The Chauvet Cave (a.k.a Caverne du Pont d'arc)
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 (more than 1000) and unique collection of cave paintings dated between 32,000 - 36,000 years old which makes them some of the oldest cave paintings in the world. The cave, along with the Pont d'arc has recently been awarded UNESCO world heritage status (June 2014).
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.
In Vallon-Pont-d'Arc, the local town, they have created a huge, full size recreation of the cave to showcase this amazing discovery. This 55 million euro project will open to the public in April 2015. The visit follows the twists and turns of the caves morphology to provide visitiors with a truly immersive experience. Audio guides in 10 languages are provide free of charge. Alongside the cave replica, there is also a permanenet exhibition which provides an insight in to Palaeolithic man - their myths and their world. Finally, there is also a room specifically designed to take you behind the scenes to show the chalenges of restoration and teh stages of the replica's construction.
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
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!