A short TV clip caught my attention today. A few kilometers from St Julien is Vallon Pont-D’Arc, the gateway to the Ardèche. I visited it last year, along with thousands of other tourists. Hidden away, within earshot of the chattering, lay the Grotte Chauvet-Pont d’Arc with its cave paintings dating back 32,000 years. France has many such sites, all of which have been more or less spoiled by the tramp of tourist feet, the bacteria in their breath and the exposure to the twenty-first century that they brought with them. So far, the Chauvet grotto, home to the oldest jewel of Paleolithic cave art yet discovered, is unique in the world and considered to be the birthplace of the art, the cradle of artistic creation. Mammoth, bison, lions, hyenas and other exotic, long-extinct wildlife are depicted. The only thing missing are portraits of the artists themselves; perhaps they considered themselves as mere observers and recorders of creation, too insignificant for their own inclusion. The cavity was discovered in South Ardèche as recently as December 1994 and this treasure is to be handled differently. It will never be revealed to mass tourism; a replica will be made instead. I shall be leaving France in a few days and I was thinking about how much I have seen superficially and know a little about and yet how very little I really understand or have simply not been aware of. Just as the speleologists who first came upon it marveled at the fact that it had been there all the time – under their noses – and anthropologists studied the sophistication of the representations; better than the two dimensional Egyptian and Babylonian remains of so much later when culture was supposed to be higher and men lived in great cities like Nineveh and Thebes. This little movie tells the story.
The older we get, the less we really know, it would seem.