Located in a limestone plateau of the Ardèche River in southern France, the Chauvet Pont-d’Arc cave contains the earliest-known and best-preserved figurative drawings in the world, dating back as early as the Aurignacian period (30,000–32,000 BP), making it an exceptional testimony of prehistoric art.The cave was closed off by a rock fall approximately 20,000 years BP and remained sealed until its discovery in 1994, which helped to keep it in pristine condition. Over 1,000 images have so far been inventoried on its walls, combining a variety of anthropomorphic and animal motifs. Of exceptional aesthetic quality, they demonstrate a range of techniques including the skilful use of shading, combinations of paint and engraving, anatomical precision, three-dimensionality and movement. They include several dangerous animal species difficult to observe at that time, such as mammoth, bear, cave lion, rhino, bison and auroch, as well as 4,000 inventoried remains of prehistoric fauna and a variety of human footprints.
In order to enable the public to enjoy the treasures of the Chauvet cave, a perfect replica has been designed at the Razal site, on the hills of the Vallon-Pont-d’Arc, seven kilometres from the cave. It will be the biggest perfect replica of a prehistoric site in Europe. Set within a vast wooded area covering 29 hectares, the site will include (alongside the replica cave) a discovery centre and a permanent exhibition dedicated to the Aurignacians and wall art, as well as five sheltered interpretation stations, a temporary exhibition space, an educational area for young people, an events centre, etc.
The designers of the cave replica are working in close collaboration with the scientific team, the challenge being to reproduce the cave and its 8,500 m2 in a space restricted to just 3,500 m2, while at the same time maintaining the perception of the original volumes. This is made possible by a 3D technique developed using a high-precision scanner to generate a full-scale digital reproduction of the cave. The paintings will be reproduced on a shotcrete structure with resin coating using natural oxide pigments and Scots pine charcoal. And all the paintings will be done by experienced artists with a view to remaining as faithful as possible to the original spontaneity of the work.
The replica site opens on April 25th, 2015.