Some 30,000 years ago, artists living in caves in Europe painted pictures of the animals around them: panthers, hyenas, rhinoceroses, cave lions, mammoths and other creatures now long extinct. The paintings were highly realistic. Some even showed movement.
The artwork, more than a thousand drawings, is considered the oldest group of human cave drawings ever discovered. They were preserved because the cave was sealed -- closed off -- for 23,000 years.
Fast forward to December 18, 1994. A group of French cave scientists were exploring caves in southern France. Jean Marie Chauvet led the group. He describes discovering the cave paintings.
“And I was in the front, Eliette behind me, Christian behind. Eliette said she saw two marks made with red ochre and she said, ‘They came here.’ And at this very moment everything began. The drawings and everything linked to the parietal art. That's where it started.”
Cave art expert Jean Clottes reviewed the paintings.
"I was amazed at the number of paintings there were and of their quality and particularly in front of the panel of the horses.”
Scientific analysis confirmed the prehistoric date of the artwork. Studies showed the drawings were created tens of thousands of years ago, before human history was written.
The United Nations group UNESCO lists the cave as a World Heritage site. They say the drawings “form a remarkable expression of early human artistic creation of grand excellence and variety.”
The Chauvet cave is named for the explorer who first entered it. Its environment and drawings are very fragile. So the cave is closed, and only people there for scientific purposes can go inside and see the artwork.
Pont d’Arc Cavern
However, French authorities wanted the public to see the cave and artwork, too. So they asked experts to create an exact copy of the cave, called Pont d’Arc Cavern. The copy, or replica, cost $59 million to build. It opened at the end of April in France.
Pascal Terrasse is the president of the cavern. He says everyone will be able to experience the thrill of looking at drawings made by the first humans in Europe. He says the place is “magic” because it is done so well.
Authorities say they think as many as 400,000 people will visit the Pont d’Arc Cavern every year.
I’m Anne Ball.
VOA’s George Putic reported this story. Anne Ball adapted it for Learning English. Kelly Jean Kelly was the editor.
Words in This Story
parietal – adj. relating to the wall
pigment –n. a substance that gives color to something
analysis- n. a careful study about something to learn about its parts
fragile –adj. easily broken or damaged
thrill –v. to cause someone to feel very excited or happy