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A team of French geologists and paleontologists and led by Jean-Michel Geneste, published in PLoS One that they believe that they have identified the oldest known images of erupting volcanoes, daubed in red and white pigments over other cave paintings in south-eastern France cave site, Chauvet, around 36,000 years ago. The curiously abstract images were first found in 1994 among startlingly precise paintings of lions, mammoths and other animals at a complex of caverns at Chauvet in the Ardèche.

The volcano paintings were thought at first to be abstract images. Getty

The volcano paintings were thought at first to be abstract images. Getty

At the time of initial discovery, paleontologists were puzzled by the seemingly abstract images among detailed and anatomically accurate pictures of prehistoric mammals. The nearest Vivarais volcano was 22 miles northwest of the Chauvet caves. Should this be true, and it likely is, it transforms our conceptions about prehistoric art…The depiction of eruption in the caves seem unusual and anachronistic because they were not figurative like the others.  The cave paintings at Chauvet are already among the oldest, most beautiful and most elaborate in the world. Lead author Geneste writes,

“It is very likely that humans living in the Ardèche river area witnessed one or several eruptions. We propose that the spray-shape signs found in the Chauvet-Pont d’Arc cave could be the oldest known depiction of a volcanic eruption.”

Nomade S, Genty D, Sasco R, et al. A 36,000-Year-Old Volcanic Eruption Depicted in the Chauvet-Pont d’Arc Cave (Ardèche, France)?. PLoS ONE. 2016;11(1):e0146621.