freedom to make critical
remarks, there cannot exist sincere
flattering praise - Beaumarchais.
THE LASCAUX 'CORDE' AFFAIR
"It is only a book of real value that merits a critical analysis."
in History And Science
under the editorial supervision of J.C TURNER and P Van De
published : Series on Knots and Everything - Volume
11 - World Scientific is the
It is a series that leaves you in no doubt about it be determined to
show the hallmark
academic standards of publication.
In Part ONE - Chapter 1 Page 14, last
paragraph : Pleistocene Knotting
signed by Charles WARNER and Robert G.
BEDNARIK, it is written :
laid rope of
about 7mm diameter has
Lascaux Cave from about
17000 years ago.
Perhaps the rope was
with the extensive scaffolding that seems to have been
built there or perhaps to
facilitate entrance to the
Many questions was then raised in my mind.
Much ado has been done of what, when all is said and done, is
only an interpretation
purported to be "rope and such".
Well so much have been 'interpreted'
in artefacts from prehistoric
times, that has been held
for some time as 'The truth' but that further
'mistaken' that I am a bit shy
To take one example only : the geometrical tracings that are
interpreted as a hair dress with
Well that could be a netting if you like playing with your imagination,
but may be that is not.
I remember from my early years of life spent in Ivory Coast some hair
absolutely no netting or string in them that could be
artistically rendered with exactly the
same sort of tracing.
I hold that comparing a hair dress representation to another actual
hair dress is a bit more
'congruent' that to compare a hair dress to an
For once this was not a design that could be or could not be
interpreted with imagination
as depicting a cordage but the very real
What was at the time the
oldest rope 'in person' or rather 'in fibres' ever
found is worth
words for those authors !
I was a bit surprised (would
been even if the
Cave had been in Patagonia, this is
not a case of chauvinistic
reaction - by the way Charles WARNER's book "A
Ropework" show an acute intellect at work, get a
you do not already own one) so much that I
Net for the
Anglo-saxon sources : much discrepancies, contradictions, lack of
knoledge in some of the
publications by American authors.
Just that point was enough
for me to see it as a red flag
warning to exercise the utmost
caution in using this sort of material
and to go digging nearer to the
I then set to compare with the known easily accessible published
First I looked into my "collection of books" and found again
a picture of
the rope which
made me immediately think : "not laid but
Book with the photography of 'la corde' is LASCAUX
by Mario RUSPOLI ,
On page 191 Marc GAZAY tells of the
discovery that he places in July 1949 or 1950,
the first campaign after
WW2, with Abbé GLORY .
It was decided
that working hours would take place in the night between 09:00 PM
02:00 AM the next day.
A false move
with the scaffolding
dislodged some chunks of clay.
A rope remnant
book is not a technical one
but a "photographic inventory" though RUSPOLI
worked for the Corpus
under the patronage of world's
specialist of Lascaux
Norbert AUJOULAT large book on Lascaux does not evoke the rope.
I made some experiments with plastic clay and ropes ( see
slide show here
arrived at the notion, confirming my very first impression, that
was probably a
plaited / braided and not a laid
that is was rather a three than a
So I went on
further on the trail :
books, Ministry of
Culture, Prehistory, Anthropology Societies and museums.... even
contacted AUJOULAT (had already done that some years back,
and he had been good
enough to help) Lascaux Cave specialist
specialists that the authors, had they be truly
He choose not to answer this time and/or to take the
I had left open : no answer
or "there are some question that must be
left without answer".
May be it is just that I never got an answer that was indeed sent.
Here is the story on record for any one to find without real
hassle, or at least not what
I was trained to consider as being hassle
researching documentation :
( Abbé GLORY -R.I.P - had notoriously sloppy
methods even if enthusiastic ones
and it seems that he was not entirely
adverse to "forget" to
index some pieces and
"somewhat dis-inclined" to separate himself from
finds, "pet finds" ? : they were
found by the
DELLUCs when cleaning the Abbé's house
his death. Of course
conservation methodology was not really a
1958 in Mémoires De La
Française Tome Cinquième
( Memoirs of the French Prehistory
Society Fifth volume ) Abbé GLORY
related for the record the discovery made in 1953, five
Abbé GLORY gives as his aids present at the time of the
discovery (1953) :
Roger CONSTANT , Jean-Louis PECHMAJOU .
false move with scaffolding this time but a voluntary act
(unmotivated in the publication, may be divinely inspired serendipity ?
who took a piece of clay from a cranny and
" a black filet that traverse it from
on side to
Without conscious thought with a knife I spiked the black dividing
line, the clay opened in
parts like a book..."
GLORY state that he immediately saw " a carbonized-like
strip with twisted lines going all
the length of the piece of clay."
interpreted that as the remnants of plaited vines or
Mainly it was the moulding (cast) that was "visible".
Discovery took place in both versions in La Galerie Des
Félins ( The gallery of the
Felines) near Le
Puits ( The Well), far away inside and not at all near the
" the second
chunk of clay opened in the same manner but the positives
traces were a more complicated intertwining....the third broke
sideways ( or crab-wise)
and the fourth
was kept untouched as check sample. The fifth
only show a
structure, blackish dirt, seemingly crushed and spread
but heels pressure
through the thickness of the soil which was at this
Fragment N° 1 = 5 centimetres ( me : 2 inches )....
