Archaeology Magazine Archive

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Chauvet Study Begins Volume 51 Number 6, November/December 1998
by Spencer P.M. Harrington

[image] Wooly rhinos from Chauvet Cave (Courtesy French Ministry of Culture and Communication, DRAC Rhône-Alpes, SRA) [LARGER IMAGE]

The French government has finally expropriated the land around Chauvet Cave and allowed a team led by Jean Clottes of the Ministry of Culture to begin a four-year research program. The cave, with spectacular Palaeolithic art, was discovered in 1994 in southern France (see "Stone Age Masterpieces Found," March/April 1995). In May, Clottes' 15-member team undertook the first of two two-week campaigns scheduled for this year. At least 25 new animal images were found. So far researchers believe that the cave was not used for human habitation. Although a hearth was found, Clottes feels it was possibly used to provide light for Palaeolithic artists. Cave bears appear to have hibernated in the grotto, and the ground is littered with their bones. It is unclear how long the bears used the space before and after the artists.

The team split into groups, one studying the floor, another making a computerized inventory of the art, and a third tracing the images. Those studying the ground found the hearth, numerous animal footprints, and pieces of flint belonging to the ancient artists. A group inventorying the images entered a description of each figure and a quick sketch into a data base. A third group took pictures of the images, scanned them into a computer, and made printouts that were then traced onto transparent paper. Clottes predicts that tracing all of the images will take far longer than the four years allotted to the project.

© 1998 by the Archaeological Institute of America