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The Sorcerer’s cave in Saint-Cirq-du-Bugue (Dordogne, France): new readings. Report of the 2010 and 2011 campaigns

Romain Pigeaud, Florian Berrouet, Estelle Bougard, Hervé Paitier, Vincent Pommier and Pascal Bonic
p. 223-248
This article is a translation of:
La grotte du sorcier à Saint-Cirq-du-Bugue (Dordogne, France) : nouvelles lectures. Bilan des campagnes 2010 et 2011

Abstract

Two main reasons have led us to start again the study of the Sorcerer’s cave in Saint-Cirq-du-Bugue (Dordogne): first of all the real progress existing in recent years in the means available for the study of prehistoric parietal art, which had not been applied to the site; and secondly the discovery of vandalism on some of the art, which needed to be assessed precisely. The new campaign of tracings, as well as the attention given to understanding the making of the engravings in connection with the underground relief shapes allowed a better apprehension of the artists’ environment at the time of the making of the works of art, together with a more precise idea of the gestures and techniques used. Furthermore, during our first campaign in the autumn 2010, we were able to carry out a full topographic coverage of the cave associated with a precise sizing of all the engravings, in view of the future making of a digital site model. On most of the engravings studied up to date, it was possible to precise some of the ancient lines, to identify the position of the modern lines and to record the effects of the degradation agents associated to a rock support that is especially fragile in places. The main figure of the cave, the human ithyphallic figure, was newly interpreted (especially its head), which allowed us to underline the engraving of an equine whose back leg is partially superimposed to the engraving of the Sorcerer’s sex. The new engraving of a horse, up to date unnoticed, was also discovered. Finally, in the course of our investigations, it appeared essential to study the whole of the engravings as belonging to one composition stretched around a large fissure on the vault ‒ showing how important the natural shapes of the rock surfaces are in the organisation of the representations ‒ as well as to rethink the making of the decoration as the superimposition of drawings from different time periods.

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Editor's notes

With the cooperation of Marie-Dominique PINEL, Marie-Laure LATREILLE et Alice REDOU.

Full text

Introduction 

1The Sorcerer’s cave in the village of Saint-Cirq-du-Bugue is located a few kilometres downriver from Les Eyzies village in the direction of Le Bugue, just before Bara-Bahau, the last decorated cave in the vicinity of the Vézère River (Delluc and Delluc 2009). This partially filled-in cave has been used as a troglodyte habitation like so many other caves and cliffs in the Perigord. It opens to the Southeast in a Coniacian limestone (Aujoulat 2006). The cave roughly makes a rectangle 5 to 6 m wide and 13 m long. In the deep part of the cave, the rocky floor has been lowered by more than one meter in order to permit tourists to access the space - the “trench” allows contemplating the engravings on the vault from a sufficient distance. A 0.50 m to 1.50 m wide fissure runs on the ceiling of the cave from the entrance towards the back. It certainly played a role, at a topographic level, in the ornamentation of the cave (Delluc et Delluc 1984).

  • 1 This author has often been blamed for a lack of rigor and a capacity to inflate unwisely the number (...)
  • 2 Site Internet : www.grottedusorcier.com

2The prehistoric representations were discovered on May 22nd, 1952 by Noël Brousse, then the property owner of and a cousin of the prehistorian Séverin Blanc. The cave was classified as a Historical Monument on November 19th, 1958. Several studies were conducted: a preliminary study by A. Glory was partially published (Blanc 1955); a series of tracings by L. Dams (1980) offer a nearly exhaustive vision of the engraved lines and the bumps on the walls but must be taken with caution1; finally a scientific and documented study carried out by B. and G. Delluc (Delluc et al. 1987) led to the publication of the first monograph about the cave, in the form of an article. We can also mention a climatological study carried out in the 1970s by J. Brunet and P. Vidal (1978). In 1966, casts made on April 12th and 13th by André Glory’s team significantly damaged the rock surfaces and made them, in places, waterproof (Delluc et al. 1987 - p. 380). The Sorcerer’s Cave is private property and has been open to the public since the 1970s2.

A new campaign of study of the Sorcerer’s cave

  • 3 We are using this term, already seen several times in the present work, with purpose as operating o (...)

