There was no intervening deposition/occupation between the underside of the block and the occupational surface, implying that very little time passed between the engraving and the collapse of the ceiling onto the exposed surface.
In 2007, we excavated part of the engraved and ocre-stained undersurface of the collapsed rockshelter ceiling from Abri Castanet, Dordogne, France.
The decorated surface of this 1.5-t roof-collapse block was in direct contact with the exposed archaeological surface onto which it fell.
This context-oriented approach to excavation bore fruit because the imprint of the engraved image was clearly preserved on the surface of the archaeological layer (Fig. Immediately beneath the block were numerous, unfortunately undiagnostic flint artifacts fractured in place (Fig.
S6), confirming the massive impact of the roof collapse and the status of the engraved surface as a portion of the ancient ceiling of the shelter.
Because there was no sedimentation between the engraved surface and the archaeological layer upon which it collapsed, it is clear that the Early Aurignacian occupants of the shelter were the authors of the ceiling imagery.
This discovery contributes an important dimension to our understanding of the earliest graphic representation in southwestern France, almost all of which was discovered before modern methods of archaeological excavation and analysis.
The Abri Castanet is a collapsed rockshelter located in the Vallon de Castel-Merle, 9 km downstream from Montignac-Lascaux in the Vézère Valley of southwestern France (Fig. Since Peyrony’s early excavations in 1911–19–1925 (12), it has been known as one of a half-dozen key sites in Eurasia with respect to the Paleolithic origins of European parietal and portable art and personal adornment.
Peyrony’s premodern excavations, like those of Didon in the contiguous site of Abri Blanchard (11, 14), brought to light numerous personal ornaments, paintings, and engravings.
To control the archaeological context of this block in case of engravings, and in consultation with French archaeological authorities, we removed it in pieces by controlled breakage using mason‘s wedges.
As the operation proceeded, we observed significant traces of color and deep engravings on the block’s undersurface, which rested directly on the archaeological layer.
Comparison of the dates for the Castanet ceiling and those directly obtained from the Chauvet paintings reveal that the “vulvar” representations from southwestern France are as old or older than the very different wall images from Chauvet.