French Cave Yields Stone Age Art Gallery

Article excerpt

A striking new addition to the ancient cave paintings that make up Western Europe's unofficial Museum of Prehistoric Art debuted last week, to the delight of archaeologists. French officials announced in Paris that explorers had discovered an underground cave displaying more than 300 well-preserved, expertly rendered wall paintings created by humans approximately 20,000 years ago.

The multichambered cave, found on Dec. 18, 1994, in southwestern France near the town of Vallon-Pont-d'Arc, boasts a Stone Age art collection that rivals that of Lascaux, the most famous site of prehistoric cave paintings, asserts Jean Clottes, an archaeologist who works for the French government. Clottes has inspected the new site.

"This is truly a great discovery," he told SCIENCE NEWS. "I was deeply moved when I saw the paintings. They're as good as any art made anywhere in the world."

Many scenes on the cave walls show animals running or engaged in some other activity. The most commonly portrayed creatures are woolly rhinoceroses, lions, and bears, as well as a smaller number of mammoths, oxen, horses, and wild cats. A rare prehistoric image of a hyena appears in one scene, and the only known cave paintings of a panther and several owls have also been noted.

Painting material included charcoal, yellow ochre, and a red pigment made from hematite.

Clottes calls the artistic technique used to represent the animals "exquisite." In a number of panels, animals are outlined to portray a larger group and to give the scene a sense of depth. A black pigment was sometimes spread by hand to shade an animal and throw it into relief.

Few other cave-painting sites contain depictions of woolly rhinoceroses, notes Randall White, an archaeologist at New York University who has seen a videotape made by investigators of many of the new cave paintings. …