The Discovery of Chauvet Cave

This week in class we watched “Cave of Forgotten Dreams,” a documentary about the Chauvet Cave, where Werner Herzog and a small crew explored this cave in great detail.  I found the film to be very interesting and learned a lot about one of the oldest caves in the world.

What really fascinated me was the manner in which this cave was discovered. The cave was accidentally found by Christian Hillaire, Eliette Brunel-Deschamps, and Jean-Marie Chauvet (whom the cave was named after) by Pont d’Arc  in southern France.  The explorers felt drafts of air coming from cracks within the rocks in that area, which ultimately led them to the grand discovery of a cave that is 1300 feet long! It is hard to imagine that a cave of such magnitude was stumbled upon by accident and that so many amazing artifacts were found. What really interested me was the amount of art and the intricate detail of if found in the cave. Around 420 paintings have been found in the cave, all made with varying techniques and design. Because it is apparent that humans did not actually live in this cave as there were no human bone remains found, it makes me think that this cave was predominantly used as a canvas for people to portray their art. Most of the paintings in the cave were figurative depictions of animals, including lions, rhinos, mammoths, bison, and horses, and these representations were very accurately and precisely drawn. In contrast, there are much fewer depictions of human paintings found in the cave, and those that are there are in less detail than the animal paintings. This makes me believe that the animals had symbolic meaning in the lives of those humans at that time and may have been highly respected or even worshiped.

The preservation of the cave is something of extraordinary bewilderment. I find it astonishing that all of the art and other remains have been left undisturbed since a landslide sealed off the entrance about 25,000 years ago. I am also impressed at the measures that are being taken in order to keep it this way. Access has been restricted to the public since its discovery and those who are allowed to enter take great care in all of their actions in order to maintain it as closely to the way it was found, allowing us to learn as much about the cave and all of its glories without altering it. In the local town, Vallon-Pont-d’Arc, a full size recreation has been created to showcase the discoveries. I think this is a good way to inform the public of what is being found while keeping the site in pristine condition to get the most information out of it without altering its condition. All of this just goes to show the significance that archaeology has on our world and how it leads to so many amazing discoveries of the way that people once lived their lives. The discovery of the cave was fairly recent (in 1994), again showing that archaeological discoveries are being made all the time and that we are constantly learning new things in order to try to piece together this puzzle of how and why people lived and the connections it has to us today.

One thought on “The Discovery of Chauvet Cave

  1. I am also amazed that the Chauvet Cave was found almost accidentally! What I find the most intriguing about Chauvet is that, like you mentioned, it was probably used as an art canvas, rather than a living space because of the lack of human remains present in the cave. Like Professor Watrall talked about in class, Paleolithic people were characterized as using artistic expression. It is funny to think about that, since we as a society have these notions that lump Paleolithic people with Neanderthals. When we do this, we often think they have less cognitive abilities and are therefore less intelligent. Contrary to those beliefs, it is so fascinating that Paleolithic people were creating art, and designating certain locations as creative spaces.

    As you mentioned, it is astounding that Chauvet has been kept in such pristine condition. However, do you think it would be better to not completely restrict access to the cave? El Castillo, another painted cave, allows a limited number of visitors each day because the Spanish culture ministry believes it is important to experience history and past culture. It is a shame Chauvet doesn’t do something similar, because it would be amazing to see, and I’m sure the French culture ministry would benefit greatly. I can understand the hesitation for having Chauvet unrestricted, especially after Lascaux had to be closed because of the mold growth. Although the recreation of Chauvet in Vallon-Pont-d’Arc is a good idea, it’s not the same as the original. As unfortunate as that is, it is cool that the recreation will have the same temperature, humidity, and overall feel as the original.

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