The mystery behind the Chauvet Cave paintings may have finally been solved. A recent discovery has revealed that this 36,000 year old illustration includes a depiction of a volcanic eruption, making it the oldest recording of a natural disaster. After the cave was discovered in Southern France in 1994, scientists were baffled by the red and white splotches marked on the rock walls. When compared to the very precise paintings of lions and horses, this abstract illustration didn’t seem to fit. So what are they? It turns out, the painting is depicting volcanoes located just 22 miles away from the cave.
A study led by Sebastien Nomade from the University of Paris tested rock samples from the extinct volcanoes. Nomade and his team found that a series of eruptions occurred between 19,000 and 43,000 years ago – around the same time the cave paintings were created. After this discovery researchers were able to analyze the fiery illustration and make inferences on what type of eruption occurred. The daubs of red and white show a “strombolian eruption,” a type of eruption that sends lava spewing up to 200 yards into the sky, resulting in an explosive event that is visible and heard from miles away. “Humans are likely to have witnessed one or several eruptions and depicted them using these complex signs,” stated Nomade.
The Chauvet Cave paintings discovery opened up doors to an ancient world. Incredibly, artwork that was created 36,000 years ago still has the ability to teach us about the world we live in today.
Lead your students on their own discovery of art with EF’s Artists of France and Spain tour.