National Geographic : 1924 Aug
DISCOVERING THE OLDEST STATUES IN THE WORLD 125 that little by little I deserted moun taineering and surrendered myself to the lure of subterranean excursions. Now I do not know of an impression more absorbing than that which one ex periences on entering a grotto of whose mysterious, shadowy labyrinths one is ignorant, while drops of water, falling from the high vault, alone disturb the silence with their thousand little songs. SMALL CAVES OFTEN CONTAIN RICHEST PREHISTORIC RELICS In reading the works of French pre historians and through visits to the pre historic gallery of the museum of Tou louse, I learned that it is not the largest caverns which conceal the majority of the prehistoric remains, but rather small grot toes and shelters under the rocks near the rivers. Having explored many of the huge caverns of the mountains, I patiently ex cavated, sometimes with success, the humble caves of St. Martory, happy and stirred when my pick restored to the light of day some rude object fashioned by primitive man. But one evening of July, 1914, on re turning from one of these peaceful days given over to thoughts of ancestors and forgotten ages, I learned that the flail of war had beaten upon this charming coun tryside. Nine months later, having attained the age of 18, I enlisted in the army of the Republic and for more than three long years lived with thousands of my com panions the hard life of the trenches. Often crowded in subterranean shel ters, filthy and wet, I came to envy the lot of the prehistoric hordes, who could stretch out in vast caverns and who had as enemies only wild beasts. I did not dare hope that some day, perhaps, I could return to my digging and my beloved studies. But victory was on the way, and there came the time when, thanks to our de termination, to the aid of our Allies, and to the intervention of America and her brave troops, we emerged victors. THE STUDY OF FAMOUS CAVES BEGINS Returned, safe and sound, to the pleas ures of peace, I took up again with ardor the study of prehistory and my excava tions. Methodically I undertook to study the prehistoric veins of the region. In addi tion to many nameless grottoes, I visited such celebrated ones as that of Aurignac, which has given its name to one of the most important periods of prehistory; Gourdan, the richest field of exploration in the Pyrenees; Marsoulas, Gargas, and Niaux, celebrated for their prehistoric carvings and paintings; the Mas d'Azil, unique in Europe, and finally the marvel ous grottoes of the Trois Freres and Tuc d'Audoubert, discovered and explored by M. le Comte Begouen, professor of pre history at Toulouse, which contain, to gether with numerous prehistoric carv ings and paintings, two clay statues of bison which are the finest known ex amples of prehistoric art. The visit which I made to the grotto of Tuc d'Audoubert with the mission of the International Institute of Anthropology was to have for me the most happy conse quences, for this picturesque excursion, which included a voyage in a small boat on a subterranean river, the scaling of great rock masses by means of ladders, and crawling through low passages, opened my eyes to certain conditions which were to serve me later and bring to me the joy of a great discovery. THE CIITEAU OF MONTESPAN In August, 1922, my searches led me to the little village of Montespan, 9 miles southwest of St. Martory. Built on the slope of a hill I,500 feet high, which rises a little more than a mile south of the Garonne and the railway between Tou louse and Bayonne, this village takes its name from the feudal castle of Montes pan, whose imposing ruins greet the voy ager from afar (see page 130). But if these ruins still have enough importance to attract attention, the his toric memories which cling to them are not less interesting, for they link the spot to the name of Madame de Montespan, favorite of Louis XIV. About 1400 there shone at the court of the King of Navarre a young Spanish girl of great beauty and of such charming ways that, according to a contemporary tale, "although a virgin, Heaven gave her progeny."