3In 2009, one of us (RP) was called by the present owner, Jean-Max Touron, to inventory the engraved representations and check the state of the cave walls. The cave itself is not very deep and the decorated areas are close to the outside where they potentially remain at the mercy of various types of alterations. We then highlighted some erosion of the wall from alteration agents (Aujoulat 2006) as well as a few acts of vandalism3 that have harmed the integrity of the figures (see below). Thus the aim of the 2010 and 2011 campaigns was to focus first of all on the state of conservation of the engravings and on the possible threats to which they were exposed. Then, from the careful deciphering of the tracings done by B. and G. Delluc, it seemed judicious to reposition precisely the decoration with regard to the shapes of the relief and the volumes around which the representations seem to be organised. Thus, we follow the heart of the current reflection about the reading and analysis of parietal art in relation with the obvious role of the physical surroundings in the making of the drawings and the “mental landscape” of Palaeolithic people. Our final aim is to offer in the near future a digital terrain model (Malaurent et al. 2005) and a virtual copy in three dimensions in order to study the decoration mode of the cave and the evolution of its wall surfaces. Finally, thanks to new types of lighting and to very high definition photographs we were able to decipher and explain some unknown engravings, in general difficult to read because of an altered surface state or the necessity of choosing an especially appropriate angle of lighting to see them.

4The final aims that motivated resuming the study of the Sorcerer’s cave engravings were

  1. Checking the sanitary state of the walls ( data that can change quickly)

  2. Determining the intensity of the damage (natural and anthropic) and their impact

  3. Positioning precisely the graphic units in the space of the cave and in relation to each other

  4. Providing new tracings – whether of new representations, with the aim of ameliorating current details or offering other readings than the ones accepted to date.

5We are not pretending at this stage to have an exhaustive inventory of the engraved panels, but we wish to offer a progress report.

6Three elements guided our analysis:

  1. An attempt to apprehend the technical gestures used by the Prehistoric artists

  2. The relation of these artists with the rock surface, and finally

  3. The impact of modern damage that affects some engravings and influences the image the prehistorian has of these multi-millenary representations.

7In the previous stage of research (Delluc et al. 1987), twenty-eight representations were inventoried, mostly figurative, thus described (fig. 1): 5 horses, 1 bison, 1 bovidae, 2 ibexes, 4 indeterminate animals, 4 anthropomorphs (the Sorcerer, two human heads and a schematic female figure), 9 signs, 2 isolated lines. G. Bosinski and J.-P. Duhard both recently spotted new representations. They are in the process of publishing these themselves. At the end of the 2009, 2010 and 2011 campaigns, we have discovered several new engravings (which are not all described in the present article). In what follows, the figures are not described in the order of the inventory.

Methodology: techniques applied in 2009-2010-2011

Sectorisation

  • 4 We will recall here that a panel is, according to the definition of G. Sauvet (1988, p. 5) a “plast (...)

8For the purpose of our study, the cave was divided in sectors (figs. 2 and 5) in 2009 and the decorated rock faces subdivided into panels to clarify the description4.

Use of the casts

  • 5 The figures numbered from A to J are additional figures only offered in the online version of the a (...)

9So as to spend as little time as possible inside the cave during the project, we started working on the four casts kept in the small site museum (fig. 3). These were made by R. David in the 1970s upon request of Professor H. de Lumley on the original casts of Abbot Glory (David, personal communication 16th November 2010). Therefore they are not a positive cast done on the first casting of 1966 of which quality and precision could have diminished after several castings, nor an unauthorised cast done after 1966. Their precision is thus remarkable, a fact we could check in front of the originals inside the cave. We preferred working with these casts rather than with the Glory casts kept in the Institut de Paléontologie Humaine in Paris as they were on site and readily usable. Comparing the volume of the casts with the corresponding areas in the cave confirmed that the bluish layer that covers the wall in places (fig. A5) corresponds to the surface on which the casting chemical was spread in 1966. Strangely, a non-engraved surface in the cave is also covered with this thin bluish layer. This may indicate the traces of a test done before the main casting to make sure the wall surface would not be endangered. The blue colour likely appeared later- no doubt if it had been visible instantaneously, the casters would have halted their work.

10Working on the casts thus reduced our time of presence inside the cave and in front of the most fragile surfaces. This also allowed us to study the drawings in a more comfortable manner and to vary the lighting angle at will.

Tracing method

Figure 1 - Currently known representations in the Sorcerer’s cave (after Delluc et al. 1987).

