Abbé Henri Breuil

(28-FEB-1887 - 1961)

Abbé Breuil around 1900. Public Domain.
Abbé Breuil smoking, 1950s. Public Domain.
Cueva del Castillo, 23 July 1909, Abbé Henri Édouard Prosper Breuil (in cassock), Hugo Obermaier (background), Hermilio Alcalde del Río (centre with hat in hand) and Albert I of Monaco (seated on the right). Public Domain.

Henri Édouard Prosper Breuil was a cleric by profession, but archaeologist and paleontologist by destiny. Although he was a catholic priest and stayed a priest until he died, he never practised his profession. He is normally called Abbé Breuil, abbé is the French word for abbot, but is also used as a respectful form of address for priests. Sometimes he was called the pope of prehistory or the nestor of prehistory.

During most of his lifetime, Abbé Breuil was considered the foremost authority on Paleolithic cave art. He explored numerous caves in Europe and Africa, but most of them in France and northern Spain. His fame based very much on his publications, as he copied and published hundreds of examples of rock carvings and paintings. He wrote well-informed interpretations of the significance of prehistoric art.

His principal work is Four Hundred Centuries of Cave Art (1952).


28-FEB-1877 born in Mortain, Manche, Normandy, France.
1901 Breuil sees his first Paleolithic art at Les Combarelles.
1903 was invited by Emile Cartailhac to visit Altamira and started making copies of the paintings.
1910 started to teach at the Institut de Paléontologie Humaine, Paris.
1918 excavated a nearly complete skeletton of a Homo sapiens Neanderthalensis.
1929 to 1947 teaching position as Chairman of Prehistory at the Collège de France.
1938 becomes a member of the Institut de France.
1940 called in to investigate a newly discovered cave in south-central France at Lascaux.
1947 visited rock art sites in Namibia.
1948 visited rock art sites in Namibia.
1950 visited rock art sites in Namibia.
14-AUG-1961 dies in L'Isle-Adam, Val-d'Oise, France.