A detailed copy of a cave containing the oldest figurative drawings made by Europe’s prehistoric inhabitants opened over the weekend [April 25.2015] in France, not far from the original cave. The replica was built because the original drawings are too fragile to be exposed for public viewing.
On December 18, 1994, a group of French speleologists exploring caves in southern France entered a previously unknown area.
Jean Marie Chauvet, who was leading the group, said, “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.”
The cave walls were covered with drawings of animals, some of them long extinct in Europe. Their quality and elegance were remarkable. Mammoths, panthers, bears, cave lions and cave hyenas, competed with horses, rhinoceros and cattle. A few of the drawings even depicted movement.
Cave art specialist Jean Clottes was assigned to evaluate their significance.
“I was amazed at the number of paintings there were and of their quality and particularly in front of the panel of the horses,” said Clottes.
Most of the paintings were done with charcoal but for some, the prehistoric artists used red ochre.
More than 30,000- years - old, they are considered the oldest human cave drawings ever discovered. In 2014, the Chauvet Cave - named after the first explorer who entered it - was listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage site.
As the originals and their environment are too fragile, the cave is now sealed and the access restricted to only scientific purposes.
Last week, after spending $59 million, French authorities opened an exact replica, called Pont d'Arc Cavern.
Its president, Pascal Terrasse, said sculptors, painters and other experts created an environment in which everyone will be able to experience the thrill of looking at drawings made by the first humans in Europe.
“And this place will be open to humanity, everybody will be able to come and visit the Pont d'Arc Cavern, and you will not feel that it is a replica, because this place is magic and it has been done so well,” he said.
Authorities say they expect as many as 400,000 visitors annually.