|The paintings at Lascaux II, photograph taken by Prof Saxx.|
|The CNP Museum|
Dordogne itself is a beautiful part of the world, dominated by lush green forests interspersed with pretty rural villages. Many wooded mountains and cliff tops tower above the meandering valleys, and it is in these that the naturally-created grottes can be found. Throughout the Upper Palaeolithic, homo sapiens sapiens - human beings who were fundamentally the same as us, biologically-speaking - entered some of these caves, crawling into their deepest, darkest recesses, where, under the flickering illumination of lamp light, they proceeded to engrave or paint animal imagery onto the cave walls, sometimes leaving painted dots or hand prints in their place.
|The entrance to Font de Gomme.|
|Ibex and mammoth on the ceiling of Rouffignac. |
Image from post card.
Thursday and Friday saw us getting away from the caves as we attended the CNP's Fourth Rock Art Meetings, a conference devoted to the theme of "Thinking Contexts in Rock Art: Methods, Experiences, Prospects." I found it surprising that here in France, rock art specialists were still debating whether an understanding of archaeological contexts was important for rock art studies - a position some even shockingly rejected ! It was a stark reminder that while there are areas where French archaeology is clearly ahead of the game, when it comes to theoretical issues, Francophone archaeology lags quite far behind that of the Anglophone world. I really hope that future collaboration between the two academic spheres will serve to be of great benefit to both. I presented my own paper at the conference, "Can we talk of a distinctive Cornish tradition of rock art ?", which was a tentative examination of several issues that I hope to be able to explore in further depth at some point. I was pleased to see that a number of those attending seemed to take an interest in the Neolithic and Bronze Age petroglyphs of Britain, an area that is finally beginning to see the academic attention that it deserves. Three of my comrades also presented papers, all of which were on the rock arts of Africa, while Peter Robinson took the opportunity to present the good work of the Bradshaw Foundation to a wider audience.
Overall, it was a fantastic week that I won't be forgetting any time soon, and while my personal research interests focus on areas that are more recent than the Upper Palaeolithic, my appetite for the cave art of this period has definitely been whetted. My thanks go out to everyone who made it such a memorable experience, and especially to Didier, whose hard work in organising everything really paid off !