The Magdalenian Horses of the Quercy

In the cave of Sainte-Eulalie (Lot), I recorded and studied eight horse images which I compared with the horse depictions of Les Combarelles and Les Trois Frères (Lorblanchet 1973). These animals are immediately distinguishable from those of Roucadour and the early phases of Quercy art through their technique of short multiple incisions, avoiding big linear traces done in one go, their massive appearance, the accuracy of the bodily proportions, and the size of the head. (Figure 11.8). The heads are henceforth thick and short: they represent 16 to 18 per cent of the length of the body; their length is thus double that of the equid heads in Roucadour. The size of their head is identical to that seen on present-day Przewalski horses whose heads represent between 16 and 22 per cent of the animal's length.

At Sainte-Eulalie the artist's wishes were very different from those of the engravers of Roucadour. The animals represented on the walls are astonishingly present: the principal horse (panel V) whose iris and lashes are even depicted, is aquiver with life. The evocation of the coat, the proud allure, the intensity of the look, the opening of the mouth, the multiple drawings of the ear which may depict its movement, describe an animal on the lookout. In the Middle Magdalenian (all the engravings of Sainte-Eulalie have been dated

Fig. 11.8. Engraved horses of Sainte-Eulalie

stratigraphically to around 15,000 years before present) the relationship with reality thus becomes more direct and closer; we are in the presence of a mastery of realism through the precision of details and the concern for proportions.

In this decorated cave of the valley of the Cele, on another horse depiction, even if the mane is not detailed, the eye, nostrils, mouth, and the perfect shapes of the head are noted and the multiple outlines of the head express the animal's vitality. In the same cave there is a purposely headless horse, the line suddenly stops at the start of the mane and the jaw. But this is not a 'dead' horse, because its multiple limbs express movement. All this is doubtless

Fig. 11.9. Engraved horses of Pergouset cave

meaningful. One also finds headlessness in the early art of Roucadour (horse X-1); so this is not a Magdalenian speciality.

The cave of Pergouset (Saint-Gery, Lot) possesses seventeen horse depictions. (Figure 11.9) They are the dominant animal figures here, as in most of the Palaeolithic decorated caves of the Quercy (Lorblanchet 2001).

In the deep part of the cave, the style of the engravings is crude and very schematic, the incisions are broad and deep; by contrast, the style becomes gradually naturalistic as one approaches the entrance of the decorated gallery.

I have shown that the stylistic variations probably play a role in the meaning of the sanctuary which appears to be linked to a myth of the creation of the world.

The most naturalistic animals, close to the entrance, have exact bodily proportions, and their drawing is often precise. The hairs of the mane and beard are often depicted, as are the eyes. One of the horses in chamber II in a narrow fissure possesses an eye that is as precisely drawn (with pupil and iris) as that of the big horse of Sainte-Eulalie. Moreover, lines emerging from its open mouth doubtless depict breath. Another complete horse—whose cloven fore-hoof suggests that it may in reality be a composite horse-bovine being— displays a herringbone mane which is also found on certain equids in Les Trois Freres (Ariege) and in the Magdalenian portable art of Bruniquel (Tarn-et-Garonne). Moreover, it is to the Middle Magdalenian, at a date close to the one obtained for Sainte-Eulalie, that one can attribute the sanctuary of Pergouset.

Let us return to the cave of Sainte-Eulalie. The stratigraphy which we discovered during our excavation in this cave includes at the top a rich level of Magdalenian VI with harpoons, which covered the wall that was previously decorated during the Magdalenian III. In this Final Magdalenian level where, in the fauna, the red deer accompanies the reindeer, we discovered several portable horse depictions which can usefully be compared with those made several millennia earlier on the walls of the same cave.

The horses on bone and stone of the terminal Magdalenian of Sainte-Eulalie can be distinguished from the parietal horses of the Middle Magdalenian by the volume of their head which represents from a quarter to a third of the animal's total length: they belong to the tradition of the 'big-headed horses' of the Upper Magdalenian.

In Palaeolithic art, therefore, the size and shape of horse heads has no anatomical value: they are purely a stylistic convention.

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