Techniques used in the Chauvet Cave
Remarkable for its art, the Chauvet Cave is remarkable too for all the techniques that were used. Characterized by great variation, the techniques were adapted to the medium and to the subject they intended to depict. Drawing, painting, and engraving were the most utilized techniques, emphasizing their value for the Aurignacians. In addition, the wall that would be used for the parietal art was prepared in advance – this was a part of the work.
Black Bear (Chauvet Cave)Grotte Chauvet - UNESCO World Heritage Site
The black drawings in the Chauvet Cave were made by applying charcoal, mainly produced from Scots pine oil. In order to obtain quality charcoal, the Aurignacians mastered the technique of combusting wood.
Charcoal Drawing (2015/2015) by SMERGC / AnamnésiaGrotte Chauvet - UNESCO World Heritage Site
Shading is a technique that had not been identified before the discovery of the Chauvet Cave. It gives volume and relief to the parietal representations, but also add layers to the art depending on the nature and texture of the wall. Shading first involves the application of a charcoal mark on the wall. The charcoal is then re-applied and spread with a finger or a tool.
Shading technique (2015/2015) by SMERGC / AnamnésiaGrotte Chauvet - UNESCO World Heritage Site
Imprinting on a hard wall
To make incisions on hard limestone walls and imprint figures, the Aurignacians used flint or sharp bone fragments.
Engraving on tough surface (2015/2015) by SMERGC / AnamnésiaGrotte Chauvet - UNESCO World Heritage Site
Imprinting on a hard wall
Imprinting on a soft wall
Paleolithic people used their fingers and tools such as sticks or bones to scrape the clay and/or imprint figures, especially high up.
Engraving on soft surface (2015/2015) by SMERGC / AnamnésiaGrotte Chauvet - UNESCO World Heritage Site
Imprinting on a soft wall
Bare hand stamping
In the Chauvet Cave, figures consisting of red dots or handprints were made by placing a palm filled with ocher on the wall.
Positive Hand Drawing Technique (2015/2015) by SMERGC / AnamnésiaGrotte Chauvet - UNESCO World Heritage Site
The technique of making handprints
Figures were made by blowing pigment on the wall (aerography). People of the Paleolithic era prepared the pigment and spit it directly around their hand. A bone tube was also used which allowed more accurate projections.
Negative Hand (Chauvet Cave) (2015/2015) by SMERGC / AnamnésiaGrotte Chauvet - UNESCO World Heritage Site
The technique of making pigment handprints
Drawing as a cultural act
Drawing was an essential cultural act within the Paleolithic hunter-gatherer community. On the one hand, it embodies beliefs incarnated through animal or abstract symbols, and, more rarely, through human beings. On the other hand, it is the product of a symbolic human act. This act is conceived and prepared well in advance. Thus, the collection and preparation of materials are part of the collective operational chain leading to the creation of prehistoric art. Therefore, the role of the painter requires expert knowledge of materials and the artistic process.
European parietal art in the Upper Paleolithic period
Practised for 30,000 years, parietal art is present throughout Europe, mainly in the west. It is located both in deep caves and in the open air. To convey their myths and beliefs, Paleolithic people used drawing, engraving, and rock carving.
Stability over time
The parietal representations mainly include animals, geometric signs, and rare, often crudely sketched, human beings. The sun, the moon, trees, volcanoes, or rivers are never represented. All these figures, observed alone or sometimes embedded in monumental frescoes, follow rules in their composition and there was a symbolic function for people of the prehistoric age. In this sense, Prehistoric art is probably a form of narration related to oral traditions and the transmission of knowledge.
Abstract signs are as numerous as animal representations in the caves. These are simple geometric symbols (points, lines, and squares) or complex (aviform and tectiform), and the meaning of them is not known today. The most moving signs are the handprints. Some signs are only represented in certain regions, revealing regional peculiarities, possibly related to local beliefs or stories.
Prehistoric humans have represented 20 species of animals, very often powerful and monumental. These animals are all symbols. Their naturalistic representation therefore is not an attempt to reproduce a real vision of the landscapes in which they lived. Large mammals dominate and are given great preference in comparison to small fauna that are almost nonexistent. In addition, prehistoric people did not represent the same species in different periods. For example, the Aurignacians favored dangerous species that they did not hunt. Alternatively, nearly 15,000 years later at the time of the Lascaux Cave, people depicted more cattle, deer, and horses, animals that they hunted and consumed. This evolution could be associated with a change in the representation of myths and beliefs.
Parietal art is essentially animal art and rarely contains human figures. The human beings represented are often incomplete and less naturalistic than the animal figures. Some representations are made up beings: half human, half animal. However, female sexual representations isolated from the rest of the body are very frequent; pubic or vulvar triangles are the most significant. These feminine symbols are used either in isolation or in association with the animal motif.
What the Chauvet Cave would be.... (2014/2014) by SMERGC / MQBGrotte Chauvet - UNESCO World Heritage Site
What the Chauvet Cave could be...
Experts tell us what the Chauvet Cave means to them.
This major Paleolithic sanctuary is a testament representing a universal heritage: the first great masterpiece in the history of humanity.
The Syndicat mixte de l'Espace de restitution de la grotte Chauvet (Public Union to manage the Chauvet Cave/SMERGC) thanks the Ministry of Culture and Communication. This exhibition was created as part of an agreement linking these two partners to promote the Chauvet Cave and its geographical and historical context.
SMERGC is the designer, developer and owner of the La Grotte Chauvet 2 site (formerly known as Caverne du Pont d'Arc). It prepared and defended the application package of the Chauvet Cave for inclusion in the UNESCO World Heritage List.
SMERGC also thanks Google Arts & Culture.