3D modelling

Process involving the recording and reconstruction of the third dimension in the form of computer graphics. For caves and archaeological sites, several methods are applied. The volumes are recorded by laser scanners or by cameras, or both. Whatever the method employed, it results in the creation of a digital model which can be used by scientists for research or to produce variations intended for the general public (virtual visits, facsimiles, immersive visits etc.).


The deliberate deformation of part of the body of an animal so that it can be seen in its correct proportions from a single viewpoint.

Anatomically modern people

Or Homo sapiens sapiens. Following the disappearance of the Neanderthal 25,000 years ago, it currently remains the only representative of the human species. It appeared in the Middle East 100,000 years ago and colonised Europe 60,000 years later.

It was long called Cro-Magnon Man, from the name of a rock shelter in the Dordogne where human remains similar to our anatomy were discovered in 1863. Today, this designation retains only a historical significance.


The interdisciplinary work of André Leroi-Gourhan on the anthropology of techniques, on prehistoric art and on experimentation in archaeological excavation methods is fundamental to contemporary prehistoric science.

He proposed a progressive chronology for Palaeolithic art, divided into four styles, from the simple to the complex, which was to remain the reference model until the discovery of the Chauvet Pont-d'Arc Cave. He was appointed Professor of the Chair of Prehistory at the Collège de France in 1969 and founded the Laboratory of Prehistoric Ethnology at the CNRS in 1975.

The contributions of structuralism

André Leroi-Gourhan defended the hypothesis of the iconography in the caves being organised according to spatial structuration. Thus, on the basis of the statistical analysis of the position of cave art representations, he described the figures at the entrance and in the depths of the cave, together with the central and peripheral figures in each panel. On the basis of these studies, he defined a recurring and fundamental male/female duality represented by the bison or aurochs and horse pairing. This theory deliberately rejected any magical or ritual interpretation of the cave art figures.


Anthracology is the study of the charcoal discovered either in an archaeological context or in natural sediments. Whether resulting from domestic hearths, the deliberate or accidental burning of wooden structures or from forest fires, these carbonised remains are examined under a microscope.

Each tree species has its own ligneous structure, enabling it to be identified. Analysing and interpreting this charcoal enables both the determination of the site vegetation during the period in which it was burned, and the use to which it was put by humans.


An action or phenomenon resulting from human intervention.


Name given to the branches of the horns of deer – male red deer and male and female reindeer. In Prehistory, deer antler – and particularly reindeer antler – was a favoured material for the manufacture of tools: spear points, harpoons, spear throwers etc.


Refers to the study of early plant remains (pollen, charcoal, tree sections, leaves, seeds or microscopic elements resulting from the decomposition of plants in the soil).

The archaeobotanist seeks to reconstruct the past landscape and to specify the relationships between humans and the plant world. 


Objects shaped or modified by humans.


A botanical genus of the Asteraceae family which includes herbaceous plants and shrubs that are generally aromatic and with pinnate leaves (occasionally palmate).


Culture from the start of the Upper Palaeolithic (43,000-35,000 years ago), the name of which comes from the small cave of Aurignac (Haute-Garonne). The extent of this culture in temporal and geographical terms (from Spain to the Russian steppes) represented by the last inhabitants of Europe (Homo sapiens sapiens) was very significant and involved a number of regional variations. The Aurignacian is divided into several stages, and is characterised by technical and symbolic innovations and ruptures and by radical new social developments in comparison to the preceding cultures (Middle Palaeolithic). These include in particular the emergence of cave and portable art, the development of the art of personal ornamentation, the diversification of flint tools and the production of weapons and tools from bone and antler.


A wild bovid (Bos primigenius), the ancestor of domestic cattle and which died out in the 17th century as a result of hunting.    


Culture from the late Upper Palaeolithic and the Epipalaeolithic (14,000-12,000 years ago) named after the deposit at Mas-d'Azil (Ariège), and systematically predating the Final Magdalenian. Its geographical extent in western Europe was very significant during the very late glacial (Alleröd and Dryas III). Azilian groups demonstrated great diversification on a regional scale in environments undergoing climatic and ecological change. The technical equipment is characterised by small end-scrapers, points with a curved backed edge (arrowheads) and flat harpoons made of red deer antler rather than reindeer antler. The portable art was dominated by pebbles painted and engraved with typologically simple geometrical motifs. A few simplified figurative representations have been found from the early phases of the Azilian.


