Inora Newsletter #46


The use of paint at Gouy

The remains of red paint, in the first gallery suggested a very limited use of paint at Gouy. To know more, a method capable of outlining the contours of these paintings -if any- was essential. A large number of unsuccessful attempts (Aujoulat 1987; Vertut 1979) were necessary before it became possible to obtain a satisfactory solution.

The most appropriate method was found in a different domain from the means normally used for the study of parietal art, after several years of investigation. It is the use, originally for biological purposes, of a means of lighting -a fluorescent tube used for vegetation- at present used in aquaria. Highly effective, it revealed at Gouy a painted line some 1.30m long and dark red as soon as it was first used.

And yet, no trace of paint had been known at this precise spot. The red line had never been noticed nor photographed before. This discovery suggested that other painted elements might exist in the cave. Future study confirmed this hunch. Other data (very “readable”) has also been revealed by the same lighting system.

The method showed itself extremely useful when applied to decorated walls. The reds (very vivid) cannot be missed in any survey.

Paintings noted

With this system three types of paintings up to now unnoticed were shown. The one already known corresponded in fact to two different paintings (n°4 and 5):

painting n°1 red (dark brick red),
painting n°2 red ( projected red ochre),
painting n°3 orange (orangey yellow ochre),
painting n°4 red (fluorescent red ochre) – same colour and tonality as n°5,
painting n°5 (neutral red ochre) – same colour and tonality as n°4.

Painted line

(L= 130cm, w= 0.5cm) (27d-47d) – red n°1: today in eight segments (Fig. 1-4), the line was probably made with a finger dipped in paint or directly with a thick block of viscous colouring matter. The left extremity curves as though for the line of an animal’s back (rump, backbone: Fig. 3-4).

Fig. 1. Vulva and cupulae, deeply engraved: on the original photo, the red line was undetected (Photo Y. Martin).
Fig. 2. Vulva, cupulae and red line revealed by the light of a fluorescent tube
(Photo Y. Martin).

The coloured deposits left on the bumps on the wall show its upward slope (from left to right: Fig. 2). Until now it had not been possible to see it, even though its site had been copied and photographed from all angles, however purely concerning the engravings (Fig. 1). In old photos and publications it had never been noticed (Martin 1973: 156). No other point where this paint was used is at present known, but several square metres of wall were destroyed in road-making between the river Seine and the cave. The ancient entrance and a part of one gallery thus disappeared before revealing their contents. This irrecoverable loss must be taken into account in all studies of the Gouy Cave.

Red deposit

(L= 5cm, H= 16cm) (35g) – red n°2: this is the result of the projection of a coloured liquid, first interpreted as an undetermined figure, difficult to decipher, a deliberate but incomprehensible line.

The impact produced a thick deposit of “paint”, from which part sinuous lines emerge. They are obviously due (by gravity) to the most fluid part of the coloured matter (Fig. 5). This does not seem wholly accidental. Also, the surface is too small for an ancient act of profanation to degrade the spot.
Fig. 3. Left extremity of a red line (curved) shown by fluorescent light (Photo Y. Martin).

Fig. 4. Position of the red line on the engraved wall with “in box”
the siting of
figures 1, 2 and 3 (Copy & drawing Y. Martin).

The probable hypothesis is that of a magico-religious act on the decorated wall: the deposit by spraying of a coloured substance during “ceremonies”.

Projections of paint are not unknown in parietal art. They are part of parietal decoration seen as “very original and much rarer than charcoal traces”, in that they are rarely mentioned (Lorblanchet 1974). A brown series – in the Escabasses Cave (Lot) – and a red one – at La Peña de Candamo (Asturias) – are known.

The large painted sign

(L= 5cm, H= 31cm) (52g) – red n°3: indiscernible lines were continually seen, always in the same spot during lighting in various ways without being certain that the lines really existed. In addition, it was all the more impossible to define anything when looking directly at them that the painted lines seemed at this point to melt into the wall. After checking by means of long wave ultra violet photographs, the image of the line on film left no more doubt. Detailed examination shows that it is probably not a zig-zag vertical line, nor is it made up of triangles as at Llonín (for example), but it is indeed another very original type of sign (Fig. 6-7), suggesting those geometric signs qualified as “claviforms”, while being a little on the “model” of certain schematic femi-nine profiles of the late Magdalenian sculpted on mammoth ivory or on bone.
Fig. 5. Projection of red “paint”. Four flows spread out from the impact point
(Photo Y. Martin).

