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Chauvet Cave painting depicts 36,000 year old volcanic eruption

Scientists believe that they have identified the oldest known images of erupting volcanoes, daubed in red and white pigments over other cave paintings in south-eastern France around 36,000 years ago.

Chauvet Cave painting depicts 36,000 year-old volcanic eruption
Scientists may have discovered the oldest images of a volcano in the world after finding cave paintings 
of a disaster 36,000 years ago in the Chauvet caves [Credit: Getty Images]
The puzzling and apparently abstract images were first found in 1994 among startlingly precise paintings of lions, mammoths and other animals at a complex of caverns at Chauvet in the Ardèche.

A team of French scientists, ranging from geologists to palaeontologists, now believe that the surging, fountain-like images are the only example in Europe of prehistoric paintings of landscapes or natural phenomena. The oldest images of volcanoes previously identified were drawn 8,000 years ago at Catalhoyuk in central Turkey.

The findings of the French team – published in the journal PLoS One – could transform conceptions about prehistoric art. The cave paintings at Chauvet are already among the oldest, most beautiful and most elaborate in the world.

Like all other known cave art in Europe, they depict animals and – in the case of Chauvet – human hands. If the volcano thesis is accepted, historians may have to revise their theories about the meaning and purpose of cave paintings.

Chauvet Cave painting depicts 36,000 year-old volcanic eruption
Example of a spray-shape sign from Chauvet-Pont d’Arc cave compared to the oldest known depictions of volcanic 
eruptions: (A) Map of the Chauvet-Pont d’Arc cave. (B) General view of the Megaloceros panel. The green dot
 marks the location of the 14C AMS date [8] (picture credit D. Genty). (C) Detail of the Megaloceros panel 
chronological succession [8] (pictures credit V. Feruglio-D. Baffier). (D) Petroglyphs depicting the Porak 
volcano eruption and dated from the 5th millennium BC in the Syunik region of Armenia [3]. The figure
 is similar to [3] but not identical to the original image, and is therefore for illustrative purposes only.
 (E) Çatalhöyük mural painting (Turkey) considered the oldest depiction of a volcanic eruption dated
 from the 8th/7th millennium BC [1] [Credit: S. Nomade et al., PLOSONE]
The claims are based on a new geological survey which dates volcanic eruptions in the nearby Bas-Vivarais area to between 30,000 and 40,000 years ago – coinciding with the period when Chauvet was occupied by humans. Carbon-dating of drawings both beneath and above the separate crimson and white “volcano” images suggests that they were drawn during this time.

The team, led by Jean-Michel Geneste, head of archaeological research at Chauvet, wrote: “It is very likely that humans living in the Ardèche river area witnessed one or several eruptions. We propose that the spray-shape signs found in the Chauvet-Pont d’Arc cave could be the oldest known depiction of a volcanic eruption.”

The nearest Vivarais volcano was 22 miles north-west of the Chauvet caves. Although volcanic eruptions take various forms, the Vivarais explosions are believed to have resembled a giant fireworks display – much as depicted in the paintings.

When the Chauvet complex was discovered in 1994, paleontologists were puzzled by the seemingly abstract images among detailed and anatomically accurate pictures of lions, mammoths , rhinoceros and deer.

“Their irruption in the caves seemed unusual and anachronistic because they were not figurative,” Mr Geneste said.

He and his team now believe that the Chauvet artists were doing what they usually did – creating art from the most extreme and dangerous manifestations of the natural world around them.

Author: John Lichfield | Source: Independent [January 11, 2016]

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