(Photo: Stéphane-Compoint-Resolute)

A Time Machine Debuts in France

Reproducing the most important third of the Grotte Chauvet archaeological site, the new Cavern of Pont d’Arc museum in the Ardèche region of France employs the latest technologies to offer a window into the distant past. The museum, located on the heights of Vallon Pont-d’Arc at Le Raza, is about 400 miles south of Paris and 50 miles north of Nimes Airport, which can accommodate private jets of all sizes.
The architecturally striking museum houses a condensed replica of the UNESCO World Heritage Site where three amateur cavers discovered more than a thousand remarkably well-preserved cave drawings in 1994. The drawings date back 36,000 years, making them the earliest known examples of their kind.
The $58 million museum employs scenographic techniques on an unprecedented scale to convey the experience of visiting the archaeological site, which is not open to the public. Visitors will find a pinpoint simulacrum of the cave’s highlights, and will even experience its light levels, humidity and smell.
The museum’s designers employed a precision scanner and 6,000 photographs to create a 3D digital model that guided construction of a concrete shell mirroring the cave’s morphology. More than 90 miles of hand-shaped metal rods helped builders to accurately reproduce the interior before sculptors added texture, stalactites and copies of the famous paintings. The replica floor features skeletal remains of bears and charcoal traces of fires that mirror what you’d see in the original cave.