The Art of the Ardèche Caves

The Gorges of the Ardèche has 30 caves from the Upper Paleolithic period, covering about 30,000 years of human history (from 40,000 to 10,000 years ago)

Grotte Chauvet - UNESCO World Heritage Site

Panoramic view of the Pont d'Arc (2015/2015) by David HuguetGrotte Chauvet - UNESCO World Heritage Site

The adorned caves are all located in the lower valley of the Ardèche and its immediate surroundings. During the Paleolithic period, this valley was a climate refuge with favorable living conditions thanks to the availability of many mineral, animal, and plant resources.

Portrait of Léopold Chiron (2008/2008) by unknownGrotte Chauvet - UNESCO World Heritage Site

The Ardèche is one of the two european areas where Paleolithic parietal art was found.

In 1889, during a speech before the Anthropology Society of Lyon, Leopold Chiron (1845-1916) announced that he had found in the Chabot Cave, starting from 1878, "lines engraved in the rock more than 5 millimeters deep [less than an inch]," thinking that they are representations of birds and persons. It was in 1879 that the parietal art of the Altamira Cave (Spain) was found.

Manual survey of engraved paleolithic figures (2008/2008) by Léopold ChabotGrotte Chauvet - UNESCO World Heritage Site

The Chabot Cave

In 1895, the scientist Armand Lombard-Dumas (1836-1909) recognized four mammoths in the intertwining of these lines engraved in the parietal frieze of the Chabot Cave.

Engraved fresco in the Chabot cave (2008/2008) by Ministère de la culture et de la communicationGrotte Chauvet - UNESCO World Heritage Site

Nestled in the last meander downstream on the river, the Chabot Cave is especially famous for an engraved frieze, 3 m (1.2 in) long and 80 cm (31.5 in) high with intertwining mammoths. Called the 'cave of mammoths', this 215 m (235 yd) long cave has other engraved figures.

Unrecognized engraved animal in a lying position (2008/2008) by Ministère de la culture et de la communicationGrotte Chauvet - UNESCO World Heritage Site

The Chabot Cave also has lithic (stone) tools dated between 22,000 and 17,000 years before the year 1950 (this year is taken as the reference point rather than the year of the birth of Jesus Christ). The parietal representations are dated from this period, corresponding to the Glacial Maximum (20,000 years before). Registered on the List of Historic Monuments since 1903, this cave cannot be visited.

The Horses Fresco (2015/2015) by David HuguetGrotte Chauvet - UNESCO World Heritage Site

The Chauvet Cave

The Chauvet Cave is the most iconic of the caves in the Gorges of the Ardèche. Discovered in 1994, its art is ancient and remarkably well preserved. About 450 animals and many geometric signs decorate the walls. It is registered on the UNESCO World Heritage List and also on the List of Historic Monuments.

Animal engraved on the altered wall (2008/2008) by Ministère de la culture et de la communicationGrotte Chauvet - UNESCO World Heritage Site

The Figuier Cave

The Figuier Cave is located in the outlet of the Ardèche Valley. Engravings have been identified since 1906. Around 15 engravings have been found in total, most of which are difficult to determine. In particular, two mammoths and a bovid can be recognized. A noteworthy fact was that the burial site of a five-year-old child, covered with ocher and accompanied by a shell pierced with mussels, was discovered in a gallery (its age remains imprecise but possibly from the Gravette culture between 28,000 and 22,000 years ago). This grave attests to the use of the cave as a burial site.

Overview inside the Figuier Cave (2008/2008) by Ministère de la culture et de la communicationGrotte Chauvet - UNESCO World Heritage Site

The walls of the Figuier Cave have been exposed to glacial cold. This explains why it is difficult to decipher the Paleolithic figures. Like that of the Chabot Cave, the art of the Figuier Cave is attributed to the Solutrean culture, which dates back 20,000 years.

The Figuier Cave has also been registered in the List of Historical Monuments since 2017, mainly because of the importance of its archeological heritage from the Mousterian (Neanderthals) to the Upper Paleolithic.

Bison engraved with a dorsal line evidenced with red ocher (2008/2008) by Ministère de la culture et de la communicationGrotte Chauvet - UNESCO World Heritage Site

The Cave of Two Openings

Located in the last meander of the Ardèche River, a few hundred of feet from the Chabot Cave, the Cave of Two Openings has parietal art made up of engraved figures. Here we find a big cat surrounded by two mammoths. We can also distinguish triangles, which represent the female body, and a human silhouette.

Recorded bare hand mammoth engraved (2008/2008) by Ministère de la culture et de la communicationGrotte Chauvet - UNESCO World Heritage Site

The cave is richly decorated with fine intertwined engravings, including five mammoths, an ibex (wild mountain goat), and a large shaded bison whose contours of the back and hindquarters had been previously highlighted with red ocher.

Drawing of the large engraved ibex (2008/2008) by Ministère de la culture et de la communicationGrotte Chauvet - UNESCO World Heritage Site

Further into the cave, three aurochs (large wild cattle), a mammoth, and an impressive horned ibex are seen in the art of this small cave, which may have been decorated around 20,000 years before our time.

