Ardeche Prehistoric treasures

Treasures of the past

Artifacts from more 1,800 archaeological sites are currently displayed at the Cité de la Préhistoire, inviting you to engage in a moving face to face encounter with our ancestors and their tools and ornaments, and the animals in their environment.

Cave bear skull - Ardèche - Middle Paleolithic

Cave bear skull

Cave bears (Ursus Spelaeus) were massive animals, with large males weighing up to 500 kg and reaching up to 3.5 m tall. They lived in temperate and cold climates and had a mainly herbivorous diet.
They hibernated in caves and left many bone remains that provide abundant information about their anatomy and behavior.
Emerging around 120,000 years ago, this species probably began to disappear around 24,000 years ago, during the last glacial maximum.

  • Where to see them?
    Middle Paleolithic room. BEAR display
  • How old are they?
    These remains are undated but Ursus spelaeus lived in western Europe from around 120,000 to 22,000 years ago
  • How were they found?
    These remains were found in 1966 in the Gorges de l’Ardèche, in the commune of Saint-Remèze (07) when the entrance of an underground tunnel, opening onto a vast porch at the foot of a stone massif, was cleared. The site was not excavated but looting was observed after the discovery. The surface remains were collected in 2017 with authorization of the Regional Archaeology Service.
  • Dimensions
    Length: 400 mm; width: 250 mm; height: 250 mm; weight: 1100 g


Laurel Leaf

Among the many Upper Paleolithic stone tool types, Laurel Leaf points are remarkable because they are often very long and thin: one of the points from Volgu in the Saône-et-Loire, for example, is 34 cm long and only 9mm thick.
Though this one is smaller (7.7 cm long and 5 mm thick), it was made with a similar technique: percussion flaking followed by pressure flaking with an antler tool. Typical of the Solutrean culture, these tools are sometimes thought to represent the apogee of flint knapping.
Beyond their utilitarian function
as spear points or knife blades for the longest ones, the care taken in their production suggests that these objects sometimes also had a social and/or ritual value.

  • Where to see it?
    Upper Paleolithic sequence. LOCAL SITE display.
  • How was it used?
    As a spear point for hunting.
  • Where and how was it found?
    The Grotte du Figuier is located downstream of the Gorges de l’Ardèche, on the left bank, in the commune of Saint-Martin d’Ardèche (07). About 40 meters deep, this cave is divided into three chambers a few meters wide. It contains the remains of Middle and Upper Paleolithic occupations. Several excavations have been conducted there since 1888 (Chamber 1). The Laurel Leaf was discovered during the excavations led by P. Huchard in 1947 and 1948 (Chambers 2 and 3).
  • Dimensions
    Length: 77 mm; width: 33 mm; thickness: 5 mm

Engraved ribs – Ardèche – Upper Paleolithic

Engraved ribs

These engraved ribs from the Deux Avens are the masterpieces of this collection because they are well-preserved and Paleolithic portable art is rare in the Ardèche. With their fine, delicate engravings, depicting a sample of Upper Paleolithic fauna, they attest to the skill and sensitivity of hunter-gatherers at the end of the Paleolithic.

  • Where to see them?
    Upper Paleolithic sequence. PORTABLE ART display
  • How old are they?
    These objects have not been directly dated but charcoal and bones found in the same archaeological level have been dated to around 12,300 years ago. This allows us to attribute them to the end of the Magdalenian, an Upper Paleolithic culture.
  • Where and how were they found?
    These objects were found in 1969 during an excavation by Jean Combier at the Grotte des deux Avens in the commune of Vallon-Pont d’Arc (07). It is located at 240 m in altitude in the lower Ibie valley. A few flint tools were found along with several portable art objects similar to the ones here, each representing a cervid (deer) head, a fish, and a reindeer head. The style of the drawings is very similar to those found and the Grotte de la Vache in Ariège, suggesting a cultural link between these two regions.
  • Dimensions
    Length: 91 mm; width: 24 mm; thickness: 5 mm; weight: 5 g.


Terracotta cheese strainer

Though there is little archaeological evidence accompanying this object, it has been identified as a cheese strainer from the Neolithic period.
Used to drain curdled milk to make dry cheese, the strainer allows milk to be preserved with its food properties over several weeks.
This is one of the oldest examples of breeding activities.

  • Where to see it?
    Neolithic sequence. LIVESTOCK AND HUNTING display.
  • How old is it?
    No date. Attributed to the Neolithic.
  • Where and how was it found?
    This object was found during excavation and surface collections by A. Héritier in the small Grotte des Lunettes, at the foot of the Rocher de Saleyron (07150), and near the Grotte du Pontiar. The excavator provided no data on the circumstances of the discovery. The object, broken into several pieces, was glued back together.



