Solutrean Art and Culture
History, Characteristics, Chronology of Stone Age Parietal Arts.

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Clashing Ibexes at Roc de Sers.
Exceptional Paleolithic Carving
from the Solutrean (17,200 BCE).

Roc-de-Sers Cave.
A beautiful example of parietal art
from the Solutrean era.

Solutrean Art (c.20,000-15,000 BCE)


The Solutrean Era: A Summary
Solutrean Art: History, Characteristics
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Chronology of Upper Paleolithic Art

Aurignacian (40,000 – 25,000 BCE)
Gravettian (25,000 - 20,000 BCE)
Magdalenian (15,000 - 10,000 BCE)

Late Stone Age Culture

Mesolithic Art (10,000 to about 6,000 BCE)
Neolithic Art (about 6,000 to about 2,000 BCE)

Reliefs of a horse with a boar/bison.
It seems like the original bison
was re-modelled into a boar.
Roc-de-Sers Cave. (c.17,000 BCE)

The Solutrean Era: A Summary

In prehistoric art, the term "Solutrean" denotes a period of late Upper Paleolithic art and culture, named after the type-site of Solutre, in the region of Bourgogne in eastern France. Perhaps because of its advanced flint tool-making techniques, Solutrean rock art is most famous for its engraved pictographs and stone friezes - in particular the relief sculpture carved on blocks representing pot-bellied, short-limbed animals - as found, for instance, in the Devil's Oven cave at Bourdeilles (c.16,000 BCE) and at Roc-de-Sers (c.17,200 BCE). Indeed, the period witnessed significant progress in both the technique and expressiveness of drawing with stone tools. Cave painting was much less prevalent during this period, although Solutrean painters were active at Lascaux (first phase c.17,000 BCE) and Cosquer (second phase 17,000 BCE). Interestingly, only a handful of the dated images from this period are depictions of the dangerous species that dominated the earliest art at (say) Chauvet. Thus the preference for lions, rhinos and bears has been superceded by pictures of large herbivores, such as horses, aurochs and bison. Was Solutrean man growing less afraid of dangerous predators? Was it because of his skill at making blades for his javelins? Meanwhile, pictures of signs, symbols and other expressions of concrete art, remained popular, with some imagery being interpreted as evidence of an early knowledge of astronomy. Solutrean Stone Age art coincided with the coldest period (Last Glacial Maximum) of the Ice Age (c.20,000-17,000 BCE), and with the displacement of Neanderthal man by the new modern species of Cro-Magnon man and Chancelade man. As yet we have no clear idea how these factors affected either the parietal or the mobiliary art of the time, although continuing research will doubtless provide some answers.

Solutrean Art: History, Characteristics

Solutrean engravers and sculptors improved on Gravettian traditions of Franco-Cantabrian cave art in a number of ways. First, they injected much more realism into their engraved plaques, such as those depicting female deer and horses found at Parpallo in Spain. To strengthen this process, they introduced preparatory sketching for their engravings and reliefs, using charcoal drawings for some of their figures. Second, they engraved their animal figures in such a way as to exploit the light and morphology of the cave, using bas-reliefs to enhance the three-dimensional qualities of the work. Thus, the main artistic goal of sculpture - the interplay between form, light and movement - appears to have been fully understood. These advances culminated in the exquisite bas-reliefs carved out of limestone slabs, at Bourdeilles (Dordogne) and Roc-de-Sers (Charentes). In addition, Solutrean artists also produced a number of cave paintings and petroglyphs at the Tete du Lion cave in the Ardeche region. Unfortunately, around 15,000 BCE, after creating a number of stunning examples of cave art, Solutrean culture mysteriously disappears.

Note: The Solutrean era was preceded by the Gravettian era and succeeded by the Magdalenian. (See: Prehistoric Art Timeline.)