Auroch associated with two ibexes (below the bovine) and red punctuations. (2008/2008) by Ministère de la culture et de la communicationGrotte Chauvet - UNESCO World Heritage Site

The Cave of the Lion Head

This cave is named after the rock that shelters it and overlooks the Ardèche canyon. Like other caves, it was discovered during the construction of the road through the gorge. Several parietal representations have been recognized, the most iconic being that of an auroch drawn in ocher. At the foot of the wall hosting this animal, traces of red pigment were detected in the soil. The dating made on charcoal mixed with these red splashes has been dated back 21,650 years.

Head of a deer (2008/2008) by Le Ministère de la culture et de la communicationGrotte Chauvet - UNESCO World Heritage Site

The animal, with such typical lyre-shaped horns, seems to be standing on guard. The back line is dominated by 19 red dots. Two heads of ibexes are outlined under the chest of the auroch. The cave has been registered in the List of Historical Monuments since 1964.

Oval sign called "in gamma" (2008/2008) by Ministère de la culture et de la communicationGrotte Chauvet - UNESCO World Heritage Site

The Baume d'Oulen

Its wide porch lets in daylight highlighting the many engravings (a mammoth and bison) in the first chamber. The second chamber is adorned with a dozen figures drawn in red ocher, mammoths, and geometric signs such as triangles, dashes, and lines.

Head of a deer (2008/2008) by Le Ministère de la culture et de la communicationGrotte Chauvet - UNESCO World Heritage Site

The rock art of the Baume d'Oulen is attributed to the Solutrean (22,000 to 17,000 years before the present day), which includes the Glacial Maximum in particular. The Baume d'Oulen has been occupied as evidenced by bone and lithic artifacts.

The cave has been registered in the French List of Historical Monuments since 1911.

Engraved head of an auroch (2008/2008) by Ministère de la culture et de la communicationGrotte Chauvet - UNESCO World Heritage Site

The Colombier Cave and Shelter

The cave and the extension of a rock shelter are very visible in the landscape. Although the engravings are so fine that they are hardly visible, we recognize large herbivores (aurochs, ibex, and deer).

Engraved ibex with large horns (2008/2008) by Ministère de la culture et de la communicationGrotte Chauvet - UNESCO World Heritage Site

The engravings of the shelter are quite similar to those of the cave with similar subjects and style.

Ibex with multiple legs (2008/2008) by Ministère de la culture et de la communicationGrotte Chauvet - UNESCO World Heritage Site

Archeological excavations have revealed bone artifacts, including tips of spears (projectile hunting weapon), harpoons for fishing, and needles. These have been attributed to the end of the Magdalenian (12,000 years before the present day). The Colombier Cave is registered in the French List of Historical Monuments (1995).

Engraved horse (2008/2008) by Ministère de la culture et de la communicationGrotte Chauvet - UNESCO World Heritage Site

The Ebbou Cave

Located in the meander of Serre de Tourre, at the entrance of the Gorges of the Ardèche river, the Ebbou Cave was identified for its parietal art in 1867. That year, Jules Ollier-de-Marichard (1824-1901) recognized "animal silhouettes sketched on the walls of a large corridor," as noted in one of his notebooks.

Engraved auroch (2008/2008) by Ministère de la culture et de la communicationGrotte Chauvet - UNESCO World Heritage Site

The engravings are located at the rear of the cave in a chamber accessible through a corridor of over 300 ft.

Engraved auroch (2008/2008) by Le Ministère de la culture et de la communicationGrotte Chauvet - UNESCO World Heritage Site

The cave contains around 70 parietal engravings, including 19 horses, 10 aurochs, six ibexes, four deer, two bisons, a mammoth, a big cat, and 13 other indeterminate animal figures. The style of the parietal figures of the Ebbou Cave is remarkable for its simplicity.

Ibex on the watch (2008/2008) by Ministère de la culture et de la communicationGrotte Chauvet - UNESCO World Heritage Site

The cave has been registered in the French List of Historical Monuments since 1947.

Panel of the animal drawn with red points (2006/2006) by Jean ClottesGrotte Chauvet - UNESCO World Heritage Site

The Gorges of the Ardèche river is an important site for the study of Paleolithic rock art in Europe. The majority of the decorated caves contain animal symbolic art consisting of large herbivores. Most of the caves are attributed to the Solutrean culture, i.e. 22,000 to 17,000 years before the present day.

The natural arch, so-called Pont d'Arc, and the Ardèche river (2015/2015)Grotte Chauvet - UNESCO World Heritage Site

This status, attributed to the lower Ardèche valley for the study of parietal art, is reinforced by the discovery of the Chauvet Cave which has considerably extended the chronological spectrum of this art and its stylistic and symbolic richness.

Schematic Art in Ardèche (2008/2008) by UnknownGrotte Chauvet - UNESCO World Heritage Site

The end of the ice age around 12,000 years ago is marked by the appearance of rock art called "schematic art." This is a mode of representations that we owe to the first sedentary communities making a living from agriculture and livestock. These rock representations are very refined, limiting themselves to the essentials and exhibiting no wish to depict naturalistic figures as parietal art did.

Credits: Story

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.

http://lacavernedupontdarc.org/
https://www.facebook.com/lagrottechauvet2/

SMERGC also thanks Google Arts & Culture.

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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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