Saturday, July 1, 2017


Bison, Niaux, Black Salon,
Wikipedia. Public domain.

The urge to leave graffiti on a rock art site is not just a modern phenomenon. According to the book The Cave and the Cathedral by Amir Aczel, a visitor to Niaux cavern in 1660 left his name on the wall in the Black Salon where he saw the rock art left by Paleolithic artists. I found the account really provoked my imagination as I pictured this gentleman making his way through the cave in the 1600s. Ruben de la Vialle had to have used a flame to light his way, much like the original creators of the art, not the electric lamps used by modern visitors. Aczel described it in his book The Cave and the Cathedral (see below).

Ruben de la Vialle,1660 signature,
Public domain.

"In 1660, a visitor named Ruben de la Vialle carved his name and the date all the way inside the Black Salon, half a mile deep inside this cavern (Niaux), right next to the drawings of the animals. Did de la Vialle realize how ancient the drawings were? We do not know, and there is no evidence that anyone else had penetrated the cave to this depth. De la Vialle must have lighted his way in with fire, using a candle or a torch not much different from the kind Paleolithic artists who decorated this cave had used.
Navigating this complicated underground network of cavities - which continues for six more miles underground in a part of the cave very rarely visited today, called the Castres Network - must have been a daunting task. And it was dangerous. We know that people have died when they got lost inside some of these deep caverns.
But somehow, Ruben de la Vialle made it alone all the way in. He saw this great art, and he made it back out of the cave. His footsteps have been found in the cave, showing his way in and out. There are also footsteps of the Paleolithic people who made the art and those of ancient visitors who entered the cave still in the Ice Age, a couple of thousand years after the artists had left. These Ice Age visitors were two women and two young children, as revealed by an analysis of their footsteps. They, too, made it all the way to the Black Salon. We know this because the cave environment was undisturbed by wind or fire or much geological erosion, and therefore ancient footsteps inside remained intact for millennia.
Once de la Vialle had left the cave of Niaux in 1660, the beautiful drawings of the Black Salon were not to be seen again for almost 250 years. The artists clearly aimed - and succeeded - at hiding their drawings well.
On September 21, 1906, the Paleolithic treasure hidden in the depth of Niaux was rediscovered. That day, two young brothers, Paul and Jules Molard, were hiking in the woods with their father, known only as Captain Molard, in the rural region of the lower central Pyrenees." (Aczel 2009:10-11)

Ibex, Niaux cave, Black Salon, Public

Niaux, Black Salon,, 
Public domain.

Unfortunately, we have no record of what de la Vialle thought of the masterpieces of Paleolithic art that he found there. One can only imagine his thoughts on the subject, but it is something to contemplate.

Note: Images in this posting were retrieved from the Internet by a search that included the phrase "Public domain." If any of these images were located mistakenly please accept my apology, and inform me so I can give proper credit.


Aczel, Amir D.
2009 The Cave and the Cathedral: How a Real-Life Indiana Jones and a Renegade Scholar Decoded the Ancient Art of Man, John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Hoboken, NJ.


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