Figure 1 - Currently known representations in the Sorcerer’s cave (after Delluc et al. 1987).

Figure 2 - General view of the cave and sectorisation (photo H. Paitier 2009).

Figure 2 - General view of the cave and sectorisation (photo H. Paitier 2009).

11We chose the method of tracing over photographs.

12The photographic record was compiled in three separate events. The first photographs were taken on the casts. The light was rotated all around the four casts so as to underline as many engravings as possible. A photograph was taken every 30° of minimal rotation, which gives 12 different lightings for each cast (fig. 4) and emphasises all the lines perpendicular to the axis of the artificial light.

13A second series of photographs was taken inside the cave with the help of fluorescent lighting, of separate engravings or panels. In this instance the choice of where to place the light source became much more difficult because of the layout of the cave. The combination of several images of the same figure created representations of the engravings in great detail. With varying position of the light, multitudes of lines would appear giving the impression of superimposed images which are chronologically difficult to interpret.

14The third series concentrated on the Sorcerer’s panel. An aluminium railing was installed on which the camera could slide. Taking this series emphasised the problem of the focusing distance. The distance to the subject must be almost the same to reduce distortions; this worked particularly well for the Sorcerer’s panel but several scans were necessary depending on the distance to the cave wall. Various orientations of the light sources have shown extremely complex engravings. An added difficulty was the fact that the rock wall reflected light poorly, which forced us to take longer exposures than in other caves. Indeed, the rock is dark blue grey, blackened by soot (the cave served as a habitation at different time periods: Delluc et al. 1987) and by time, with flaked off areas appearing in bright orange yellow. These differences in colour and reflection made it compulsory to double each photograph (bracketing) in order to keep detail on the entire surface. A smaller lighting system will have to be used in the future on some figures or in some small recesses.

Surveying

15On November 23rd and 24th, 2010, one of us (VP), assisted by M.-D. Pinel from the “Service Régional d’Archéologie” (SRA) of Brittany surveyed the cave and precisely recorded the position of the representations. With the authorisation of the SRA, three new fixed topographic points were put up in the entrance wall and the modern constructions as well as in the bedrock in Sector I. They were used for precise triangulation. This meticulous topography was necessary, especially for the purpose of obtaining a digital terrain model of the cave. Mp cover, it a not very deep and the de
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            Notes

            1 This author has often been blamed for a lack of rigor and a capacity to inflate unwisely the numbers of the inventories (Clottes et al. 1981; Clottes 1998; Dams and Dams 1979), a fact we were able to check in the Mayenne-Sciences (Mayenne, France), Nerja and La Pileta (Andalusia, Spain) caves as well as in the Sorcerer’s. L. Dams has often interpreted natural relief and mistaken them for Palaeolithic drawings. Even so, we decided, in opposition of B. and G. Delluc (1987, note 6, p. 393), to take her tracings into account exactly because she traces everything on the rock wall without discriminating; this can help us spotting lines before deciding on a final designation.

            2 Site Internet : www.grottedusorcier.com

            3 We are using this term, already seen several times in the present work, with purpose as operating on a rock wall classified as a Historical Monument and registered as a UNESCO World Heritage site is an offence, whatever the original intentions of the person may be. See about this Coulson et al. 2011.

            4 We will recall here that a panel is, according to the definition of G. Sauvet (1988, p. 5) a “plastic body of work (painting, engraving, sculpture, modelage) identifiable by its physical limits”. These limits are fissures or the limits of the relief.

            5 The figures numbered from A to J are additional figures only offered in the online version of the article.

            6 Semi-plane relief in S. Tymula’s terminology (Tymula 2002).

            7 This historical expression has been used in the case of horses “represented with straight [legs], stretched parallel two by two toward the front and the back, which gives the impression the animal does not touch the floor (although the latter is never represented)” (Le Quellec 2004). Therefore a sort of optical illusion that has become a descriptive term used by prehistorians and of which S. Reinach (1900) gave the definition: the horse is thus “completely detached from the floor […], the hooves turned toward the outside, their bases being more or less vertical compared to the ground line, instead of merging with it”; thus the horse appears “very close to the ground, instead of being further from it than in the other speeds”.

