Cookie Consent by Cookie Consent by TermsFeed
 
The Rock Art Network Jean-Michel Geneste
The Rock Art Network Jean-Michel Geneste
The Rock Art Network Jean-Michel Geneste
Jean-Michel Geneste
From the Chauvet Cave to the Caverne du Pont d’Arc: Methods and Strategies for a Replica to Preserve the Heritage of a Decorated Cave That Cannot Be Made Accessible to the Public
29 April 2017

by Jean-Michel Geneste
Director, National Center for Prehistory, Ministry of Culture and Communication, France

Making the Chauvet Cave Heritage Accessible to the Public

The discovery of the Chauvet-Pont d’Arc Cave in 1994 instantly represented a considerable media event for the department of Ardèche and the Rhône-Alpes region of France, as well as on a national and international scale, given how this category of cultural asset, now inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, thoroughly fascinates people throughout the world.

The splendor and sophistication of these spectacular cave paintings, dating back more than thirty-six thousand years, caused a veritable upheaval in specialists’ understanding of the time period (Quiles et al. 2016). However, as early as 1995, only a few months following its discovery, this exceptionally well-preserved and unique archaeological site proved to be far too fragile to be opened to the public. A satisfactory solution needed to be found to allow for touristic development while sharing this singular piece of human history with the general public.

In 2008 the architects Fabre & Speller, associated with Atelier 3A, were chosen by SMERGC (the Joint Association for the Caverne du Pont d’Arc), which acted as principal, joining the forces of the General Council of Ardèche and the Regional Council of Rhône-Alpes with support from the French government and the European Union.

“The site for the replica of the Chauvet Cave” [our translation] was a monumental project comprising five buildings spread out across a limestone plateau overhanging the small town of Vallon-Pont d’Arc. Now known as the “Caverne du Pont d’Arc,” the replica site is less than 2 km (11 miles) away as the crow flies from the original cave, which is hidden in the cliff-face of the Ardèche gorge. This exceptional construction was completed within a very short time frame (thirty months of construction work) calling upon the skills of about 550 professionals who collaborated on the project, which would be unique were it just for its scope alone. The meticulous attention given to detail in the underground landscape and atmosphere, the signs of human and animal activity, and the carefully replicated prehistoric artists’ gestures have combined to make a whole that is staggeringly original.

From the Ongoing Study of a Cave by an Interdisciplinary Team to the Replica Project

Chauvet Cave Replica
FIGURE 2
The colored sections of this map represent panels selected for replica. Their reorganized configuration appears in the inset.
© Ministry of Culture and Communication, Paris, France
Observations and findings compiled by a team of scientists over several research expeditions in the Chauvet Cave from 1995 to 2015 have played an essential role in the transfer of knowledge, starting with the decision makers, architects, and scenic designers, and the companies that built the replica. More so than its actual size (3000 m2/32,300 ft2), it is the very spirit in which the replica was created that needs to be highlighted: the sheer will to share the various symbolic dimensions of the site, whether they were aesthetical, perspectival, or cultural, through these parietal oeuvres, thanks to an authentic replica that is as scrupulously complete as possible.

Thus, it became obvious that each of the site’s components, rich and fragile, had to be considered as being an inseparable, indeed integral part of the whole, with all the complexity that this implied. This overarching approach, which governed the scientific team’s work, was also decisive in imposing the principle that the replica had to be an accurate reflection of the scientific knowledge of the cave. This desire for consistency was shared by everyone involved, and above all by the international scientific council that accompanied the project from conception to completion.

