Roc de Sers Cave (c.17,200 BCE)
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
For more examples of prehistoric stonework such as rock carving and engraving, see these articles.
Castanet Engravings (35,000 BCE)
Cave paintings (30,000 BCE)
Cave Hand Stencils (25,000 BCE)
Cave (c.25,000 BCE)
Cave Engravings (25,000 BCE)
Cave (c.14,000 BCE)
Cave (14,000 BCE)
Freres Cave (13,000 BCE)
Combarelles Cave (12,000 BCE)
For more about Franco-Cantabrian cave art, see: Homepage.
ENCYCLOPEDIA OF STONE AGE