Chauvet-Pont d’Arc cave paintings 10,000 years older than previously thought
14th April, 2016
A study published this week in the Proceedings of the
National Academy of Sciences has revealed that some of the world’s oldest prehistoric
artworks, cave drawings located at the Chauvet-Pont d’Arc cave in south-eastern
France, are in fact 10,000 years older than previously thought.
A radiocarbon dating study was carried out on the red and
black cave drawings, drawing the conclusion that the artworks were actually
more than 30,000 years old. Scientists and archaeologists had previously
believed that the art was stylistically similar to the cave paintings at
Lascaux in south-western France, and were therefore around 20,000 years old.
After analysing samples of charcoal from the cave floor and
walls, the study found that the cave had seen two phases of human occupation.
The first was from 37,000 to 33,500 years ago, ending when a rockfall occurred in
one section of the cave, while the second period was from 31,000 to 28,000
years ago, with the end of occupation correlating with a second rockfall
partially closing off the cave entrance.
Anita Quiles, a scientist at the French Institute for
Oriental Archaeology in Cairo, who worked on the study, said: “What is new in
our study is that we have established the chronology of the cave for the first
time in calendar years.
“We can now say with certainty that there has been no human
activity in the Chauvet cave for about 30,000 years.” Spanning 18 years, the study involved a statistical model
covering 250 dates gathered from samples of charcoal and bone. Scientific
director for Chauvet-Pont d’Arc, Jean-Michel Geneste, said “This is pretty revolutionary for us. It is a
new tool which could be used elsewhere to study other ancient time periods.
“We can now confirm
that 36,000 years ago, during the Upper Paleolithic period when modern tools,
art and jewelry-making techniques appeared, we already had art that was quite
evolved, accomplished, and already the object of a very long memory and a long
cultural tradition in western Europe.”
Following the bone
analysis, the bones were identified as having belonged to cave bears. No human
remains were found inside, which has led the researchers to believe that the
cave was a visiting place rather than a place where the humans lived.
447 drawings of
animals including horses, deer and rhinoceroses can be found in the cave, which
was classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2014, 20 years after it was
first discovered. Situated in the Ardeche department, a short drive from many
of our villas in Provence, the cave is unfortunately not open to the public, in
order to help preserve the artwork, though a replica situated just a mile and a
half away opened last year, and is open to the public.
Image: Claude Valette, available
under Creative Commons