The Choice of an Anamorphosis as Opposed to an Exact Replica

Chauvet Cave Replica
FIGURE 3
The Caverne du Pont d’Arc is a snugly fit jigsaw puzzle of essential segments neatly contracted into a 3,000-square-meter space.
© Ministry of Culture and Communication, Paris, France
Chauvet Cave Replica
FIGURE 4
Particular attention was paid to recreating a geological cohesion, one stratum at a time, over the entire 3D model in replica.
© Ministry of Culture and Communication, Paris, France
Faced with the impossibility of entirely reproducing the cave—given its length (over 500 meters/1,600 feet), its ground surface area (8,400 m2/90,416 ft2), its large volumes (44,000 m3/1,553,845 ft3), and the complexity of its underground landscapes (fig. 1)—it became obvious that technical and cultural choices had to be made. The parietal artwork and its immediate environment were the first priority: twenty-two decorated panels comprising more than three hundred figurative representations were chosen to convey the richness and diversity of the 450 parietal oeuvres (fig. 2). It was therefore essential that the drawings be reproduced in their geographical and geological context. All of the choices were submitted to and approved by a scientific committee of fifteen or so international experts chaired by Jean Clottes, which actively participated in the supervision of the reconstitution of the decorated panels and their subterranean context as well as other paleontological remains.

Among the array of techniques used for both the research and the replica, 3D modeling based on surveying and mapping with a 3D laser scanner was the clear choice. 3D presented the advantage of being able to process, measure, and visualize the cave’s actual areas and volumes in order to rearrange them into various configurations of the replica without any loss of precision or quality.

In 2006 all agreed upon the importance of developing a high-resolution 3D model of the decorated zones. The 3D mapping of the cave done using a laser scanner was accompanied by photographic coverage allowing for the “draping” of high-resolution images on the 3D model. The goal was to obtain 3D visual data precisely illustrating the drawings’ nature and matter as well as the various conditions and textures of both the decorated and natural walls of the cave.

The 3D model of the cave was a decisive benchmark when designing the replica’s different architectures and structures compacted and condensed into an anamorphic version of the Chauvet Cave. The Caverne du Pont d’Arc is a snugly fit jigsaw puzzle of essential segments neatly contracted into a 3,000-square-meter (32,300 ft2) space (fig. 3).

Reproducing Prehistoric Works of Art While Doing Justice to the Originals

Chauvet Cave Replica
FIGURE 5
A specific “structural logic” was established to mirror as faithfully as possible the Chauvet Cave’s geographic, as well as its social and cultural, dimensions.
© Ministry of Culture and Communication, Paris, France
One of the key principles for the replica was to duplicate on a full scale the ten decorated areas chosen for reproduction from the simplest isolated image to the monumental compositions of the most remote chambers (1 m2 to 66 m2/10.7 ft2 to 710.4 ft2). This is the reason why particular attention was paid to re-creating a geological cohesion, one stratum at a time, over the entire 3D model in replica (Fig. 4). The next stage was to establish a specific “structural logic” for the intended reproduction in order for it to mirror as faithfully as possible the Chauvet Cave’s geography and its social and cultural dimensions (fig. 5). Specifically, the attention dedicated to the cave’s physical elements involved close interaction with the scientific team, incorporating their findings, which established that Palaeolithic humans had thoroughly exploited the geological makeup of the cavern’s walls, integrating their respective aspects into the design and composition of the artwork and in the techniques they employed. The same attention to detail was given to the cave’s floors, which formed rich archives of essential information: traces of hearths, anthropic activity (displaced and assembled blocks, excavated chunks of clay), prints and tracks, remains and bones, and so forth (fig. 6).

Copyist Workshops: Finding the Colors, Materials, and Gestures

Chauvet Cave Replica
FIGURE 6
The rich archive of essential information found on the cave’s floors benefited from the same attention to detail in its reproduction.
© Ministry of Culture and Communication, Paris, France
The guiding principle, from the start, was that the replicated drawings should above all faithfully translate the spirit of the originals so as to re-create the gripping atmosphere rather than strive for millimetric accuracy. In order to convey the extent to which the original artwork is awe inspiring and emotionally stirring, the creation of the decorated panels was entrusted to various artists and professionals specializing in the reproduction of prehistoric drawings.

