Grotte des Trois-Frères
Sketch of Breuil's "The Sorcerer"
|Alternative name||Les Trois Frères|
|Region||Ariège, southwestern France|
|Type||limestone karst cave complex|
|Part of||Three cave-complex|
|Periods||late Upper Paleolithic, 13,000 BC|
|Associated with||Paleo Humans|
The Cave of the Trois-Frères is a cave in southwestern France famous for its cave paintings. It is located in Montesquieu-Avantès, in the Ariège département. The cave is named for the three sons of Comte Bégouen who discovered it in 1914. (In French: trois frères means "three brothers".) The drawings of the cave were made famous in the publications of the Abbé Henri Breuil. The cave art appears to date to approximately 13,000 BC.
One of the paintings, known as "The Sorcerer", is the "most famous and enigmatic human figure" with the features of several different animals, whose exact characteristics remain a matter of debate.
Engravings featuring what appear to be several birds and a cave grasshopper were found on a fragment of bison bone at the junction of Trois-Frères with the Grotte d'Enlène. The grasshopper was portrayed with such fidelity that the insect's species has been determined. It is thought to be the earliest known representation of an insect.
A variety of engraved animals are found on the cave walls, including lions, owls, and bison. Of particular note is a horse overlaid with claviform (club-like) symbols, and an apparently speared brown bear vomiting blood.
Aside from the "Sorcerer", other human-like figures can be seen at Trois-Frères, such as the man-bison, and a character known as the "small sorcerer" who appears to be playing a nose-flute. Also of interest is an etched representation of a 59cm long phallus that follows the contours of the cave walls.
The Trois-Freres cave is part of a single cave-complex formed by the Volp River. The complex is divided into three caves; the central Trois-Freres, Enlène to the east, and the Tuc d'Audoubert to the west.
The Tuc d'Audoubert was discovered by the three teenage brothers in 1912. The galleries are situated on three levels; the River Volp flows through the lowest, the middle contains decorated galleries known as the La Salle Nuptiale (The Bridal Room) and La Galerie des Gravures (The Gallery of Engravings), while the upper has further decoration in La Chatière and Salle des Talons (Hall of Claws) and finishes in the Salle des Bisons (Hall of Bisons). In 2013 the Tracking in Caves project tested experience based reading of prehistoric footprints by specialised trackers of Ju/'hoansi San with great success.
The Salle des Bisons contains two masterfully modeled bison, which were sculpted in clay with a stone spatula-like tool and the artist's fingers. The pair are among the largest and finest surviving prehistoric sculptures.