In the Ardèche, the majority of Palaeolithic sites are in the south east part of the department. This distribution extends to the south in the Gard, where it is primarily limited to the limestone areas where karstic cavities are found (gorges of the Ardèche, the Cèze and the Gardon), and to the Rhône valley with the fluvial terraces and the loess deposits. For the early Upper Palaeolithic, there is a clear contrast between this bank of the Rhône and the other, which is practically empty, an observation also valid for some animal species such as the mammoth.
Regarding the Aurignacian, between 43,000 and 35,000 years ago, the archaeological record from habitations is relatively poor in the Ardèche (Abri des Pécheurs, Grotte du Figuier) while appearing more abundant in the Languedoc (La Salpétrière, La Balauzière, Esquicho-Grapaou, La Laouza etc.). The same applies to the sites of the early phases of the Gravettian. During climatic fluctuations, and unlike the deep caves such as Chauvet, the porch and shelter fills seem to have better recorded the cold episodes than the humid phases.
The decorated caves
To date, 20 decorated caves are indexed in the gorges of the Ardèche and nearby; in other words as far as the valley of the Gardon (Baume-Latrone). This group includes several important caves (Ebbou, Oulen, Émilie etc.) which are not precisely dated and were judged to be of secondary importance until the discovery of the Chauvet Cave.