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The ‘Grande Grotte’ cave at Arcy-sur-Cure (Yonne, France) with its prehistoric paintings shows important calcite concretions. Two types of calcite have been observed on the wall: translucent yellowish layers and opaque white or grey layers that completely obstruct the paintings. Other calcite types are present in the lakes of the cave (floating calcite rafts at the surface of the lake and soft calcite at the bottom of the lake).

The morphology of the different calcites was observed at different scales by optical microscopy with normal and polarized light, scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and transmission electron microscopy (TEM). The elemental composition was measured by using particle-induced X-ray emission (micro-PIXE) and the structure by X-ray diffraction (XRD), infrared (FT-IR) and Raman spectroscopy. The bacterial diversity and its role in calcite formation were assessed by culture and 16S-SSCP in order to distinguish and to assess various abiotic and biotic formation mechanisms.

The investigation of calcite characteristics enables conclusions on the formation mechanism and on a biotic or abiotic origin of the calcites. The change of calcite types on the walls reveals changes of the environmental cave parameters. In addition, interactions of calcites with the prehistoric paint layer could be evaluated.

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