The Cave Art Paintings of the Chauvet Cave

VISITING THE CHAUVET CAVE BY JOHN ROBINSON

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Chauvet Cave Art Painting Bears
Red Bears
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I looked and found myself staring into the eyes of the most beautiful Bear. The red outline is pure and graceful. I was about two feet from the painting and absolutely bowled over. "There is another one behind it", Jean called. I turned and saw another red Bear. What a pair. How did the artist draw such wonders in such a confined space, and why?
 
David was waiting and I had to back out, but first Jean leant in and took a photograph. Still in shock I followed Jean back along the strip, and we passed into the second chamber. This is huge and yet there is not a single painting on the Chauvet Cave wall, only calcite encrusted bones and skulls of Bear, the odd enormous tooth, and the skeleton of one tiny bird or bat. Everywhere there are Bear nests, which they have dug out for hibernation. We arrived at the end of the chamber and came to a rock wall that had a womb like hollow in it. At the right hand end of the five feet long and two feet high womb are about 20 red fingertip dots. On the left hand end is a rock crack with a small piece of bone pushed into it.
 
This find is very significant as it is the earliest example of this behaviour yet found, and means that there was possibly a much greater continuity of action over the centuries than previously thought. The same thing applies to another place in the cave where one Claviform symbol has been found. Nobody has any idea as to what this Symbol means, although it does have a very "phallic come pregnant" look about it. The important thing is that one is present here in the cave, that is dated between 32,000 and 27,000 years old, while until now the Claviform symbol has only been found in Magdalenian caves dating around 15,000 ago. Does this one tiny sign mean that the Chauvet Cave was visited in Magdalenian times, or are these symbols older than they are at present thought to be?
 
Chauvet Cave Art Paintings Panther
Cheetah and Hyena
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We crossed over to the far wall of what is really the entrance to a smaller passage chamber. Here Jean introduced me to the Cheetah and the Hyena. Discovering these two paintings was a unique event, as these animals have never been depicted in any other cave.
 
Of course that makes them exciting, but for me the real thrill was to see the artistry. The Hyena is just as mean looking as his descendants are today, with their run away backsides, and the Cheetah just as slinky, with its drooping shoulders. The Hyena is just as mean looking as his descendants are today, with their run away backsides, and the Cheetah just as slinky, with its drooping shoulders. Across the chamber to the right is a wonderful large red Rhinoceros, a possible Insect 18 inches high, and a positive red Hand with a wonderful arch of 20 or so red fingertip dots beside it.
The Positive Hand
The Negative Hand
At the end of this panel, but significantly separate, is a negative Hand done by spraying paint over the hand when it is against the rock, rather than pressing the wet painted hand against the wall. The negative Hand to me is very feminine. The fingers are abnormally long and the third finger is unnaturally bent the wrong way in an elegant arc out towards the little finger. The positive Hand is stubby and masculine. This section of the cave face seems to have been reserved for symbols.
 
On into the Candle Gallery, so named for the stalagmites. Here not a single painting or symbol has yet been found. Why? There are walls here that would have made wonderful canvases. I started to get the feeling that all the paintings in the Chauvet Cave were very well organised and planned. After passing through the 30 yard long Candle Gallery, we stepped out into the enormous Chamber Hillaire. It is huge, 30 yards across, 40 yards long, and very high. Right in the middle of the Chamber there is a gigantic pit where the floor has caved in. The circular hole is 20 feet across and at least fifteen feet deep. Shining my headlamp down I could see wide cracks in the floor of the pit amongst a tumble of rocks. The edges are crumbly and unstable. It all looked very dangerous to me and quite impossible to get out if you fell in.
 
Chauvet Cave Art Owl Painting
The Owl
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Looking across to the other side of the pit I could see the layers of silt that had been laid down over aeons of time to build up the flat floors of the Chauvet Cave. This is one of the features of the Chauvet Cave that I have always recognised as giving it such a religious air. Walking around in the Chauvet Cave is a bit like walking around in churches, because both have flat floors, both have paintings on the walls, and both have sacred places in special niches.
 
The pit is obviously continuing to slowly expand, as on a low section of the roof of the cave is a panel that sticks well out beyond the pit edge. On this panel is engraved one of the most remarkable and imaginative drawings in the cave, an Owl, shown looking back over his shoulders with its head twisted 180 degrees from the front. Of course we all know that owls can do this, but if asked to draw an owl, how many of us would depict it like this? I suggest not very many, if any. Yet the artist who drew this owl did, and in doing so truly showed how brilliant he was at draftsmanship, but also how incredibly imaginative he was. I was becoming very much aware of the fact that I was in the presence of Works done by Artistic Masters.
 
Chauvet Cave Art Horse Painting
Large Horse Panel
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Following along the plastic strip and crossing over to our right, Jean led us to a wall of engravings. One of these was of a beautiful horse, done with a half inch wide chisel type tool, perhaps a stick, perhaps a bear rib bone. The lines are free and flowing, no trial and error, just clean sweeps of the tool. Along the length of the horse are some wavy lines, starting from the right as three and finishing as two on the left. These I think were done with the artist’s fingertips. Holding my right arm out and starting from the left, I attempted to imitate the action, without touching the wall of course. I started with my index and third finger, pretending to push them into the wet surface as my hand passed before my face going right, my first finger automatically came into contact with the surface, creating the third line.
 
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