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2010-08-26 03:06:34   •   ID: 1001

Abri Lartet and the Vallon de Gorge d'Enfer (Dordogne; France)

Figure 1
These are four artifacts from the early Aurignacian, found at the Abri Lartet (Gorge-d'Enfer) near Les Eyzies in the Vezere Valley: a Double Endscraper, a carinated scraper combined with a burin, a double endscraper and a large (10 cm long) burin.

All artifacts are made on thick blades from local flint and from unipolar cores- very typical for an early Aurignacian in the greater Aquitaine. The tools come from strata dated around 35-32 k.a BP (Pre–AMS bulk samples). Maybe they are about 40 k.a. Old (using calibration, pretreatment protocolls and a Baysian Approach).

The Vallon de Gorge d'Enfer is a small valley, originating from the right bank of the Vézère, about 1.5 km north of Les Eyzies, between the Rock of Tayac and the site of Laugerie-Basse.

Several rock-shelters and caves occupy the rocky Terraces of the Gorge-d'Enfer Valley.

Within the Small Valley there are a total of seven well-known Paleolithic sites, with rich Paleolithic findings, spanning a time-frame from the Châtelperronian to the late Magdalenian. Some Middle Paleolithic tools were found in the debris from the early excavations, but they are rare.

Unfortunately these sites were excavated to „early“ - during the infancy of Palaeolithic research...

It is of interest that almost no Mousterian tools are known from Gorge-d‘Enfer valley, in contrast to the diachronic settlement systems of other tributaries of the Vezere (for example the Beune rivers-see 1418 and the Castelmerle valley-see 1358 ). The causes for this observation remain unknown.- Stuff for later research...

Coming from the Vézère side and following the course of the valley, the abris Pasquet: (Early Aurignacian), du Poisson: (Early Aurignacian and Gravettian) and the Abri Lartet with Châtelperronian and Early Aurignacian are on the righthand side.

Figure 2
Figure 2 (Abri Poisson) with friendly permission from donsmaps. 2008.

The L'Abri Poisson shelter was discovered in 1892 by Paul Girod, and dates from the Aurignacian. In 1912 Jean Marsan identified the fish carved in the ceiling of a small abri that made the site famous.

1.05 m long, it is etched and carved in low relief on the ceiling of the vault, enhanced with red pigment. This salmon's attitude is characteristic of a male exhausted by spawning.

The theme is rare since only ten fish have been identified in the Paleolithic cave art. The attribution of these works to the Gravettian is probable
(D. Hitchcock 2012).“

The lithics are characterized by Gravettian artifacts: Gravettes, backed lamelles, Flechettes, burins on truncation and Noailles burins- certainly a mix of non recognized multiple strata.

Also, on the right side is the Grand Abri, an immense, almost 40 meters long, 30 meters deep and with a height of 15 meters, the largest site of the Vallon de Gorge d'Enfer (Magdalenian), heavily destroyed since 1793.

These destructions took place because abundant accumulations of fossilized bones in cave fillings had been recognized as phosphate sources for the production of gunpowder during the French revolution...

The end of the valley is bifurcated with the emptied L'Abri de Bil-bas, the Grotte d'Abzac (Magdalenian and the famous double phallus on a bâton percé) and the Grotte d'Oreille d'Enfer (Traces of early Aurignacian and an abundant Noaillian).

The age of several engravings from the Grotte d'Oreille d'Enfer remains unclear. From a stylistically view, the herbivores, that were depicted, point to be pre-Magdalenian age.

Figure 3
Coming back to Abri Lartet, also called the “petite grotte de Gorge d`Enfer”, it is of historical importance, because it was the first Rock-shelter excavated by Lartet and Christy in 1863 during their first campaign in the Vezere valley (Figure 3. from Lartet and Christy; Reliquiae Aquitanicae).

Further, non-documented excavations, took place until D. Peyrony excavated the site with a scientific approach and established a final stratigraphy. 

A Châtelperronien is followed by an Aurignacien I (Aurignacien ancien with split-based spear points).

In my view the valley offers great potential for up-to-Date excavations, similar to the Castelmerle area, especially for the evaluation of the early Aurignacian in the Aquitaine.

Suggested Reading and Surf the Blog

Le Paléolithique supérieur en Périgord, Bordeaux, Delmas, 1960. (Figure 3: Seminal work, very rare and a "must" for every Scientist and Collector!)

L'affaire de l'abri du poisson ,patrie et préhistoire Randall White Éditions Fanlac 2007

Surf the Blog-see here 1717 , here 1703 , here: 1483 , here: 1457 and here 1687

First Publication of this post: 2011; Major Revision 25/09/2019

Provenance: Collection Van der Keulen (BE)