Culture succeeding the Final Upper Solutrean and preceding the early Magdalenian (23,000-20,000 BC) which takes its name from the deposit of Badegoule (Dordogne). The cultural identity of the Badegoulian in relation to the early Magdalenian was definitively established by J. Allain during his excavations at the Abri Fritsch (Indre). Its extent (around 50 sites) was limited to the west of France and the north of Spain. From a technical and technological point of view, the Badegoulian is characterised by flake manufacturing, tools made on thick flakes and the working of reindeer antler by percussion, rather than by double-grooving, as in the Gravettian and Magdalenian. In the Middle and Upper Badegoulian, a specific type of scraper, called a raclette, is the typical tool type. No cave art has been identified and the portable art is very meagre.


Sculpture in which the relief represents less than half of the volume of the subject depicted.


Adjective describing hooves composed of two parts (hooves of cattle, deer, goats etc.).

Bone and antler tool techniques

The production of objects with utilitarian functions (tools, utensils, weapons) from hard animal materials (deer antler, bone, ivory). The methods for working these materials and the form of the object obtained varies between cultures.


Boucher de Perthes had a long career in administration before dedicating himself to the study of prehistory, of which he is considered one of the founding fathers.

Antediluvian humans

Boucher de Perthes has been named "the Father of Prehistory" for his work proving that humans existed in very early times and that they were contemporary with certain extinct animal species. These humans who predated the Flood are named "antediluvian", as is the art which they produced.

Humans in stratigraphy

Boucher de Perthes invented the principle of the age of different strata. Studying the different geological layers of a site make it possible to date the remains discovered and thus to establish a chronology, with the deepest layers being the oldest.


Before Present is used in archaeology and geology to refer to dates in comparison with the reference year of 1950. This date was chosen by the American Willard Frank Libby during the first carbon-14 dating trials, for which he was to receive the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1960


A term relating to deer hunting, designating a red deer or reindeer in the first year when its horns are not yet antlers, resembling instead a dagger.

Calibrated (dating)

For the last 50 years we have known that carbon 14 datings are significantly different from real ages, hence the need to correct them. Calibration curves are set up by comparing C-14 results to those obtained from the same carbonised samples by other dating methods (dendrochronology up to 12,000 years BP, the uranium/thorium method and counting lake varves for older datings). In 2009, the calibration curve was extended to 50,000 years. Datings from the early Palaeolithic can therefore be corrected and transcribed into our calendar. They are expressed in calBP or calBC, in the format of a period of time that takes the uncertainty of the measurement into account. Such "calibrated" dates are comparable to other results obtained from other dating methods (Uranium/Thorium, Thermoluminescence, Chlorine 36).

Carbon 14, radiocarbon

The carbon-14 (C-14) method is used on organic remains and carbonised bodies. While alive, these organisms have a constant level of carbon-14 due to constant exchanges with the atmosphere, and so they are slightly radioactive. When they die, the exchanges cease, there is no longer an addition of carbon-14, and the level then progressively decreases according to a known law. Measuring the residual level of carbon-14 in the sample enables the age of the sample to be deduced; this is the time elapsed since the death of the living organism. In the late 1970s, this dating method underwent a significant advance with the development of accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS). This technique employs a particle accelerator linked to mass spectrometers to isolate a set of carbon-14 atoms and to count the atoms individually in an ionisation chamber. The primary interest with AMS is that it makes it possible to date very small samples: less than a milligram of carbon is sufficient for an analysis, or around 1000 times less than for the classical dating method based on measuring beta radioactivity.

Cave art

Figurative or abstract design carried out on a non-mobile medium (cave wall).

Cave bear

The cave bear (Ursus spelaeus) is an extinct species which lived in Eurasia, where it appeared around 200,000 years ago. The cave bear owes its name to the discovery of its bones in underground environments in the late 18th century. Its remains are particularly abundant in these environments as a result of its prolonged occupation of caves in the cold season. Larger and more massive than the brown bear, the cave bear can also be distinguished by a very steep forehead, which gave it a stepped profile, together with a jaw with a rounded lower edge and an upward facing nasal opening.

Cave hyena

This animal (Crocuta crocuta spelaea) was related to the modern hyena but was more robust. Many examples of cave hyena dens have been discovered in rocky crevices or in caves in which there are abundant remains of the animals upon which they fed (sometimes including human remains). It disappeared from Western Europe in the Gravettian.

Cave lion

This extinct feline (Panthera leo spelaea) lived in Europe during the second half of the Pleistocene. Larger than the current lion, the males had no mane. It was named the cave lion because the remains of the animal discovered in the 19th century were essentially located in caves.


First culture of the Upper Palaeolithic, around 45,000 years  ago and characterised by the production of flint blades. Researchers do not agree as to whether this culture should be attributed to the Neandertal or to Homo sapiens.


Tuft of hair located between the horns of bison, very often represented by Palaeolithic artists using a variety of graphic techniques depending on the culture.


