Roc de Sers Cave
Charente Rock Shelter, Benchmark for Solutrean Stone Carving.

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Clashing Ibexes at Roc de Sers.
Exceptional Paleolithic Carving
from the Solutrean (17,200 BCE).
Among the earliest art of its type.

Roc de Sers Cave (c.17,200 BCE)
Rock Frieze of Engravings and Relief Sculpture.


Discovery and Excavation
Roc de Sers Frieze
Other Cave Art
Related Articles

Relief Sculpture of Horse,
Roc de Sers Frieze.

Man Being Chased by Musk Ox.
Scene from the Stone Frieze
at Roc de Sers.


An important and rare site of cave art from the Solutrean period, Roc de Sers is a rock shelter and sanctuary situated north of Gachedou, in the Charente. Although it contains a variety of prehistoric art, it is best known for its series of sculpted, engraved and painted limestone blocks, decorated with more than 50 rock engravings and works of relief sculpture, depicting bison, horses and other animals. Prehistorians see Roc de Sers as an important benchmark of Solutrean art, notably in the area of prehistoric sculpture, where the interplay between form, light and shadow seem to have been fully appreciated by the shelter's artists. Most of the limestone blocks are now part of the permanent collection of Stone Age Art at the French Museum of National Antiquities (Saint-Germain-en-Laye), although copies can be seen at Roc de Sers. Other famous examples of prehistoric relief sculpture and rock petroglyphs include: the Abri du Poisson (c.23,000 BCE) near Les Eyzies-de-Tayac in the Dordogne, noted for its spectacular relief carving of a salmon; the famous fertility carving of the Venus of Laussel (23,000 BCE) near Lascaux in the Dordogne, now in the Museum of Aquitaine, Bordeaux; the Magdalenian Cap Blanc Frieze (15,000 BCE) near Laussel; Roc-aux-Sorciers shelter (12,000 BCE) in the commune of Angles-sur-l'Anglin, in Vienne, noted for its exceptional limestone frieze; the Tuc d'Audoubert cave (c.13,500 BCE) in the Ariege department of the central Pyrenees, renowned for its bison reliefs. For more about the chronology of Paleolithic rock carving, see: Prehistoric Art Timeline (from 2.5 million BCE).

Discovery and Excavation

The archeological site of Roc de Sers is located between the Grotte du Roc and the Grotte de la Vierge, on the right bank of the River Echelle, a tributary of the Touvre, 12 miles north of Gachedou, in the Charente.

The site was first excavated by Dr. Henry-Martin and A. Favraud in 1907-8. Further investigations took place during the periods 1909-20 and 1924-29. It was in 1927 that the first carved blocks of the Roc de Sers limestone frieze were discovered near the cave entrance at the foot of the cliff, by Dr. Henry-Martin. It seems that the action of ice on the huge overhang at the mouth of the sanctuary had precipitated a partial collapse of the walls and roof of the shelter, along with the limestone carvings and reliefs. An event similar to the one that occurred at the Roc-aux-Sorciers shelter at Angles-sur-l'Anglin.
Further excavations were halted in 1933 and not resumed until 1951, when archeologists R. Lantier and Mlle G. Henry-Martin found a number of new rock carvings.

For the world's earliest artworks, see: Oldest Stone Age Art.


Excavations of the embankment downstream of the shelter has yielded artifacts and sediments from various Homo sapiens sapiens occupations dating back to between 18,000 and 15,000 BCE. Artifacts recovered include "feuilles de laurier", shouldered points, willow points, burins, scrapers, grattoirs and blades. The worked material is mainly flint, but rock crystal, quartz and quartzite were also used. The discovery of large clusters of small stone chips suggests the presence of lithic workshops.

The date of the sculpted limestone slabs can be confidently attributed to the Solutrean era, about 17,200 BCE, as they collapsed into precisely dated archeological deposits. Contemporaneous sites of Franco-Cantabrian cave art include: Le Placard Cave (17,500 BCE), noted for its peculiar abstract signs; the world-renowned Lascaux Cave paintings (from 17,000 BCE); and the La Pasiega Cave art (16,000 BCE) in Puente Viesgo, Spain.

Roc de Sers Frieze

Reconstructed from 19 fragments of some 14 limestone blocks, the Roc de Sers stone frieze measures about 10 metres (33 feet) in length, and occupied two tiers with enough continuity of theme and style as to suggest that the frieze formed a compositional whole. Although the sculptures have suffered considerable erosion, enough detail remains to reconstruct the manner of production. The stone surface of the wall was first pecked, rubbed and scraped, and in addition a number charcoal drawings were sketched on the rock in preparation. All the principal carved figures made full use of the morphology of the available contours, while the artists employed a full range of bas-relief sculpture, engraving and colouring to create maximum three dimensionality and anatomical detail. For instance, approximately 70 percent of the images are shaded with red ochre or other colour pigments to convey relief and animation. (For more, see: Prehistoric Colour Palette.)

In total, the frieze features 52 images of horses, bison, ibexes and musk ox, nearly all shown with disproportionately large bodies and short legs. There are two basic ensembles: one dominated by ibexes (western), the other dominated by horses (eastern). Although fewer in number, bison are seen in both ensembles. In addition, the frieze features two human figures.
Othe highlights include: two male ibexes confronting each other during the rutting season, and an engraved image of a man pursued by a Musk Ox.

There are visible similarities between the stone sculpture at Roc de Sers and the cave art at Parpallo (Gandia, Valencia, Spain) and Fourneau du Diable (Bourdeilles, Dordogne, France), but especially with the sculpture at Roc-aux-Sorciers (Vienne, France). The similarities between the latter and Roc de Sers, for instance, embraces the types of animals depicted and the way that the ears of animals are portrayed.

Other Cave Art

In addition to its exceptional stonework, the parietal art at Roc de Sers also includes numerous abstract signs (red dots and indeterminate lines), as well as a quantity of primitive jewellery art, in the form of pierced shells, animal teeth, designed as pendants, necklaces and other types of primitive personal ornamentation.

Related Articles

For more examples of prehistoric stonework such as rock carving and engraving, see these articles.

Abri Castanet Engravings (35,000 BCE)
Earliest engraved drawings in Europe.

Chauvet Cave paintings (30,000 BCE)
Leading Aurignacian site of cave painting.

Gargas Cave Hand Stencils (25,000 BCE)
Contains a shocking collection of mutilated handprints.

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

Cussac Cave Engravings (25,000 BCE)
Noted for its exceptional, large-size engraved drawings.

Font-de-Gaume Cave (c.14,000 BCE)
Magdalenian sanctuary noted for its "Bison frieze".

Rouffignac Cave (14,000 BCE)
Renowned for its black paintings of mammoths.

Trois Freres Cave (13,000 BCE)
Renowned for its engraving of a lioness and an enigmatic shamanistic figure known as the "Sorcerer".

Les Combarelles Cave (12,000 BCE)
A major centre of Magdalenian art, Les Combarelles is famous for its huge collection of engravings of animal figures.


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