Chauvet - Cave of the forgotten dreams

Hidden in the limestone of the mountains of southern France is a mysterious treasure trove that was discovered by chance only a few decades ago. No human being or larger animal had set foot in it for over 30,000 years.

. . . . . .

The incredible discovery

On December 18, 1994, 3 speleologists led by Jean-Marie Chauvet made their way through a lot of boulders on a plateau in the Ardeche Valley, crawling through long narrows until they finally ended up in a huge dripstone cave with hundreds of wall paintings and natural sculptures.

The cave had a devotional atmosphere and the walls shimmered in wonderful colors thanks to the stalactites - the discoverers reported. It seemed as if frozen in time. And the detailed animals on the rocks seemed to gallop, crawl and hunt through the four chambers of the cave. 

German director Werner Herzog was so impressed by it that he made the documentary "Cave of Forgotten Dreams" about this special find in 2010.

The cave was named after its discoverer and is now one of the most important archaeological sites in the world. It was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List in June 2014.

A special place then and now

Paddling on the waters of the Ardeche and passing through the massive arch of the Pont d'Arc, one can very well imagine that even people in prehistoric times must have been fascinated by this place.

Underground rivers flowing through the limestone hills of the region already created hundreds of gorges and caves in the area. It was a good place to shelter from the weather, make plans for hunting and ask the spirits for support.

In those times, large predators such as cave bears were common. On the ground you can still find real paw prints - twice the size of a human - as well as numerous sleeping hollows and countless bones of those wild animals that hibernated here.

A bit above the river course is the original entrance to the Chauvet Cave, which was finally closed by a rock fall still during the Würm Ice Age . Since then, the temperature inside the cave has been constant all year round at 13 degrees Celsius ? so the stalactites, the floor and the cave paintings have been preserved over this long period of time and have not been disturbed by any visitors.

Even today it is not open to the public, because a change in humidity could lead to fungal growth and damage. Even authorized researchers are only allowed to work in the cave for limited hours at certain times of the year. But there is an alternative for that.

The largest cave replica in the world

Nevertheless, in order to provide an impressive experience with a nearly authentic environment for visitors, a detailed replica of the Chauvet Cave was created under the name "Caverne du Pont-d'Arc".

For this highly elaborate project, under the direction of 15 scientists, many painters, sculptors, architectural offices, set designers and major companies in the construction industry joined forces. The cost was 55 million euros to reconstruct the most important details thanks to modern 3D technology on a scale of 1:1 on a space with 8180 m² of walls and vaults.

This copy, located 3 km from the original, makes it possible to recreate the beauty and significance of prehistoric art without compromising the original paintings. In the visitor center, the life of Stone Age people and lifelike replicas of animals of that time are illustrated through films and touch screens, as well as a laser show by modern artists to bridge the waiting time for admission.

Since 2015, during the tour you can walk along a walkway for about an hour and see the 27 murals of the cave. The tour ends in front of the great fresco of the lions, a monumental mural of 12 meters in length, where 92 animals are seen in full motion.

The extraordinary art

Prehistoric artists used a variety of styles and techniques, such as contour lines, shading, and perspective, to add depth and realism to their works. Sometimes drawings were scratched with flint, sometimes colors were applied from plant juices, blood or other raw materials. The use of ocher, charcoal and natural pigments allowed them to create vivid colors that retained their intensity even after millennia.

They show a remarkable variety of animal species, including some that are now extinct. There are, for example, woolly rhinos, cave lions, mammoths, wild horses, cave bears, cave hyenas, reindeer, bison, aurochs, ibex, giant deer, panthers and a snowy owl. The precise depictions are executed with great attention to detail. By staging actual scenes with real animal behavior, they convey a sense of movement and liveliness.

