Ina Reiche et al, “First discovery of charcoal-based prehistoric cave art in Dordogne”, Scientific reports, Nature, 22235 (2023).
A study published in December 2023 in the journal Nature brings great satisfaction to all specialists in cave art. It reveals the discovery of parietal paintings using charcoal in the Font-de-Gaume cave (Eyzies-de-Tayac, Dordogne, France). The cave contains around 200 representations, two-thirds of which are animals and one-third geometric representations known as tectiforms. The majority of animal representations are of bison, followed by mammoths, deer and horses.
The importance of the presence of charcoal in the cave lies in the fact that, until now, it was assumed that Dordogne parietal paintings were made exclusively from mineral materials (iron oxides for red hues and manganese oxides for black hues). To date, however, it is impossible to carry out dating using mineral matter, hence the need for organic matter, i.e. charcoal.
The researchers used non-invasive physico-chemical analysis methods, such as Raman spectroscopy, to identify the presence of carbon in the paints without the risk of damaging them.
This exceptional discovery opens up the prospect of radiocarbon (carbon-14) dating of the Font-de-Gaume paintings, a first in the Dordogne. This would clarify the chronology of these works, currently dated to the Magdalenian period (around 19,000 – 12,500 B.C.).