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Ancient cave in France throws up rare finds

An ancient cave discovered in December in western France contains a rare find: a 27,000-year-old human skeleton in a painted room and a drawing of a human face.

india Updated: Jun 03, 2006 00:16 IST

An ancient cave discovered in December in western France contains a rare find: a 27,000-year-old human skeleton in a painted room and a drawing of a human face, experts announced Friday after months of study.

It was only the second time that a body from that period is known to have been placed in such a way with cave paintings, the Culture Ministry said.

A single painted face found in the cave also could be among the oldest graphic representations of a human face, said Jean-Yves Baratin, archaeology curator for the Poitou-Charentes region. The state took over ownership of the cave in the Vilhonneur forest on May 12, the ministry said in a statement. Cavers exploring part of a grotto once used to dispose of animal carcasses discovered the exceptional cave, which dates to the upper Paleolithic period around 25,000 years ago. The skeleton also dates from the same period.

Its discovery was announced in February but it was not until Friday that precise information about some of the finds was divulged.

Baratin underscored the significance of the human skeleton having been placed on the ground inside a decorated room. The other instance in which a body was found in a decorated cave is in the hamlet of Cussac, a grotto that experts have said was as important for engravings as paintings are for the famed Lascaux caves. The Vilhonneur cave features a series of paintings, including one in which a human hand is imprinted on a wall by adding colour around it.

The famed Lascaux Cave in Montignac, in the southwest Dordogne region, has long been considered one of the finest examples of cave paintings. However, that art dates to 13,000 years, making the Vilhonneur art much older. Another cave, Chauvet, discovered in the mid-1990s in southeast France, features some 300 examples of Paleolithic animal art, some dating back 31,000 years.