The Chlorine-36 (36Cl) dating method is used to date rock samples. Some isotopes (called cosmogenic nuclides) which do not exist naturally on Earth are produced as a result of the nuclear reaction between particles from cosmic radiation and atoms in the Earth's crust exposed to this radiation. The concentration of cosmogenic nuclides produced in rock (in situ) increase according to the duration of its exposure, which enables an estimation to be made of the length of time a sample has been exposed to cosmic radiation and thus how long it has been present on the Earth's surface. The development of accelerator mass spectrometry and improvements in its sensitivity have made it possible to measure very small concentrations of these nuclides which are produced on the surface of the Earth in very small numbers (a few atoms per year).

Chronostratigraphy (stratigraphic section)

A method intended to divide geological layers into units corresponding to time intervals, regardless of their mineral characteristics (colour, grain size, mineralogical composition, porosity etc.).


Hardened crust that forms on the surface of limestone.

Concretion, speleothem, stalactite, stalagmite, floor and stalagmitic mass

In a karstic area, concretions include all forms resulting from the precipitation of carbonates which have been dissolved and transported by water. The majority of these are composed of calcite or aragonite. Depending on their form and position, these are divided into stalactites, tubular stalactites, curtains, stalagmites, stalagmitic columns, stalagmitic masses, stalagmitic floors etc. The generic term for underground concretions is speleothem. In northern latitudes, concretions developed during climatic optimums (interstadial, interglacial, Holocene etc.). They can be dated by isotopic analysis (U/Th).


From the Greek kopros, "excrement", and lithos, "stone": fossilised excrement. Several coprolites of Canidae have been found in the Chauvet Cave. These have provided information about the presence dates, genome and diet of the animals.


A rocky surface that projects out of the vertical wall. 

Cosmogenic (dating)

Cosmogenic dating is a geochemical method using the production by cosmic rays  of rare isotopes (for example, of beryllium, chlorine etc), which accumulate in the crystalline network of the rock. The longer the exposure of the rock to the exterior, the greater the concentration of these isotopes in the rock. This method enables the dating of rocks exposed by erosion (collapse etc.).


Soils of cold regions where the lower part is permanently frozen and the upper part thaws every year. Particular plant species are associated with this type of soil.


Hollow, elliptical form located on the ceiling or wall of a cave, ranging in diameter from tens to hundreds of centimetres. These indicate a phase of excavation of the cave during a period in which it was flooded. The process of dissolution then took place around the entire circumference of the passage.


Small circular depression (a few centimetres in diameter, a few millilitres in depth) which may be of natural origin (frost or corrosion cupule) or anthropogenic (pecking).


Relating to hunting.


Sculpture in which the relief represents half of the volume of the subject depicted.


Designates a fracture in a rock in which there is no movement of one side in relation to the other. In limestone rocks, these may be enlarged by dissolution. At depth, they often guide the route taken by flows and underground passages.

DNA analyses

In archaeological samples, DNA is present in tiny quantities in the form of small fragments. To make it possible to analyse this material, the fragments are copied several million times using an enzyme. They are then subjected to a sequencing reaction, which determines the position of the different nucleotides (A, C, G and T) along the DNA chain.


The upper part of the tail. A term generally used for horses.

Double grooving

Technical process for the debitage of deer antler. Two parallel furrows are made along the length of the tine or the antler until the spongy tissue is reached. The stick is then extracted using a lever. This procedure appeared in the Gravettian.


Attracted at a very early age by the study of prehistory, Émile Cartailhac became a member of the Toulouse Society of Natural Archaeological Sciences at the age of 20. He was the first teacher of prehistoric archaeology at Toulouse. He became director of the Musée Saint-Raymond in Toulouse in 1912 and contributed to the creation of the Institut de Paléontologie humaine de Paris in 1920.

The authenticity of the art in decorated caves

Émile Cartailhac played an important role in the recognition of authenticity in Palaeolithic decorated caves. He was able to reconsider his position when confronted with new information. Thus, after a long period of reluctance, he ultimately authenticated the cave paintings in the Altamira cave in Spain, retracting his previous opinion in his text "Les cavernes ornées de dessins. La grotte d'Altamira. Mea Culpa d'un sceptique", published in 1902 and which remains famous to this day.


Fold of skin hanging beneath the neck of some animals (bison, reindeer, etc.).

Finger trace

Trace made with the fingers on plastic surfaces (clay, altered limestone etc.) to produce figurative or abstract motifs.

