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Palaeolithic paintings

Evolution of prehistoric cave art

Abstract

Sophisticated examples of European palaeolithic parietal art can be seen in the caves of Altamira, Lascaux and Niaux near the Pyrenees, which date to the Magdalenian period (12,000–17,000 years ago), but paintings of comparable skill and complexity were created much earlier1,2, some possibly more than 30,000 years ago3. We have derived new radiocarbon dates for the drawings that decorate the Chauvet cave in Vallon-Pont-d'Arc, Ardèche, France, which confirm that even 30,000 years ago Aurignacian artists, already known as accomplished carvers1, could create masterpieces comparable to the best Magdalenian art4. Prehistorians, who have traditionally interpreted the evolution of prehistoric art as a steady progression from simple to more complex representations, may have to reconsider existing theories of the origins of art.

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Correspondence to H. Valladas.

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Valladas, H., Clottes, J., Geneste, JM. et al. Evolution of prehistoric cave art. Nature 413, 479 (2001). https://doi.org/10.1038/35097160

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