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Castle Courtyard Chapel Exhibition room

The itinerary of the exhibition follows the chronological evolution of the Magdalenian culture over the whole Pyrenean territory, through the three main French areas of the present time : Aquitaine, Midi-Pyrénées and Languedoc-Roussillon. For Spain it covers the Basque Country and the Cantabric coast. A map in relief indicates the location of the sites. Large drawings illustrate the animals hunted and used for food.
The exhibition then begins in the next room.

The valleys of the Northern slopes of the Pyrenees, still directly under the influence of the last glaciers, are abandonned by men for the Cantabric coast which benefits of a milder climate, owing to the proximity of the sea. It is then in this area that the first Magdalenian works of art appear. They consist in figures of does engraved on scapula, for exemple in Altamira and El Castillo caves, which are also found on the walls of these same caves (Early Magdalenian era , from 17 000 to 14 500 before present).

The Middle Magdalenian era (from 14 500 to 13 000) sees the development of the conquest and mastery of the territory. A large amount of the implements originates from two great regional base camps : Isturitz (Pyrénées-Alantiques) and Mas-d’Azil (Ariège).

The transmission of some topics (spear-thrower « au faon et aux oiseaux » ) or decoration technique (ochre, amber, lignite inlaid on some spear-throwers and spiral decoration on hemi-cylindrical sticks) enables to grasp the notion of cultural unity.

The repetition of some ornamental objects as cut-away sculptures of horse heads in bone (70 exemplaries from all the Pyrenean sites are displayed in a single showcase) strengthens the feeling of this cultural homogeneity. This production is contemporaneous with the first sanctuaries (Niaux, Trois-Frères, Portel caves...).

A film on the Niaux sanctuary-cave is displayed and helps to establish a connection between two forms of art : portable art and wall art. The engraved plaquettes on sandstone and schist are often considered as miniature wall art : archaeologists found them in sanctuaries and also in settlements. More than a thousand have been found in Enlène cave-dwelling (Ariège). One of the most original features of this Magdalenian Pyrenean art consists, on the one hand, in stone-carvings (horses and bisons made from pink sandstone of Isturitz and Duruthy, « cheval agenouillé » of Duruthy for the western part of the Pyrenees) and, on the other hand, in hand-modelings as well as engravings of animals on clay discovered in the most remote areas of the Central Pyrenees caves (bisons of the Tuc-d’Audubert cave, plaquette « au bison » of the Bédeilhac cave).

Engraved bison a plaquette

Other artefacts illustrate the relation of the Magdalenian hunters with the Atlantic coast (« dent de cachalot » in the Mas-d’Azil cave, shells) and funeral customs (reshaped skull bone fragments).

A few human figures and representations depicting sexual organs - generally male - are also found (phallus in the Mas-d’Azil cave and in the Isturitz cave).

Phallus carved ivory

The exhibition ends up with a display of the Late Magdalenian era (from 13 000 to 11 000). The climate gets warmer and forests become widespread in plains and valleys. As regards portable art, the use of stag antler replaces the use of reindeer antler and cervidae antler. The abundance of engraved bird bones is noticeable (La Vache cave and El Valle cave in the province of Santander).

New iconographic topics appear, with schematic ibex figures (« poignard » of the La Vache cave) and some others, more « realistic » of stags and horses (pierce baton of the El Pendo cave and baton « aux cerfs et aux saumons » of the Lortet cave in the Hautes-Pyrénées).

This great art of hunters, brought to perfection by the Magdalenians, approximatively ends in 11 000 before present, with the end of Ice Age.
For obvious reasons, only films on the great wall art of the decorated caves of Altamira and Niaux will be displayed. However, because of the tight links existing between wall and portable arts, one must bear in mind that the magdalenian culture must be studied through these two productions. This is one of the ways present day research tries to follow.

Prehistoric Art of the Pyrenees