Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Cave Paintings of Chauvet

Just about the only magazine I've subscribed to for the last 15 years is Archaeology. I was catching up on back issues and found a fascinating article on the stone age paintings in the Chauvet Cave in France, which was discovered very recently, in December of 1994.

The paintings are twice as old as any found before, and done in two periods, 30,000 years and 35,000 years ago.

This is one of the most significant archaelogical sites ever found. Some of the drawings are just amazingly good even by modern standards, including a pride of lions hunting bison and a herd of horses. Anatomically correct with shading on many many of them like a good charcoal drawing. This link to Archaeology magazine doesn't have the best images, but has the story (note there are links to different parts of the story). A little more information can be found on Wiki.

Think about that -- 5000 years separation, in the same caves. That's older than the Pyramids are to us, today.

The caves weren't habited by humans except when spring came, after the cave bears moved out. Many of the drawings have the claw marks of bears over them, and some were drawn over the claw marks.
But whatever pictures I provide here simply don't do justice to this archaeological site. If you find this interesting you must see the 90 minute documentary "Cave of Forgotten Dreams". Must. Here is a trailer:

This is the most interesting documentary I have ever seen. (I watched on Netflix instant queue.) The paintings are incredibly extensive through 1300 feet of caves. Stunningly beautiful crystal formations throughout, often growing on hundreds and hundreds of bones of cave bears. Hundreds of very distinct human handprints on the walls, including from one prolific painter than can be identified by a crook in one finger -- his prints span the cave, from one end to the other.

The making of the film was discussed a couple issues ago of Archaeology magazine, if you want to know more. The documentary was also done in 3-D, and given how the paintings took advantage of the contours of the cave walls, I personally would buy a 3-D HD TV solely to watch this documentary again.

One thing interesting about this place -- the study involves so many specialties-- archaeology, paleontology, art history, geology, zoology, and I'm probably leaving some out.

The only thing I apologize for in advance is that the "heavenly" music that comes in now and then is annoyingly hoaky. And three idiotic, meaningless minutes at the end about albino crocodiles and the nuclear power plant 20 miles away. Yes, crocodiles. Don't ask me. A European made this. But the content transcends any of that.

For more information, see http://www.culture.gouv.fr/culture/arcnat/chauvet/en/ and go to "visit the cave".