Based on the 3D files of the actual panels, a digitally carved model provided the initial outline and reliefs of the cave walls in the form of blocks sculpted out of high-density foam. These blocks were then molded to make resin shells whose geometry faithfully duplicates the cave’s actual topology (fig. 7).

The prehistoric drawings were replicated with colors and materials analogous to those used by prehistoric artists. In the same vein, charcoal made from Scots pine was used to reproduce both the fragility and vigor of the curves, which constitute the animals drawn using spindle-tree charcoal and stump (fig. 8).

A Technological Success That Validates an Alternative Approach to Sharing Cultural Assets

Chauvet Cave Replica
FIGURE 7
Based on the 3D files of the actual panels, a digitally carved model provided the initial outline and reliefs of the cave walls in the form of blocks sculpted out of high-density foam.
© Ministry of Culture and Communication, Paris, France
Judging by the numbers, the success of this immense technological prowess has also been confirmed by public acclaim, with more than six hundred thousand visitors in the opening season (2015–16) of the site, which welcomed its millionth visitor in February 2017. The Caverne du Pont d’Arc has also allowed scientists to approach the original Chauvet site from a fresh perspective, as attested to by the wealth of additional knowledge that resulted from the constant and open exchange between the archaeological research work and replication work.

This new generation of decorated cave replicas, reproducing vast swaths of cavities in their entirety, allows the public to be immersed in a world that is so close that, like the original site, it sparks an array of intellectual sensations and emotions that were previously difficult to convey.

This new type of replica also takes on an authenticity and sheer monumentality that is far beyond former partial attempts at reproduction. Lascaux IV, the complete replica of the Lascaux Cave, inaugurated in December 2016 in Montignac (Dordogne, France), was the first to use the same techniques and work with identical principles.

Henceforth, scientific and cultural mediation over cave artwork has found a new language as well as conceptual means, reaching an unequaled level of authenticity that is moreover immersive and multisensory. The replica has come into its own as a valid and specific approach wherein one freely embarks on the discovery of a precious heritage site at one’s own pace, immersed in a completely personal experience.

References

Chauvet Cave Replica
FIGURE 8
The prehistoric drawings were replicated with colors and materials analogous to those used by prehistoric artists.
© Ministry of Culture and Communication, Paris, France
Delannoy, Jean-Jacques, Mélanie Claude, David Huguet, and Stéphane Jaillet. 2013. Carnet de faciès de l’anamorphose de la grotte Chauvet-Pont d’Arc: Rapport d’étude interne. SMERGC (Syndicat mixte de l’espace de restitution de la Grotte Chauvet)-Edytem (Environnements, dynamiques et territoires de la montagne).

Fritz, Carole, and Gilles Tosello. 2015. From gesture to myth: Artists’ techniques on the walls of Chauvet Cave. In Aurignacian Genius: Art, Technology and Society of the First Modern Humans in Europe: Proceedings of the International Symposium, April 08–10 2013, New York University, edited by Randall White and Raphaëlle Bourrillon, 280–314. P@lethnology, 7. http://blogs.univ-tlse2.fr/palethnologie/en/2015-16-Fritz-Tosello/

Quiles, Anita, Hélène Valladas, Hervé Bocherens, Emmanuelle Delqué-Količ, Evelyne Kaltnecker, Johannes van der Plicht, Jean-Jacques Delannoy, Valérie Feruglio, Carole Fritz, Julien Monney, Michel Philippe, Gilles Tosello, Jean Clottes, and Jean-Michel Geneste. 2016. A high-precision chronological model for the decorated Upper Paleolithic cave of Chauvet-Pont d’Arc, Ardèche, France. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 113 (17): 4670–75. http://www.pnas.org/content/113/17/4670

Tosello, Gilles, Alain Dalis, and Carole Fritz. 2012. Copier pour montrer, connaître avant de copier: Entre recherche et médiation, le fac-similé d’art préhistorique. Karsts, Paysages et Préhistoire (13): 99–114. https://hal.archives-ouvertes.fr/halsde-00982729

