Rock shelters are stratified sites, the study of which takes into account the sequence of occupation layers that have accumulated. The specificity of these decorated sites lies in the stratigraphic relationship between the sculpted walls and the archaeological layers. Layer by layer, archaeologists seek a better understanding of each layer's organization and consistency with respect to the others.
Only certain vestiges have come down to us. These often consist of faint traces of Palaeolithic activities: hunting and fishing (bone and stone implements), domestic work (needles, scrapers, smoothers, etc.), habitation (hearths, paving stones, loops for light architecture or for suspension), symbolic activities (ornaments, statues, portable art, wall art), and burial.
To gain a more precise understanding of a site or a structure, archaeologists are obliged to dismantle it. This operation, although vital, is irreversible. As the sole witness to what occurred during an excavation, the data must be recorded as accurately and comprehensively as possible, and without mistaking observation for interpretation. This will allow future archaeologists to examine the data, which will be their only resource.
Practically speaking, recovery of data from earlier excavations, such as were carried out at most sculpted Magdalenian shelters, depends on choices made by past archaeologists and are influenced by the research issues of their time. In addition, not all of these documents have come down to us, unfortunately. Reopening of an excavation's archives (plans, field notes, publications, objects, etc.) accompanied by a return to the site (analysis of the wall, new surveys, and so on) allows researchers to reinterpret sites in the context of current research.
Current research, by involving a number of disciplines in the environmental, human and social sciences, produces new observations concerning the site's archaeological contexts (spatial distribution of remains) and its environment.