Rheology of cave sediments: application to vermiculation

  • Perrine Freydier
  • Jérôme Martin
  • Béatrice Guerrier
  • Pierre-Yves Jeannin
  • Frédéric DoumencEmail author
Original Contribution


Several cases of vermiculation formation have been reported in painted caves, with potential issues for the conservation of parietal prehistoric paintings. Vermiculations are natural patterns observed in caves. They result from displacement of sediment initially at rest on cave walls. The collapse of the sediment yield stress, which allows the sediment to flow under small mechanical stresses, could be a necessary first step of the vermiculation process. Two possible scenarios have been identified: (1) when the sediment is soaked in low-mineralized water, a rapid and limited drop of the yield stress is followed by a slow decrease, which can seriously weaken the sediment layer if soaking is continued over several months and (2) a spectacular decrease of the yield stress (two orders of magnitude) when the sediment is soaked within a solution enriched in monovalent cations for weeks and suddenly exposed to low-mineralized water. The specific behavior of smectite clays binding the sediment accounts for this loss of cohesion.

Graphical Abstract

Vermiculations on a wet cave wall


Clay Rheology Smectite Vermiculation Cave Yield stress 



This study is part of investigations supported by the French Ministry of Culture, Direction des Affaires Culturelles de Nouvelle-Aquitaine. We want to thank them and their sub-contractants for support and data. In this context, we want to thank more specifically Jean-Christophe Portais and Sandrine Géraud for their help. We gratefully thank A. Aubertin, L. Auffray, J. Amarni, R. Pidoux, and C. Manquest (FAST Laboratory) for technical support. We thank D. Calmels, C. Quantin, G. Monvoisin, O. Dufaure, and S. Miska (GEOPS Laboratory) for chemical analysis and geological characterization of our samples. We thank P. Coussot and A. Fall (from Laboratoire Navier), B. Cabane (from LCMD) and J.B. Salmon (from LOF) for useful discussions.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Perrine Freydier
    • 1
  • Jérôme Martin
    • 1
  • Béatrice Guerrier
    • 1
  • Pierre-Yves Jeannin
    • 2
  • Frédéric Doumenc
    • 1
    • 3
    Email author
  1. 1.Laboratoire FAST, Université Paris-Sud, CNRSUniversité Paris-SaclayOrsayFrance
  2. 2.Swiss Institute for Speleology and Karstology (SISKA)La Chaux-de-FondsSwitzerland
  3. 3.Sorbonne UniversitéParis Cedex 05France

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