Human footprints are the most striking – or rather most impressive – of the many years of unexplored features of context in painted caves. To compensate this neglect, we have been carrying out an innovative research programme for several years now, focusing on the fusion of indigenous knowledge and Western archaeological science for the benefit of both sides. This programme started with San hunters from Namibia reading human tracks in painted caves and has since developed in different directions, focusing on the merging of different knowledge systems.

The research project focuses on three concerns:

  • evaluation of the results obtained in the pilot study of 2013 (Tracking in Caves I),
  • generation of new data and
  • exploring the boundaries of both knowledge systems.

The main object of investigation is the footprints in the Tuc d’Audoubert and Aldène caves. Both sites are located in the southwest of France and are very appropriate for the research project due to their range of finds. A series of Ice Age and Early Holocene human footprints have been preserved in them, which represent a network of sequences from which episodes can be reconstructed. The Prehistoric Human Tracks Conference in spring 2017 (Cologne/Mettmann), supported by the Volkswagen Stiftung, has shown where the two knowledge systems intertwine: experiential knowledge is necessary to dissolve the mesh of footprints in the tracks of single individuals. Quantitative methods are used to generate basic metric data on the individual tracks and thus offer further possibilities for comparison and analysis, for example in paleoanthropological questions. The research project is part of the investigation of the context of Ice Age cave art as a basis for the interpretation of the role of the art and the surrounding caves in the life of Ice Age hunter-gatherer communities. Furthermore, by linking two systems of knowledge, the research project makes a lasting contribution not only to the archaeological sciences, but also reaches far into society


Aldène (France)

Tuc d’Audoubert (France)