La Grande Grotte de Tournal a Bize   Leave a comment

So there we are – whatever its name – and it is the most impressive cave I’ve seen in the region. It is no wonder that in the [translated] words of Marylène Patou-Mathis, in her ‘Archéozoologie des niveaux moustériens et aurignaciens de la Grotte Tournal à Bize: The Tournal cave, near Bize-Minervois (Aude, Southern France), yielded a very thick archaeological filling, subdivided into four units by A. Tavoso who excavated it. Each unit is composed of several levels with Middle and Upper Paleolithic material. Big mammals from the three lower units were submitted to the archaeozoological study presented in this paper. This allowed us, among other things, to work out that: Mousterian and Aurignacian layers are contemporaneous with isotopic stage 3 ; the cave was alternately occupied by cave Hyena, cave Bear and humans; Neandertal men hunted the Horse during a long span of time; Aurignacian men too have eaten Horse, but also, in similar proportions, Bovins and Reindeer, their hunting was apparently more diversified. The transitional “Early Wurm–Late Wurm” could be dated between 38,000 and 34,000 years BP (if radiometric dates are confirmed).


From which I gather that Neanderthal man – and his terrified wife and children – occupied the cave, alternating with several species of large savage beasts, though not on a weekly basis. By the time that Cro-Magnons occupied the cave the beasts had realised that sharing the place with a deadly hunter was bad practice, and had moved out, I assured my assistant. Fragments of brow bone and teeth dating to 34 500 BC have been found.

Much later, fragments of pottery now termed ‘the Group of Bize’ of the middle Neolithic, are distinguished by their original decorative style.

And it is indeed a most accommodating place, with a spring of cool water just a step or two away, and a sheltered valley up the road.

grande grotte de bize inside

Mary refusing to enter the cave on the grounds that this might be the week the bears get their turn.

inside la grande grotte de bize

These are the twin outer caves – it’s mid-afternoon and the entrance faces due west. The terrified woman has just read the Important Notice concerning bats, and wants to get out. For their sake.

This is important: an endangered species of bat – the Rhinolophes Euryales – have a colony here. They are rare: they sleep with wings unfurled, and echo-locate through noise emitted via their nostrils. They also respond to slight changes in ambient temperature – so we are warned not to visit in winter, or in June- August when the young may get alarmed and lose their grip on the mother. We are being urged to ‘faire la demi-tour’ – just turn around and leave. So we did.

But not before I took one last shot of one of the inner caves. We were visiting in one of the few safe months (late spring and early autumn.)

rhinolophes euryales

Some rhinolophes from the web.

mauve bee orchid at bize

Back outside we were returned to a world of colour: this above is the mauve bee-orchid. And below is the pyramid orchid, growing in abundance by the side of the road, and the neaver-ceasing spring.

pyramid orchid at bize

Posted May 19, 2008 by Richard Williams

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