The Chauvet Cave
This magnificent discovery was made in December 1994 and remains one of the most important prehistoric sites to date. It was found accidentally by three local cavers - Christian Hillaire, Eliette Brunel-Deschamps and Jean-Marie Chauvet after whom the cave was named. It has more recently been the subject of Werner Herzog's new film 'Cave of Forgotten Dreams 3D' .
The Chauvet cave is situated next to the famous Pont d'Arc , above the old river bed upon which the Ardèche flowed before the archway opened up and changed its course. It contains a vast array and unique collection of cave paintings dated up to 32,000 years old which makes them the oldest cave paintings in the world.
These paintings contain images of animals such as the ibex, mammoth, giant stags, horses, lions, bears, rhinos and even an owl! What makes these paintings even more extraordinary is the expressive techniques that are used, such as the use of perspective in the 'panel of horses' which shows several animals on the same plane, or with the impression of movement shown by the duplication of the bison's horn and hooves. The cave was also strewn with cave bear skulls, one of which was found placed carefully upon a high slab as if on an alter.
John Robinson, a British sculpture and coordinator of the Bradshaw
Foundation, was lucky enough to be allowed within the original cave. He
said about the panel of horses that "The panel is without doubt one of the great masterpieces
of Homo sapiens Art, besides being the oldest. I studied the lines
of black edges, and the use of smudging to produce shadow. Then I
saw that the artist had highlighted the outer edge of the drawing
by chiseling into the white rock surface. The incising immediately
brought to mind the wonders of Egypt, but they were done 3,000 years
In Vallon-Pont-d'Arc, the local town, they have created an exhibition to showcase the discovery. It is open to the public and contains not only a film showing the inside of the Chauvet Cave but also some recreations of this and other excavations creating an overall view of Cro-Magnon man and the place of the Chauvet discovery in history.
A visit to the exhibition is possible within a programme of events or can be seen during your free time.
The paintings are just as complex and artistic as the later Lascaux paintings, which are about 10,000 years younger, and Dr David Whitehouse (BBC online science editor) stated that "it may indicate that art developed much earlier than had been realised." Charcoal used in pictures of horses at Chauvet were analysed with Carbon isotopes and the result "shows that they are 30,000 years old, a discovery that should prompt a re-think about the development of art". This has resulted in the reconsideration of how and when art developed.
Helene Valladas of the Laboratory for Climate and Environment Studies at France's CEA-CNRS research centre at Gif-sur-Yvette performed the analysis on the paintings concluding that the drawings were between 29,700 and 32,400 years old. She says that "Prehistorians, who have traditionally interpreted the evolution of prehistoric art as a steady progression from simple to more complex representations, may have to reconsider existing theories of the origins of art."
Pablo Picasso once said after exiting the Lascaux caves back in 1940 that "we have discovered nothing". This statement is magnified when you realise that cave art from the Chauvet Cave, shows that ancient man was just as skilled as those who followed up to 13,000 years later!