Grotte d'Aldène

Grotte de la Coquille - Grotte de Fauzan - Grotte de Minerve

Useful Information

Location: 1 km north of Fauzan.
Open: No restrictions/closed.
Fee: free.
Classification: SpeleologyKarst cave
Light: bring torch
Guided tours: self guided, bring caving equipment
Photography: Allowed
Accessibility: No
Bibliography: L. Barral, S. Simone (1976): Le Pléistocène moyen de la grotte d'Aldène, Livret-Guide de l'excursion C2 Provence Languedoc méditerranéen, Congrès UISPP de Nice, pp. 255-266.
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
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1827 visited by J. M. Amelin.
1879 explored by A. Gauthier.
1888 beginning of phosphate mining.
1928 described by Abbé Breuil.
1937 end of phosphate mining.
1950 test excavation by L. Méroc and E. Delaplace.
1971-1991 excavations by L. Barral and S. Simone.


This is definitely the cave with the multiple names! As it is an important archaeological cave, we used the name which is commonly used in scientific publications, Grotte d'Aldène. Two other names - Grotte de Fauzan and Grotte de Minerve simply refer to the next two villages. The last name, Grotte de la Coquille (Cave of the Shell), is

The Grotte d'Aldène is located on the southern side of the gorge of the river Cess, about 1 km north of Fauzan and 5 km west of Minerve. The easiest way to reach the cave is, to leave Fauzan on D182 towards Minervere, turn left on a single lane road after 250 m, keep left after 300 m, after 800m stop at the wild parking lot at the rim of the gorge. A rather good trail with some rails leads down into the gorge, along various small caves, then on the left side at the foot of the cliff is the Grotte d'Aldène. It was excavated for some time, so part of the reason for the trail is the accessibility for the archaeologists. There are a lot of French signs and plates, most of them pointing out the importance of the cave and the fines for violating any of the protection laws.

The visit to this cave is possible with a minimum amount of caving gear. We always recommend a helmet and a headlight, clothes which may get dirty, sturdy boots, and so on. Butthis cave was excavated, the floor is mostly level now, and the passage is high enough to walk upright. So it is rather easy to visit the open parts of the cave. The cave section with still remaining archaeological stratas is closed to the public.

The importance of this cave is the wealth of remains from the Tautavel man, the Homo erectus, which lived at the cave some 320,000 years BP. Another layer contained remais around 13,000 BP and another 5,000 BP, both belong to the Cro Magnon, wich is the modern man. The reason why the cave contains remains of exactly this age is the climatge change. During the ice ages, the cave was used only under certain climatic condition, when the animals and hunters roamed the area. The first is the Mindel-Riss interglacial, the second a interglacial in the Riss glacial, and the last is the end of the Riss glacial. The excavations were made by the Musée d'Anthropologie préhistorique de Monaco (Anthropology Museum of Monaco).

The cave was always well known, but in the 17th century there was an increase in visitor. In 1827 the art professor J. M. Amelin visited the cave, and he made a cave description and numerous drawings of the cave.

The cave was next explored by A. Gauthier in 1879. He was a chemist and member of the Académie de Médecine et des Sciences (Academy of Medicine and Science). He analyzed the sediments in the cave and found calcium phosphate and alumina (brushite and minervite). Ten years later the commercial mining of those phosphates by a new founded company named La Société dite des Phosphates Naturels de la grotte de Fauzan started. Above the cave, on the plateau, a processing plant was erected, which still exists as a ruin. They even built an artificial shaft into the cave to lift the mined phosphates. They mined the bat guano, the animal bones, and the archaeological remains and produced fertilizer in industrial amounts. The mining operation was closed in 1937 after 50 years of mining. However, the amount of sediments in the cave are enormous, the floor is covered up to 11 m thick, and the sediments still in the cave are estimated to amount 300,000 tonnes.

The cave was described by Abbé Breuil in 1928, he mentioned the tracks of bears, big cats, rhinos, horses and cattle. In the 450,000 year old Middle Pleistocene layers, numerous animals were found. But most common were Hyenas, which used the cave as a den. They brought their food into the cave, and so many different animals ended in the cave. The hyenas left coprolithes, petrified feces, which are rich in limestone from the bones of eaten animals. Highlight were the discoveries of mammoth bones and a cave bear skull.