This point was used to arm a bow arrow. The stem facilitated hafting the point onto a wooden shaft and the wings prevented the arrow from exiting the body of the animal it penetrated. While the shapes of arrowheads serve technical purposes, they also serve a more symbolic role: the respect of technical traditions can affirm one’s belonging to a group. Although they were breeders and farmers, hunting and gathering still contributed significantly to the diet of Neolithic populations.

  • Where to see it?
    Neolithic sequence; HUNTING display
  • How old is this?
    Final Neolithic
  • Where and how was it found?
    The grotte du Pontiar, located upstream of the Gorges de l’Ardèche, on the right bank, at 160 altitude, is difficult to access. Between 60 cm and 2 m of fill in the cave entrance contained remains from the Middle Neolithic to the High Middle Ages. The presence of many hearths and pot sherds suggest regular occupations. The excavations were conducted by Arsène Héritier, between 1978 and 1980.
  • Dimensions
    Length: 37 mm; width: 24,2 mm; thickness: 4,2 mm

Small jar from la Baume d'Oulen

This small jar, found at the bottom of the first Early Neolithic levels, is one of the oldest ceramic objects found in France. Despite its age, it is also one of the few pots in the collection to have been found whole. The surface is rough, with no polishing or decoration. It bears some remains of the red ochre coating that probably covered its whole surface.
Like all pottery from this period, this pot was fired over a wood fire at a temperature between 600 and 800 °C, sufficient to ensure a total transformation of the clay into a ceramic that nevertheless remains slightly porous. A bit thick, twisted, and crude, it is its “survivor” appearance that evokes the origins of the Neolithic in France, making it a remarkable object.

  • Where to see it?
    Neolithic sequence. AGRICULTURE AND CERAMICS display
  • How old is it?
    An overlying layer was Carbon-14 dated to 4,600 BC (raw data). Though this date is not calibrated, it is likely that the bottom of the layer dates to around 5500 BC. The style of the pot, as well as the other pottery from this layer, confirm its attribution to the beginning of the Neolithic, or what is known in the French Midi region as the Cardial culture. These dates make this small pot one of the oldest in the French Midi region.
  • Where and how was it found?
    The Cave of La Baume d’Oulen is a large rock-shelter in the Gorges de l’Ardèche, on the right bank, in the communes of Labastide-de-Virac (07) and Le Garn (30). It is currently closed by a gate. It contains a succession of archaeological levels dating from the Middle Paleolithic to the end of the Neolithic. Level 6, corresponding to the Early Neolithic, is one of the best preserved. It yielded many dispersed pot sherds, making the discovery of this small whole pot very surprising. This pot was found in a small pit at the bottom of Level 6, with its bottom up. It seems to have been intentionally buried by one of the groups that frequented the site at the very beginning of the Neolithic.
    It is one of the oldest intact ceramic vessels in France.


Polished stone axe

Though Paleolithic people were already polishing bone objects, stone polishing does not appear until the Neolithic period.
Hafted as axe blades, they were used to cut down trees. Hafted as adzes, i.e. with the cutting edge perpendicular to the axis of the handle, they could be used as hoes, as well as to square up trunks to make beams or to dig them out to make containers or canoes.
Some axes were made with a level of care that goes beyond what is necessary for a utilitarian object. It is thus likely that they were then prestige objects.

  • Where to see it?
    Neolithic sequence. AGRICULTURE display.
  • How old is it?
    There is no date but the polished stone technique is typical of the Neolithic.
  • Where and how was it found?
    This jadéitite axe was collected on the surface near a historical archaeological site, the Monastier de Vagnas, also occupied during Antiquity and the Middle Ages.
  • Dimensions
    Length: 94.1 mm; width: 52.7 mm; thickness: 21.8 mm
Dagger of Payre - Ardèche – Final Neolithic


This dagger, derived from a utilitarian object, is exceptional, not only due to its fragility, but also because of the technical investment it represents. It is possible that it was used to cut certain materials but, being very thin and fragile, it had to be used with great delicacy. It is therefore thought to be a prestige object whose main role was to show off. Its presence in a burial site can be interpreted as an offering in the same way as the ornaments and other flint tools that accompanied it.
This dagger shows the importance of prestige objects at the end of the Neolithic period, probably in relation to the strong hierarchical structure of the society.

