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Entry to the cave of Isturitz.

Entrance to Isturitz cave.

Period: Palaeolithic
Site: Rock Art

Isturitz had significant phosphate deposits inside the cave. The industrial removal of these caused significant damage to the archaeological deposits. Nonetheless, when archaeologists excavated what remained of the archaeology in the first half of the 20th century, they produced some spectacular results and finds – making this one of the more important Palaeolithic sites in France. First, the cave has evidence of occupation during the Palaeolithic from the Mousterian (about 80,000 years ago) to the end of the Ice Age (about 11,000 years ago). The surface deposits also had Neolithic artefacts, Gallo-Roman coins and Medieval objects.

Despite the destruction the most significant deposits are, however, those relating to the Palaeolithic. Besides many thousands of everyday objects, including stone tools, bone tools and needles, hundreds of decorated and carved bone and antler artefacts were also recovered, along with 180 stone statuettes representing various animals.

Isturitz is one of three caves, each with cave art. The other two are Oxocelhaya and Erberua. Besides painted and engraved depictions, in Isturitz there is a large stalagmite cone that bas-relief carvings on it. One of these, a reindeer, is over a metre long. There are also carved deer, horses and a bear.

Facilities & Visiting Isturitz and Oxocelhaya Caves:

entry-fee-euro not-open-year-round opening-hours guided-visits-only onsite-museum onsite-information onsite-restaurant refreshments onsite-shop picnic-area toilets wheelchair-toilet no-photographs parking bus-parking

Isturitz and Oxocelhaya are open to the public daily between mid March and Mid November. Through winter access can be gained to the cave by special arrangement (check the website for current contact details). A guided tour of the two caves lasts about 45 minutes. Food is only served in July and August.

Erberua is closed to the public.

Where are the Grottes d’Isturitz & d’Oxocelhaya?

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Objects & Artefacts in Museum Collections Elsewhere:

The deposits in the cave of Isturitz have been extensively excavated, first between 1912 and 1922 and then again between 1929 and 1942. The artefacts recovered during these excavations are now in the Musée d’Archéologie Nationale just outside of Paris.

Further Information:

  • Check the official website for contact details, up-to-date information on prices and opening hours

Video of the Grottes d’Isturitz & d’Oxocelhaya

Photograph © Krijun via Wikipedia