Located in the heart of the Cirque d'Estre in the south of the Ardèche, the cave decorated with Vallon pont d'arc known as Chauvet cave is one of the jewels of Ardèche heritage. Discovered in 1994 by three speleologists, it has been classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and now has a Lascaux-type restitution area for visitors. The quality of the frescoes, the preparation of the walls and the use of the relief of the cave show an artistic mastery unknown for this time so remote, until the discovery of this cave.
Who discovered the Chauvet Cave?
The cave was discovered on December 18, 1994 by three Ardèche speleologists: Jean Marie Chauvet, Eliette Brunel and Christian Hillaire. The entrance to the cave is located in the Ardèche gorges, near Vallon Pont d Arc. To be able to get inside, the cavers went through a horizontal tube about 30 cm high and 6 meters long to reach the ceiling of a large room. Even today, researchers use this passage and it takes about thirty minutes to descend into the cave.
It seems that the discovery of the cave was not however due to chance, speleologists looking for several years for a cave near the Pont d'Arc. The cave was fairly quickly closed to the public (from 1995) for conservation reasons. The green disease of Lascaux being feared and even today only a few people can enter the cave with a limited time.
When does the Chauvet cave date?
After dating micro samples of charcoal with Carbon 14, some drawings date from at least 36,000 years before our era. The cave was used by Cro-Magnon man until 20,000 BC. It was also the place of hibernation of bears and wolves whose traces are still visible today.
The Chauvet cave: the pinnacle of cave art
The cave is made up of a vast underground network nearly 500 m long, made up of several rooms. The site has more than 1000 rock paintings, 425 of which represent animals. Among these animals, there are more than 14 different species of which the most represented are felines, mammoths and rhinos.
It seems that the cave drawings were made in a thought-out and organized way by prehistoric man. Far from the image of the man with the shaggy beard and holding a club, which we all have in mind, it seems that prehistoric man was much smarter than what we sometimes wanted to believe. Indeed, it is believed that some of the artists prepared their support before painting either by scraping the limestone or by succeeding in causing chemical reactions which led to emulsions before applying the paints and which are still visible in the cave today. hui. In addition, the technique and mastery of drawing, visible thanks to many details, but also the rare species that are represented (such as the owl), command a certain respect and today make the Chauvet Cave one of the most beautiful ornate caves to the world.
A unique cave
This cave therefore appears as a unique jewel of Ardèche heritage. Unique first of all because of its exceptional state of conservation and that of its paintings which is due to the obstruction of its entrance by a landslide more than 20,000 years ago. Its state of conservation is also due to the protection with which it has been surrounded, in particular by closing it to the public and the measures taken when researchers entered the cave with passage through several decontamination airlocks so as not to pollute the cave. . It is, thanks to these measures, the oldest decorated cave of humanity.
Unique also because of the magnificence and the quality of the paintings represented which call into question our vision of prehistoric man. These symbolic, two-way or naturalized images depict a prehistoric man whose belief in spirits motivates the artistic creation and the location of cave paintings. These works are therefore thought out and executed with grace in a magical place that allows prehistoric man to reach the quintessence of his art.
The cave has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which will facilitate the protection and sharing of this gem of cave art. It is reproduced a few kilometers from the real one in order to open it to the public since spring 2015. The replica of the Chauvet cave, integrated into the Ardèche environment, was produced by Périgord companies which had already worked on the facsimile. from Lascaux. The visit lasts a little over an hour, and consists of a stroll along the restitution area. The temperature and lighting have been adapted to make the journey more immersive. It is advisable to favor the last time slot (5:30 pm) and to avoid the weekend to fully enjoy the visit.
To go further on the Chauvet cave
- CHAUVET Jean Marie, La Grotte Chauvet pont d arc, Seuil, 1995
- CLOTTES Jean, La grotte Chauvet: the art of origins, Seuil, 2010
Visit the Chauvet 2 Ardèche Cave (Guided tour). Caverne du Pont d'Arc, Ardèche department, Rhône Alpes Auvergne region.