            8 The Coniacian limestone is easy to work once ridden of its upper layer (Tosello 1995; Pigeaud 1999).

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            List of illustrations

            Title Figure 1 - Currently known representations in the Sorcerer’s cave (after Delluc et al. 1987).
            URL http://journals.openedition.org/paleo/docannexe/image/2471/img-1.jpg
            File image/jpeg, 84k
            Title Figure 2 - General view of the cave and sectorisation (photo H. Paitier 2009).
            URL http://journals.openedition.org/paleo/docannexe/image/2471/img-2.jpg
            File image/jpeg, 736k
            Title Figure 3 - Casts of representations 25 to 27(top left), of Bison 15 (middle left), of representations 23 and 24 (bottom left), of the ‘Sorcerer’ 18 (on the right in the middle), made by R. David from Glory’s 1966 casts (photo H. Paitier).
            URL http://journals.openedition.org/paleo/docannexe/image/2471/img-3.jpg
            File image/jpeg, 7.3M
            Title Figure 4 - Cast of the ‘Sorcerer’. Plate showing the different visible engraved lines according to the direction of the light source as indicated by the red arrows (photos and photomontage H. Paitier).
            URL http://journals.openedition.org/paleo/docannexe/image/2471/img-4.jpg
            File image/jpeg, 8.6M
            Title Figure 5 - Position and altitude of the representations of the Sorcerer’s cave (survey V. Pommier and M.-D. Pinel).
            URL http://journals.openedition.org/paleo/docannexe/image/2471/img-5.jpg
            File image/jpeg, 124k
            Title Figure 6 - Bison 1. a. Analytic tracing (after Delluc et al. 1987). b. Tracing by Dams 1980. c. Photo H. Paitier. d. Analytic tracing. In red, modern tracings done with a charcoal crayon. In grey, medieval damage. In brown, the present-day wall (tracing by P. Bonic, CAD R. Pigeaud).
            URL http://journals.openedition.org/paleo/docannexe/image/2471/img-6.jpg
            File image/jpeg, 152k
            Title Figure 7 - Horse 2. a. Analytic tracing (after Delluc et al. 1987). b. Tracing by Dams 1980. c. Photo H. Paitier. d. Analytic tracing. In grey, removals of material from undetermined time period. Brown lines: grain of the stone. Red lines: modern tracings in charcoal crayon (tracing and CAD R. Pigeaud).
            URL http://journals.openedition.org/paleo/docannexe/image/2471/img-7.jpg
            File image/jpeg, 156k
            Title Figure 8 - Horse 8 and animal 9. Line 10. a. Analytic tracing (after Delluc et al. 1987). b. Tracing by Dams 1980.
            URL http://journals.openedition.org/paleo/docannexe/image/2471/img-8.jpg
            File image/jpeg, 108k
            Title Figure 9 - a. Photograph of horse 8(on the left) and animal 9 (on the right) (photo H. Paitier). b. Horse 8. Analytic tracing. The red lines indicate modern transformations (rounded abrasing as if a brush was used to clean the rock surface or erase traces, or linear abrasing or engraving, to trace a new head with its tuft and neck) (tracing E. Bougard). c. Undetermined animal 9. Analytic tracing. In grey: removals of material from undetermined time period. Brown lines: grain of the stone. Red lines: modern tracings. In yellow: recent torn-off areas (tracing by E. Bougard, CAD R. Pigeaud).
            URL http://journals.openedition.org/paleo/docannexe/image/2471/img-9.jpg
            File image/jpeg, 204k
            Title Figure 10 - Undetermined animal 9: detail photograph of the head outlined in white (photo H. Paitier, CAD A. Redou).
            URL http://journals.openedition.org/paleo/docannexe/image/2471/img-10.jpg
            File image/jpeg, 4.2M
            Title Figure 11 - Head 25, gynoid representation 26 and horse 27. a. Analytic tracing (after Delluc et al. 1987). b. Tracing by Dams 1980. c. photomontage H. Paitier. d. Analytic tracing: the black dotted lines show sketches of tracings. In red, the modern tracing. In grey dots, the limits of the gypsum deposits (tracing by F. Berrouet).
            URL http://journals.openedition.org/paleo/docannexe/image/2471/img-11.jpg
            File image/jpeg, 172k
            Title Figure 12 - Panel of the ‘Sorcerer’. a. First tracing of the ‘Sorcerer’ by André Glory (after Blanc 1955). b. Tracing by Dams 1980. c. Analytic tracing (after Delluc et al. 1987).
            URL http://journals.openedition.org/paleo/docannexe/image/2471/img-12.jpg
            File image/jpeg, 48k
            Title Figure 13 - a. First reconstituted strip of the panel of the ‘Sorcerer’ (photos and photomontage H. Paitier). b. Analytic tracing of the panel of the ‘Sorcerer’. The relief elements are in grey (tracing by R. Pigeaud, with the collaboration of F. Berrouet and E. Bougard).
            URL http://journals.openedition.org/paleo/docannexe/image/2471/img-13.jpg
            File image/jpeg, 880k
            Title Figure 14 - Panel of the ‘Sorcerer’. Analytic tracing. a. In yellow, torn-off areas of the wall. b. In blue, the limits of the gypsum deposits. c. Modern damage: in red, the new tracings; in brown, the traces of clay projections (blows with elbow or shoulder) (tracing by R. Pigeaud, with the collaboration of F. Berrouet and E. Bougard).
            URL http://journals.openedition.org/paleo/docannexe/image/2471/img-14.jpg
            File image/jpeg, 236k
            Title Figure 15 - Panel of the ‘Sorcerer’. a. b. c. d. Synthetic tracings showing the different steps of the making of the anthropomorph, established from studying the superposition of the engravings. e. Synthetic tracing showing the traced lines of horse E (tracings by R. Pigeaud, with the collaboration of F. Berrouet and E. Bougard)
            URL http://journals.openedition.org/paleo/docannexe/image/2471/img-15.jpg
            File image/jpeg, 112k
            Title Figure 16 - Panel of the ‘Sorcerer’. Detail of the phallus showing the two round-shaped hooves (photo H. Paitier).
            URL http://journals.openedition.org/paleo/docannexe/image/2471/img-16.jpg
            File image/jpeg, 844k
            Title Figure 17 - Representation 28, previously interpreted as an animal figuration. a. Analytic tracing (after Delluc et al. 1987), published with the inventory number 32. b. Tracing by Dams 1980, initially published back to front. c. Photo taken from another angle. Another reading is then possible (photo H. Paitier). d. Representation 28, interpreted as a schematic female figure, whose head could be figured by a concavity. The red dots indicate the limits of the gypsum deposits, the black dots the probable tracings (tracing byF. Berrouet and E. Bougard).
            URL http://journals.openedition.org/paleo/docannexe/image/2471/img-17.jpg
            File image/jpeg, 143k
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            References

