Abri Castenet: Anneau Two

Image: Randall White et al.: Annotation: Lynn Fawcett
Image: Randall White et al.: Annotation: Lynn Fawcett

This second example of a ring from the Abri Castenet is associated with a different symbol. The ring itself was broken when the roof collapsed. The broken ring's proximity to the new symbol can be seen in the drawing on the left.

Across a time span of perhaps 37,000 years, it might not be possible to get a perfect character match for this new symbol, but I think that it is possible to get pretty close.

Firstly, I considered whether the symbol might be a pictograph of a ring with an object suspended from it. This interpretation is plausible. However, my understanding is that similar symbols at the Abri Castenet are not associated with physical rings. Also, I can’t think of a good reason for using a label stating simply: ‘this is a ring’.

It is a label for the ring, so to determine the correct orientation for the symbol I assumed that it should be looked at from the direction of the ring.

Image: Randall White et al.
Image: Randall White et al.

In Cave Script a circle represents a mouth, and it is evident from the first example (Anneau One) that food was stored in the shelter. Hence, I think that it is a pictograph of a mouth and a line, perhaps representing a tongue. The idea might be that someone is licking their lips.

There are two good candidates in the Shuowen Jiezi for this character. They are radical numbers 150 and 151. Both characters are linked to the mouth and the tongue.

Radical number 150 is gān , meaning sweet, tasty or delicious.

Radical number 151 is yuē . It represents a part of speech and can mean to say, to call, or to name.

If you look up these two characters in Richard Sear's Etymology¹, you will see archaic characters that bear some resemblance to the Abri Castenet symbol. There are perhaps better matches for the character yuē (reference numbers L37782 and L26784) than for the character gān.

In the absence of perfect information, my own personal preference is for gān, and my best guess is that the ring may have been used to hang a container of drinking water. In modern Chinese there at least two terms for sweet water gānquán 甘泉, and tiánshuǐ 甜水, each of which incorporates the gān radical.

Author's Note

This is a good example of ambiguity within Cave Script. It is impossible to arrive at a definitive translation with one example. When the project grows, there may be more examples of this symbol. Only then will we have a better idea of the correct interpretation.


Image Credits:

Ring and symbol from Block K: Randall White, Romain Mensan, Raphaëlle Bourrillon, Catherine Cretin, Thomas F. G. Higham, Amy E. Clark, Matthew L. Sisk, Elise Tartar, Philippe Gardère, Paul Goldberg, Jacques Pelegrin, Hélène Valladas, Nadine Tisnérat-Laborde, Jacques de Sanoit, Dominique Chambellan, and Laurent Chiotti, May 2012: Context and dating of Aurignacian vulvar representations from Abri Castanet, France, fig. 4 B and fig. 4 D: PNAS, vol. 109, no.22: http://www.pnas.org/content/109/22/8450: Accessed: 13 March 2013


1. Richard Sears, 2011: Chinese Etymology: The history of Chinese characters: yuē: http://www.chineseetymology.org/CharacterEtymology.aspx?submitButton1=Etymology&characterInput=%E6%9B%B0 and gān: http://www.chineseetymology.org/CharacterEtymology.aspx?submitButton1=Etymology&characterInput=%E7%94%98