How to See the Prehistoric Art of Chauvet Cave

  • 01 of 03

    Cave Chauvet Pont d'Arc

    Grotte Chauvet
    M. Rissoan

    For a very long time, France's Lascaux Cave represented the pinnacle of ancient prehistoric art and was loved and admired by armchair archaeologists, artists, travelers, and social scientists. So much so that all the heavy breathing and gasps of wonderment by cave visitors began to rapidly degrade the images inside the cave.

    You always hurt the ones you love.

    But there's a new cave in town, or rather, there's a cave nearly with paintings twice as old. La grotte Chauvet Pont d'Arc, known as Chauvet cave since its discovery in 1994, has recently been entered in the UNESCO World Heritage List of cultural properties as the oldest site; human activity in the cave is thought to date back some 30- 36,000 years. Besides, Chauvet's 8000 square meters of area dwarfs 1500 of Lascaux.​

    The remarkably preserved cave is graced with 1,000 drawings; 425 are animal figures. There are 14 different species represented, the majority are large animals that generally provoke fear in humans like cave bears a tiger. Some drawings are unique in Palaeolithic cave art, according to a press release, including the panther, owl, and "the lower part of the female body."

    The medium for this outpouring of art?

    Stone engraving or finger painting, by blowing pigments, by impression of the palms of the hands, or by brush, drawings in charcoal or red ochre: all are techniques used by our ancestors in the service of graphic virtuosity that materializes through the use of the rock-surface relief, naturalism and shading. But also by the graphic narration, of hunting scenes, a rhinoceros fight, or the superimposition of successive images to express rhythm or movement. ~ The Decorated Cave of Pont-d’Arc known as The Grotte Chauvet Jewel of humanity

    The original Chauvet Cave lies to the north of an oxbow meander of the Ardèche river and the famous Pont d'Arc, a natural bridge that formed when waters broke through the narrow part of the meander. The "bridge" marks the departure point for the descent into the gorge of the Ardèche river by kayakers and canoe enthusiasts.

    Like they did with Lascaux, they'll put a replica north of the original cave and just east of the town of Vallon-Pont-d'Arc. This time before the paintings get ruined.

    Like Lascau, they'll make as perfect a replica as they can for the tourists. It won't be ready until spring of 2015, but we'll show you a little of how they're replicating the art and cave surfaces next.

    Continue to 2 of 3 below.
  • 02 of 03

    Creating the replica cave of Chauvet

    Workshop of Gilles Tosello
    © Carole Fritz

    To allow visitors to experience the replica in nearly the same way as they would if standing inside the original Chauvet Cave, the Ardèche council and Rhône-Alpes region are backing the creation of a replica cave, with support from the French Government and the European Union.

    The very latest techniques will be used in the formidable challenge of stirring the same kinds of emotions generated by the original. The facsimile will do this through a combination of scientific knowledge and geometric scale, faithful artistic reproductions and atmospheric presentation techniques. The 8000m² of the original cave will be condensed into 3000m², accessed via a space that immediately gives a feeling of mystery and anticipation. ~ The Vallon-Pont-d’Arc cave.

    The paintings, as seen in the picture, are reproduced on a shotcrete structure with resin coating using natural oxide pigments and Scots pine charcoal.

    To see the process of building the replica, called the Caverne of Pont-d’Arc in a six-minute video (in French with English subtitles), see The cavern of Pont-d'Arc cavern project. Note that other videos on the subject are listed lower on the page.​

    Next, we'll look at what you need to do to plan a vacation that includes The Vallon-Pont d'Arc cave.

    Continue to 3 of 3 below.
  • 03 of 03

    How To Visit the Chauvet Cave Replica

    Grotte Chaubet: Loins and Bisons
    Ministere de la Culture

    One should not make definite plans to visit the Chauvet Cave replica just yet--or not until summer at least. Things can get delayed.  But there are resources you can use just in case you're near the area and the replica opens on time.

    The closest town to the cave is Vallon-Pont-d’Arc. In summer it gets crowded with folks wanting to visit and paddle down the river gorge. Venere offers several user-rated hotels in and around Vallon Pont d'Arc.

    The Caverne of Pont-d’Arc is quite visible on a satellite map. You can see a map of the project and the original Chauvet cave marked using the link: Chauvet Cave: Now UNESCO's Oldest World Heritage Site.

    If the replica cave isn't quite ready, there is a museum explaining it all. "...the permanent exhibition mounted jointly at Vallon-Pont d’Arc by the European Centre for Prehistoric Studies and the local council enables thousands of visitors to discover the Chauvet Pont-d’Arc Cave, whilst they wait for the Caverne of Pont-d’Arc to open in spring 2015." ~ The Vallon-Pont-d’Arc cave.