            Bibliographical reference

            Romain Pigeaud, Florian Berrouet, Estelle Bougard, Hervé Paitier, Vincent Pommier and Pascal Bonic, « The Sorcerer’s cave in Saint-Cirq-du-Bugue (Dordogne, France): new readings. Report of the 2010 and 2011 campaigns », PALEO, 23 | 2012, 223-248.

            Electronic reference

            Romain Pigeaud, Florian Berrouet, Estelle Bougard, Hervé Paitier, Vincent Pommier and Pascal Bonic, « The Sorcerer’s cave in Saint-Cirq-du-Bugue (Dordogne, France): new readings. Report of the 2010 and 2011 campaigns », PALEO [Online], 23 | 2012, Online since 06 June 2013, connection on 12 December 2017. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/paleo/2471

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            About the authors

            Romain Pigeaud

            Auteur correspondant. Responsable d’opération - UMR 7194 du CNRS, département de préhistoire du Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle, Institut de Paléontologie Humaine, 1 rue René Panhard, 75013 Paris - romain.pigeaud@wanadoo.fr

            By this author

            Florian Berrouet

            29 rue Dongaitz anaiak, 64122 Urrugne - florian.berrouet@gmail.com

            Estelle Bougard

            Le Maillet, 24580 Fleurac - ebougard@live.com

            Hervé Paitier

            Inrap Grand Ouest, 37 rue du Bignon, CS 67737, 35577 Cesson-Sévigné cedex - herve-pierre.paitier@inrap.fr

            Vincent Pommier

            Inrap Grand Ouest, 37 rue du Bignon, CS 67737, 35577 Cesson-Sévigné cedex - vincent.pommier@inrap.fr

            Pascal Bonic

            Équipe spéléologique de l’ouest - martineetpascal@orange.fr

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