And when dealing with art for which no ethnological data are known, our predicament is worse still. Does a painting of a bird depict an eagle, a supernatural spirit, or a shaman whose soul has taken flight? ' 'Some archaeologists think that it is impossible to know what rock art means and that the researcher's role is to study motifs and techniques, try to date the works, establish as far as possible whether these images were structurally linked, but not attempt to interpret them.

From their point of view, we are faced with a choice: either say nothing at all about meaning, or make up stories that might seem interesting but would lack any objective, scientific basis.' 'Others feel that it is a pointless exercise to pursue classifications that lead only to dry statistics, or to establish the existence of general structures - relationships among different types of images - that we can perhaps record but not explain. Faced with the twin dangers of pursuing an arid intellectual exercise, on the one hand, and indulging in baseless fabrications, on the other, we must steer a careful course.

The fact that these cave paintings were executed so skilfully yet so deep within prehistory has forced us to abandon the prevailing view that 'early art was naive art'.

Not only is the Ice Age art of the Chauvet Cave extremely old, it is also very extensive and highly varied.

But closer inspection has now revealed what appears to be the first known depiction of a natural disaster - drawn 28,000 years before what were previously thought to be the oldest, found in at Catalhoyuk in central Turkey But closer inspection has now revealed what appears to be the first known depiction of a natural disaster - drawn 28,000 years before what were previously thought to be the oldest, found in at Catalhoyuk in central Turkey.

People from that era had previously drawn hands and animals, but if it is accepted that the pictures depict a volcano, it would suggest that people had a greater understanding of the world they painted than previously thought.

From the tight security of Chauvet to the guided tours of Niaux Cave.

From the on-site Tuareg guide at the giraffe carvings of Dabous to the controlled access of the Yinchuan World Rock Art Museum and Preservation Park at Helankou in Inner Mongolia. The problem is when the culture and its stories and traditions responsible for the art have long since disappeared.The project, built on an 8 hectare site in the hills of the Vallon-Pont-d'Arc near to the original cave, will offer other visitor facilities including a discovery centre, exhibitions, an educational area, restaurant and shop.Carbon dating of small bits of charcoal used in cave paintings has determined that some of the paintings are from 10000 to 30000 y old. In a 1-\mu sample of carbon from a live tree, the activity of carbon-14 is 6.4 \mu . Carbon dating of small bits of charcoal used in cave paintings has determined that some of the paintings are from 10000 to 30000 y old. In a 1-\mu sample of carbon from a live tree, the activity of carbon-14 is 6.4 \mu .Located in the Ardeche region of southern France, along the bank of the river Ardeche near the Pont-d'Arc, this cave was only discovered as recently as 1994, happened upon by a small team of cavers led by Jean-Marie Chauvet.Chauvet Cave's importance is based on two factors: firstly, the aesthetic quality of these Palaeolithic cave paintings, and secondly, their great age.On the other hand, in 'World Rock Art' [2002] Jean Clottes explains other hazards of interpretation: 'In instances where these traditions survive, we have no way of knowing, when native informants elucidate an image for us, whether the art really means what they say it means.