First radiocarbon datings (Chauvet)

The first radiocarbon datings (C-14) were obtained by accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) on samples taken in 1995 and 1996. The dates range between 31,900 ± 460 and 30,300 ± 570  years ago and relate to five different drawings rich in charcoal pigments and located in three adjacent chambers: the Hillaire Chamber for the two "fighting" rhinoceroses on the Panel of the Horses, dated respectively to 32,410 ± 720, 30,790 ± 600 (right-hand rhinoceros) and 30,940 ± 610 years ago (left-hand rhinoceros), and the Alcove of the Lions for the running cow, dated to 30,230 ± 530 years ago. The two other samples were taken from the large megaloceros located at the entrance to the Megaloceros Gallery, which is dated to 31,350 ± 620 years ago and finally from the large bison in the End Chamber, dated to 30,340 ± 570 years ago. These six C-14 dates fall into the same time interval, from 32,000 to 30,000 years ago. The calendar interval deduced from these dates is from 38,000-33,400 years calBP (calibration with IntCal 13 to 95%).

Frost shattering

Splitting of rock due to the pressure exercised by the freezing of the water contained in the crevices (porous rock, fissures etc.). Frost shattering is particularly common in areas affected by alternating freeze and thaw cycles.

1821 - 1898

Following training at the Conservatoire des Arts et Métiers de Paris and geology studies at the Musée d'histoire naturelle, Gabriel de Mortillet embarked upon a prolific scientific career (founder of reviews, initiator of international congresses, professor at the École d'Anthropologie de Paris etc.). He organised the prehistoric collections of the Musée des Antiquités nationales de Saint-Germain-en-Laye (now the Musée d'Archéologie Nationale) and became a major personality in prehistoric science in the late 19th century.

Art for art's sake

In a period in which the concept of art for art's sake was commonly accepted (according to which the drawings were made uniquely for the love of beauty), Gabriel de Mortillet envisaged an interpretation of Palaeolithic works as demonstrating the development of the intellectual and artistic capacities of humans.


Geoarchaeology includes all geoscience disciplines when they are applied to archaeology (geophysical surveying, geomorphology, karstology, cartography, sedimentology, pedology, palaeontology, palynology etc.). It is based on analysis methods on a scale from that of the landscape to that of the microscope.

Geographical Information System (GIS)

Computerised tool used in the recording of information for research and for the management and archiving of referenced data on a map or plan.


Study of relief and the processes which are responsible for its creation.


Cold climatic phase during which glaciers have covered a significant part of the continents. For 2.6 million years, during the Quaternary, the Earth underwent a large number of glaciations, separated by periods of more temperate climate known as interglacial periods.


A brownish yellow iron hydroxide, rarely used at Chauvet with the exception of the small heads of yellow horses in the Brunel Chamber and for punctuation in the Alcove of the Lions in the Hillaire Chamber.

Gours / Rimstone

Basins bordered by small dams of calcite formed by the flow of water with a high content of dissolved carbonates. The intervals between the dams depends on the slope and roughness of the surface on which they form. The gours are more widely spaced when the slope is gentle and the surface is smooth.

Graphic entity

Figurative or abstract graphic unit defined by cave art specialists during the identification and inventory of the marks on the walls of a cave.


Culture succeeding the Aurignacian (between around 34,000 and 25,000 years  ago) which takes its name from the site of La Gravette (Dordogne). The extent of its pan-European coverage is remarkable. This culture appeared during a temperate climatic oscillation in the last glaciation, developing during the Upper Pleniglacial period and maintaining significant overall consistency. The Gravettian is subdivided into several stages, sometimes characterised by different tool types (Gravette points, stemmed Font-Robert points, Noailles burins, Isturitz spearpoints etc.). In the late Gravettian, stone tool assemblages become more heterogeneous and the bone and antler tools abundant and diversified. The most numerous, best preserved and most spectacular Palaeolithic graves are Gravettian. The personal ornamentation and portable art (particularly female statuettes) are highly developed, while the cave art is represented by numerous caves in which the theme of negative hands is dominant.

Groundwater table

Layer of underground water or saturated zone. All of the voids in the rock (porous areas or fissures) are filled with water, which supplies nearby springs. In a karst landscape, this is described as a drowned area.


Name given to the excrement of bats. Guano can accumulate in large quantities on the floor of caves but also on the relief of cave walls, when the cavity is occupied by a colony of Chiroptera.


Black, brown or red iron oxide with the formula Fe2O3, very commonly encountered in superficial rocks and sediments. It has been used as a pigment from prehistory onwards.

Hand dots

Term designating the red punctuations identified as having been made by painting the palm with pigment and applying it as a stamp to the cave wall.


Sculpture in which the relief represents more than half of the volume of the subject depicted.

Hearth, combustion structure

Indications of domestic fires in a habitation.

Heinrich events

From the name of a German geologist who described these climatic phenomena in the 1980s. They are short periods of cooling (of the order of a millennium) which succeed each other in the northern hemisphere, provoked by the melting of icebergs.


A wild equine whose territory spread from what is today Asia Minor to India. Its body was thinner than that of a horse. Even though it is claimed to have been painted in certain decorated caves, there is no formal proof of its presence in Europe during the Palaeolithic.