Chronology of Solutrean Culture

Grotte des Deux-Ouvertures (second phase) (19,000 BCE)
Ardeche rock shelter known in English as The Cave of Two Openings, also called La Grotte des Ours ("Cave of the Bears"), it contains animal engravings, abstract signs and an indistinct hybrid creature, half-human, half-animal.

La Pileta Cave (18,130 BCE)
Located 30 kilometres inland from the Mediterranean coast, near the hilltop town of Rhonda, the cave of La Pileta is famous for its nine phases of Upper Paleolithic decoration. One figure of an auroch has been dated to 18,130 BCE, but other rock engravings appear to be older.

Koonalda Cave Art (c.18,000 BCE)
Located almost 200-feet below the Nullarbor Plain in South Australia, the Koonalda Cave and sinkhole contains the finest examples of Aboriginal finger fluting in Australia.

Xianrendong Cave Pottery (c.18,000 BCE),
Sherds from Xianrendong in southeast China are the most ancient pottery yet discovered. Another example of East Asian ceramic ware, dating to 16,000 BCE, is the Yuchanyan Cave pottery, from Hunan Province.
Mid-Upper Paleolithic Period.
Jiangxi Province, China.

Le Placard Cave (c.17,500 BCE)
Noted for the dozen aviform signs in its frieze, very similar to abstract signs found at Pech-Merle (Marseilles) and Cougnac in the Lot. The signs are known as "Placard type" signs.

Cosquer Cave Paintings (second phase 17,000 BCE)
After its occupation by Gravettian artists around 25,000 BCE, who were responsible for the cave's prehistoric hand stencils and handprints, Cosquer underwent a second phase of decoration between 17500 and 16000 BCE. See, for instance its black painted stag (17290 BCE).

Roc-de-Sers Cave Engravings and Reliefs (c.17,200 BCE)
Excavated 1927-29, Roc de Sers acts as the benchmark for Solutrean prehistoric sculpture, especially regarding artistic form and technique. It is best known for its fourteen sculptured, engraved and painted limestone blocks (dated 17,230 BCE) lying face down, decorated with 52 images of bison, horses, ibex and musk ox, all depicted with large bodies and disproportionately short legs. In addition, there is a figure of at least one man, understood to be wielding a spear. About 70 percent of the images were shaded with red ochre or other colour pigments to convey movement. (For more details of dyes and pigments used, see: Prehistoric Colour Palette.) Examples of images include: a wild boar on a limestone block, with its head and the limbs carved in high relief, while its trunk is in low-relief; a drawing on a rock plaque of a man chased by a Musk Ox; two male ibex clashing during the rutting season. Similar in quality to the stone frieze at Roc-aux-Sorciers (c.12,000 BCE).

Lascaux Cave Paintings (first phase c.17,000 BCE)
Famous for its multi-coloured cave paintings, pictographs and black drawings.

La Tete du Lion Cave (c.17,000 BCE)
Located near Bidon in the Ardeche in the Rhone-Alpes (close to Chauvet and Chabot caves), it is famous for a panel, dated 19,000 BCE, which is believed to disclose an early understanding of astronomy. The panel has seven dots (thought to be a plan of the Pleiades) next to an image of an auroch (bull), while the auroch's eye itself is understood to mark the position of Aldebaran, the primary star in the Taurus constellation. Similar markings appear at Lascaux.

Devil's Oven Cave (c.16,000 BCE)
The Fourneau-du-Diable cave at Bourdeilles in northern Dordogne is famous for its Solutrean pictographs.

Cave of La Pasiega (c.16,000 BCE)
This Upper Solutrean and the Lower Magdalenian shelter has a huge number of cervids (deer, male and female), equines (horses) and bovines (aurochs). It also contains a large number of abstract symbols (ideomorphs).

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For more about art from the Upper Paleolithic, please see the following:

El Castillo Cave Paintings (39,000 BCE)
The oldest known cave painting in the world.

Altamira Cave Paintings (Cantabria, Spain)
Geometric imagery dates back to 34,000 BCE.


• For more information about Solutrean arts and crafts, see: Homepage.

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