Abri du Poisson

The Abri du Poisson is a rock shelter located near a ford on the Vézère River in the Dordogne department of France. The rock shelter is estimated to be 25,000 years old.

Image: Alain Roussot
Image: Alain Roussot

The astronomer Chantal Jègues-Wolkiewiez has studied the site. Dr Jègues-Wolkiewiez found that the rock shelter only gets sunlight in December¹.

The fish shown in the picture is engraved on the ceiling of the vault. It is a member of the salmon family. It is represented with a curved lower jaw. This is a characteristic of a kelt or male fish that has just spawned2. Apparently, spawning only occurs in the late autumn or winter.

The significance of this can be understood when you read the script above the fish. It resembles the Chinese radical mǐn . Mǐn can be translated as a plate; a container; or a shallow container. The symbol is doubled to give 皿皿 (mǐnmǐn), in other words a feast.

It is not possible to expand the translation because, sadly, most of the other symbols in the shelter have not survived. Perhaps the feast was the winter solstice, or perhaps it was associated with the Chinese solar term dàxuě 大雪, heavy snow, which begins on December 7, and ends at the winter solstice.


Image credit: Vue du poisson en bas-relief: Roussot A., Roussot-Laroque J., Delluc B., Delluc G., 1990: Connaître la Préhistoire en Périgord: p. 31: Digital version from: http://www.europreart.net/: Accessed: 1 December 2012.


1. Des animaux peints au moment des solstices: http://histoiredutemps.free.fr/terrestre/ famille_hominide/cro.magnon.htm: Accessed: 1 December 2012.

2. More evidences: http://issuu.com/lightmediation/docs/ the_lascaux_cave___a_prehistoric_sky-map_3390: Accessed: 1 December 2012.