Roc aux Sorciers

Tony Gerard Dolan
View of the River Anglin,
Roc Aux Sorciers   Photo: Tony Dolan
Human Face in Profile

About fourteen thousand years ago as the Paleolithic drew to its end the people living under a cliff overhang above the River Anglin, near the present picturesque town of Angles sur L'anglin, carved a series of sculptures the length of the overhang. The site has become know as the Roc aux Sorcier due to the depiction of a rare human face in profile.

The animals hunted include the Ibex, European Bison and wild horses. Also, as at other sites a rival predator a feline, probably a European Cave Lion, is depicted.

Triple of Hips

Of particular interest is a threesome of female-hips, one of which is sculpted across the figures of two bison. Joseph Campbell in his treatment of the Paleolithic in Primitive Mythology and The Way of the Animal Powers notes on the one hand the painted and sculptured animals found deep in caves which he associates with the womb of the earth, the mysteries of the hunt and the replenishment of the animal herds. The caves at Lascaux or Chauvet are good examples of these male mysteries. On the the other hand he notes the nude female figurines such as the Venus de Laussel which are found in galleries that are open to daylight and which appear to be associated with birth and fecundityi In the case of Laussel there is evidence that the nude figurine was originally covered in ochre pigment; possibly as a magical quickening agent to promote birth and fecundity.

A Threesome of Venus-like Figures
Photo: Tony Dolan
The paintings of the caves were inspired by the teaching of the beasts. The figurines, on the other hand, and such rock-carved relief's as those of the Sanctuary of Laussel, took their inspiration, rather, from the mysteries of the female body. And the qualities of the art of this second kind differ greatly from anything found in the painted caves.ii

On this site, a site of habitation, these twin cultures are mingled in the everyday environment. This site occurs several hundred kilometres north of the Dordogne region. As the ice sheets retreated animals at home in a cold steppe environment would have moved eastwards and the hunters that did not follow would have had to adapt to a changing environment. This particular overhang is only partially excavated so much more awaits to be revealed in future excavations.

Ibex giving birth with two birds
perched on emerging placenta
Photo:Don Hitchcock 2008

The Ibex

The main animal represented on the face of the overhang is the wild goat called the Ibex (French bouqetin). The particular depiction shows two males above a female and kid suggesting it depicts the normally segregated males and females assembling in the autumn for the mating season. Don Hitchcock has noted that the Ibex is quite prominent in the art of the Azilian period and, in the south towards the Pyrenees, a spear thrower depicting an Ibex giving birth with two birds in attendance is one of the most commonly found artifacts. While in nature the birds would probably be scavenging the emerging placenta sack, it is may be noteworthy that in the tale of The Buffalo Wife, a magpie finds a scrap of the maiden's trampled father from which she can use her magic to bring him back to life. So the birds could be, in a sense, attendant midwives.

In this instance there also appears to be a female pair of hips, bottom-right just below the kid perhaps as a magical aid to ensure a plentiful supply of new animals. Campbell discussing the juxtaposition of the animals with female hips evokes the tale of The Buffalo Wife, current among the bison hunting peoples of North America, of a maiden marrying a bison to aid in the replenishment of their herds as the basis of a covenant between the hunter and the hunted. It is his view that such tales probably have their ultimate origin in the Paleolithic.

Two male Ibex above a female and kid
Photo:Tony Dolan

Bull and Three Cranes

Twelve thousand years later a little further to the north in the Paris Basin the bull figure (Tarvos Trigaranus) with three cranes on his back will be carved which Campbell interprets as being a manifestation of the Celtic triple goddess.iii

Coincidentally, the excavation of Roc aux Sorciers was carried out by three women, among whom Suzanne Cassou de Saint-Mathurin was the principal.

More photographs for this site can be seen in the project section under Paleolithic.

i Joseph Campbell, The Masks of God Vol. 1, Primitive Mythology. (London: Arkana, 1991), p. 287.

ii Joseph Campbell, Mythologies of the Primitive Hunters and Gatherers, II vols. (New York: Perennial Library, 1988), p. 68.

iii Campbell, The Way of the Animal Powers, pp. 68–69.