Fig. 7. Painted sign, n°52g
(Photo Y. Martin)
The copy of this figure is what we have now from an ongoing study devoted to the cave. This study has unfortunately (we hope temporarily) been interrupted right when we were making the most discoveries. It needs more detail during an indispensable future research campaign. This is also true for the second sign (53g), both being part of the same painted group, its remains being rather vague and modified. Nevertheless, the amount of information available for study will obviously enable a much more detailed knowledge.
Fig. 6. Painted sign, n°52g and fine
engravings (copy to be completed)
(CopyY. Martin).

Fig. 8. Painted sign, n°53g (under ultraviolet light) (Photo Y. Martin).

Painted sign

(L= 10cm, H= 12cm) (53g) – red n°3: this sign (Fig. 8-9) is in the form of an “n” or an “h” with its “legs” coming together towards the base: does this represent the legs, belly and back of an animal or a painted triangular sign…? The shape does not seem to be closed at the base; its study needs to be completed in detail (as for all the surrounding painted remains associated with it).

Fluorescent red paint

Red n°4: under UV lighting this painting gives a strongly saturated rose-red luminosity. Light emission (in the visible spectrum), is provoked by exciting ultraviolet light. This luminosity was seen for the first time by the author together with the late Alexander Marshack when he came to Gouy with a Wood Lamp working with a battery.

Using similar material, the two red paintings could finally be differentiated, following this memorable visit, but this happened much later when financial conditions became more favourable:

red n°4 was more extensively used than red n°5;
red n°4 was exclusively used for the contours of the shapes, lines and flat tints;
superficial scaling only concerns surfaces painted with red n°4;
certain areas painted with this red could correspond to simple colour washes.

Luminescent materials commonly found and described underground are generally limited to calcite and aragonite (Aujoulat 1987). They appear in a sparkling white that cannot be confused with colour emitted by red n°4. Even so, “red and orangey-red” are mentioned as the fluorescent colour of certain forms of the so-called Arizona calcite (in California) and from Franklin (in New Jersey) (Eastman Kodak 1972), in using shortwave UV, contrary to Gouy, where only a very long wave UV source of lighting is used.

Fig. 9. (left) Painted sign n°53G and very fine engravings (Copy Y. Martin).
Fig. 10. (above) Portion of the wall painted with red n°4 (Photo Y. Martin).

Fig. 11. (above right) Under a very long wave UV light, the painted surface reveals its strong luminescence (rose-red) as well as its spread (Photo Y. Martin).
Fig. 12. (above left) The exact limit of the existing painted wall would be impossible to establish without the precise data given by the luminescence of n°4 paint (Copy Y. Martin).

No other publication mentions a phenomenon similar to that observed at Gouy. The painted motifs usually appear under the rays we used as black without any light emission. At Gouy, the rose-red photo-luminosity could be recorded on “daylight” type colour photographic film
(Fig. 10-11).

There could be multiple reasons for this light emission. It could be the incorporation of particular substances to the paint (voluntarily or otherwise) or to the presence of certain micro-organisms (certain lichens?). But in the latter case, it would have been necessary, if this were so at Gouy, for the micro-organisms to have persisted only on the painted surfaces without ever prospering outside them (Fig. 12).

Pigment analysis is then essential to the study (Martin 2004). A request for the authorisation of a research programme was consequently made. A study project for the Gouy pigments was submitted to the French Ministry of Culture. Firstly, a series of exchanges started in 1996 with the CNRS researcher Bernard Guineau – “The Study of Pigments, History and Archaeology” (Centre Ernest Babelon, Orleans) with this objective.

Red paint

Red n°5, neutral: under UV light, this paint appears from black to grey, following its pigment concentration, never emitting any luminosity. Because of this, it is very difficult to localise with the Wood Lamp on walls like these where all sorts of greys mingle.

Its use seems very limited, contrary to red n°4:

red dots and smears seem to have this paint reserved for them;
unlike the n°4 paint, it never suffered from scaling.

The empirical distinction between the two paints seems confirmed. This is suggested by the preliminary tests using the variable pressure scanning electron microscope (Eric Beucher – “Analyses & Surface”, Louviers, Eure).

The painted walls

The painted motifs are exclusively localised in the upper section (left wall of the first gallery).
The red n°4 paint is in both the upper and lower sections.
The red paint n°5 is only in the lower section.
The n°1 red paint which was only used for painted lines spreads into both sections (right wall).

