In December 1994, three explorers made a surprising discovery in southern France – a rumble of stones blocking the entrance to a spectacular cave, over 400 meters long and covered with archaeological and palaeontological remains, including the skulls and bones of cave bears, which hibernated there, along with the skulls of an ibex and two wolves.But it was the human traces that were most interesting…The cave bears also left innumerable scratches on the walls and footprints on the ground.The oldest of the lifelike paintings most familiar to fans of rock art is the truly spectacular Chauvet Cave in France, direct-dated to between 30,000-32,000 years ago.
They are also often located in areas of caves that are not easily accessible.
Some theories hold that cave paintings may have been a way of communicating with others, while other theories ascribe a religious or ceremonial purpose to them.
A true artist reimagines that concept with every blank canvas—but not from a void.
Some caves have rock porches that were used for shelter, but there is no evidence of domestic life in their depths.
One might expect that the first examples of art would be simple and crude.
However the oldest cave paintings are the evidence that modern humans were astonishingly quick in developing their artistic skills.
After a visit to Lascaux, in the Dordogne, which was discovered in 1940, Picasso reportedly said to his guide, “They’ve invented everything.” What those first artists invented was a language of signs for which there will never be a Rosetta stone; perspective, a technique that was not rediscovered until the Athenian Golden Age; and a bestiary of such vitality and finesse that, by the flicker of torchlight, the animals seem to surge from the walls, and move across them like figures in a magiclantern show (in that sense, the artists invented animation).
They also thought up the grease lamp—a lump of fat, with a plant wick, placed in a hollow stone—to light their workplace; scaffolds to reach high places; the principles of stencilling and Pointillism; powdered colors, brushes, and stumping cloths; and, more to the point of Picasso’s insight, the very concept of an image.
But even more interesting, they discovered that several parts of the cave had been used in different ways by artists.
Scientists managed to identify hundreds of painted animals, depicting at least 13 different species, some of which were never found in other drawings.
The exact purpose of the paleolithic cave paintings is not known.