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Visiting France

French cave with world’s oldest paintings placed on Unesco World Heritage list

media A painting of horses from the Grotte Chauvet Open access

A French cave containing the oldest known paintings in the world has been declared a World Heritage Site but the UN’s cultural arm, Unesco. The hundreds of prehistoric depictions of animals, human hands and women’s vaginas were painted 36,000 years ago.

“Our ancestor […] has just been recognised,” declared local MP Pascal Terrasse after the decision was announced. “Let’s hope he forgives us for waited 36,000 years to give his work our blessing.”

Interactive map of France

As well as noting the huge cave’s archaeological importance, Unesco hailed the artistic qualities of the paintings, which depict 14 species of animal - including bears, rhinoceroses, panthers and lions – women’s sexual organs, outlines of hands and one unusual depiction of the lower part of a woman’s body alongside a bison.

The complex of caves, known as the Grotte Chauvet, is in the Ardèche region of southern France.

It is 800 metres long, 18 metres high in some places and 25 metres underground.

It remained closed to access for at least 23,000 years by a rockfall and was discovered in 1994 by three cavers, Jean-Marie Chauvet, Christian Hillaire and Eliette Brunel.

It is closed to the public in order to save it from the fate of the famous Lascaux caves, discovered in 1940 but a mere 18,000 years old, which have been seriously damaged by carbon dioxide in the breath of visitors.

A copy has been built nearby and is due to be opened to visitors in 2015.
 

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