We can infer from the scale of the art, and from the existence of what may have been a viewing gallery at the far end of the cave complex (the Belvedere Gallery), that the subject matter of the Chauvet Cave was deemed to be important. A visit to the cave was therefore probably accompanied by sound.

Image: Jean Clottes
Image: Jean Clottes

In the Gallery of the Red Panels, which would have been near the beginning of the visit (image above), we see two gǔn , meaning to strike, adjacent to two pictographs that may be different sizes of a percussion instrument. I haven’t been able to find a musical instrument to match the image. However, the character zhōng is a similar shape. Zhōng can mean to be struck. Hence we may have two lines indicating downward movement, and two things to be struck. I think that it may be an instruction to use percussion sounds at that point in the visit.

Author's Note

According to Mr Clottes, the drawings are found on a large rock that hangs down from the ceiling¹. It may be that the rock itself is meant to be struck. However, my understanding is that there is plenty of space near the rock pendant for musicians. Moreover, a short distance away is a pile of rocks. Could the pile of rocks be stone chimes?


Image Credit: Traits verticaux et figures indéterminées sur un pendant rocheux: Photo: Jean Clottes: Courtesy, Jean Clottes

Note: 1. Jean Clottes, 2008: Cave Art: Phaidon Press Limited, p.33