Nest dug in the ground by an animal for hibernation. In caves, these are essentially bear hollows.


Last subdivision of the Quaternary. It corresponds to the current interglacial, which began around 12,000 years ago.


Family of primates including the great apes (gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos, orang-utans) and the genus Homo (the members of the human line).


The science that studies the prints and traces left by animals or people, particularly on the floors and walls of caves.


The inner surface of a vault.

born 1933

Jean Clottes has directed many excavations and archaeological surveys, and has published around thirty works. He has presided over the scientific committees of several caves, including Chauvet-Pont d'Arc and Cosquer. He has taught prehistoric art in France, the United States, Switzerland and Spain.

Shamanism as a conceptual framework

Jean Clottes and David Lewis-Williams have developed a hypothesis according to which the cave was seen as a passage between the world of people and a parallel world; a sanctuary in which the shaman and those accompanying him undertook ceremonies in order to obtain the help of supernatural powers. The images, sometimes the result of visions, would serve as a medium for the contacts sought.

This hypothesis explains the majority of the special features of Palaeolithic art: the use of natural contours, the organisation of the figures according to particular myths, and sometimes images resulting from visions.

Karst caves
Engl: Karst caves

Voids created by the dissolution of rock at depth by means of the infiltration and circulation of water. These are characteristic of limestone (karstic) regions. Such cavities are divided into vertical (potholes) and horizontal (caves).

Karstic network

Set of conduits and chambers formerly traversed by currents of water.


Branch of geomorphology which studies the the surface and underground forms created by the dissolution (chemical erosion) of carbonate rock (limestone, dolomite, marble) and sulphate minerals (gypsum, salt). The study of karstic forms and landscapes in combination with geological, palaeogeographical and palaeoenvironmental data enables us to reconstruct the creation and development of caves. The field has specific terminology used to describe surface and underground landscapes.

Last Glacial Maximum

The Last Glacial Maximum (or LGM), the last glaciation of the Pleistocene, dates back 20,000 years The return of an intense, dry cold led to a reduction in sea levels of around 120 metres.


Fine sediment form by the accumulation of particles deposited by the wind in the regions around the great Quaternary glaciers.

Lower jaw

The lower jawbone of an animal.


Nicknamed the "Pope of Prehistory", Henri Breuil took holy orders before dedicating himself to prehistory. He carried out surveys and excavations of numerous major prehistoric sites and taught at the Collège de France and the Institut de Paléontologie de Paris. He had a significant impact on Palaeolithic research over several decades.
He proposed a chronological model of prehistoric art divided into two successive cycles: the Aurignacio-Perigordian and the Solutreo-Magdalenian.

Sympathetic magic

The theory of sympathetic magic developed by the Abbé Breuil supposes that prehistoric people attributed supernatural powers to the images they painted in caves. They could thus conjure away evil spirits and ensure a fruitful hunt. This global interpretation of art was contradicted by the presence on cave walls of numerous representations of animals or signs without any relationship to hunting or human subsistence.


Multiform culture of very significant chronological and geographical extent (21,000-14,000 years ago, across central and western Europe) in the late Upper Palaeolithic. It takes its name from the Abri de la Madeleine (Dordogne). The major traits of the Magdalenian, which developed during the last Pleniglacial period, are the intensive use of bone, antler and ivory to make tools and weapons, the richness of the stone tool industry made on blades and thin flakes and the unprecedented development of personal ornamentation, portable art and cave art. Magdalenian groups initially demonstrated great mobility and significant adaptability to their environment. Towards the end of the Magdalenian, cultural regionalisation took place as a consequence of the gradual sedentism of some groups.

Manual field

Area accessible to the artist without having to change position.

Material culture

Set of artefacts, objects, structures or changes of which we are aware by means of archaeology and which enable us to characterise a prehistoric group and society.


This large deer (Megaloceros giganteus) had disproportionately large antlers (up to 3.5 m in span) and inhabited Europe and part of Asia for more than 500,000 years. It became extinct around 10,000 years ago.


The last geological stage of the Miocene series (7246 million years to 5333 million years BP). In the late Messinian, the gradual closure of the Strait of Gibraltar led to a drying out of Mediterranean. In connection with the reduction in sea level, the Rhône incised a canyon around 200 m deep, today filled with alluvions.

born 1937

A field archaeologist and director of research at the CNRS, Michel Lorblanchet has carried out a number of important missions, particularly in Australia. In France, he has played a major role in research into Palaeolithic decorated caves in Quercy and participated in the creation of the Musée A. Lemozi on the site of the cave of Pech Merle in 1981. He has published summary works and detailed monographs which particularly highlight the relationships between the cave art works and expressions and the cave itself.

