Grotte des Combarelles


Useful Information

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Mammoth. Grotte des Combarelles, France.
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Wild horse, cave bear, mammoth, cave lion. Grotte des Combarelles, France.
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Reindeer. Grotte des Combarelles, France.
Location: D47, 17 km north of Bergerac, 2.3 km east of Les Eyzies-de-Tayac.
Tickets sold at Grotte de Font-de-Gaume, 1 km from the centre of Les Eyzies-de-Tayac on the left side of the Beune valley.
(44.943600, 1.042220)
Open: 15-MAY to 15-SEP Mon-Fri, Sun 9:30-17:30.
16-SEP to 14-MAY Mon-Fri, Sun 9:30-12:30, 14-17:30.
Closed 01-JAN, 01-MAY, 01-NOV, 11-NOV, 25-DEC.
[2021]
Fee: Adults EUR 11.50, Children (0-17) free, Reduced EUR 4.50, Adults (18-25) from the EU free, Disabled free, Unemployed free.
Groups (20+): Adults EUR 5.50.
[2011]
Classification: SpeleologyKarst cave
Light: LightIncandescent Electric Light System
Dimension: L=300, T=12 °C, H=99%.
Combarelles I: L= 249 m.
Guided tours: L=400 m, D=60 min, Max=6, Max=60/day.
Photography: forbidden
Accessibility: no
Bibliography:
Address: Grotte des Combarelles, Hall d'accueil de Font-de-Gaume, Route de Sarlat, 24620 Les Eyzies-de-Tayac, Tel: +33-553-068600, Fax: +33-553-352618.
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.

History

1891 entrance area excavated by Emile River.
1894 end of excavations by Emile River.
08-SEP-1901 engravings discovered by Denis Peyrony, Abbe Breuil and Louis Capitan.
1902 the prehistoric age of the Altamira paintings recognized as a result of the discoveries at Combarelles, public apology by Abbe Breuil.
12-DEC-1902 Combarelles I classified as historical monuments.
1909 excavation by Émile River.
24-SEP-1943 Combarelles II registered as historical monuments by decree.
1973 C-14 dating of bones.
1979 inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
2005 Combarelles III discovered by Marc Delluc at the end of Combarelles I.

Description

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Horse. Grotte des Combarelles, France.
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Animal prints. Grotte des Combarelles, France.
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Wild goat. Grotte des Combarelles, France.

The Grotte des Combarelles or simply Les Combarelles is located a few kilometers east of Les Eyzies-de-Tayac. The huge entrance portal was known since ancient times. The entrance area was excavated by Emile River between 1891 and 1894. Bones, excavated in this area were dated with the C-14 method in 1973 to be between 11,380 and 13,680 years old.

The engravings in the narrow passage behind the huge portal were discovered by Denis Peyrony, Abbe Breuil and Louis Capitan on 08-SEP-1901. They were travelling around the area at this time to identify prehistoric remains. Four days later they discovered the paintings at nearby Font-de-Gaume Cave. It was a time, when the age of cave paintings was impossible to determine. There were no modern geophysical isotope based methods, the age was derived from a theory of the development of modern art. According to this theory old paintings were made by less developed human ancestors and were thus less elaborate, so the age was estimated propotional to the quality of the artworks. 20 years earlier Maria, the daugther of Marcelino de Santuola, discovered paintings of bisons at the ceiling of the Altamira Cave which was owned by the family. The cave paintings were so elaborate, that archaeologists of this time, including the world famous Abbe Breuil, questioned a higher age. The owner of Altamira cave was blamed to have faked the paintings. But the discoveries at Combarelles changed anything! The engravings were covered by speleothems, and knowing the growth rate of speleothems, an age much higher as ever before was calculated. As a result Abbe Breuil publicly appologized for his doubts. Unfortunately Marcelino de Santuola had already died

But like often, the fame of Combarelles was short. Only four days later the archaeologists discovered nearby Grotte de Font-de-Gaume and the colourful drawings made the - sometimes hard to see - engravings much less popular. Probably a good thing, as this is actually the reason that Combarelles was never overcrowded, and never closed to the public. Until today it is rather simple to get tickets, even when other caves are booked out.

While the porch is huge and opens to a sort of natural amphitheatre, the cave itself is quite small. The passage is only one meter wide and was originally very low, so it was necessary to crawl. The floor was lowered when the cave was developed as a show cave, so today the visit is a sort of stooping walk. Actually there are two passages in opposite direction, called Combarelles I and Combarelles II. In 2005 Marc Delluc discovered a new gallery at the end of Combarelles I, which is called Combarelles III. To protect the engravings the number of visitors is limited to 60 per day. Also it is not allowed to touch the wall at any point and the groups are limited to 6 visitors. On the tour the first 200 m of Combarelles I are visited, the the tour returns on the same way. Because of the narrow and low passage the tour is rather strenuous, and certainly not suitable for people with claustrophobia.

The cave contains some 600 etchings and a few drawings in black outlines. They show mostly animals, including reindeers, musk oxen, horses, bisons, and aurochs (wild oxen). Some show rather abstract anthropomorphic figures which are interpreted as female forms. A few geometric patterns are called tectiforms. The art is of Magdalènien age, between 13,680 and 11,380 BP, in other words the cave was used only for short time, but this "short" period was nevertheless 2000 years long.