At the foot of a cliff in the Ardche Gorges, in south-eastern France, amateur
speleologists discovered the world’s oldest painted prehistoric cave. Discovered
on December 18, 1994, this cave features art that dates back thirty-one thousand
years. Jean-Marie Chauvet, Eliette Brunel-Deschamps and Christian Hillaire, were
the amateurs who discovered the cave that has come to be known simply as the
Chauvet cave. The explorers were in Vallon-Pont-d’Arc, France some thirty feet
below ground. While exploring a cave, they were intrigued by a draft of air.
They followed the draft to the source and discovered a cavity. This cavity then
led to a vast network of galleries and rooms. The explorers were amazed. As they
began to take a closer look, they saw columns of calc-spar, minerals in the
walls, bones of bears. Suddenly, Eliette saw the image of a small mammoth on the
wall in front of her.
The adventurers were astounded. The walls began to come
alive with engravings and paintings in red ochre and black. Everywhere they
turned, there were these paintings that stretched hundreds of yards. The
discoverers could not believe their eyes. Before them, were some three hundred
horses, rhinoceros, lions, buffalo, and mammoth. Some of the animals were alone,
while some were drawn in packs. And finally, all of these paintings were
awakened from thousands of years of deep sleep. Jean Clottes, a specialist in
cave paintings, is commissioned to appraise the cave. He was able to verify that
this was genuine Paleolithic art. Everything was authentic and perfectly
Now, all that needs to be done is determine the age of these
masterpieces. Six months later, carbon 14 dating analysis showed that one
buffalo and two rhinoceros were no less than 31,000 years old. Suddenly, the
cave paintings at Vallon-Pont-d’Arc found themselveds promoted to the rack of
“the oldest known cave paintings to date.” The Ministry of Culture is
quoted as saying that these datings “have revolutionized hitherto accepted
concepts on the appearance of art and its development, and prove that homo
sapiens learnt to draw at a very early stage.” Not only was there art
found, but there was also many clues to the activities of primitive man.
Charcoal, sediment extraction points, sharpened flint stones, and imprints were
among some of the clues founds. The Chauvet cave is the discovery of a lifetime.
It has provided many insights into the world of primitive art. It is truly a
magnificent wonder of the world.