Ancient Cave Paintings Come Alive in Replicas

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April 27, 2015

Some of the earliest cave paintings are now on display to the public, in the form of replicas.

A new exhibit by France's Culture Ministry displays painstakingly prepared replicas of the famed Chauvet cave paintings, created 32,000 to 36,000 years ago. The cave, the subject of a 2011 documentary titled Cave of Forgotten Dreams, remains closed to the public, in order to maintain the integrity of the art on the walls.

The paintings display more than 1,000 creatures, including lions stalking prey, owls watching serenely from high perches, parading mammoths, and now-extinct aurochs (large horned cows). Only one figure appears to be human, a bison that has a woman's head.

The replica (left) is less than half the size of the original cave, the area of which is 91,000 square feet. Photographers took a great many high-resolution photographs. Then, artists, using the photos as models, created the replica paintings using the same materials the original artists used, charcoal and ocher paint. One concession to modernity is that the replica's walls are made of concrete.

French cavers discovered the cave, among the limestone cliffs near the Ardeche River, in 1994. The cave is named for one of the cavers, Jean-Marie Chauvet.

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