Mothers of Time

The Wealth of the Balzi Rossi

The Balzi Rossi are situated on the Mediterranean shore, east of the French-Italian border. The information we now have indicates that these were extremely rich prehistoric deposits. Documents from the period and more recent discoveries confirm that the Balzi Rossi held traces of a long series of occupations: the caves were inhabited first by the Mousterians or Neanderthals over 35,000 years ago, during the Middle Palaeolithic period, and later by a succession of cultures - Aurignacian, Gravettian and Epigravettian, during the Upper Palaeolithic period.

This nineteenth-century lithograph (from Rivière, 1887) shows four of the caves of the Balzi Rossi, or Red Rocks (also known as the Grimaldi Caves), where Louis Alexandre Jullien claimed to have carried out the excavations that led, at the end of the last century, to the discovery of fifteen figurines. Situated on the Mediterranean's Italian Riviera, just east of Menton and the French-Italian border, the caves are at the southern limit of the hilly massif of the Alps, which extends to the sea along the coast, separating the Italian territory of Liguria to the east from Provence and the basin of the Rhône River in France to the west. This particular topography meant that the Balzi Rossi caves were en route - as well as a convenient stopping point - for those who travelled through or lived in this region over the millennia. During the Upper Palaeolithic period, the obstacle of the Alpine glaciers made a stop at the caves obligatory. The caves were inhabited by the Gravettians (creators of the figurines), by their predecessors in an earlier Palaeolithic age, and by their successors in more recent epochs.