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 Location: Ardèche Gorge, Nr Vallon, France.  Grid Reference: N 44° 21', E 4° 29' 24".

 

Megaceros, chauvet cave, France.      Chauvet Pont d'Arc: (Palaeolithic Cave-art).

Discovered in 1994 in the valley near France's Ardeche River, the Chauvet Cave contains the oldest such paintings on record (some of them 32,000 years old), almost perfectly preserved when collapsing rocks sealed off the entrance some 25,000 years ago.

The art is the oldest recorded cave-art in the world and is surprisingly extensive, highly varied, and very skilfully executed, it includes species now extinct such as the Megaceros (Right).

(Map of the Chauvet Cave System)

 

 

   Chauvet Cave: (The Cave of Forgotten Dreams)

The 'Pont d'Arc', a natural nearby landmark which would have been impressive sight to the Palaeolithic residents of the gorge.

 

Based on radiocarbon dating, the cave appears to have been occupied by humans during two distinct periods: the Aurignacian and the Gravettian. Most of the artwork dates to the earlier, Aurignacian, era (30,000 to 32,000 years ago). The later Gravettian occupation, which occurred 25,000 to 27,000 years ago, left little but a child's footprints, the charred remains of ancient hearths and carbon smoke stains from torches that lit the caves.

Hundreds of animal paintings have been catalogued, depicting at least 13 different species, including some rarely or never found in other ice age paintings. Rather than depicting only the familiar animals of the hunt that predominate in Paleolithic cave art, i.e. horses, cattle, reindeer, etc., the walls of the Chauvet Cave are covered with predatory animals: lions, panthers, bears, owls, rhinos and hyenas.

 

 

Hilaire chamber.Hilaire Chamber with hanging rocks.

The fantastical shape of the cave would have made Chauvet a particularly 'sacred' place through Palaeolithic eyes. The theory that such places were used for 'shamanic' purposes is still in its infancy, but do not seem to apply in the case of Chauvet. The vast number of bones with cut marks on them, and the discovery of a child's footprints are more indicative of normal day-to-day living. The appearance of such high quality art at this early time suggests that our understanding of such processes is far from being fully understood.

Because of near-toxic levels of radon and carbon dioxide, nobody can stay in the cave for more than a few hours at a time (1)

 

 

 

 

The Chauvet Cave Bears.

This outline of a bear is significant in the light of the numerous bear bones, scratch marks on the walls, indentations in the ground (for sleeping) and footprints, all of which demonstrate that the cave was used by bears for a long time.

This 'Altar' stone was found with the skull of a bear on its top surface.

Although Cave-bears are now extinct, they were clearly present when these painting were being done as some of the bear footprints have pigment on them and there are even claw-marks on some of the animal paintings.  The floor of the cave was found with over 150 skeletons of cave-bears in it (2) . The significance of the stone above therefore is speculative, but it is suggested that it was placed there deliberately and therefore represents a form of relationship between man and cave-bear.

 

The Chauvet 'Venus':

The last and deepest of the Cave chambers, the Salle du Fond, is the home of the Chauvet Venus. From the ceiling of the chamber, which is nearly 7 m [20 feet] high, a vertical cone of limestone hangs down ending in a point 1.10 m [3ft 6 ins] off the floor. It is on this hanging outcrop that the Venus was drawn in black charcoal.

The black pubic triangle of the Venus is at eye level and seems to be the heart of the composition. It is shaded in with black pigment. The white vulva slit appears to have been done later with a pointed tool and is clearly indicated by a vertical line incised strongly enough to cut through both the black pigment and the yellow surface film of the rock. The legs, with plump thighs, finish in a point with the feet not shown. This Venus is absolutely classical and her proportions, the stylistic elements, the selection of the anatomical elements shown are all characteristically Aurignacian or Gravettian, as known from the small Venus statues of Central and Eastern Europe. The Venus is not isolated. Other lines and realistic representations are associated with her, directly on the outcrop. Higher and to the left of the Venus are two felines, a mammoth and a small musk ox. To the right of the Venus is the "Sorcerer" or man-bison. The relation of the Venus to the Sorcerer cannot be simply fortuitous. The Venus is the earliest of the designs. The feline on the left, the Sorcerer, and the multiple lines on the right, are all painted or engraved later. Their creation entailed a voluntary and selective local destruction of parts of the body of the Venus, the most obvious spot being at one of the upper extremities of the pubic triangle. Even more surprising is the voluntary absence of any super imposition. Neither the Sorcerer nor the large feline on the left cut across the Venus.

The Venus and the composition in which she occupies a privileged place are in a central topographic situation in the Salle du Fond. However, she is paradoxically peripheral in the over all design that seems centred on a beautiful horse lodged in a small chapel like niche to the left in the middle of the main panel of cave paintings. Perhaps the female representation relates directly to the corridor to the chamber, which opens just behind her. Four other female representations limited to just the pubic triangle are in the cave; they are all in the system including the Galerie des Megaceros and the Salle du Fond, indicating each time the entrance to the adjacent cavities.

"This Venus is absolutely classical and her proportions, the stylistic elements, the selection of the anatomical elements shown are all characteristically Aurignacian or Gravettian, as known from the small Venus statues of Central and Eastern Europe." - Jean Clottes,  'Return to Chauvet Cave'.

(More about Venus Figurines)

 

Gallery of Images: Chauvet Pont d'Arc.

The spectacular panel on the walls of the 'Hillaire Chamber'. The walls were smoothed before they were painted.

The natural outline of a horse in rock, with hand-print (Left), and exquisite drawing of a Rhino (Right).

The artist has played with perspective at the same time as capturing the feline form, look and stance.

 

More animal groupings... of Rhinoceros (Left),  and Horses (Right)

(So accurate are the forms of the animals one has to ask if the artist might have taken sketches down into the cave).

 

Bison on a Wall with Bear Claw-marks.

 

 

(Palaeolithic Homepage)

(Prehistoric Cave-art)

(La Marche)

(Lascaux)

 

(Other Prehistoric French Locations)

(France Homepage)

 

References:

1). http://www.variety.com/review/VE1117943558?refcatid=31
2). http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/Fate-of-the-Cave-Bear.html#
 

 

 
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