The First Art Newspaper on the Net Established in 1996 United States Monday, December 29, 2014


AFP gets rare chance to travel 36,000 years underground in France's Chauvet cave
Chauvet cave curator Marie Bardisa looks at cave paintings in the cave, on June 13, 2014 in Vallon Pont d'Arc. France is submitting a request to have the Chauvet cave in Ardeche classified by the UNESCO world heritage committee as a "world heritage site". AFP PHOTO / JEFF PACHOUD.

By: Philomene Bouillon

VALLON-PONT-D'ARC (AFP).- It is a cave so closely guarded that only three people know the code to the half-tonne reinforced door that seals its entrance, where cameras keep watch 24 hours a day.

But AFP was given a rare chance to step through this gateway into prehistory and into the depths of the Grotte Chauvet in southern France -- home to the earliest known figurative drawings and now a World Heritage site.

For tens of thousands of years, time stopped in the cave nestled deep in a limestone cliff that hangs over the lush, meandering Ardeche River, until it was discovered in 1994 by a group of cave experts.

To reach the site, which is closed to the public, the lucky few allowed access must hike up a path that our Cro-Magnon ancestors once used, not far from a natural stone bridge that straddles an abandoned part of the river.

Some 36,000 years ago -- the age of the cave paintings -- tall Scots pines lorded over the cliff in a climate equivalent to that of present-day southern Norway.

After arriving at the entrance in sweltering heat, descending into the Paleolithic den brings a sharp drop in temperature and almost 100 percent humidity.

Marie Bardisa, the curator of the site, types in the code to the fortified door and it slowly swings open.

Visitors must put on white overalls and special shoes to avoid polluting the environment, as well as a helmet and harness.

"The idea is to keep the cave in the same state of containment as when it was discovered," Bardisa says.

"We watch over the atmospheric balance, we monitor the potential proliferation of algae, mushrooms or bacteria."

Miraculously preserved
Now begins the travel through time. After crawling through a narrow tunnel, visitors reach man-made stairs. At the bottom, the silent, cool cave opens up.

Nearly everything has been left as it was when Jean-Marie Chauvet, Christian Hillaire and Eliette Brunel stumbled across the grotto on December 18, 1994.

Crystals on huge limestone formations sparkle in the lamp light. Bones coated with clay and calcite litter the cave, proving that bears lived here before and after humans passed through. The skull of an Alpine ibex, a species of wild goat, smiles through immaculate teeth.

Visitors are not allowed to walk freely through the site but must stick to a tiny walkway that makes movement difficult.

Paintings of hands -- made using a technique of blowing red ochre pigment onto the wall around the hand -- appear out of the dark as a guide shines a powerful lamp onto the wall.

Further away, an image of a red bear with a spotty face stands over the only known drawing of a panther among all cave paintings from the Paleolithic era.

"Chauvet alone houses 75 percent of big cats and 60 percent of rhinoceroses" known to have been drawn during the period, says Charles Chauveau, the site's deputy curator.

Remains of fires
Even more astounding, remains of fires that look like they were only extinguished yesterday indicate where men would burn wood to make torches and charcoal.

At the far end of the large grotto, a bear's skull sits atop a stone.

Experts say Cro-Magnon man did not live in the cave but probably used it for religious reasons.

"They were hunter-gatherers and the underground world had connotations of the supernatural," said prehistorian Jean Clottes, the first expert to visit the cave 20 years ago.

All of a sudden, a group of horses painted with charcoal appears in the glare of the lamp, the artist having used a slit in the rock to represent the mouth of one of the animals.

Lions, owls, mammoths... scores of beasts reveal themselves.

The paintings are more than twice as old as those in the famed Lascaux caves also in southern France.

The cave has been miraculously preserved because it was sealed off 23,000 years ago by a rockfall. It will never be open to the public due to the fragile state of the more than 1,000 paintings.

As a result, French authorities are building a replica of the cave not far from the original which should open its doors next year.



© 1994-2014 Agence France-Presse





Today's News

June 24, 2014

Spain's Queen Letizia opens "El Greco and modern painting" exhibition at The Prado

"El Lissitzky: The Experience of Totality" opens at Museo Picasso Málaga

Claude Monet 'Water Lilies' painting sells for $54 million at Sotheby's in London

Dr Nicholas Penny announces his intention to retire from his role as Director of the National Gallery

AFP gets rare chance to travel 36,000 years underground in France's Chauvet cave

Sotheby's London to auction a masterpiece of clockmaking: A mesmerising Swan clock

Paris's Pablo Picasso museum opening pushed back by a month to October 25

Fondation Louis Vuitton announces opening of its doors to the public on 27 October 2014

Record price for Chinese 'dragon box' stuns crowd at Bonhams Asian Art Sale in Sydney

Folk art is never naive: Oksana Mas uses the wooden Easter egg as a technique

Solo exhibition by American artist Rashid Johnson opens at The George Economou Collection

A Suitcase full of Dreams: Photographs by Dirk de Herder on view at Eduard Planting Gallery

Original Bill Mack portrait of Jean Harlow on a 90-year-old piece of The Hollywood sign featured at RR Auction

VOLTA10: Setting the gold standard for artistic discovery

Malaysian High Commissioner opens first solo show by Chang Fee Ming in London

Michael Kenna's first solo exhibition at AO Vertical Space Gallery opens in Hong Kong

Taiwan Japan museum row solved

Classic & iconic watches for the collector at Dreweatts & Bloomsbury Auctions

Ronald Phillips reveals first of their showstoppers destined for Masterpiece London

Exhibition of photographs produced since 2008 by Stan Douglas on view at Haus der Kunst

Georgia O'Keeffe Museum announces opening of Dallas-based fundraising office

Group exhibition of works by seven contemporary painters opens at Bridgette Mayer Gallery

Most Popular Last Seven Days



1.- Colossal statue of Amenhotep III unveiled on the west bank of the Nile in Egypt

2.- British royals crown New York visit with gala dinner

3.- Missing artwork rediscovered in "Stuart Little" sells for over 200,000 euros at auction

4.- Rossetti's Venus Verticordia soars at Sotheby's in London to sell for £2.88 million

5.- Russian magnate buys, then returns Nobel prize to American geneticist James Watson

6.- Egyptian Museum unveils four newly renovated halls of the famed Tutankhamun gallery

7.- 'The Secret of Dresden: From Rembrandt to Canaletto' on view at the Groninger Museum

8.- Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum reopens after three-year renovation

9.- More than 200 queries about works by possible heirs received on Nazi-era art hoard

10.- Attorney, artist and filmmaker reflects on the seven lessons learned at 2014 Art Basel Miami Beach



Museums, Exhibits, Artists, Milestones, Digital Art, Architecture, Photography,
Photographers, Special Photos, Special Reports, Featured Stories, Auctions, Art Fairs,
Anecdotes, Art Quiz, Education, Mythology, 3D Images, Last Week, .

 

Founder:
Ignacio Villarreal
Editor & Publisher: Jose Villarreal - Consultant: Ignacio Villarreal Jr.
Art Director: Juan José Sepúlveda Ramírez - Marketing: Carla Gutiérrez
Special Contributor: Liz Gangemi - Special Advisor: Carlos Amador
Contributing Editor: Carolina Farias

Royalville Communications, Inc
produces:

ignaciovillarreal.org theavemaria.org juncodelavega.org facundocabral-elfinal.org
Founder's Site. The most varied versions
of this beautiful prayer.
Hommage
to a Mexican poet.
Hommage
       

The First Art Newspaper on the Net. The Best Versions Of Ave Maria Song Junco de la Vega Site Ignacio Villarreal Site