March 06, 2014

Chauvet cave art not the work of earliest Europeans

Many of you may have watched Cave of Forgotten Dreams, a great documentary about the paintings of Chauvet cave in France. It now turns out that the extraordinary art preserved in the cave may not date to ~36,000 years but rather to the Gravettian or Solutrean period.

 L'Anthropologie Available online 11 February 2014

New investigations into the cultural and stylistic identity of the Chauvet cave and its radiocarbon dating

Jean Combiera, Guy Jouve

The discovery of Chauvet cave, at Vallon-Pont-d’Arc (Ardèche), in 1994, was an important event for our knowledge of palaeolithic parietal art as a whole. Its painted and engraved figures, thanks to their number (425 graphic units), and their excellent state of preservation, provide a documentary thesaurus comparable to that of the greatest sites known, and far beyond what had already been found in the group of Rhône valley caves (Ardèche and Gard). But its study – when one places it in its natural regional, cultural and thematic framework – makes it impossible to see it as an isolated entity of astonishing precocity. This needs to be reconsidered, and the affinities that our research has brought to light are clearly incompatible with the very early age which has been attributed to it. And if one extends this examination to the whole of the Franco-Cantabrian domain, the conclusion is inescapable: although Chauvet cave displays some unique characteristics (like every decorated cave), it belongs to an evolved phase of parietal art that is far removed from the motifs of its origins (known from art on blocks and on shelter walls dated by stratigraphy to the Aurignacian, in France and Cantabrian Spain). The majority of its works are therefore to be placed, quite normally, within the framework of the well-defined artistic creations of the Gravettian and Solutrean. Moreover, this phase of the Middle Upper Palaeolithic (26,000–18,000) coincides with a particularly intensive and diversified local human occupation, unknown in earlier periods and far less dense afterwards in the Magdalenian. A detailed critique of the treatment of the samples subjected to AMS radiocarbon dating makes it impossible to retain the very early age (36,000 cal BP) attributed by some authors to the painted and engraved figures of Chauvet cave.



Fiend of 9 worlds said...

Considering the handprints of red ochre show the form of neanderthals, I'm going to say they are wrong. Overall it's a very silly hypothesis when it's so much more advanced than anything else at any time frame, and they say it's similar to other cave art but can't even decide if it's solutrean or gravetian.

Raimo Kangasniemi said...

This is unlikely to be the final word on this; the dating of the Chauvet paintings have been challenged before but that challenge didn't survive counter-criticism. Whether the new challenge survives is yet to be seen.

eurologist said...

What worries me most is that it is indeed very hard to imagine a culture persisting without recognizable change for more than a couple of thousands of years - let alone 8,000 years.

There is a lot more work to be done both concerning the Chauvet timing, and the sequence compared to other sites.

Unknown said...

Well, that was cool, at least now we know the real story of Chauvet cave. Thanks for sharing.