With many people stuck indoors, visiting many of Earth’s wonders is no longer possible – at least not in person. As a replacement, however, France’s Ministry of Culture is bringing one of the most important archaeological sites in the world to your home with a virtual tour of Chauvet Cave. Filled with some of the best-preserved cave paintings in the world, this free tour guides you through its many chambers, explaining the paintings and their historical relevance throughout.
Not only is the tour fascinating, it is also a great way to learn about how our ancestors lived around 25,000-40,000 years ago.
Take the tour here: archeologie.culture.fr/chauvet/en/virtual-visit
For many, this tour is the only possible way to explore the cave; entry into the site is monitored vigorously, with just 200 scientists and conservators allowed in each year in order to preserve the paintings for future generations.
Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc Cave is located in southeastern France, just off the bank of the Ardèche river. Discovered on December 18, 1994, the cave is thought to have been inhabited by humans at two distinct stages: once between 32,000-30,000 years ago during the Aurignacian period, and once later between 27,000-25,000 years ago during the Gravettian period. These dates remain disputed, however, with some radiocarbon dating suggesting habitation could have occurred up to 37,000 years ago.
What makes Chauvet cave so special is the wealth of incredible cave paintings that cover the walls. Depicting 13 different species, the paintings are mainly of animals and hunting scenes, along with some markings of lines and dots, and what is thought to be a partial Venus figure. With horses, cave bears, and even rhinoceroses adorning the walls, some species found in Chauvet caves have never been seen in Ice Age paintings before.
But paintings are not the only thing found in its chambers. Throughout the tour, you might spot large pits in the floor, which are the remains from cave bears that made their home there. Particularly found in the Chamber of the Bear Hollows, these hollows accompany preserved footprints of the large bears that once ruled the cave.
Alongside remains of bears, remnants of human occupation also litter the floor. A child’s footprints, charred debris from an ancient hearth, and torch smoke stains can also be found that date back to the later Gravettian period. Walking just next to the child, there are also the preserved footprints of a canine companion, either a wolf or dog, that suggests that humans kept dogs as pets before the last ice age.
Existing as a preserved glimpse into how humans lived many millennia ago, Chauvet cave will remain sealed to the public to protect the artifacts within from fungus in tourist's breath, amongst other reasons. With such protections in place, it is hoped the paintings will remain accessible for researchers for years to come.