The context of prehistoric art

Michel Lorblanchet has emphasised the importance of putting cave art into context and the necessity of studying prehistoric people in terms of societies. With the prehistorian Denis Vialou, he advocates a study not exclusively artistic but extended to behavioural, social, economic and dietary data in order to obtain an overall approach to the way of life of prehistoric populations.

Mitochondrial genome

Each animal cell contains a nucleus and several hundred mitochondria. Several hundred copies of the mitochondrial genome, which is transmitted by the mother, are thus present per cell. The abundance of this genome and its small size (17,000 nucleotides) and rapid development make the mitochondrial genome particularly suitable for studying fossil DNA and positioning it in the tree of life.

More recent C-14 datings (Chauvet)

The datings of two black points on the cave wall (one on the wall of the Sill, above a hearth, the other in the Hillaire Chamber on a veil of calcite deposited on the wall of the Panel of the Horses) range from 26,980 ± 410 to 26,120 ± 400 years ago, or a calendar interval of 31,700-29,500 years ago). 


Member of the Caprinae family with a thick coat (Ovibos moschatus) and horns that cover the forehead and curve downwards and forwards. It currently inhabits the Canadian Arctic and Greenland.


Designates the part between the forehead and the nostrils of animals with elongated heads.


Name of the valley close to Düsseldorf (Germany) where the first bones of Homo neanderthalensis (sometimes classified as Homo sapiens neanderthalensis, depending on the palaeogenetic data) were found in 1856. Neanderthals appeared between 500,000 and 200,000 years ago and became extinct between 40,000 and 30,000 years ago. For some time, the two human species of Neanderthal and Homo sapiens co-existed.

Negative hand

A motif executed by placing the hand flat on the cave wall and by spitting the pigment (black or red) over it in the manner of a stencil. By removing the hand a negative image was obtained.


Geological subdivision which preceded the Quaternary. The Neogene began around 23 million years ago and ended around 2.6 million years ago.


Marine protozoan with a calcareous skeleton, belonging to the order of Foraminifera. They were abundant in the warm water and reef environments of the Cretaceous seas. In the southern Ardèche, they are associated with marl layers within the Urgonian limestone mass.

Palaeoenvironmental science

Science aimed at reconstructing past environments on the basis of the analysis of pollen, plant remains (prints of leaves, branches etc.), animal diets (regurgitated pellets, stools) and the geochemical and physicochemical information contained in sediments (speleothems, lake sediments etc.).


Palaeogenetics, or the study of ancient DNA, consists of analysing the DNA still present in a specimen after its death and comparing it to the DNA of current specimens of the same species or neighbouring species in order to study evolutionary processes. In Chauvet Cave, palaeogenetic analyses have been carried out on the cave bear (Ursus spelaeus) and wolf (Canis lupus).


The Palaeolithic is subdivided into three parts of unequal duration and extent: the Lower, Middle and Upper. The Lower Palaeolithic began with the first tools manufactured by humans somewhere in Africa around 3 million years ago and ended around 300,000 years ago. It included various cultures, in particular the Pebble Culture, the earliest, and the Acheulean (from the eponymous site of Saint-Acheul), a culture in which bifacial stone tools dominated. Human types were represented by Homo habilis and Homo erectus.

The Middle Palaeolithic followed it between 300,000 and 40,000 years ago, corresponding to the Neandertal cultures (Mousterian, Micoquien, Keilmesser Group etc.). The last subdivision is the Upper Palaeolithic (40,000-11,000 years  ago), which includes all of the cultures attributed to Homo sapiens sapiens (Châtelperronian, Aurignacian, Gravettian, Solutrean, Badegoulian, Magdalenian and Azilian). The debitage of flint blades became dominant, cave and portable art appeared and developed and the manufacture of tools and weapons from hard animal materials became systematic, radically transforming behaviours and economic modes. The territorial expansion of Homo sapiens began in this period.

Palaeolithic bestiary

All faunal species represented on the walls of a cave. The themes of the bestiary vary according to the culture involved.


Science that studies the fossilised remains of animals. It seeks to trace the evolutionary history of extinct animal species and living organisms.


Science that studies the fossilised remains of animals. It seeks to trace the evolutionary history of extinct animal species and living organisms.


Science that researches and studies the fossil pollens trapped in sediments, ice or coprolites. The envelope surrounding pollens can be preserved for thousands of years and its structure is unique to each plant species. The identification of pollen species enables an image of the past environment to be created.


Surface comprising one or more graphic entities, generally delimited by the natural structures of the cave wall (fissures, relief, angles etc.).


Archaeologist specialised in the study of cave art.