  • Dieses Pferd wurde mit dem Finger auf die nun kohlensäurehaltige, weiche Tonschicht gezeichnet.
  • Die auf Löwen spezialisierten Ethologen betrachten diese Komposition als eine Szene vor der Paarung. Abgesehen von den Figuren weist diese Tafel Spuren zahlreicher anthropogener Ereignisse (Druck, Reibung, Stöße, Fackelabdrücke, Tonauflagen usw.) und tierischer Ereignisse (Krallenspuren, Polieren usw.) auf.
  • Gesamtansicht des Tafelbildes, bestehend aus 13 mit Kohle gezeichneten Tieren auf einer vorgeglätteten Oberfläche. Oben ein Hirschkopf und ein Pferdekopf, dazwischen zwei Rentiere, die in entgegengesetzte Richtungen laufen. In der Mitte befinden sich zwei Hirsche, Kopf an Schwanz, eingerahmt von einem Bison und einem Auerochsen, über einem Hirsch, gefolgt von einer roten Markierung. Unter den Hirschen, 0,50 m über dem Boden, befinden sich ein Fackelabdruck und ein stark vereinfachter Pferdekopf.
  • Die anatomischen Merkmale dieses Tieres, dessen Kopf um 180° nach hinten gedreht ist (was dank der Darstellung von Flügeln zu erkennen ist), erlauben es, es als Waldohreule (Asio otus) zu identifizieren. Sie ist auf einer Schicht aus weichem Ton gezeichnet. Höhe: etwa 0,30 m
  • Der einzelne schwarze Bär in einem unteren Bereich der Decke. Die Linie vor ihm könnte ein weiterer Bär sein.
  • Spuckendes Nashorn
  • Die beiden gekreuzten Wisente sind in schwarzer Farbe gezeichnet und durch Gravur hervorgehoben. Auf dem oberen Bison sind zwei Versionen des Körpers zu sehen, von denen die längste unproportioniert erscheint. Der untere Bison, der weniger detailliert ist, wurde durch den Durchgang der Bären durch die Höhle teilweise ausradiert. Auf der Tafel sind auch eine Reihe von eingravierten Strichen, die ein ungewöhnliches Zeichen bilden, und ein skizzenhaft eingravierter Mammutkopf zu sehen.

Besides the animal representations, there are also stylized signs and symbols in the cave. A total of over 400 murals with about 1000 representations have been recorded so far. The walls also show about 10 negative and positive imprints of hands, female sexual symbols and the unusual drawing of a female lower body next to a bison.

  • Es handelt sich um eine der wichtigsten Tafeln der Höhle, da sie etwa 50 Figuren auf einer Fläche von über 5 m vereint und 5 Tierarten (Nashorn, Katze, Pferd, Bär und Bison), positive und negative Hände, verschiedene Arten von Zeichen und zwei Gruppen von Handpunkten vereint. Die Gravur wurde als eigenständige Technik oder zur Vervollständigung bestimmter Tiere verwendet.
  • Rote Hände und großes rotes Rinozeros: Die Umrisse des Tieres werden durch feine Gravuren hervorgehoben.
  • Die Sprühzeichen befinden sich ebenfalls im hinteren Teil des Hohlraums, sind jedoch eingraviert. Das Kreuzzeichen ist eine auffällige Annäherung an unsere heutige westliche Welt.
  • Dies ist das am besten erhaltene Exemplar eines Handabdrucks, es befindet sich oberhalb des Mammuts.

The purposes and meanings of the paintings in the Chauvet cave are the subject of research and discussion. It is believed that they were used as part of ritual acts and initiation rites. The cave may have been an important spiritual and cultural place for the people of the time.

The temporal sections of the different use

When exactly they were made, experts disagree since the discovery of the cave. There is evidence that people inhabited the cave as early as 37,000 years ago, but only ever stayed for a short time. Current radiocarbon dating points to two different periods:

In the first phase - during the Aurignacian - artists drew most of the cave paintings of Chauvet. They brought wood into the cave and burned it to create light and charcoal for drawing. Then, for some unknown reason, people left the cave for about five or six thousand years, after which it was occupied by bears. 

In the second phase of human use, about 31,000 to 28,000 years ago BP (Gravettian), people left footprints, burn marks from torches and charcoal, but no artwork.

Many secrets remain preserved

The discovery of the Chauvet Cave marked a milestone in the study of prehistoric man and his artistic expressions. It opens the possibility to better understand our past and to explore the fascinating history of human creativity and cultural development.

The total mapped area is said to be more than 8,000 square meters, but its actual extent remains unknown and many a treasure may remain hidden in the dark forever.

Author   SmileGlobetrotter


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.