Vilhonneur 1, skeleton of the artist as a young man

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Dominique Henry-Gambier and colleagues report in the December Journal of Human Evolution on a newly-discovered cave near Vilhounneur, France, with Gravettian-style parietal art and a partial human skeleton:

A remarkable discovery in France raises anew the question of the relationship between parietal art and funerary practices. France is rich in Gravettian decorated caves, but human remains from this period (28-21,000 years BP) are very rare (Henry-Gambier, 2002). Consequently, the discovery of human and hyena remains in a decorated cave system at "Les Garennes" near the village of Vilhonneur (Charente), just 500 m from the well-known cave of Placard (Clottes et al., 1991), is extraordinary. This new find will result in important new data on the biology and behavior of the Gravettians as well as the disappearance of hyenas at the end of the upper Pleistocene. Here we report on the preliminary results of in-situ observations and radiometric dating of the remains (Henry-Gambier et al. 2007:747).

The skeleton was found in a difficult-to-access chamber with parietal art including a hand stencil:

The walls of the deepest (second) chamber are decorated with red dots, black bars, various traces of color, and a well-executed black hand stencil (Fig. 3a). On a flat surface delimited by concretions, black lines evoke a face (Fig. 3b). Nearby, the partial skeleton (ribs, vertebrae, sacrum, left and right os coxae, left and right femora and tibiae) of a young adult male human is dispersed across the surface of a limestone scree (Fig. 2b). The cranium (Fig. 4) is in a small, low gallery opened just below a painting.

The radiometric date for the skeleton is around 27,000 BP. A number of hyena skeletons from another part of the cave are around 1500 years older, and "were members of the last surviving Pleistocene populations." The authors do not take a position as to whether the human skeleton was a deliberate interment, but compare it to a similar instance from another site:

[T]his site brings to mind the decorated Gravettian cave of Cussac (Dordogne) where several human individuals were placed in bear wallows (Aujoulat et al., 2002).


Henry-Gambier D, Beauval C, Airvaux J, Aujoulat N, Baratin JF, Buisson-Catil J. 2007. New hominid remains associated with Gravettian parietal art (Les Garennes, Vilhonneur, France). J Hum Evol 53:747-750. doi:10.1016/j.jhevol.2007.07.003