The corollary of ceiling cupolas, they indicate early phases of cave excavation during a drowned period. They correspond to the most resistant part of the rock, while cupolas occur along fissures and fractures.


Mineral family containing phosphorus. The latter may be accompanied by other elements such as calcium, iron and aluminium.


Geological subdivision of the Quaternary suceeding the Pliocene. The PleistocenePleistocene (around 2.6 million years to 12,000 years  ago), which includes all recent glaciations, is subdivided into three geological sub-epochs corresponding to specific palaeomagnetic and palaeoclimatic events. It preceded the Holocene.

Portable art

Figurative or abstract design carried out on a mobile medium in stone, bone, ivory, shell or deer antler.

Positive hand

A motif executed by painting the hand with pigment and applying it as a stamp on the cave wall.


Anatomical part of an animal formed by the neck and head.

Przewalski's horse

Przewalski's horse (Equus ferus przewalskii) is a small wild horse that was thought to be extinct until it was rediscovered by the Russian general Nicolai Przewalski in 1879.

It has a beige coat and its mane, tail and lower legs are dark brown. Its mane is short and stands upright, which is a characteristic of wild horses. It is supposed that they resemble Palaeolithic horses.


Geological period that started around 2.6 million years ago, comprising the Pleistocene and Holocene. The Quaternary is characterised by cyclical climate variations (glacial and interglacial phases) and by the emergence of the genus Homo.


The act of removing small flakes from the edge of a flint blade, by percussion or pressure flaking, to give it a specific shape or transform it into a tool, such as an end-scraper or burin.

Rock art

Figurative or abstract design carried out on blocks of stone in the open air (by extension, this term now encompasses the art of protohistoric societies).

Rock shelter

Opening formed by a rocky overhang, generally located at the base of a cliff, which may have been occupied by Prehistoric humans. Some shelters are sculpted with friezes of bison, horses or ibex, as at Roc-aux-Sorciers (Vienne), la Chaire-à-Calvin (Charente), l'Abri Reverdit or Cap Blanc (Dordogne).


Development of a red colouration due to the presence of iron oxides in rock. In the Chauvet Pont-d'Arc Cave, this appears as a result of increased temperature in proximity to hearths.

1858 – 1932

A specialist in the history of religions and field archaeology, Salomon Reinach spent a large part of his career leading excavations around the Mediterranean. In 1902, he was appointed as conservator at the Musée des Antiquités nationales de Saint-Germain-en-Laye (now the Musée d'Archéologie Nationale).

Hunting magic

Salomon Reinach was the first French specialist to suggest the idea of hunting magic, according to which the drawings were created to enchant the animals and be able to kill them if required. This theory was taken up and developed by Abbé Henri Breuil and Comte Henri Bégouën.


Organised abstract graphical elements which are assumed to have a meaning.

In the Chauvet-Pont d'Arc Cave, a variety of signs have been noted: the "ω" shaped signs with rounded lower edges, characteristic of the Chauvet Cave in which we find them engraved or drawn at several points (End Chamber and Red Panels Gallery), butterfly signs of "ϕ"shape and hand dotscharacteristic of two caves in the Ardèche and Gard (Chauvet and Grotte aux Points).


A culture circumscribed in time (26,500-23,000 years ago) and space (from the Paris basin to Portugal), Solutrean takes its name from the site of Solutré (Saône-et-Loire). This culture, subdivided into four stages, emerged between the last two glacial maximums. In terms of technology and typology, other than the common tool types of the Upper Paleolithic, the Solutrean is defined by stone tools often made on very high quality flint, and shaped by the detachment of flat and narrow retouch flakes with parallel edges that largely cover one or both of the faces of the blades or long flakes on which they are made. Depending on the evolutionary stage, the most typical tools are Unifacial points, Laurel-Leaf points, Willow-Leaf points, and Shouldered points.  In the domain of bone and antler tools, the Solutreans invented the eyed needle and the spear thrower (atlatl). Solutrean portable art is not very rich. Cave art is better represented by a number of sculpted shelters (Roc-de-Sers and Fourneau du Diable) and by decorated caves in the Ardèche and the Cantabrian region. The Solutreans also seem to have invented the art of monumental sculpture.


A spear is a weapon, thrown by hand like a javelin or with the aid of a spear thrower. A spear is composed of several elements: a fletched wooden shaft and a point made of reindeer antler, bone, flint or hardened wood. Prehistoric archaeological levels generally only yield the points, as a result of preservation issues.


The goal of speleology is to explore caves, gulfs and underground cavities, both natural and manmade, by making an active contribution to the study, knowledge and preservation of the underground world and related areas. In practice, speleology includes various different disciplinary fields, such as science, environmental and athletic, or teaching and educating as a nature sport.

