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YouTube Gold: Chauvet

Ancient art that takes your breath away

Painting in the Chauvet cave, 32,000-30,000 BC. Artist: Art of the Upper Paleolithic
Painting in the Chauvet cave, 32,000-30,000 BC.
Photo by Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images

Out of all the great mysteries on Planet Earth, few can be more enticing than cave art. And few samples of cave art are more stunning than that found in the Chauvet Caves of France.

Discovered in 1994 by three speleologists, the paintings in these caves, generally believed to be somewhere between 25,000 and around 32,000 years old, the work is stunning. The artistic talent is obvious even to those with no training or even particular interest. How could it not be, when you see brilliant renderings of instantly recognizable lions, rhinos, hyenas and other animals long extinct in Europe if not the entire world.

It’s also immediately clear that these weren't the first rodeo for the artist or artists. Someone took a considerable time to perfect his or her craft.

It’s unbelievable sophisticated work with some techniques that were only matched fairly recently.

The caves are shut to visitors now with very, very rare exceptions, in order to preserve them. But in 2010, filmmaker Werner Herzog was allowed inside to film and he made a brilliant documentary aptly called The Cave of Forgotten Dreams.

It’s all good but the last part of the movie is filmed in the cave itself and it nothing short of hallucinatory. You see the magnificent works that inspire awe and the questions just tumble: who were these people? Who of them painted these? Was it shamanism? Was it just someone that everyone else recognized was wildly gifted?

It’s visionary and stunning work, and it’s impossible to forget. Here is the clip of just the paintings and here are hand prints left behind.

And here’s something fascinating to consider: some scientists now believe these paintings were done by Neanderthals.

Whoever did them, for whatever reason, left genius that speaks across the ages.