Gouy had always been considered as an “engraved cave”, and until now only had one technique (engraving) in its inventory.

At the beginning of a more detailed and very promising study, this time including paintings and engravings, its corpus is now increased by four new motifs.

Other new data

The contribution of the horticultural fluorescent tube is not only limited to the spectacular discoveries described. Under this light a mass of new information now appears (cf. table), while with a UV lamp, photography with filters, special film and image treatment, the data is gathered separately.

These usual methods still have their place. However, the horticulturists’ fluorescent tube enables remarkable visual observations such as those below without eye-strain, contrary to the Wood lamp, whose rays rapidly fatigue the eyes.

possibilités d’interprétations et d’attributions suivant l’éclairage uilisé :
Sans éclairage spécial
Sous lumière de tube
fluorescent horticole
Sous lumière noire (de Wood) tube fluorescent (320 à 400 nm)
couleur générale : le blanc de la craie, auquel est mêlée toute une gamme de gris, sans
possibilité d’attribution
dominante : rose violacé, atténuée par une rapide adaptation de l’œil (exemple : un blanc est perçu comme blanc)
dominante : bleu sombre
autres couleurs : gris, bleu clair, bleu violacé, violet
n° 1 (rbs)
gris confondu dans l’ensemble des autres gris
rouge brique sombre
gris (parmi d’autres gris)
n° 2 (orp)
gris (parmi d’autres gris)
gris (parmi d’autres gris)
n° 3 (ojo)
ocre rouge orangé
gris à peine perceptible
n° 4 (orf)
ocre rouge (se remarque à l’œil nu) nuance identique à orn n° 5
ocre rouge très intense
luminescence intense
rouge rose saturé
n° 5 (orn)
ocre rouge (se remarque à l’œil nu) nuance identique à orf n° 4
ocre rouge très intense
Oxydation naturelle
gris foncé généralisé à la totalité des parois
blanc : concrétion active
gris : concrétion desséchée
blanc fluorescent (lumineux)
Os, fragments
difficilement discernables
ocre jaune
ocre jaune foncé
Eraflures historiques
difficilement discernables
blanc éclatant
gris, blanc
jaune (caractéristique)
gris (divers, jusqu’à noir)
gris, bleu, brun, noir, ocre jaune
brun, noir
gris (parmi d’autres gris)
vert clair très vif
gris (parmi d’autres gris)

Table: By the light of the fluorescent tube the walls reveal a very diversified chromatic register, and numerous data are thus revealed (central column). With the lighting systems that are usually used, these same data are undetected: the extremely reduced register of colours limits the possibilities of differentiation (left column).

The concentration of red pigments can easily be evaluated once the painting is lit.
Painting and natural oxidations can easily be separated one from the others.
The rock wall is distinguished from all the other elements on its surface.
Patina is shown and its details can be very exactly noted.
Calcite surfaces are easily localised when before unknown.
Algae and lichen are clearly marked, including those previously unsuspected.
Bone and bone fragments on the walls and floor, unsuspected before, are now revealed.
Almost invisible fossils on the rock wall are clearly localised.
Flints (apparently similar) show their different aspects: colours, patina, breaks.
Shocks to the walls and ancient surfaces (destroyed) can be detailed.
Historic period scrapes and scratches can be recognised for what they are.

Details concerning the lighting

As the eye adapts little by little to a certain level of light, colour perception progressively develops. Thus with the dominant violet-rose, over-present and disturbing at the beginning, the light emission rapidly fades with chromatic adaptation.

This facility enables a genuinely white surface, first appearing coloured rose-violet, to be seen as really white. Obviously, photography does not benefit from this adaptation. In these conditions, the 80 B filter gives two convenient correction possibilities:

on the lens (inconvenience: it involves an exposure correction);
on the optical projector (correct reproduction when showing the slide).

With digital photography the correction is automatically made. The red paint revealed by the lighting is efficiently restored and safeguarded while the rose-violet light pollution is eliminated.
Generally, with the horticulturists’ fluorescent tube, it is impossible to miss even the most infinitesimal red present on the wall. Thus, a very small unrecorded coloured element jumps to the eye, when up to this point it had been forgotten, unnoticed and not noted (if even barely seen). This method of lighting can now be added then to the range of other methods of studying decorated caves. The heat produced by the tube is very low. The stability of a fragile environment is preserved, as always, by spacing out study sessions.

