14 000 Years of History in the Niaux Cave

Old. Paintings. Walls.

Those were the only words I managed to comprehend from the French I was hearing and those were the only words I needed to hear to agree to go on a guided tour. Little did I know the magnitude of an experience that would come from these three words because we were not going to see just any old paintings on some wall; we were going to see paintings on the Niaux Cave walls and traces of human life that dated back 14,000 years.

Prepped with our hiking boots and lamps, we followed our tour guide through an artificial tunnel opening into the cave. I was instantly in awe at the volume of the cave, with its arches and galleries extending more than two kilometres. Other than our footsteps, it was eerily silent, with water drops heard sporadically.

We made our way towards the “Salon Noir”. We could only spend 25 minutes in this room for conservation purposes. As soon as we arrived, we were instructed to turn off our lamps. Our tour guide led us with her flashlight and we spread ourselves along a railing. Suddenly her light went off and after a few seconds of pitch black, a stronger light re-emerged and it was directed at the wall in front of us. My eyes widened.

The walls were filled with black drawings of mainly three animals: bison, horses and deer. The tour guide started to explain in French but I did not need any translation to understand how impressive this was. The first that struck me was the bison. As we were in the mountains, bison was not something that would be found here but instead hours away in the area of Toulouse, yet the great detail that some of the images entailed were absolutely remarkable. The drawings also indicated that they were not done by hand and certain tools must have been used. It fascinated me even more to think about the resourceful minds at the time creating brushes and needles to use for art, giving way to what we use now.

Our tour guide then led us to the middle of the “Salon Noir” and she started to call out, essentially chanting gibberish. Her echoes bellowed back at us. I could feel myself being carried through time, standing in the room during a ceremonial gathering filled with chanting, dancing and of course, painting – which was one of the many theories for which this room was believed to be used for.

With our 25 minutes approaching an end, we started our trek back. As my concentration level depleted, unable to keep up with the French, I started to think about everything I had just witnessed.

How would we, humans of present day, be remembered by the future? What would they interpret about us from everything we leave behind? In terms of how we lived and how we were as people?

It occurred to me though that maybe the better question to ask is, how do we WANT to be remembered?




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