In December 1994, in the Ardeche Valley of southeast France, three explorers chanced upon the hidden entrance to an underground cavern. Digging away the rubble, they made their way through a narrow passage into a vast cave, and there made one of the most thrilling discoveries of modern times: The Chauvet cave, named for one of the discoverers, which had been untouched for thousands of years. It was filled with Stone Age cave bear skeletons and footprints, the blackened remains of fires, and, most importantly, walls covered with more than three hundred extraordinary paintings and engravings of animals.
These staggering images proved to be doubly remarkable, for not only have radiocarbon tests established them to be over 30,000 years old -- the oldest known paintings in the world, nearly twice as old as those found at Lascaux -- but they are powerful, sophisticated works of art rather than crude sketches. Dawn of Art is the first book in English on the images that have, as the French Ministry of Culture declared, "overturned the accepted notion about the first appearance of art and its development."
The remarkable photographs in Dawn of Art show each wall in clear detail, revealing the incredible mastery of the prehistoric artists. Astonishingly, while most cave art is of creatures such as horses, aurochs, and bison, over half of these images depict such dangerous animals as cave bears, hyenas, lions, mammoths, rhineoceroses. The paintings are particularly impressive in terms of the techniques used to present perspective and motion. Many figures interact with each other; some are staggered, to give perspective; others are drawn on bulges in the cave wall to further suggest depth.
The text, by the three explorers who found the cave, provides a stirring account of the discovery, allowing readers to share in the excitement of Jean-Marie Chauvet, Eliette Brunel Deschamps, Christian Hillaire as the significance of their find became clear. An epilogue by Jean Clottes, General Conservator of the National Heritage and Scientific Advisor on Prehistoric Art to the French Ministry of Culture, sets the discovery at Chauvet in context. And a forward by Paul G. Bahn, a prehistoric art specialist, brings the story of the paintings at Chauvet up to the present and explains the most recent scientific findings. This amazing Cro-Magnon gallery is closed to the public; Dawn of Art offers the only access to its wonders.