Chauvet-Pont-d'Arc Cave gets World Heritage status
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has named the Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc Cave in southern France as one of 13 new World Heritage sites.
Only discovered 20 years ago, the cave is one of the most significant prehistoric art sites to have ever been found. The space, which has all the hallmarks of an ancient gallery, contains some of the earliest figurative drawings in the world and, moreover, some of the best preserved.
The pristine quality of the paintings, which not only give an insight into the artistic abilities of our ancestors but a glimpse into what they were possibly thinking, is owed to the fact that the cave was inadvertently closed off thanks to a rock fall 20,000 years ago.
It is believed that the great bulk of the imagery, which largely focuses on anthropomorphic and animal motifs, were painted as far back as 30,000 years ago, during the Aurignacian period.
“They are of exceptional aesthetic quality, demonstrate a range of techniques, including the skilful use of colour, combinations of paint and engraving, anatomical precision, three-dimensionality and movement,” UNESCO stated.
“They include several dangerous animal species difficult to observe at that time, such as mammoths, bears, wildcats, rhinos, bison and aurochs, as well as 4,000 inventoried remains of prehistoric fauna, and a variety of human footprints.”
Pascal Terrasse, deputy for the Ardèche, president of the Cavern of Pont-d’Arc Grand Project and a member of the National Assembly of France, said that the paintings in the cave are emblematic of a “first cultural act”.
He continued by saying that the site gaining a World Heritage status is important insofar as it recognises the paintings and the artists who composed them. It helps to place the work, if it can be called that, in an artistic narrative that will, with further study, help us learn more about our fascinating species.
“The inscription of the cave as a World Heritage site is a wonderful tribute to the first artists in history and rewards the commitment and the mobilisation of the Rhône-Alpes and Ardèche territories,” Mr Terrasse said.
French minister of culture and communication Aurelie Filippetti described the cave as being a “major site for humanity”, adding that it is “a jewel whose emotional power is as strong today as when it was conceived”.
Access to the cave, which is currently being mapped in detail – a replica is under construction and set to be a major tourist attraction in itself in 2015 – is limited to ensure that the quality of the paintings is preserved. As a World Heritage site it will benefit from greater conservation efforts, as well as additional funding.
At present, fewer than 200 experts are allowed to visit the expansive cave (it is 800 metres long and, at its highest, is 18 metres tall) for research purposes. It is thought that the cave was used as a sacred chamber and not a space inhabited permanently by humans.
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