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Inora Newsletter #43
Discoveries

AMS ESTIMATES OF THE AGE OF PARIETAL ART AND
HUMAN FOOTPRINTS IN THE GROTTE D’ALDÈNE
(SOUTHERN FRANCE)


The upper level of the cave called L’Aldène at Cesseras (Hérault), apart from the Lower Paleolithic fill of its porch, has been known because of the existence in its deeper part of a short gallery with several Paleolithic parietal engravings (Pales & Vialou 1986). The second level of the cave associates animal impacts (bear, hyena) with a track of human footprints (Ibid.). It is marked out by torch smears which show that humans penetrated into the cave system some 350 m deep. The age of the engravings and imprints was up to now arbitrarily reckoned and thus the subject of controversy.

Our team (Ambert et al. 2000, 2005) has since 1996 carried out a systematic study of the sedimentary fill of the two galleries. The correlation of their inter-relations with, on the one hand, the human and animal impacts, and on the other, the dating of the associated materials (charcoal on the floor, smears, stalagmitic floors) have allowed us to establish the following facts:

– The Aurignacian dating of the parietal art. It is based in particular on the dating of two levels of charcoal scattered in the sediment anterior to the total obliteration of the gallery with the engravings. The 14C AMS date of the first (37,080 ± 620 BP) was confirmed by direct dating (U/Th) of the calcite of the stalagmitic floor containing these pieces of charcoal (42.1 [+1.4/1.5]; 37.5 [1.5/1.6]; 30.3 [+1.2/-1.2]; 34.3 [+1.4/-1.3]). The most recent date was evaluated by AMS at 30,260 ± 220 BP. It sets a precise date for the passage of the Aldène engravers whose style and bestiary (feline, bear, rhinoceros, mammoth) fit with those of the Chauvet Cave (Clottes [dir.], 2001; Geneste [dir.] 2005);

– The Mesolithic dating of the human imprints. It fits with the posteriority of this track over traces left on the floor by bears and hyenas, contrary to the predominating opinion (Pales & Vialou 1986). It is based on the dating of the parietal smears (cal BC 7015 to 6585 to cal BC 6690 to 6455), but also on that of the remains of a juniper torch found nearby (cal BC 7005 to 6560).

It should finally be noted that the access to the gallery with the engravings, as well as that to the gallery with the footprints, must have been very cramped when used.

Paul AMBERT
1 & Jean-Louis GUENDON 2

1 UMR 8555 du CNRS, Centre d'anthropologie, 39 allées Jules Guesde, F-31000 Toulouse.

2 Maison méditerranéenne des Sciences de l'Homme, UMR 6636 du CNRS, BP 647, 5 rue du Château de l'Horloge, F-13094, Aix-en-Provence Cedex 2.


Bibliographie

AMBERT P., COLOMER A. & GALANT P., 2000. — Datations mésolithiques des empreintes humaines de l'étage Cathala, grotte d'Aldène (Hérault). Comptes rendus de l’Académie des Sciences de Paris, 331, n° 1, p. 67-74.
AMBERT P., GUENDON J.-L., GALANT P., QUINIF Y., GRUNESEIN A., COLOMER A., DAINAT D., BEAUMES B. & REQUIRAND C., 2005. — Attribution des gravures paléolithiques de la grotte d'Aldène (Cesseras, Hérault) à l’Aurignacien par la datation des remplissages géologiques. CR Palevol, Elsevier, Paris, n° 4, p. 275-284.
CLOTTES J. (dir.), 2001. — La Grotte Chauvet : L’art des origines. Paris, Ed. du Seuil, 225 p., 206 fig.
GENESTE J.-M. (dir.), 2005. — La Grotte Chauvet à Vallon-Pont-d’Arc : un bilan des recherches pluridisciplinaires, Bulletin de la Société préhistorique française, T. 102, n° 1, p. 5-208.
PALES L. & VIALOU D., 1986. — La Grotte d’Aldène. In L’Art des Cavernes, Atlas des grottes ornées paléolithiques françaises. Paris, Ministère de la Culture, p. 340-342.




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