CAVE ART: BISON OF TUC D'AUDOUBERT

c. 14,000 YEAR OLD BUL AND COW BISON

 
 
Bradshaw Foundation visit to view the c. 14,000 year old Bull and Cow Bison
found in the Le Tuc d'Audoubert cave, Ariege, France.
 
by John Robinson
 
On 15th September 1999, Damon de Laszlo and John Robinson of the Bradshaw Foundation visited the 15000 year old Bull and Cow Bison.
 
Cave Art : Bison Of Tuc D'Audoubert France Bull Cow Bison
Ferrymen
The Cavernes du Volp consists of three cave systems, Les Trois Freres, Enlene, and Tuc d’Audoubert. Between them they house several of the Art Wonders of the World. The caves were made by the river Volp which runs underground beneath a limestone formation in the foothills of the French Pyrenees, causing a network of tunnels on three levels. The Volp emerges back into some of the most beautiful and unspoilt countryside I have ever seen, at the entrance of the Tuc d’Audoubert Cave.
 
Damon, Jean Clottes, student Pierre, and myself, stood in brilliant sunlight looking down at the stream that flowed gently from the enchanting Japanese garden setting that surrounded the opening of the cave mouth. Our host, Count Robert Bégouën prepared the dinghy that would take us, two at a time, into the black throat of the cavern, we breathed the essence of the moss-covered rocks, ferns, hanging vines, and the mirror still surface of the water.
 
The whole was dappled by the sunlight shining through the leaves of the Ash trees that hung over the stream. It was a completely enchanting scene, and one of utter peace. A Spirit of Serenity surrounded the menacing black throat of the Ancient Sanctuary. Five minutes later a call echoed out from the cave and Jean started to pull on the cord. Suddenly the tiny bath size plastic dinghy popped back out of the cave. Damon and Jean clambered in and Pierre tended to the cord as they paddled off up stream. Soon the sacred vessel returned and it was our turn. I climbed in to the bow and knelt as though praying, which seemed only right because I was about to enter the presence of the ancient Gods. We started to paddle into the cavern. I wondered how deep was the water, and tested the depth with my paddle, which just touched the bottom. I had a wonderful feeling of awe as the darkness enveloped us. The tunnel took a slight bend and there ahead of me were three lamps bobbing about like Will of the Wisps. The darkness turned into a warm grey gloom and very soon the boat grated against a shingle beach, and I scrambled out.
 
Cave Art : Bison Of Tuc D'Audoubert France Bull Cow Bison
Entering the Cave
All was soon ready and the Count paddled off into the darkness, trailing a thin rope, which Jean let out from a coil as he stood in the sunlit water. Five minutes later a call echoed out from the cave and Jean started to pull on the cord. Suddenly the tiny bath size plastic dinghy popped back out of the cave. Damon and Jean clambered in and Pierre tended to the cord as they paddled off up stream. Soon the sacred vessel returned and it was our turn. I climbed in to the bow and knelt as though praying, which seemed only right because I was about to enter the presence of the ancient Gods. We started to paddle into the cavern. I wondered how deep was the water, and tested the depth with my paddle, which just touched the bottom. I had a wonderful feeling of awe as the darkness enveloped us. The tunnel took a slight bend and there ahead of me were three lamps bobbing about like Will of the Wisps. The darkness turned into a warm grey gloom and very soon the boat grated against a shingle beach, and I scrambled out.
 
The cave was about 10 feet high and 15 feet across at this point. Following the Count we crossed water warn rock and shingle to a single two inch wide iron strip that was fastened to the side of the cave about two feet above the water. We edged along this strip, leaning into the wall of the cave, for about 20 feet, and arrived on another shingle beach. To the right the river disappeared into a black hole, to the left a grand cavern open up before us, the Salle Nuptiale. Giant stalagmites and stalactites surrounded us.
 
While the Count went on ahead to unlock the iron gates that guard the tunnel, Jean showed us some animal engravings that had been done with sharp flints.
 
Cave Art : Bison Of Tuc D'Audoubert France Bull Cow Bison
The Cave Mouth
We then turned to a 12 foot high iron ladder that reached up to a three foot wide hole at the top of the wall of the cave. Behind the ladder was a convoluted wormhole leading up to the same spot. This was the route of discovery taken by the Bégouën brothers in 1912, the same route the Magdalenian sculptor took 15000 years ago. We thankfully climbed the ladder by-passing this acrobatic scramble, and arrived in a small chamber eight feet round.
 
Out of this we hauled ourselves up a steep incline on iron rungs set into the rock. The tunnel got smaller and tighter, and then extremely awkward as we arrived at the iron gate. Feeling like Alice in Wonderland, we forced ourselves through the tiny doorway and fell out into a larger tunnel. Here Jean pointed out some engravings of Mystic figures with Moose like faces; Guardians of the sacred chamber ahead. Then Jean dropped to his knees, and following suit, I crawled after him. “Not bad” I thought, “my old limbs can take this”. I spoke too quickly, as after another short upright passage, we came to a rabbit hole. Now Jean dropped to his belly, pushing his light out ahead of him. My body temperature rose sharply as I saw the toes of his boots scrabbling to push his body forward.
 
I started off up the wormhole, urged on by Damon’s wit. My battery light was attached to a belt around my waist adding to my width, so very soon I was wedged tightly in the hole. Luckily my fingers found a knob to pull on, and with much grunting, I fell out at Jean’s feet. By then a lot of grunting was going on behind me as Damon started his run. I moved out of the way and followed Jean. We were now on the upper level of the underground cave system made by the river millions of years ago.
 
Our next obstacle was a vertical squeeze that had to be done sideways to get the hips through between the stalagmites, but after that we found ourselves in a respectable tunnel that we could walk along bent double.
 
Count Robert met us at this point and he took over the lead, setting off again at a good pace with us following along behind. The path was outlined by two strips of thin plastic tape, the cave floor on either side was untouched, exactly as it was when Count Robert’s father and uncles had first found it in 1912. Now and again we stopped to look at skulls of the Bears that had died in the caves long before the arrival of the Magdalenian people. Our torches lit a series of unbelievable scenes of beauty. White crystals shone like snowflakes, and slender stalagmites joined pencil thin stalactites, pretending to support the roof of the cave. It was like a Christmas Fairyland.
 
Again we stopped, but this time to see tiny feet moulded in the clay floor. Preserved forever we looked at the imprints of a three year old Magdalenian child. They were on a little shelf of rock about a foot above the ground on the side of our pathway. Perhaps the mother had been carrying the child and had rested it here for a moment.
 
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