...Fragment N° 2 = 5 cm...
...Fragment N°3 = 7 cm ( me : almost 3 inches)...
...Fragment N° 4 = 4.5 cm...
...Fragment N° 5 = 5 cm...
...3 grossly right-laid ply, each one 3mm in thickness... (me please
note NOT diameter)"
"It is our enlightened opinion ....rope who was in a sort of natural
gutter leading to the Well,
seems to have been used in its time by the
prehistorics ( sic
) to go down the abrupt 6
meters wall (
me : 6 meters=18
: ...meaning of the puits / the well's wall under the
Laboratory analysis led to confirmation that it was vegetable matter
Action of humic acids leads to an amorphous brown-black matter
the aspect and
characters of peat .
Laboratory official report state "tourbifiés"
/ that is "conserved" by a process like the
No carbonization, not one trace of it, no charred
A bizarre point :
These days no one knows where the discovered pieces are now.
Only some photographies (Originals are lost too!)
and only 'some words' are all
that remain from this incredible find.
I was told by some official person at the Muséum that bad
methods led to
dessication which in its turn led to the destruction of
the pieces over the time.
There is no real mention of the rope in one of the DELLUCS's
book on Lascaux
and wife who "cleaned" GLORY's house after his death
I renounced acquiring their book
on this as most reviewers seemed to
believed it was
a pro domo publication and
assassination in the guise of the praise of a deceased
No detail in Norbet AUJOULAT very big book on LASCAUX.
The official answer of the Museum was :
Marc Gazay was
one of the occasional collaborators of Glory. An account is signed by
un nouveau regard" de Mario Ruspoli, 1986, pp. 190-191. His
the discovery is a bit different from the one made by
Abbé Glory in his
la SPF, 1959, 5, pp. 135-169".
The date Marc Gazay is certainly mistaken. In fact, in 1949, only
campaign was done in
Le Puits / the Well by Abbé BREUIL ( my comment : the protector
Glory to University ), BLANC and BOURGON.
In 1949 and 1950 Glory had not yet gain official authorization for
working in Lascaux.
GLORY told that the discovery was made on 1953, 25th of September, and
indications were taken in"Lascaux
inconnu" (1979), avec deux photos N et B de Glory,
fig. 141 et 142, p.
(2003), ( Lascaux found again : it was after their cleaning of
house and finding many actefacts hidden in metal boxes! Hence
the title as it
was indeed a RE-discovery of things that the
Abbé had kept to
pp. 201-202, Brigitte et Gilles Delluc tell the two versions
discovery . ( Me : this
book received much controversial critics about its honesty,
behind the avowed one.....A Florentine assassination may be
There is no photographic negatives of the rope and no macro photography
End of official stance
The photos were in :
the photothèque of Le Musée de l'Homme à Paris (
Museum of Man) :
E-76-616-493 ; E-76-617-493.
But photothèque has been moved (could not get a copy of the
pictures) to the future
Musée du Quai
Branly. Future being the operative word here.
The Musée de la Préhistoire des
Eyzies told me it was the best of
those documents that
were used for the
publication of "Lascaux inconnu" in
I also found :
In Lascaux Inconnu ( The Unknown Lascaux ), (
a voluminous publication by
National de la Recherche Scientifique), authored, among others by
LAMING-EMPERAIRE, BALOUT and dedicated
Chapitre Un : L’Abbé GLORY, Page 12
signed by Lionel BALOUT (Chapter One
written about l’Abbé GLORY to the memory of whom the book
"accessorily, he made known diverse documents, generally
(usually/mostly) discovered by
him : remnants of plaited rope in
Lascaux, sandstone burner, juniper
BALOUT quote BREUIL on this
the bibliography of this chapter 1 .
Of course he quote too : Débris De
Corde Paléolitique à La Grotte De
Mém. Soc préhist. Franç.,
1958, p 135-159 de GLORY Remnants Of
Lascaux Cave (Dordogne -
On this exceptional discovery, Abbé BREUIL made a
communication to l’Académie des
Unfortunately no indication of date or of title is given, text is a
ghost or it escaped
satisfied that it was a not charred, not fossilised but "transform into
cast vestiges of a three stands plaited rope and that all this material
for any one wanting to find it.
Critical comments reviewed :
Some : most vague
In fact there was 3 chucks of clay with pieces of
rope in the 2 that were opened.
A fourth (lost now) was kept for the future when new technical means
The chunk that was opened held inside ...
--- fossilised : NO, not really fossilised but "preserved" Granted! fossilised is not always mineralised
(or petrified, that is transmogrified into
mineral substance or
replaced by...) but in the case in
point it is a mummification as
the one that happen in bogs. There is no
'replacement' here but partial "cast / mould.
