The Cave Art Paintings of the Chauvet Cave


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Black Belt Rhinoceros
We walked back, skirted around the pit, and approached the end of the chamber. To our right was a raised platform that led to the entrance of a black tunnel, some 10 feet high and 15 across. On the left wall of the entrance of the tunnel is a wonderful painting of a rhinoceros with a black belt around his middle. On the right a Megaloceros, an extinct type of giant Moose like creature with spiky antlers. This was the entrance to the last chamber, the Hall of the Sorcerer.
Jean led us past the black tunnel and its forbidding entrance on towards a chamber off to the left, the Bear Skull Altar. Again there is a natural entrance to this chamber, stalagmites to the left and a wall to the right.
I followed Jean, with my head lowered so that my helmet light shone on the plastic path, until he stopped and asked me to squeeze past. Looking up I found myself gazing straight into the eyes of the Horses. I don’t think I've ever been so moved by a work of art in my life. Recovering I started to take in the rest of the cave paintings on the wall. Some 15 feet long and 10 high, this whole wall of the Chauvet Cave is a giant canvas full of wonderful creations.
Chauvet Cave Art Rhino Horses Painting
John Robinson studies the Panel of the Horses
Click photograph for enlargement
Chauvet Cave Art Rhino Horses Painting
Fighting Rhino & Four Horses
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Next to the Horses are two incredible Aurock heads (extinct giant cows), and below them, the famous Fighting Rhinoceros. The panel is without doubt one of the great masterpieces of Homo sapiens Art, besides being the oldest. This is where the sample of charcoal was taken from that gave the date of 32,000 years old.
Jean invited me to remove my shoes and step forward onto the calcite floor. I was now a foot away from the Horses heads. Was it the pain of the sharp points of the calcite biting into the soles of my feet that was making me incredibly aware, or my proximity to the cave paintings?
I studied the lines of black edges, and the use of smudging to produce shadow. Then I saw that the artist had highlighted the outer edge of the drawing by chiselling into the white rock surface. The incising immediately brought to mind the wonders of Egypt, but they were done 3,000 years ago. Here I was looking at rock art 10 times older, 30,000 years old.
Chauvet Cave Art Horses Painting
Chagall Horses
Click photograph for enlargement
I moved to the right around a slight edge in the wall, to see what I call the Chagall Horses and the Lion. More wonderment, and then another superb Rhinoceros coming out of the wall at me. I stepped back from the wall and tried to take in the whole scene and all the grandeur that it holds. What a wonderful discovery, and what a privilege to be here looking at it.
More than a little punch drunk, still with no shoes on, Jean led me into the Altar Chamber of the Chauvet Cave. Carefully stepping where Jean stepped, avoiding the little walls of calcite, we moved out into the middle of a chamber that is some 25 feet across and broad, and almost circular. Around the backside is a raised area that almost looks as though it had been made to seat an audience.
Chauvet Cave Skull Altar
Bear Skull Altar
Click photograph for enlargement
In the middle of this chamber is the Altar on which is placed a Bear skull. On the floor around the Altar are 36 other Bear skulls. Obviously they had not all died in this one chamber, but must have been collected from around the Chauvet Cave, or perhaps came from outside kills. For me this was a place where people gathered for some really important ceremony connected with the Bears. I began to get a picture in my mind of the social life of the Clan. The Altar is roughly two foot square on top and two foot high. I squatted down in front of the skull and looked into the eye sockets. With the aid of my pocket torch I could see the surface of the rock beneath the skull.
It was covered with tiny lumps of charcoal and grains of fallen calcite, which were exactly similar to the surface not covered by the skull. A human must have put the skull there. Jean took one of these small pieces of carbon to have it dated. The carbon was 35,000 years old.
On the other side of the barrier is the last small chamber that makes up this arm of the Chauvet Cave. On the sunken floor of pink calcite, against the side of the chamber, is a small catchment basin of crystal clear water. The surface of the pool glinted in the light of our helmet lights. All around me was sparkling beauty. I felt that I was in a small chapel built to house a Font of Holy Water. We lay on the floor to study the faint cave paintings on the ceiling of the chamber. It was a magic moment of peace and serenity.
Had the artists come here to get the water needed to mix with their red and black paints? Or had they had a young apprentice artist with them that they sent to fetch the water? The question can be asked because on the way back Jean showed me the oldest Homo sapiens footprint ever yet discovered. Firmly impressed into the soft grey clay is the left footprint of an 8 year old boy. Scientists can tell the sex and age from the size and shape of the impression. I bent down and held my hand over the footprint. This particular Robinson Crusoe was enthralled by this 27,000 year old boy Friday. The imprint of the big toe is precisely like all the big toes of the hundred or so children that I have sculpted over the last 30 years. His second toe was longer than the big toe, giving him what sculptors call a Grecian foot, which in Athenian times was always thought to be a sign of good breeding. I felt an incredible physical bond between myself and the young man who had made his mark here in the clay all those years ago.
Chauvet Cave Index
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