Professor Jean Clottes, renowned French archaeologist and cave art expert, discusses the paintings in Chauvet Cave, France.
The seminar is followed by a screening of Werner Herzog’s Cave of the Forgotten Dreams, featuring Professor Clottes. Herzog gained exclusive access to film inside the cave, bringing to life its 36,000-year-old art. He puts 3-D technology to stunning use, taking viewers back to prehistoric times.
ChauvetCave, discovered in December 1994 in the south of France, is one of the most important painted caves ever found, comparable to Lascaux, also in France, and Altamira in Spain. Radiocarbon dating has placed the paintings among the oldest prehistoric rock art.
The works are aesthetically striking, original, and numerous, depicting about 430 animal figures belonging to 14 different species. The animals most often represented are the most formidable species: mammoths, woolly rhinos, cave lions, and cave bears, all of which became extinct before the end of the last glaciation. There are also horses, aurochs, bison, ibex, deer, owls, musk ox, and panthers.
Since 1998, a multidisciplinary team has been working in the cave, unravelling its secrets. Chauvet has overturned the long-held hypothesis that art evolved gradually over millennia. Our ancestors of 36,000 years ago were as artistic and complex as any of their inheritors.
An exchange of expertise
Professor Clottes is in New Zealand for an exchange of scientific knowledge. He will meet with New Zealand researchers working in the cave art field, and will compare Māori rock art with works found in French caves. The project is funded through the New Zealand–France Friendship Fund.