The Rock Art Network
→ Discover more about the Rock Art Network
→ Members and affiliated institutions of the Rock Art Network

Latest Article
→ The Final Passage
by Martin Marquet
4 May 2020

Recent Articles
→ Rock Art Adventurous Field Work during COVID-19 in the Southernmost of South America
by María Isabel Hernández Llosas
9 June 2020
→ The Final Passage - FAQ
by Jean-Michel Geneste
1 June 2020
→ Experts rush to map fire-hit rock art
by Andrew Bock
15 May 2020
→ Sacred Indigenous rock art sites under threat
by Amy van den Berg
12 May 2020
→ Virtual Meeting
by Ben Dickins
22 April 2020
→ The Bradshaw Foundation Launches the Rock Art Network Website
by Wendy All
23 March 2020
→ The aftermath of fire damage to important rock art at the Baloon Cave tourist destination, Carnarvon Gorge, Queensland, Australia
by Paul Taçon
24 November 2019
→ The removal and camouflage of graffiti: The art of creating chaos out of order and order out of chaos
by Johannes H. N. Loubser
11 November 2019
→ The Histories of Australian Rock Art Research symposium, 8-9 December 2019, Griffith University, Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia
by Paul Tacon
5 November 2019
→ San rock art exhibition at the National Museum & Research Center of Altamira
by Aron Mazel
17 September 2019
→ The 2018 Art on the Rocks Colloquium
by Wendy All
2 December 2018
→ Preserving Our Ancient Art Galleries: Volunteerism, Collaboration, and the Rock Art Archive
by Wendy All
1 December 2017
→ Altamira and the New Technology for Public Access
by Pilar Fatás Monforte
30 April 2017
→ From the Chauvet Cave to the Caverne du Pont d’Arc: Methods and Strategies for a Replica to Preserve the Heritage of a Decorated Cave That Cannot Be Made Accessible to the Public
by Jean-Michel Geneste
29 April 2017
→ Emerging Consciousness and New Media: The Management of Rock Art in Southeast Asia and New Opportunities for Communicating Its Significance
by Noel Hidalgo Tan
28 April 2017
→ Step by Step: The Power of Participatory Planning with Local Communities for Rock Art Management and Tourism
by Nicholas Hall
27 April 2017
→ Fundraising for Rock Art by Promoting Its Values
by Terry Little
26 April 2017

Follow the Bradshaw Foundation on social media for news & updates
Follow the Bradshaw Foundation
on social media for news & updates
Follow the Bradshaw Foundation on social media for news & updates
Follow the Bradshaw Foundation
on social media for news & updates
If you have enjoyed visiting this website
please consider adding a link © Bradshaw Foundation
 
 
Rock Art Network
LATEST ARTICLE
Rock Art Network
→ The Final Passage
by Martin Marquet
4 May 2020
RECENT ARTICLES
Rock Art Network
→ Rock Art Adventurous Field Work during COVID-19 in the Southernmost of South America
by María Isabel Hernández Llosas
9 June 2020
→ The Final Passage - FAQ
by Jean-Michel Geneste
1 June 2020
→ Experts rush to map fire-hit rock art
by Andrew Bock
15 May 2020
→ Sacred Indigenous rock art sites under threat
by Amy van den Berg
12 May 2020
→ Virtual Meeting
by Ben Dickins
22 April 2020
→ The Bradshaw Foundation Launches the Rock Art Network Website
by Wendy All
23 March 2020
→ The aftermath of fire damage to important rock art at the Baloon Cave tourist destination, Carnarvon Gorge, Queensland, Australia
by Paul Taçon
24 November 2019
→ The removal and camouflage of graffiti: The art of creating chaos out of order and order out of chaos
by Johannes H. N. Loubser
11 November 2019
→ The Histories of Australian Rock Art Research symposium, 8-9 December 2019, Griffith University, Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia
by Paul Tacon
5 November 2019
→ San rock art exhibition at the National Museum & Research Center of Altamira
by Aron Mazel
17 September 2019
→ The 2018 Art on the Rocks Colloquium
by Wendy All
2 December 2018
→ Preserving Our Ancient Art Galleries: Volunteerism, Collaboration, and the Rock Art Archive
by Wendy All
1 December 2017
→ Altamira and the New Technology for Public Access
by Pilar Fatás Monforte
30 April 2017
→ From the Chauvet Cave to the Caverne du Pont d’Arc: Methods and Strategies for a Replica to Preserve the Heritage of a Decorated Cave That Cannot Be Made Accessible to the Public
by Jean-Michel Geneste
29 April 2017
→ Emerging Consciousness and New Media: The Management of Rock Art in Southeast Asia and New Opportunities for Communicating Its Significance
by Noel Hidalgo Tan
28 April 2017
→ Step by Step: The Power of Participatory Planning with Local Communities for Rock Art Management and Tourism
by Nicholas Hall
27 April 2017
→ Fundraising for Rock Art by Promoting Its Values
by Terry Little
26 April 2017
Bradshaw Foundation Donate Friends
Support our work & become a
Friend of the Foundation
 
