Who painted these exquisitely lifelike portraits of animals? There was no such thing as writing in the ice age so nothing is known of the names, if they had names, of these early people. Cave artists may have been women; they may have been children. What is known is that Homo sapiens, our species of human, makes its mark with these paintings that are as beautiful and intelligent as anything created since.
Of all prehistoric cave paintings discovered in different parts of the world, the ones at Chauvet-Pont-d'Arc Cave in southern France deserve special mention. These paintings are significant for two factors: firstly, they exhibit exceptional aesthetic quality previously unseen in prehistoric paintings, such as the skillful use of shading, combinations of paint and engraving, anatomical precision, three-dimensionality and movement. Secondly, they are of great age. Radio carbon dating has put them in the Aurignacian period, approximately 30,000 to 32,000 years ago, making them the earliest-known and best-preserved examples of figurative drawings in the world.
The cave is located in a limestone plateau along the bank of the river Ardeche, near the commune of Vallon-Pont-d'Arc. Until its discovery in 1994, the cave had remained sealed off by a rock fall that occurred approximately 20,000 years ago. Chauvet is one of the few prehistoric painted caves that was found preserved and intact, right down to the footprints of animals and humans.