Chauvet Cave Paintings

I enjoyed watching the film “Caves of Forgotten Dreams”. I was fascinated by the extent to which the Chauvet Cave has been preserved over the years – from both humans and the external environment. Located in the Ardèche Valley, the cave’s surrounding environment consists of natural features including mountains and plateaus. It is possible that the harsh mountainous climate which is characterized by snow and violent winds, and frequent fogs in the valley could easily cause damage to the structure of the cave. It is believed that a rock slide covered the original entrance to the cave, preserving the paintings from natural elements.

According to the film, only a certain group of scientists (including geologists and paleontologists) is allowed to enter the cave and even though Werner Herzog received permission, he was still under strict restrictions. This goes to show how important this archaeological site is to the history of Southern France. Another reason why scientists may be allowed to view the cave for only a few hours a day could be the presence of radon and carbon dioxide at significantly high, near-toxic levels.

It is very interesting that paintings estimated to be about 32000 years old are still intact on the walls of the cave. In contrast to the paintings in Tutankhamun’s tomb which depicts humans and gods – his interactions with ancient Egyptians and the gods – these paintings comprise mainly of animal style art. I wonder why the dominant animals painted in the cave are mammoths, lions and rhinoceroses which I suppose were rarely hunted by the Neanderthals.

I appreciate the fact that through these paintings, we are able to learn about the society that lived in the regions around the cave. It is amazing to think about how humans adapted to the landscape and animals found in the area. It is speculated that humans may have made clothing and shoes from reindeer fur to protect themselves against the cold. Through the human paintings in the Chauvet Cave which include a slightly crooked little finger and the lower part of a woman’s body we get an idea of the physique of the prehistoric individuals. These images create memories that couldn’t be passed on to future generations using language. Because of these reasons, I believe archaeology is relevant in communicating the past. We can make a lot of important connections just by studying a single archaeological site. Also, as humans, we come to understand who we really are and where we came from.

2 thoughts on “Chauvet Cave Paintings

  1. Your blog post is very interesting. I had similar thoughts as you did while watching the film. I find it fascinating that these paintings that are so old have managed to remain as preserved as they are. The fine details are still apparent in the paintings when you look at them today about 40,000 years later, which is surprising to me. I used to paint quite often and occasionally when I look back at the paintings I made, I notice that they are not in as nice of a condition as they were when I first made them. Even though the cave was essentially sealed off from society and the rest of the world for a great deal of time, the extent of its preservation still makes me curious as to the kinds of materials these painters used and how they were able to sustain their conditions for thousands of years. I appreciate the steps that are being taken in order to maintain the preservation of the cave. Allowing only a small group of scientists into the cave to explore lets the cave remain intact and free from excess alterations by the general public. This allows scientists to learn as much as they can about the cave and how it was inhabited in order to communicate the past to us. I learned that a full size recreation has been made in the local town to display all of the scientist’s findings of the cave, and I think this is a great way of connecting the knowledge to people while still being able to learn about the cave.

  2. I enjoyed your blog post. I too enjoyed watching the documentary in class, even though it was a little “trippy” – as Ethan would say. As mentioned in the documentary, the paintings look fresh because they have been preserved so well. Like the our classmate that already commented on this thread, one of my hobbies is painting; many of the canvas paintings I completed a few years ago no longer look at vibrant or fresh as my newly painted works. When viewing the images of the galleries and the paintings in Chauvet Cave, it was truly interesting to hear just how long ago we think these paintings were made.

    Another part of Chauvet Cave and the documentary we watched that I found interesting is how much we can learn from what the anatomically modern humans painted in the caves. While bones of animals now extinct only tell us so much about the appearance of those long-gone animals, the cave paintings give us a detailed depiction of the animals that those anatomically modern humans came into contact with.

    In addition to what I’ve already described, I was intrigued to find out that the anatomically modern humans of the time period did not live in the caves. Perhaps it was the notion of “cavemen” being our ancestors or maybe it was just the thought that caves provide shelter that I possessed this assumption prior to the viewing of the documentary. I wonder what the caves were used for by the humans; why was the cave chosen to be one in which they would paint depictions of their everyday life?

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