 
Bradshaw Foundation Facebook
 
Bradshaw Foundation YouTube
The Rock Art Network
The Rock Art Network
The Rock Art Network
Rock Art Network
LATEST ARTICLE
Rock Art Network
→ The Final Passage
by Martin Marquet
4 May 2020
RECENT ARTICLES
Rock Art Network
→ Rock Art Adventurous Field Work during COVID-19 in the Southernmost of South America
by María Isabel Hernández Llosas
9 June 2020
→ The Final Passage - FAQ
by Jean-Michel Geneste
1 June 2020
→ Experts rush to map fire-hit rock art
by Andrew Bock
15 May 2020
→ Sacred Indigenous rock art sites under threat
by Amy van den Berg
12 May 2020
→ Virtual Meeting
by Ben Dickins
22 April 2020
→ The Bradshaw Foundation Launches the Rock Art Network Website
by Wendy All
23 March 2020
→ The aftermath of fire damage to important rock art at the Baloon Cave tourist destination, Carnarvon Gorge, Queensland, Australia
by Paul Taçon
24 November 2019
→ The removal and camouflage of graffiti: The art of creating chaos out of order and order out of chaos
by Johannes H. N. Loubser
11 November 2019
→ The Histories of Australian Rock Art Research symposium, 8-9 December 2019, Griffith University, Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia
by Paul Tacon
5 November 2019
→ San rock art exhibition at the National Museum & Research Center of Altamira
by Aron Mazel
17 September 2019
→ The 2018 Art on the Rocks Colloquium
by Wendy All
2 December 2018
→ Preserving Our Ancient Art Galleries: Volunteerism, Collaboration, and the Rock Art Archive
by Wendy All
1 December 2017
→ Altamira and the New Technology for Public Access
by Pilar Fatás Monforte
30 April 2017
→ From the Chauvet Cave to the Caverne du Pont d’Arc: Methods and Strategies for a Replica to Preserve the Heritage of a Decorated Cave That Cannot Be Made Accessible to the Public
by Jean-Michel Geneste
29 April 2017
→ Emerging Consciousness and New Media: The Management of Rock Art in Southeast Asia and New Opportunities for Communicating Its Significance
by Noel Hidalgo Tan
28 April 2017
→ Step by Step: The Power of Participatory Planning with Local Communities for Rock Art Management and Tourism
by Nicholas Hall
27 April 2017
→ Fundraising for Rock Art by Promoting Its Values
by Terry Little
26 April 2017
Bradshaw Foundation Donate Friends
Support our work & become a
Friend of the Foundation
 
 
Bradshaw Foundation Facebook
 
Bradshaw Foundation YouTube
The Rock Art Network
The Rock Art Network
The Rock Art Network
Bradshaw Foundation iShop Shop Store
Bradshaw Foundation iShop Shop Store
Bradshaw Foundation iShop Shop Store