The Gorges de l’Ardèche, in December 1994: three speleologists discover the most prominent and oldest known decorated cave in Europe. Chauvet is decorated with countless animal figures dating back 36,000 years, including breathtakingly beautiful wildlife scenes. Twenty thousand years before Lascaux, Homo Sapiens had already demonstrated an astonishing artistic mastery. When admiring these works, many questions arise: how did these prehistoric women and men create such striking images? Who were they? Where did they find inspiration? How did they occupy this deep cave? What were their rituals or activities?
For conservation reasons, the Chauvet cave has never been accessible to the public. Only a team of researchers is allowed to go down the cave and study it for a month each year. The filming crew will have the privilege of accompanying them on one of their missions. Specialists in cave art, digital imaging, palaeontologists, acousticians, and physicists will join forces and use the latest technologies to decipher the enigmas that remain unsolved: what happened in this cave in prehistoric times?
After years of research, the vision that seems to take shape is that of a complex use of the area. The painted works stemmed from collective activities involving sound and light and the telling of stories and myths. The symbolic power of the Chauvet cave also raises the broader question of the society that managed to produce such a masterpiece. Today, more than ever, prehistorians are keen to get a closer view of such talented men and women. They are trying to bring back to life this society of nomadic hunter-gatherers who, in small groups, occupied a geographical area extending from the Rhône Valley to southern Germany 40,000 years ago. These people were the Aurignacians, the first artists in human history.