Monday, March 2, 2015

The Mysterious Caves of Fontainebleau

From the caves of Fontainebleau... (click to enlarge)

The Forest of Fontainebleau

"This forest which is now a popular recreation area, was an isolated region for thousands of years. It was a haunt of robbers, fringe dwellers and fugitives who sheltered in its caves and carved the walls with inscriptions, designs, and abstract signs. More than 2,300 square yards of rock are decorated in this way.

Among the carvings are human figures with rectangular bodies, neck-less heads with sunken eyes and U-shaped noses. Their arms are outstretched, with the fingers spread like a fan, and often the legs are missing. A second group, in bas-relief, have their arms close to their bodies, In a third, the figures are dressed in skirts and have only three fingers on each hand.

The crosses, circles and hopscotch-like designs are almost impossible to date. They may be from prehistoric time, or they could have been drawn yesterday. All have been indexed and some are similar to designs which specialists located elsewhere. However, there are some designs which are found only at Fontainebleau. These are the irregular latticed designs which have been deeply incised into the rock. They have been found in the most inaccessible places, in cavities where only an arm can reach. Why were these engravings made under such obviously difficult conditions? They were certainly not made recently, but how old are they? What message did their engravers wish to leave, and who were they?"

- Text and photo (above) found in some older files; source currently unidentified.


Chances are, whenever the topic of prehistoric art crops up, the first examples that spring to mind are the stylized beasts (in shades of black, brown and red ochre) found on cave walls in France, notably those of Lascaux and Chauvet. Or, maybe, those enigmatic Paleolithic handprints which created a minor sensation in 2013; the handprints which, upon closer inspection, were tentatively judged to be the work of primarily female artists. On the other hand, the more informed Fortean mind is likely to turn to the stone carvings found at Göbekli Tepe (also, here), or the Nazca Lines.

But, my fellow fans of weird archaeology, here's another place to add to your files: the mysterious abstract carvings found in the caves of Fontainebleau Forest, located 30 miles south of Paris. While some of the designs were wrought in the late Middle Ages, others have been dated back 15,000 years to the Upper Paleolithic or Magdalenian period; and, still others may have arisen as early as the Neolithic period. So strange and sophisticated are some of the carvings - along with the nearby presence of unusual rock formations, and what appears to be a bestiary of boulders - that it's been proposed the forest of Fontainebleau may contain the artifacts of an unknown civilization...

An intricately distressed rock formation at Fontainebleau found here...
(Is it just me, or are those the ruins of a head jutting off the lower right portion?)
(click to enlarge)

I confess, I probably had a similar thought when I first saw the photo introducing this post (scanned from a book which is currently buried in one of fifty boxes of books that I carted across the country). If nothing else, the incised lattices, stars, and round indentations reminded my of my own geometrical work from the past which, as it so happened, I originally envisioned as carvings on a stone wall (examples appear on the previous post). What's especially notable about the lattices carved into the caves at Fontainebleau, however, is that there's so many of them. And, what's even more weird is that they weren't carved onto flat surfaces as you might expect. Instead, it's as if they were deliberately carved into the deep recesses and crevices of the cave walls to give an undulating effect, similar to the folds and creases of a fabric. Moreover, although the linear stars appearing near, in, or extended from the lattices aren't strange in themselves, they are often found in fairly sophisticated symmetries.

For instance, in the photo below - another view (recently found online) of the first photo - the star has nine points... which isn't what one would expect to see in a rudimentary drawing. One might expect to see the more simple and symmetrical six or eight-fold design, but not the higher order of nine. And, I believe this was no accident. Whoever did the carving was not merely an artist; he or she was a geometer.

Carving featuring a nine-pointed star found at Trois Pignons, Essonne
via Duncan Caldwell's Fontainebleau pages.

The photo below, taken from the same source as the other remaining b/w photos featured in this post, is another enigmatic example of the diversity found at Fontainebleau. This particular carving, found at Trois Pignons, Essonne, appears to be in relief and has the uniquely more delicate quality similar to impressions made by a Sumerian cylindrical seal.

Relief found at Trois Pignons, Essonne.

A photo of Trois Pignons, Essonne found here

Below is a sampling of more photos from the caves at Fontainebleau (click to enlarge). They are b/w details from the prolific work of  Duncan Caldwell, and can be found - in full color enlargements - within the pages of his amazing Fontainebleau exhibit. He features four separate galleries, and, if you go there, check all of them out. I think you'll agree, the world owes a debt to Duncan Caldwell... I don't know that anyone has bothered to document the cave art at Fontainebleau so extensively before, and, considering that Fontainebleau is a tourist attraction and a magnet for rock-climbers and amateur graffiti artists, whatever secrets it holds may gradually become lost to us.

Above is a small sampling of the lattices found at Fontainebleau. The one to your left is from the Argeville Lion Cave at Essone. The grids on the right are found at the Bird-man Cave in Champcueil, Essone.

Above, left are two roundels found in the "Neolithic Goddess Cave", though they strike me as being of possibly medieval origin. To your right are interesting stars and lattices found in La Roche au Fees, Busseau.

Above left is another sort of pattern, more reminiscent of the designs found at Ireland's famous neolithic site at Newgrange (see also: this image). It's found on a cliff at Seine-et-Marne. The star on your right has 16 points; this, along with a plethora of lattices, was found in the enigmatic Bird-man Cave...

... as was the above carving (left). I'm guessing that this might be an example of the "three-fingered" figure mentioned in the article at the beginning of this post. But, it looks to me like it might be a rough sketch of the "bird-man", himself. On the right, however, is a relief which seems to have come from a different period altogether. What sort of glyph is it? It almost reminds me of a pickaxe of some sort; possibly the work of an ancient band of nomadic stonemasons? There certainly was an order of freemasons in France during the Middle Ages. And, keep in mind, too, that the Order of the Knights Templar originated in France.

But, whether we're talking about an unknown race of geometers - Transdimensionalism, BC? - or merely a number of medieval stonemasons practicing their chops, the diversity of art found inside the caves of Fontainebleau is astounding. It's as if the forest became a magnet for artists and a repository of art throughout the ages; an unsung Mecca of art, both ancient and contemporary. After all, the forest of Fontainebleau is still the home of several artist communities, and has attracted artists throughout the recent centuries. The artists who wandered through Fontainebleau in the 19th Century reads like a Who's Who of  famous French painters: Corot, Monet, Cézanne, Rousseau, Millet, Renoir (see this article, and also the Barbizon school). (To see the many paintings of forest, you can start here.)

A wonderfully atmospheric shot of Mare D'Episy found on this must-see page.

For more photographs of the forest of Fontainebleau, navigate around this site; even if you can't read French, the photographs are wonderful. 

A lovely shot of Fontainebleau via the Paris Match.


Thea Alvin, A contemporary Stonemason

During my online research I stumbled across this video, which I thought I might include here. If you can overlook the OWN branding, you're in for a real treat. Trust me, Thea Alvin's work is both inspirational, and phenomenally amazing. (Hint: she defies gravity!)


  1. All so very magical......a forest of riddles. Very intriguing -- a place to put on the 'want to see" list.