, Romain Robert, Louis-René Nougier, with Charles and Louis Plassard visited the cave and realised the archaeological value of the site. Then abbé Henri Breuil authenticated the images as Palaeolithic works on 17 July 1956.

It is thought that prehistoric man decorated the walls some 15,000 years ago, and that before this time, the caves were a hibernation spot for bears, which left their marks at the site in the forms of gouges and nests. Prehistoric artists drew and engraved 260 representations of bison, horses, ibexes and woolly rhinoceroses, as well as no fewer than 160 mammoths.

Rouffignac Caves today

The Rouffignac caves are home to over a hundred engravings and line-drawings of mammoths earning it the nickname of the “cave of a hundred mammoths”. Representations of mammoths are considered to be quite rare in prehistoric art with depictions of bison and horses remaining much more common. There are drawing of these animals to – roughly 100 or so.

Much of this historic site can be accessed via an electric train. The train stops at various points along the cave for visitors to get off and admire close up the drawings and engravings. The highlight is the “Great Ceiling” decorated with 65 animal figures. As well as mammoths there are horses, bison and ibex and even a rhinoceros, very rare in pre-historic art.

Another highlight is the ten mammoths frieze, which as its name suggests is a line of ten mammoths. The ‘statue’ outside is a representation of one of the best individual engravings – that of an old mammoth with very long tusks.

The Rouffignac Caves form part of the UNESCO World Heritage site of the cave paintings of the Vézère Valley.

Getting to Rouffignac Caves

The French cave of Rouffignac cave is located in the Dordogne near Rouffignac-Saint-Cernin-de-Reillac and Les Eyzies-de-Tayac. This extensive cave network is situated on a forested limestone plateau, with its three entrances in the Labinche valley. The entrance today is almost certainly the one used during the Palaeolithic.

The nearest train staion to the town of Les Eyzies-de-Tayac is Gare des Eyzies, roughly a 5 to 6 hour train journey away from Paris.

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