In Europe, it was in the late 19th century, under the encouragement of Édouard-Alfred Martel, that speleology was structured as a specific discipline in the exploration and study of the underground world and karst. Speleologists currently pursue both exploration and documentation; in 2014, just over 200 new caves were included on the inventory and over 100km of galleries were explored and mapped by the French Association of Speleology. In order to do this, speleologists developed specific techniques for travelling in underground networks and describing natural and cultural landscapes and heritage discovered in caves, gulfs and the surroundings.

Research in caves involves a wide range of scientific disciplines arising mainly from karstology (geology, geomorphology, hydrogeology), biology, climatology, ecology and archaeology.


Name of Russian origin designating an environment of open prairies characterised by a semi arid climate with very severe winters. The plants adapted to this type of region are primarily grasses and a few low growing tree species.

Stone tool industry

The production of objects with utilitarian functions (tools, utensils, weapons) from mineral materials. The procedures and methods for the debitage of stone materials vary between cultures.


Also known as the glabella, this is the angle formed by the forehead and muzzle among bears and canidae.

Stratification joint

Discontinuity separating two sedimentary geological layers. This is often underlined in limestone rock courses by a thin clay layer.


Stump-drawing consists of spreading or crushing particles of charcoal or ochre in order to obtain intermediate shades or blend colours together.

Submerged water flow

Term used to designate the circulation of water in an entirely submerged conduit.


Downward deformation of sediments into a funnel shape by the action of rain. This phenomenon is due to the presence of an underlying void into which the deposits are washed.


Abbreviated representation of the outline of an animal, enabling it to be recognised by just a few lines.


From the Greek taphos, burial, and nomos, law. In palaeontology the term designates the science studying the development of an organism after its death and until its fossilisation.

By extension in decorated caves it also concerns all of the processes affecting the surface of the cave walls and cave art representations before and after their execution and which lead to their deterioration or disappearance.


The term designates the ultimate phase of the last glaciation which began around 16,000 years ago, after the Upper Pleniglacial, and ended in around 10,000 years ago with the start of the Holocene and the beginning of the current interglacial. It was during theTardiglacial, a period of great climatic instability, that the Magdalenian, the Azilian and the Laborian developed.


Thermoluminescence (TL) is a method applied to certain minerals, including calcite and previously heated rocks. It is based on measuring the light that they emit while being heated in a laboratory to high temperatures (approx. 500°C). The study of this light emission enables an estimation of their age, i.e. the time having elapsed since they were heated in a prehistoric hearth. This previous heating will have removed the thermoluminescence having accumulated in the mineral since it was formed, thereby resetting the chronometer to zero. Thermoluminescence originates in the exposure of minerals to radiation (alpha, beta and gamma) emitted by the natural radionuclides (families of uranium, thorium and potassium 40) contained in trace form in almost all rocks. This radiation excites the minerals, which as a result accumulate energy over time; this energy is yielded in the form of a thermoluminescent emission. The study of the thermoluminescent properties of a mineral sample and the analysis of the levels of radionuclides that it contains and which are present in its immediate environment enable an estimation of its age to be made.

Torch smear

Trace left on the wall of a cave when reviving a torch.


Russian term designating a type of vegetation characteristic of current circumpolar cold regions, but which in glacial periods covered a large part of the west of Europe.


Uranium (U) is a radioactive element which decays to produce thorium (Th). Unlike thorium, uranium is soluble in solutions that percolate into the soil. In this way, when stalagmites are formed, they contain uranium 238 and 234 but no thorium. After crystallisation, Th-230 forms from the uranium, increasing with its half life of 75,000 years, until it achieves equilibrium after approximately 400,000 years. Comparison of the respective activity of these two radionuclides enables us to determine the time having elapsed since the calcite was formed. Stalagmites develop from their base on the floor.


Sedimentary facies dating from the Lower Cretaceous. It is characterised by white limestones rich in Rudists (a marine mollusc with a thick, asymmetric shell).


The name given to female Gravettian statuettes with generous forms. These have been discovered in France in the caves of Brassempouy (Landes), Lespugue (Haute-Garonne), Sireuil, Tursac, Montpazier (Dordogne); in Italy; in Austria (Willendorf), in the Czech Republic (Dolní Vestoniče, Přdmosti, Pekarna) and in Russia (Kostienki, Khotylevo, Avdeevo, Gagarino). They present astonishing similarities in terms of their form, graphic style and sometimes in the geometry of their volumes. Some attributes (chest, buttocks, sometimes stomach and sex) are exaggerated, while others are atrophied (legs, arms, head) or even in the majority of cases absent (feet, facial details).

This term from the 19th century is also used, by extension, for total or partial cave art representations of the female body.


Hairs playing the role of a sensory organ in some animals, including mammals. For felines, these are more commonly known as whiskers.