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6 May 2015
Chauvet replica cave art gallery opens

A few kilometres from the village of Vallon-Pont-d'Arc in the south of France, a replica of the Grotte Chauvet re-creates one of the most extraordinary archaeological finds of recent times.
     On 18 December, 1994, three amateur cave explorers followed a small cavity in the cliffs to a chamber containing ancient cave bear bones, and a network of hollows and galleries including more than 1,000 brilliantly preserved prehistoric paintings. Carbon dating revealed the paintings to be approximately 36,000 years old - twice as old as those in the Lascaux caves in the Dordogne. Scientists believe most of the cave paintings were the work of only a few individuals.
     The cave was never going to be open to the public: the accumulation of carbon dioxide and the radioactive radon gas limits human exposure to around 60 hours per year.
     After German film-maker Werner Herzog was refused permission to film inside Lascaux, the Minister of Culture at the time suggested he film inside Chauvet instead. The resulting 3D film, "The Cave of Forgotten Dreams", became the highest-grossing documentary of 2011.
     To create the replica, 3D scans recorded the shape around one-third of the real cave - 3,500 square metres. Sculptors made stalactites and stalagmites. Artists reproduced hundreds of images. In the deepest part of the cave lies a monumental composition 12 metres long, composed of 110 figures, mostly lions and woolly rhinos.
     A spokesman for the project is quoted as saying: "What's on offer here is a complete trip into the hitherto unexplored past of humanity. We think of the people living in those prehistoric times as wild and brutish, but with Chauvet we gained an insight of their inner world and their capacity to express a form of culture. What links them with us is our emotional reaction to the beauty of the paintings. This is the essential character of all humanity and that is what we're trying to recreate."

Edited from Complete France (24 April 2015)

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