Other applications

The system can be used in other fields: in portable art; to study cave floors; during excavations, even in the open air; for reading sections; in rock art (at night).

Finding the correct material

There are two fluorescent tubes for use in aquaria, in appearance an identical white (with no indication of difference) on the market. Only one gives the maximum data, but on purchase it is impossible to know which of the two is on offer.

By chance it has been possible to make a distinction (after purchase): in the dark –without connecting them to electricity– they should be illuminated by UV light (black light):

the one for our purpose becomes completely and uniformly coloured (giving off a powerful magenta red light);

the other, at present the most widespread, only gives off a light pale blue. The manufacturer (SLI SYLVANIA) has unfortunately until now not wished to help solve the problem posed.

Elements involved in the continuation of research

Complementary research programmes to those planned could be developed, particularly concerning the following points:

the updating of photographic archives and copies with the aid of existing technical means;
noting the different pigments used;
detecting the composition of the paintings;
the study of superimpositions: engravings/paintings and paintings/engravings;
the detection of the presence (or not) of elements enabling direct dating;
comparative analyses of samples of mineral deposits near the cave, in order to determine the origin of the Gouy paint (perhaps local).

Finally, links between the decorated wall and material from the floor might be shown from:

a backed point, ochred (red);

a blade whose base has traces of red ochre;
the ochred interior of a perforation in a cervid tooth (an element of adornment).

We also need to consider the red signs of the grotte du Renard at Orival in such a study. A general survey of the two caves needs to be carried out at the same time (Martin 2001: 215); it is in this sense that my official request for the two sites was formulated on 27 August 1998.


The recent discoveries would not have taken place without the decision to study, in the first chamber, the walls near the ceiling vault and the paint remains there. The discovery of a “new cave” was the happy outcome of the preliminary work. There is now a new picture of the whole cave, which means that the field for investigation is also considerably enlarged.

At the present stage of research it seems more and more probable that the little cave of Gouy was visited over a relatively long period (over several phases of engraving and painting). This, in particular, seems to be what the parietal art suggests, with three distinct graphic groupings (Martin 2005b). An unusual group, made up of very faint incisions, engraved close to the ceiling vault of this same gallery, is of particular interest in this regard. With elements more usually considered as mobiliary, it provides material for a consideration of the passage from the Magdalenian to the Azilian (Martin 1998).

With the useful results of the lighting system described above it is to be hoped that it can show itself equally useful elsewhere. While awaiting the day when new studies at Gouy are officially authorised it should be remembered that only permanent access to the site (as before) will enable completion of the research started as well as the necessary monograph.

101 Sente aux Dames 76520 Gouy. France


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EASTMAN KODAK COMPANY, 1972. — Ultraviolet and Fluorescence Photography. Kodak Publication N° M 27, 32 p.
LORBLANCHET M., 1974. — L’Art préhistorique en Quercy : La grotte des Escabasses (Thémines, Lot). Morfaas, éd. P.G.P., Saint James, 120 p.
MARTIN Y., 1973. — L’Art paléolithique de Gouy. Gouy, éd. Yves Martin. 156 p.
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MARTIN Y., 2001. — Authentification d’une composition graphique paléolithique sur la voûte de la grotte d’Orival (Seine-Maritime). Comptes Rendus de l’Académie des Sciences de Paris, 332, p. 209-216.
MARTIN Y., 2004. — Découvertes de peintures dans la grotte paléolithique de Gouy (Seine-Maritime) : apport d’un éclairage inhabituel dans l’étude de l’art pariétal. C. R. Acad. Sci. Paris. Palevol, 3, p. 143-156.
MARTIN Y., 2005a. — La Grotte Paléolithique de Gouy : Conservation et protection. Communication présentée le vendredi 28 février 1997, au Musée de l’Homme (sous presse).
MARTIN Y., 2005b. — The Engravings of Gouy : France’s northernmost decorated cave. In : Actes du Colloque International de Creswell. Creswell Art in a European Context. 15th-17th april 2004 (à paraître).
MARTIN Y. & MARTIN P., 1984. — Gouy. In L’Art des cavernes. Atlas des grottes ornées paléolithiques françaises. Paris, Ministère de la Culture, p. 556-560.
VERTUT J., 1979. — Contribution des techniques photographiques à l’étude et à la conservation de l’art préhistorique. In : Altamira symposium. Madrid, Ministerio de Cultura, p. 661-675.

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