The Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc Cave in the Ardèche department of Southern France seems to contain the earliest known and delicately preserved figurative cave paintings in the world. By coincidence, discovered on December 18, 1994, by three local cavers – Christian Hillaire, Eliette Brunel and Jean-Marie Chauvet (after whom the cave was named). The cave may be considered a significant prehistoric art site and has recently been awarded UNESCO world heritage status (June 22, 2014).
The recent radiocarbon dating suggests this cave contains a distinctive collection of cave paintings dating from approximately 36,000 years ago. Representing three rare characteristics: its age, the quality of its conservation and the abundance of artistic representations: 1,000 drawings of which 425 are animal figures. The bestiary of the cave is represented with 14 different species, of which the majority are dangerous animals (cave-bears, woolly rhinoceros, mammoths and big-cats, etc) is unprecedented with some representations unique in Paleolithic cave art (panther, owl, the lower part of the female body); drawn with charcoal or by finger. These rock drawings offer a rare glimpse into the lives of our early human ancestors and the Ice Age world they inhabited; proving to be a useful research subject for scientists worldwide.
To both preserve and promote this precious heritage the French authorities, decided to close it to the members of public as to ensure their safety. Therefore, deciding to create a replica called The Cavern of Pont d’Arc, to be shared with the world only a few kilometers away from the original. Apparently, seeming to be one of the biggest replicas in the world; 3,000 m2 ground area and 8,180 m2 surface area of scenery created in total (comprising the ground, walls and ceilings). Developed in close collaboration with the scientific research team, The Cavern of Pont d‘Arc is an innovative site using scenographic techniques – hi-tech scans, 3D-modelling and digital images – implemented on such a scale.
Each element of the new cave was documented in a set of detailed drawings with 3D plans,photos, and technical description, including colours, dimensions, textures, forming processes and bibliographical references. The limestone walls have been reproduced in concrete, the stalagmites and stalactites have been remade in resin. The art was recreated offsite, digital images of the paintings were projected onto canvasses of replica rock to guide the artists. Even the temperature has been set to match that of the original by reconstructing the atmosphere of the underground environment, all five senses are stimulated – freshness, moisture, silence, darkness and smell – to immerse visitors in this special world. The objective is to reproduce the emotions originally aroused by the cave and to reveal its hidden world.
The achievement of this project, led by the team of the Joint Association of The Cavern of Pont d’Arc was entrusted to the architects Fabre-Speller (Xavier Fabre and Vincent Speller) and the workshop Atelier 3A Associés (Albert Ollier & Associates). For the scenography, the Parisian Agency Scène (Jean-Hugues Manoury and Melanie Claude). It is suggested that the work took place from Autumn 2013 to the beginning of 2015 (taking 30 months) with an investment of 55 million Euros to build and has involved hundreds of people.
In Spring 2015, The Cavern of Pont d’Arc aims to open its doors to its first visitors. To complement this visit and to extend the experience, the Discovery Centre, whose scenery is entrusted to Tempora (Brussels), welcomes visitors to the Paleolithic period, its flora and fauna, and the humanity of 36,000 years ago. The visit begins in the auditorium where a spectacular film immerses visitors in a scene from the Aurignacian era where they may find themselves in the setting of the Pont-d’Arc, its animals, the cave and its paintings.
The Cavern of Pont d’Arc is a model of conservation and management of decorated caves. The Chauvet cave, an artistic expression known and in the years to come aims to be a source of inspiration for contemporary artists.
How have pre-historic arts influenced contemporary art?