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K. Kris Hirst

Reassessing Abri Castanet

By May 14, 2012

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An article in PNAS published on May 14, 2012, describes a fundamental reassessment of the Upper Paleolithic Aurignacian site of Abri Castanet, in the Dordogne region of France, which pushes the date of its artwork back to among the earliest known in the world, about 37,000 years ago.

Abri Castanet, France
Cave entrance of Abri Castanet; photo by Père Igor

Abri Castanet was first excavated by pioneer French archaeologist Denis Peyrony in the early decades of the 20th century, and then reopened in the 1990s by Jean Pelegrin and Randall White. Peyrony was convinced that he had identified two separate occupations--an Early Aurignacian one and a Middle Aurignacian one--and in the Middle Aurignacian level he discovered evidence of cave art, specifically animal and abstract vulvar (female sexual organs) representations carved into fragments of the ceiling.

What White's latest research has shown, at least according to the excavators, is that the site has no Middle Aurignacian component to it: all of the artifacts and art date instead to the Early Aurignacian. Abri Castanet's art work is thus similarly dated to that of the marvelous paintings of Chauvet Cave, also in the Dordogne in the Ardache Ardèche valley of France, and, if White and his team are correct, Abri Castanet's art is among the earliest known cave art in the world.


May 15, 2012 at 8:15 pm
(1) Mary Shipp says:

You might want to make a simple correction in the article about Abri Castanet. It is in the Dordogne. Chauvet is in the Ardache, which is over near the Rhone, not “also in the Dordogne” as you state. It’s properly located in the article about Chauvet, but misplaced in the article about Abri Castanet. There’s quite a bit of real estate in between.

Otherwise — what a great discovery and re-evaluation.

May 15, 2012 at 8:37 pm
(2) Kris Hirst says:

Thanks, Mary! Tsk– I’ve got to stop relying on my memory for these things. I’ll change it right away…

May 16, 2012 at 3:34 am
(3) Simon says:

Actually Chauvet cave is in the valley of the Ardèche, not “ardache”.

May 16, 2012 at 7:09 am
(4) Kris Hirst says:

Ay ay ay! (blush)

Thanks! Kris

May 17, 2012 at 8:29 am
(5) Massy Biagio says:

That is really interessant. The retro-datation of Our civilization is a very interresting thkng, more time and more discovery, good thing

May 17, 2012 at 6:50 pm
(6) Stosh says:

How about showing here some of the ancient paintings and any other art in that cave?

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