The first cave I studied was Pech-Merle, in southwestern France. In this area, and in neighboring northern Spain, what we call the Ice Age was not as bitter as the term im¬plies. There was ice to the north across Britain and Scandinavia, to the east in the Alps, and to the south in the Pyrenees, but the valleys of southwestern France were protected from the fierce northern winds. Temperatures were not arctic and the ground was not frozen. The en¬tire area had a cultural continuity through¬out the last glacial age.
Pech-Merle today is extremely chill and damp. The first visit is so overwhelming one can scarcely think. The silence and heavy air can literally be felt. Huge irregular winding chambers have been carved inside the hill by ancient underground rivers, the architects of many Ice Age caves. These chambers have been further altered by formations of stalac¬tites and stalagmites. The passage twists in a random, chaotic manner.
Suddenly one comes upon a flat, dry wall with two large painted horses surrounded and covered by red and black dots (facing page). The composition is startling because it is so complex. There is a huge red fish— a pike—in the body of one horse, as well as a large circle. The horses have human hand prints appearing above and beneath them. On neither horse is there any sign of weapons or symbolic killing.
Another wall of Pech-Merle contains only red dots and one red hand print, all made with ocher, an iron oxide clay. A separate chamber has eight abstract human female images of the kind I had found on engraved bones, plus more red dots and animal outlines.