Clay protected the vegetable matter from oxygen so there was no
breaking down of
constituents, and a 'cast' of the rope was made in the
Process is "no oxygen and action of humic acids" that sort of
mummified, in fact "digested"
the vegetable matter leaving mainly the
cast of it.
--- 7 mm diameter : NO or rather too vague but it
is in the original publication by Glory
and it is no
invention of the two authors that are guilt-free.
It is not the rope that is 7mm
but the "cast" and
the rope itself was very much flattened so
no one can know
the real diameter from what is a width ! Not these authors fault, as it
--- two ply : NO
it is three
--- laid: NO
it is plaited. (Though I will agree there is some ambiguity
the terms used and between the
terms and the illustrations made.) Plait
seems to me more 'immediate' to 'invent' than
gives a better
strength. The drawing is to my eyes too much a case of seeing what one
believe is there : you could swear that this rope just came out one of
ropewalk! No way
I can reconciled it with what I see in some others
drawings and in the photographies.
---was found in Lascaux cave
This vagueness lead I think to this
curious idea of
"to facilitate entrance" when in fact it was
in the depth of the cave,
a vertical well giving access to another, lower, space with
intriguing drawings (not painting ). ---extensive scaffolding : NO
scaffolding yes, extensive? no.
is an 'improper'
Not to forget ground level was then probably higher than now after
and a simple
trunk leaning on the wall could have been enough in many
places, or even climbing on the
shoulders of an aid.
---facilitate entrance to the cave : NO
is well known that this cave could accessed
without needing of a rope! (The Well is
another story) it is
near the Well
that the rope was found, far from the entry of the
cave (only way to go further
in this gallery is down the well!)
Given the following data I think that it is prudent to
keep some doubt that it was to
entrance to the cave" or even "" climbing down and up the well" rather
than for "
binding some sketchy scaffolding".
Not to say anything (again memories from an African childhood ) of
packaging small gear
or food in large and thick leaves bound with long
stem grasses or 'with 'small (lianes and vines ).
Breaking strain for 8 mm of diameter :
- green grass : 5 to 12 kilogram
- bark fibre : 25 to 75 kg
- vines of sort ( Acorus calamus ) : up
to 220 kilogram
To compare with modern cordage :
- laid flax 6mm : 360kilogram
- braided cotton mason line ( 4 mm : 32 kg ) that will make for 6mm :
- laid hemp 8mm : 395kilogram
still remain some "?" and may be some "! "
--- TWO versions for ONE
--- Behind the words : "
In 1949 and 1950 GLORY had not yet gain official
working in Lascaux." somehow knowing French legalese administrative
version one may very well read the words as 'officially it was a "no"
could very well be a 'yes'.
There were indeed digging in the years GAZAY gave.
--- Where are the pieces ?
is it a case of " Truth is
Mulder says !
--- Why nobody came out outraged and branding Gazay as a
--- Why the very "shy" " GLORY told that the
discovery was made on 1953, 25th
If you read between the lines it is all attributed to the sole
GLORY and not endorsed by the
much is clear .
---Why the school boy's excuse , not us but somebody else :
were taken in "Lascaux
Coming out as : "Not us that said that , it is GLORY that said it. "
thing is very clear : GLORY
was a much controversial figure protected by
another figure whose academic ways and means should be
(Clergy had much power in those time !) so much
'quite personally tainted opinions"
he wrote and
"constrained" others to "follow" under penalty of professional 'unrest'
till his death
which liberated a bit the French
prehistory which for was further liberated
after the death of his
Between them they make French prehistorians toe
the party line! and the
Breuil and after him Leroi-Gourhan !
claimed a discovery at 02:00 in the morning and having an affidavit
Montignac ( Lascaux) mayor the very same day.
I will never believe that! I know
Administration and "deep in-country behaviour"!
( Motto there seems to be :
Not too fast in the morning and slower in the afternoon, in fact word
for word it is
Slow speed in the morning and High slow in the afternoon)
I took the point to the 'Muséum' and they carefully
refrained from answering this particular
while accepting to answer all my other points even if in a somewhat
The date... Marc Gazay is certaily mistaken" :
they do not go as far as to
write ' Gazay is
mistaken in all of his story.' or simply a broad all
Gazay is mistaken". It is only about the date that he is specifically
said to be
from 1953 to 1958, five years, to make an official publication on such
while having been
in so much a hurry as to have an affidavit signed a few
GLORY was "asked" to publish on his find ! (meaning he was "ordered"
and that he did
not "spontaneously proposed it " if I am
Seems that Glory may have been
very "anal retentive"! ( may he R.I.P).
My personal conclusion :
A most marvelous discovery was botched by persons with no real
be corrected , and Glory was 'put to grass' quite fast after
lost its grip on France
Prehistory) and may be no real intelligence!
(that can not be corrected : so many people
their intelligence) and that
all along the line of what should have
remained one of the most
May be the only reasonable thing to do is putting this in " profit and
R.I.P pauvre corde de Lascaux qui a traversé le
temps jusqu'à tomber sur des vandales.
R.I.P poor Lascaux rope which time traveled till it was unlucky enough
to finished in the
hands of 'academic vandals'.