SOME of the planet's oldest Stone Age paintings are on the walls of a cave complex in a mountain in south-east France.
Discovered in 1994, there are hundreds of paintings of horses, mammoths, rhinos, lions, bears, plus handprints.
A cliff fall hermetically sealed the cave, protecting the paintings from the world for more than 20,000 years. To protect them for all time – they could be destroyed just by human breath – access to the cave, through an almost always closed steel door, has been and remains severely restricted, although in 2009 the German filmmaker Werner Herzog uncovered its contents when he and a very small crew were allowed exclusive entry to make his 3-D documentary, Cave of Forgotten Dreams.
Because the general public will never be able to see the artworks – thought to be between 30,000 and 37,000 years old – the French government has spent €56 million (£60 million) building an almost-exact replica of the cave system (known as the Chauvet Cave, after the scientist who found it) including copies of 400 of the paintings. The Pont d'Arc Cavern building, just over a mile from the original site, was opened in April by President Hollande.
Inch by inch, scientists and artists used the same tools and techniques believed to have been used in the Stone Age. Six thousand digital photographs of the painting were taken, enabling them to be copied accurately. Even the stalactites and stalagmites in the original cave, along with the cool temperatures and thick smell of humidity, have been replicated.
A similar replica — of the 18,000-year-old cave drawings in the Lascaux caves in south-west France — attracts 300,000 visitors a year, and the government is hoping the Pont d'Arc Cavern will be just as popular. It is the largest perfect replica of a prehistoric site in Europe. Set within a large wooded area, it includes (alongside the replica cave) a discovery centre, a permanent exhibition, sheltered interpretation stations, and an educational area for youngsters. The Pont d'Arc Cavern is in Ardeche – part of the Rhône-Alpes region – north of Nimes.
For opening hours and tour booking information in English, go to: http://ardechelacavernedupontdarc.for-system.com/z8501e3f42507x42507b17499_uk-Pont-d-Arc-Cave-Your-ticket-guided-tour-in-English-Vallon-Pont-d-Arc.aspx
Go Holiday editor David Kernek comments: This replica will undoubtedly be a technical and engineering masterpiece, but with economic times as tough as they are in France, many – in that country and elsewhere – might be asking if this was the wisest use of £60 million. It is, after all, a replica. It would have much less expensive to distribute free copies of Werner Herzog’s excellent documentary movie Cave of Forgotten Dreams, which was filmed in original cave and comprises close-ups of these remarkable artworks.
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Picture Credit: photo-DRAC-Rhone-Alpes-Ministere-de-la-Culture-et-de-la Communication-191