Grotte des Deux-Ouvertures
Cave of Two Openings, Ardeche: Location, Archeology, Engravings.

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Engraving of a Group of Aurochs
(c.26,500 BCE).

Grotte des Deux-Ouvertures (c.26,500 BCE)
Cave of Two Openings, Ardeche, France


Location and Description
Archeological Investigation
The Cave Engravings
Other Prehistoric Engravings
Related Articles

Chronology of Stone Age Art
To see how the Grotte des Deux Ouvertures fits into the evolution of Paleolithic cave art, see: Prehistoric Art Timeline (2.5 million BCE).

What are the World's Oldest Works of Art?
See: Oldest Stone Age Art: Top 100 Artworks.


Yet another site of French prehistoric art in the Ardeche Valley, the Grotte des Deux-Ouvertures ("Cave of Two Openings"), also known as the La Grotte des Ours ("Cave of the Bears"), is one of several ancient rock shelters clustered in the vicinity of the famous Chauvet-Pont-d'Arc Cave, the great centre of Aurignacian cave painting carbon-dated to 30,000 BCE. The Cave of Two Openings is younger than Chauvet and, unlike Chauvet, was known and used by local shepherds for centuries as a sheep shelter, although it wasn't until 1984 that the cave's Paleolithic art was discovered, and not until 1987 that the first excavations were organized. The cave is noted for its very fine rock engravings, some of which have been indirectly carbon-dated to about 26,500 BCE, during the final years of Aurignacian art (c.40,000-25,000 BCE). The engravings, most of which are clustered in the most remote area of the cave, feature about 30 figures of mammoths, aurochs, bison and Alpine ibexes, including an indistinct hybrid creature, perhaps half-human, half-animal in the style of "The Sorcerer" in Gabillou Cave. In addition, the cave art also includes a number of abstract signs, like triangles, dots and simple lines. There are no traces of any hand stencils or handprints. Since 2008, the cave has been the subject of a multi-disciplinary investigation (PCR Datation des Grottes Ornees) led by Swiss archeologist Julien Monney.

Location and Description

The Grotte des Deux-Ouvertures is situated at the end of the Ardeche River Gorge, downstream from Chauvet at the point where the river reaches open country. The area is a known centre of Franco-Cantabrian cave art, with several noted prehistoric caves in the immediate vicinity including: Chabot Cave, Grotte aux Points, Grotte de la Combe d'Oulen, Grotte d'Ebbou, Grotte du Deroc, Grotte de Mezelet, Grotte de la Bergerie de Charmasson and Grotte de la Tete du Lion. The history of the cave is both long and varied. To begin with, it was occupied by bears; then by Neanderthal hunter-gatherers, who were in turn displaced by "modern man". It was modern man who created the cave's engravings and paintings, but the latter were created over an extended time period, which included the eras of Solutrean art (c.20,000-15,000 BCE) and Magdalenian art (c.15,000-10,000 BC) as well as the Aurignacian. The cave is about 140 metres (455 feet) in length, and has several chambers, including Bears Gallery, Torch Marks Hall and Claw Marks Chamber, the most remote. The cave's galleries were first discovered on December 23rd, 1985, by M.Verdon, C.Hillaire, S.Landraud and F.Montel.

Archeological Investigation

As part of the 2008 examination of the cave's Stone Age art, samples of charcoal and calcite were collected and dated respectively by Carbon 14 Accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) and Uranium-Thorium methods. Four results were obtained, dating the cave engravings to between 28,000 and 29,000 years ago, yet more proof of the great antiquity of rock art in the Gard-Ardeche-Herault region of France. In addition, researchers used X ray fluorescence to analyse samples of pigments. Amongst the black pigments, one sample was found to include manganese and silicon, although its composition varied from that of the local natural deposits. (For more about pigments used in cave paintings, see: Prehistoric Colour Palette.)

The Cave Engravings

As mentioned above, the cave is best known for its petroglyphs of animals, as well as the anthropomorphic figure in the Claw Marks Chamber. There are images of mammoths, horses, aurochs, bison, unidentified felines and a male Alpine ibex with huge horns. The cave's parietal art also features several abstract pictographs, including a number of indeterminate red spots, triangular shapes and a sexual symbol. Some of the art is stylistically similar to images in the neighbouring Grotte Ebbou, which date to around 13,000 BCE.

Compare Neanderthal engravings, see: Gorham's Cave art, Gibraltar.

Other Prehistoric Cave Engravings in France

Here is a short selection of French caves that are noted for their engraved drawings and paintings.

Abri Castanet Engravings (35,000 BCE)
Aurignacian shelter famous for its engraved drawings of female genitalia.

Cosquer Cave (c.25,000 BCE)
Gravettian and Solutrean engravings of animals, fish and seals.

Cussac Cave Engravings (25,000 BCE)
Gravettian engraved drawings noted for their large size.

Roc-de-Sers Cave (17,000 BCE)
Important site of Solutrean art - in particular engravings and relief sculpture.

Lascaux Cave (17,000-13,000 BCE)
As well as being France's great showcase of multi-coloured cave painting, Lascaux is known for its large number of engraved drawings of animals, notably in the Axial Gallery, the Apse, the Nave and the Chamber of the Felines.

Font de Gaume Cave (14,000 BCE)
Home to over 250 engraved and painted figures, mostly bisons and mammoths.

Trois Freres Cave (13,000 BCE)
Famous, like Gabillou Cave, for its engraving of a strange shamanistic figure known as the "Sorcerer", the cave also has a beautiful life-size engraving of a lioness.

Roc-aux-Sorciers (c.12,000 BCE)
Renowned for its rock carvings and limestone frieze of relief sculpture.

Les Combarelles Cave (12,000 BCE)
A major centre of Magdalenian art, Les Combarelles is celebrated for its huge assemblage of engravings of prehistoric animals.

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• For other contemporaneous French art, see: Pech Merle Cave Paintings.

• For the oldest art in France, see: La Ferrassie Cave Cupules (c.60,000 BCE).


• For more information about Upper Paleolithic art in France, see: Homepage.

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