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Prehistoric Art WHS

Author Solivagant
#1 | Posted: 26 Feb 2020 04:01 | Edited by: Solivagant 
Els's blog of her recent (Feb 2020) visit to the caves of the Vezere Valley ( ) stimulated this comment from Denis Nicklaus "...why Lascaux I is the most pre-eminent "cave man art" cave? I feel it is the only one that would have any name recognition in the general public. Are the drawings there that much better or numerous than what you saw in Font de Gaume or others saw at Rouffignac? I haven't been to Lascaux, but I feel incredibly privileged to have gone inside Grotte de Niaux near the Pyrenees a couple years ago and to see the prehistoric art there. Your description of the paintings in Font de Gaume makes them sound better than Niaux, but maybe you're just a better writer. Is Lascaux even better? Or was it just the first to become famous and is shorthand for the entire region?".

My immediate reaction was that "Surely Altamira has greater recognition?" followed by "What is "Better" in relation to Cave art?" ("Better to see"? "Better Art"? More "important"?). Picasso is reported to have stated "After Altamira all is decadence" and, after visiting Lascaux, that "They've invented everything". Though it is also widely believed that both comments are apocryphal (See "A Lot of Bull" )

Leaving such unanswerable questions to one side there is certainly a large number of WHS inscribed on the basis of their Prehistoric Art. In many cases this remains "in situ" in the form of Rock or Cave Art (both "Petroglyphs" and "Pictographs") – though some of the most famous are not of course open to view. Others are WHS where famous/significant "movable" prehistoric art was found – statues and carvings on bones etc. Sometimes these are still located in Musea on site whilst others have been moved to institutions many miles away and a visit to the WHS where they are found reduces to little more than a "pilgrimage".!

Without attempting to compare the "value" of the art discovered and/or residing in these WHS it is worth understanding the significance of each in terms of period created, cultural similarities and differences, advances and developments represented etc. I don't know if other WHS travellers have had the same problem when visiting these sites (whether authentic or replicas!) – "Where does this "fit" in relation to other such sites" one might have seen? I think of seeing the art in El Castillo, standing in the (empty) caves at Hohlenstein or outside Chauvet, wandering through the shelters at Bhimbetka or searching out the petroglyphs at Tamgaly. How do they relate to each other??

I have found the following Web site of use both before and after visits to such sites to help place each of them in context –

a. This page lists 100 significant places where cave art has been found, sequenced by "date created" (Earliest first). A fair number of WHS are covered - . A "problem" which isn't addressed is that some Prehistoric Art sites were used across very long periods. Bhimbetka (shown as being very "early") was one such - Having visited it I do not know which if all the art dated back to the earliest period!! Many of the examples are much newer ! - indeed there was an issue about this at inscription in relation to the site's CL status.

b. This page from the same Web site divides a larger selection of Prehistoric Art examples into historic periods and attempts to identify significant developments. You can quite easily trace the "WHS time line" from Bhimbetka through Gorham, El Castillo, Vogelherd, Chauvet, Coa, Lascaux, Altamira, Cueva de los Manos (though other WHS rock art sites are missing - e.g Valcamonica, Tamgaly and Tanum)

We have often discussed in this forum just how much "room" is left for yet more Prehistoric art sites on the "List". There are plenty still residing on T Lists!! One notable "gap" from among the earliest art sites at the moment is the lack of any cave art from Sumatra/Sulawesi etc which, apparently, is a "hot topic" among Archaeologists and prehistoric art experts since some of the earliest examples of figurative art are to be found there (if dating techniques are to be believed). Indonesia does have an example on its T List but with no indication at the moment of any activity towards inscription – See -

Author elsslots
#2 | Posted: 26 Feb 2020 12:10 
Some thoughts on the idea of "better":
- It is possible that the inaccessibility of Lascaux, Chauvet and Altamira has contributed to a higher appreciation of the 3 than objectively warranted (some mystification going on).
- Those big 3 also profit from the European bias that is common among WHS: they are better researched, better known, better preserved (at least according to contemporary scientific best practices) than rock art sites outside of Europe.
- The nomination file of the Chauvet Cave/Pont d'Arc - as the most recently added grand rock art WHS - has a comprehensive comparative analysis. Its main point seems to be that it is the oldest by far. The link provided by Solivagant disputes that. Bhimbetka and El Castillo for example are not named in the analysis.

Author elsslots
#3 | Posted: 26 Feb 2020 12:28 | Edited by: elsslots 
And another thing to consider about Vézère: this is not a rock art site only (much less so than the others named), it also has early human remains and archaeological findings. Its name has been changed in 2006 tot reflect this: from "Decorated Grottoes of the Vézère Valley" to "Prehistoric Sites and Decorated Caves of the Vézère Valley".

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