Joining The Taj Mahal, Machu Picchu and Stonehenge on the world heritage list is a cave in southern France which has been dubbed the ‘prehistoric Sistine Chapel’. The 1,000 drawings carved into the walls of the ‘Grotte Chauvet’ have been dated as being 36,000 years old.

The cave was only discovered in the mid 1990s as the entrance to the cave had been blocked and concealed by a rockfall in prehistoric times. The latest dating on the rockfall suggests it took place over twenty thousand years ago. The cave is located in the Ardeche region of the country and is the earliest and best preserved example found so far of cave paintings by the Aurignacian people. This particular race of people is currently believed to the first modern culture to have been established in Europe.

The enterance to the cave was actually located twenty-five metres underground, and the cave stretches out some 800 metres, with several branches. In order to protect the site, fewer than two hundred scientists and researchers from across the world are allowed to step foot inside, and parts still remain unexplored.

The 1,000 images cover 8,500 metres of wall space and the fact that they have been hidden for so long means that they are in a highly preserved state. Currently the oldest known human drawings, they include images of rhinos, bears, bison and mammoths. Physical remains and footprints of animals have also been found, including large cave bears which are believed to have hibernated at the site. It would not appear that the site was ever permanently inhabited by humans but was more likely to have been used for ritual purposes.

A full scale replica of the cave and its images is currently under construction close by and is due to open in 2015 so that a wider audience can experience the images. It has certainly been added to my wish list, so I will definitely be packing a warm and padded jacket as caves aren’t the warmest of places. Adding this unique location to the World Heritage List guarantees the conservation of the cave site and is a wonderful tribute to what are currently the earliest known artists in history and will become a prime tourism site which will hopefully raise additional funds which can be used to keep it safe for future generations.