France’s Amazing Heritage of Prehistoric Cave Paintings
Aside from being the country in which the first Cro Magnon or European Early Modern Human (EEMH) was found, France is also the country where the first major paleolithic cave paintings were discovered.
Remains of European Early Modern Humans or EEMH, the term preferred by contemporary researchers in referring to anatomically modern homo sapiens, were discovered in 1868 in Les Eyzies-de-Tayac, a town in the Dordogne region of France.
Studies of the ancient skeletons showed that the Les Eyzies EEMH had robust builds, and stood about 5 feet 5 inches, to 5 feet 7 inches tall. They had brain capacity of 100 cubic-inch, regarded as larger than that of average modern humans.
As evidenced by the nearby prehistoric caves discovered in the Dordogne region, the EEMH species were settled people, who dwelt year-round in shallow and deep caves. Caverns in which those homo sapiens lived, displayed hundred of paintings, which indicated that even during prehistoric times, humans were already artistically inclined.
The most famous of those caverns are located in the the Dordogne and Ardeche regions. As a result of those prehistoric finds, the town of Les Eyzies became home to the French National Museum of Prehistory.
Both the Dordogne and Ardeche Caves were declared as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
France Created Replicas of the Cave to Preserve the Prehistoric Cave Paintings
The Lascaux Cave – Dordogne Region
The Lascaux Cave was discovered in September 12, 1940 by an 18-year old lad named Marcel Ravidat, when his dog fell in a hole. On July 14, 1948 the public was allowed to view the cave paintings, attracting as many as 1,200 visitors per day. However, the constant flow of visitors brought in huge amounts of carbon dioxide, humidity, heat and other contaminants that caused damage to the prehistoric cave paintings.
In 1963, French authorities ordered the closure of the Lascaux Caves, and the restoration of the damaged paintings to their original state; whilst introducing a system of monitoring their condition on a daily basis.
Materials believed to be the same as the charcoal, iron oxide and ochre used by the cave dwellers 19,000 years ago, were used in duplicating the ancient cave art, whilst using advanced 3D laser scanning and casting technologies.
In order to present the paintings for public viewing, without damaging the restored original, replica Lascaux Caves were built to display duplicates of a full range of cave paintings.
The Grotte Chauvet Cave- Ardeche Region
The world’s most extensive collection of prehistoric cave paintings were discovered in 1994 by 3 spelunkers who ventured to explore the cliffs of the Ardèche region. Even more amazing is that the cave paintings were well-preserved despite being older than those in the Lascaux Caves. The preservation is largely attributed to the dry climate of Ardèche.
The Ardeche prehistoric cave was named The Grotte Chauvet, after Jean-Marie Chauvet, leader of the explorers who discovered the cavern.
Hundreds of paintings as well as engravings, ranging from multiple handprints, geometrically arranged red dots, and animal images adorn the wall of the Chauvet Cave. What researchers found as interesting is that majority of the 420 or more animal representations were images of lions, bears and rhinoceroses, which obviously are predators rather than prey.
In the same year the Chauvet Cave discovered, it was sealed off. for public viewing. This time, an important lesson was learned. Like the Lascaux Cave, an imitation cavern called the Pont-d’Arc Cavern was created to serve as alternative viewing site, also displaying duplications of the originàl paintings imprinted on the walls of the Chauvet Cave.