  • Where to see it?
    Final Neolithic sequence. PRESTIGE OBJECT display.
  • How old is it?
    No absolute date has been obtained from the archaeological level but the style of the dagger and the points found in the same level indicate that it is from the end of the Neolithic, around 2,500 years ago.
  • Where and how was it found?
    The cave is located in the commune de Rompon, on the left bank of the Payre at its confluence with the Rhône, around 30 m above the river. Another nearby archaeological site yielded Middle Paleolithic remains. In 1941, a young speleologist, Paul Dupin, unblocked a tunnel in the cave, allowing him to enter another gallery. It was then that he discovered the dagger. The site was then studied by M. Beaux who exhumed the rest of the artifacts: human remains, ornaments (beads and pendant), fragments of another dagger blade, a polished axe, several small flint blades, and five copper or bronze rivet heads.
  • Dimensions
    Length: 198 mm; width: 41 mm; thickness: 5 mm; weight: 42 g.

Skull from the Grotte des Jarres - Ardèche - Neolithic

Human skull

The Grotte des Jarres is remarkable for the quantity of ceramic pots found inside. In addition, a burial was discovered in a tunnel next to the chambers that contained the pottery. This burial probably predates the use of the cave as a storage area. Although many of the bones have disappeared, the skull is remarkably well-preserved.
Discovered by speleologists, the Grotte des Jarres is an example of a collaboration between speleologists and archaeologists.

  • Where to see it?
    Neolithic sequence. LOCAL SITES display.
  • Where and when was it found?
    The Grotte des Jarres is located in a limestone layer between the Triassic sandstone layers near Largentière (07). It was discovered in 2004 by a team of the Aubenas Speleo-Club, who immediately reported it to the Regional Archaeology Service, which then conducted a rescue excavation.
    The speleologists unblocked a narrow passage to reach the inside of the cave. It turned out that the prehistoric users of the cave entered through a wider opening, which later collapsed.
    As its name indicates, the uniqueness of the Grotte des Jarres lies in its ceramic contents: around fifty vessels have been identified, some very well-preserved. In addition to the pots, a terracotta horn was found there, which is a remarkable discovery since these have been found at only four Neolithic sites.
    A burial was installed in a small space in a tunnel next to the “domestic” space where the pottery was found. Since the charcoal particles in this space were found above the sediments that covered the skeleton, and not in the deeper levels, it seems that the burial was already present when the ceramics were left in the cave. However, the time between the burial and the occupation of the upper chambers was probably quite short.

Statue menhir

This limestone stele represents a character: nose and eyebrows forming a facial “T”; arm folded over the torso holding a stick. The stele is in two parts because it was found broken.
As for all the sculpted stelae erected at the end of the Neolithic period, its role is unknown. They are anthropomorphic representations, sometimes bearing distinctive signs of a sexual nature (breasts), and sometimes adorned with attributes interpreted as being quite masculine: harnesses, crosses and daggers.
Whether divinities or ancestors, they seem to have a link with the territory: to mark the place of an event, or perhaps a material or symbolic border.
Partially reused as paving at the end of the cave occupation, the function of this stele remains mysterious.

  • Where to see it?
    Final Neolithic sequence. STATUE MENHIR
  • Where and how was it found?
    The Aven Meunier (St Martin d'Ardèche-07) is a small shallow sinkhole at the bottom of which opens a cave of a few dozen meters, and connected to the Aven by two small porches. The site was excavated for the first time by Léopold Chiron in 1896 but it is at the end of the sixties that R. Gilles and A. Huchard discovered the stele: the lower part of it was found flat among a pavement of limestone slabs and the upper part was erected against a natural pillar separating the two cave entrances. The cave was used as a burial site but also probably as a dwelling site, as is indicated by the many pot sherds from the Neolithic period.

Bronze bracelet - Ardèche – Bronze Age

Bronze bracelet

This bronze bracelet was discovered in a raised niche in a small cave. It was accompanied by many other metal objects, as well as a small pot, a ceramic pendant, and a wolf’s tooth.
The ensemble was deposited during the Final Bronze Age, around 1,000 years ago. Although this type of deposit remains mostly enigmatic, this accumulation of valuable objects in a place that is difficult to access suggests it is some sort of treasure that someone wanted to hide or protect.

  • Where to see it?
    Bronze Age sequence. DEPOSITS display
  • Where and how was it found?
    This deposit was discovered in 1989 during an unblockage by a group of speleologists from Saint-Montan in the Rimouren Gorges, in the commune de Gras (07). The cave is small, about 20 m deep and about 15 m high, with its entrance around fifty meters above the river. The niche containing the objects is perched about ten meters above the level of the cave floor.

All the photos of archaeological objects are by Guillaume Mazille.