The first in situ micro-Raman spectroscopic analysis of prehistoric cave art of Rouffignac St-Cernin, France


  • This article is part of the Journal of Raman Spectroscopy special issue entitled “Raman spectroscopy in art and archaeology” edited by Juan Manuel Madariaga and Danilo Bersani.

Sophia Lahlil, C2RMF-UMR171 Centre de Recherche et de Restauration des Musées de France, 14 quai François Mitterrand, Palais du Louvre Porte des Lions, 75001 Paris, France. E-mail:


The first in situ micro-Raman spectroscopic study of prehistoric drawings found in the cave of Rouffignac-Saint-Cernin (Dordogne, France) was carried out. Rouffignac cave art, assigned to the upper Magdalenian Paleolithic period (13500–12000 bp), is constituted of more than 250 drawings and engraving including 158 mammoths. There are about a hundred drawings, all made of black pigments. Until now, destructive chemical analyses performed on one sample, as well as recent micro X-ray fluorescence (μ-XRF) in situ analyses have shown that the drawings contain manganese oxides. Because no carbon has yet been found, no direct dating of the drawings could be performed. This new study of the Rouffignac cave using non-destructive in situ micro-analyses aims at confirming or not the absence of carbon-based drawings and at understanding the apparent homogeneity of the parietal representations by the identification of the crystalline phases constituting the black pigments. The adaptability of portable equipment as well as the feasibility of in situ micro-Raman analyses in a cave environment was tested. The results obtained are compared with in situ XRF, and X-ray diffraction microanalysis is performed at the same time in the cave. We demonstrate that a portable Raman instrument is very useful to analyze non-destructively drawings in the following difficult conditions: high humidity, various wall geometries, and small amounts of material studied. These results show that the black manganese oxides romanechite and pyrolusite were used as pigments by prehistorical artists. Carbon and carotenoids have been found locally. Differences between the various figures are highlighted and hypotheses about the drawings production are proposed. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.