Subj: fyi.... new cave art discovery
Date: 7/5/01 3:09:11 PM Pacific Daylight Time

New Cave Art Discovered in France
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By Crispian Balmer

PARIS (July 5) - Stunning prehistoric engravings uncovered in a cave in western France could be just a foretaste of the treasures held in the dank interior, but the public will probably never get a glimpse, an archeologist said Thursday.

Art experts have hailed the find at Cussac in the Dordogne Valley as a major discovery, with the grotto chamber covered in spectacular drawings of wild animals, hybrid beasts, birds and women and erotic imagery.

''This site is of world importance,'' said Danny Barraud, the Culture Ministry's head of archeology in the Dordogne region.

Initial estimates have suggested the vivid engravings are between 22,000 and 28,000 years old -- much earlier than famous wall paintings in the nearby Lascaux cave complex that are reputed to be more than 16,000 years old.

''We are talking about monumental engravings. We have found more than 100 engravings so far, but we think that there are many more. The trouble is that it is an extremely fragile site which is hindering our work,'' Barraud told Reuters.

The cave floor consists of unstable clay, while the limestone walls are flaky and susceptible to temperature changes, preventing large groups from visiting the chamber.

In addition, there is a high level of carbon gas in the underground passages, which means that archeologists can only spend a maximum of three hours on site before having to return to the surface for fresh air.


''It will not be opened to the public, but the local authorities are considering creating a replica of the site in a nearby cave for tourists,'' said Barraud.

The Cussac cave was uncovered by speleologist Marc Delluc last September, but the importance of the finding was only made public this week.

The engravings are dotted along a chamber 900 yards long.  Among the artwork is a picture of a bison some four yards long -- one of the biggest single prehistoric engravings ever found -- and one scene featuring up to 40 figures.

Among the line carvings are animals with deformed heads, a bison with a horse's head, silhouettes of women and half a dozen representations of female erotica.

''There is undoubtedly a very special atmosphere at Cussac... There is an originality here,'' said Jean Clottes, an adviser on Prehistoric Rock Art at the Culture Ministry.

Archeologists have also found human remains in the cave, although they are not yet sure if the relatively well-preserved skeletons date from a later age than the artwork.

The Cussac discovery is the second major prehistoric art site found in France in less than a decade.

In 1994, cave explorers stumbled across a complex of galleries full of paintings in the Ardeche gorge. Experts believe the animal pictures there are some 32,000 years old and, as with Cussac, the public has been barred access to safeguard the site.

REUTERS 09:22 07-05-01