We explain to you why this secret cave more than 30,000 years old fascinates scientists

Nicknamed the Lascaux of engraving, the Cussac cave is a veritable gold mine for scientists who study the works and skeletons found in the cave and dated more than 30,000 years ago.

First publication of the article: February 4, 2024.

The place is ordinary. In the middle of the forest, on the slopes of Périgord Noir, a burnt wooden cabin adjoins a small parking lot. The trained eye can see a discreet sign: “Grotte de Cussac”.

The land is the property of the Ministry of Culture and no cars are allowed to go further: any risk of pollution must be avoided. Because beneath our feet lies a treasure almost unique in the world, under the protection of state services. Prehistorians call it “the Lascaux of engraving”.

Discovered in September 2000 by the speleologist Marc Delluc, the Cussac cave is a passage of more than a kilometer and a half, narrow and difficult to access, in which there are numerous engraved panels. Mammoth and horses, the figures are numerous and sometimes monumental, some as large as the famous bulls of Lascaux. The line is fine and precise. Rarer: female representations are also listed. Traces of color were found along the gut, attesting that the men penetrated almost a kilometer deep. The culture identified is Gravettian. Dating: approximately – 30 000 years.

duration of video: 00h03mn11s

Interview with Jacques Jaubert, prehistorian in charge of research carried out at the Cussac cave.

©France 3 Périgords

On this cold January morning, excitement reigns in the undergrowth that shelters the cave. The heavy steel gate which guards the entrance to the cavity has just been opened by the head of the DRAC (Regional Directorate of Cultural Affairs). Under his supervision, a handful of hand-picked scientists are allowed to enter the stone arch. There cannot be more than ten in the cave at the same time. The research campaign lasts only four weeks, in the middle of winter: when temperatures rise, the CO2 level in the cavity rises again and the air is no longer suitable for breathing.

duration of video: 00h01mn03s

Patrice Buraud, DRAC agent in charge of the Cussac cave, accompanies the researchers when they enter the cavity.

©France 3 Périgords

We are fifteen years into research, and there are still lots of things to learn“, assures Jacques Jaubert, the scientist who oversees the studies at Cussac. Firstly because the cave is immense, and not everything has been examined by the researchers. Secondly, because certain aspects are extremely surprising.

The remains of six human skeletons were found in the gallery. This is extremely rare: in a decorated cave, this almost never happens.

Jacques Jaubert

Prehistorian and archaeologist

Evidenced burials, framed by engraved panels, several hundred meters from the entrance. The bodies were probably transported there… In pieces. For what ? And beyond that, what were these men going to do nearly a kilometer underground?

duration of video: 00h01mn33s

Jacques Jaubert, prehistorian in charge of research at the Cussac cave, wonders about the passage of men into the depths of the cavity.

©France 3 Périgords

More prosaically, a team from the i2M laboratory at the University of Bordeaux is currently on site to study a scree: the very one which sealed the entrance to the cave after the passage of men. “The research currently carried out aims to understand which entrances the men of the time knew, and more generally to determine what the slope of the hill looked like there – 30 000 years “, explains Jacques Jaubert. At the time, the climate was that of present-day Siberia. A meticulous and complicated study, which required the use of topographers, geophysicists and paleoclimatologists.

Coveralls and charlottes put on, boots disinfected, authorizations signed: the lucky researchers of the day disappear into the cavity. For the rest of us, mere mortals, the journey ends at the gate. The atmospheric context and conservation requirements will forever prevent the public from entering the Cussac cave. An interpretation space should, however, soon see the light of day at Buisson de Cadouin.