Roucadour Cave Art
Characteristics, Location, Discovery of Rock Engravings, Quercy, Lot.

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Hand stencils in Roucadour cave,
Themines, Quercy, Lot, France.
Among the oldest art in the Lot.

Roucadour Cave Art (c.24,000 BCE)
Animal Engravings, Hand Stencils, Abstract Signs


Characteristics of Roucadour's Cave Art
Other Paleolithic Caves in the Lot
Related Articles


Roucadour Cave contains some of the earliest art in the Lot region, dating back to the early era of Gravettian art (c.24,000 BCE). It is noted in particular for its rock engravings of animals and birds, a large quantity of abstract signs, and some magnificent hand stencils and other markings. Although not dated directly, these works are assigned to the earliest phase of Paleolithic art produced in Quercy, because of their stylistic resemblance to the decorations in the nearby caves of Pech-Merle, Cougnac and Cussac. Furthermore, Roucadour's prehistoric art was created over a relatively short period of time. There is no sign, for instance, of later additions to the cave's original body of art, which thus allows us a rare insight into the spiritual and creative world of Upper Palaeolithic humans. The Roucadour archeological site - which includes its sinkhole entrance and several underground galleries - was classified as a Historical Monument of France in August 1964, but lawsuits kept the cave closed to all researchers and scientists until 2002. It is still closed to the public. For more about the chronology of Stone Age art in the Franco-Cantabrian region, and elsewhere, see: Prehistoric Art Timeline (from 2.5 million BCE).


Part of the limestone plateau of Gramat, Roucadour Cave is located near the town of Themines, in the region of Quercy, which is part of the departement of the Lot, France. It is accessed from the south through a porch-shaped entrance on the edge of a sinkhole. The region is rich in Stone Age art, the nearest decorated cave being La Grotte des Escabasses which is only two kilometres away. For other artistic treasures from the Quercy region, please see: Cassegros Cave Engravings (c.16,000 BCE); Cougnac Cave Paintings (23,000 BCE) and Pech Merle Cave Paintings (25,000 BCE).


Roucadour cave was first discovered in 1860 by EA Martel, although it wasn't until the 1950s that the first excavations were conducted around the entrance to the cave, and not until October 1962 that the cave's petroglyphs were discovered by local speleologists Jean-Paul Coussy and P.Taurisson. In 1963 the site was visited by the famous archeologist and Paleolithic scholar Abbe Andre Glory (1906-66), who spent three years surveying the cave's engravings from 1963 until his mysterious disappearance on July 29, 1966, along with his assistant Father Jean-Louis Villeveygoux. Between 1966 and 2002 the cave was closed to all further archeological exploration. Since then, the cave has been examined by a variety of archeologists and historians, including: Norbert Aujoulat (1946-2011), Dominique Baffier the curator of Chauvet Cave (2000-2014), Emmanuel Anati (b.1930) and Jean Clottes (b.1933).

Characteristics of Roucadour's Cave Art

One of the less well known sites of Franco-Cantabrian cave art, Roucadour consists of a large cavern containing a main gallery approximately 15 metres (50-feet) high, 15-20 metres (50/65-feet) long, and a side gallery roughly 40 metres (130-feet) long, which contains the bulk of the rock art. According to Andre Glory, the cave contains some 150 engravings of animal figures: 40 percent are horses; 30 percent deer (mainly megaceros); 13 percent bison/aurochs/ibex; 7.5 percent woolly mammoths; 4 percent felines; and 4 percent birds. In addition, there is a large number of geometric marks or symbols, including: more than 600 vertical lines and 30 circles. There are are also 12 hand stencils and handprints, in red ochre and carbon-black. The style and subject matter of the images (notably the hand stencils, the circle signs, and the shape of the horses' heads), share many similarities with images discovered at the caves of Cougnac and Pech Merle. As a result, they have been assigned similar dates - around 24,000 BCE.

The vast majority of the images are engraved. The only examples of cave painting are the hand stencils and a relatively small number of painted animal engravings. In 2005 tests involving Raman microscopy (RM) were conducted on the prehistoric colour pigments used on paintings in the Roucadour Cave, to determine the constituents of the prehistoric colour palette on display.
These tests showed that the main red pigment is hematite, while dark-red also included magnetite, manganese or carbon. Red pigments also contained trace-amounts of rutile and gypsum. White colours were obtained from crystals of calcite or quartz, while black pigments were derived from manganese, small amounts of carbon and trace amounts of anatase. These results suggest that prehistoric artists at Roucadour derived their paint colours from a variety of naturally occurring minerals, all of which appear to have been sourced locally.

Other Paleolithic Caves in the Lot

Other famous sites of cave art in the departement of the Lot, include:

Cassegros Cave, Villeneuve-sur-Lot, Lot-et-Garonne.
Paleolithic engravings and paintings of horses and ibexes, dating to Solutrean art, about 16,000 BCE.

Pech Merle Cave, Cabrerets, Lot.
World famous for its "Dappled Horses", hand stencils and aviform signs, dating back to about 25,000 BCE.

Cougnac Cave, Gourdon, Lot.
Its earliest art, dating to about 23,000 BCE, includes paintings and charcoal drawings of deer, megaloceros, ibex and mammoths.

Less well known decorated caves in the Lot, include: Le Cuzoul des Brasconies, Le Cuzoul de Melanie, the Grotte des Merveilles, the Grotte Carriot, the Grotte Christian, the Grotte des Faux-Monnayeurs, the Grotte du Cantal, the Grotte Marcenac, the Grotte de Sainte Eulalie, the Grotte du Moulin, and the Grotte de Pergouset.

Related Articles

For more about prehistoric rock engravings in French caves, see the following articles.

Abri Castanet Engravings (c.35,000 BCE)
Commune de Sergeac, Dordogne, France.

Lascaux Cave (from 17,000 BCE)
The greatest site of polychrome cave paintings.

Roc-de-Sers Cave (c.17,000 BCE)
Gachedou, Charente, France.

Cap Blanc Frieze (15,000 BCE)
The most significant example of Magdalenian relief sculpture.

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

Rouffignac Cave (14,000 BCE)
Contains a third of all cave paintings of mammoths.

Tuc d'Audoubert Cave (c.13,500 BCE)
Noted for bison relief sculpture.

Trois Freres Cave (c.13,000 BCE)
Ariege, Hautes-Pyrenees, France.

Roc-aux-Sorciers (12,000 BCE)
Angles-sur-l'Anglin, Vienne, Poitou-Charentes, France.

Niaux Cave (12,000 BCE)
Famous for its "Salon Noir" gallery.

Les Combarelles Cave (12,000 BCE)
A major Magdalenian sanctuary noted for its animal engravings.


• For more information about ancient rock engravings in France, see: Homepage.

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