Vulva Cave Art

Engravings of female genitalia in a cave in southern France may be the oldest cave art yet discovered.

By Jef Akst | May 15, 2012

Abri Castanet cave in southern FranceWIKIMEDIA COMMONS, PERE IGOR

Over the years, archaeologist Randall White of New York University and his colleagues have discovered various artistic items of southern France’s Abri Castanet, a shallow cave in the Vexere valley, including ornamental snail shells and engraved limestones. But the researchers were unable to date the art due to a lack of organic matter. So when, in 2007, the team discovered a large block of limestone with paintings of what look like a female’s vulva that had fallen from the cave ceiling in an area with numerous animal bones, suggesting they dated to around the same time period, they sent the samples to the University of Oxford for radiocarbon dating. The results came back dating the bones to somewhere between 36,000 and 37,000 years ago, making them as old, or older, than the paintings of lions and other animals in southern France's Chauvet Cave, which have been noted as the oldest known cave art since their discovery in 1994.

The researchers, who published their findings yesterday (May 14) in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggest that this date likely also applies to the other vulva-like art previously found in the cave. “The fact that the most recognizable image on the newly discovered surface falls broadly within the range of ovoid forms traditionally interpreted as vulva leads us to suppose that the above dates apply to other such images from Castanet, many of which were located within a few meters of the engraving described here,” they wrote.

The images also differ greatly from the drawings at Chauvet, such as the fact that they are displayed in the areas of the cave used for sleeping and eating, as opposed to deeper areas beyond the prehistoric humans’ living space, suggesting regional differences in artistic traditions. “The vulvar tradition in the Vézère Valley seems to constitute a distinct regional variant within a mosaic of graphic and plastic expression across Europe in the Early Aurignacian,” the authors wrote.

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Avatar of: David Hill

David Hill

Posts: 1457

May 15, 2012

This just shows you, what we now call pornography is the oldest form of art.

May 15, 2012

its the origin of everything

Avatar of: haaseblume


Posts: 2

May 15, 2012

 Sorry David.  Pictures of whores and beautiful paintings of vaginas are not the same thing.

Avatar of: haaseblume


Posts: 2

May 15, 2012

 Sorry David Hill.  Pictures of prostitutes and a painting of a vagina is NOT the same thing. 

Avatar of: sweet1heart


Posts: 4

May 15, 2012

Not very impressive "art."  Although clearly-enough an artifact, it could represent almost anything.  It looks like a beansprout, or maybe the rump of a horse, to me.  Give me Lascaux or Chauvet any time!

Avatar of: Bill


Posts: 1457

May 15, 2012

I hope that climate science is better than this.  That carving looks like a stingray.

Avatar of: RichardPatrock


Posts: 52

May 16, 2012

 Yeah that's right.  You never see vaginal pornography. 

Avatar of: Edward R. Mikol

Edward R. Mikol

Posts: 1457

May 30, 2012

Or is this a neolithic Rorschach test for the researchers?

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