Werner Herzog Discusses Film & Archaeology

Famed German film director Werner Herzog was recently granted access to the Chauvet Caves, which he filmed for an soon-to-be released film on paleolithic art in France. The film entitled “The Cave of Forgotten Dreams” focuses on the early peoples of France and the earliest creations of human art.

Herzog granted an interview to Archaeology Magazine in which he discussed the unique challenges of filming the site as well as the privilege of being trusted with its memorial.

ARCHAEOLOGY: There are hundreds of ancient sites in the world that have really fascinating artwork. What was it that attracted you to Chauvet?

WERNER HERZOG: It is one of the greatest and most sensational discoveries in human culture and, of course, what is so fascinating is that it was preserved as a perfect time capsule for 20,000 years. The quality of the art, which is from a time so far, so deep back in history, is stunning. It’s not that we have what people might call the primitive beginnings of painting and art. It is right there as if it had burst on the scene fully accomplished. That is the astonishing thing, to understand that the modern human soul somehow awakened. It is not a long slumber and a slow, slow, slow awakening. I think it was a fairly sudden awakening. But when I say “sudden” it may have gone over 20,000 years or so. Time does not factor in when you go back into such deep prehistory.

The film was recorded and produced in 3D, a new technique for Herzog and premiered at the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival. Read the full interview in this Archaeology Magazine article and listen to the audio from the interview here.

3 thoughts on “Werner Herzog Discusses Film & Archaeology

  1. Jim Wheeler

    I love to read about anthropology and the related sciences. I was astonished recently to read about rational conclusions for the social character of australopithecines based on radioisotope analysis of tooth enamel. Maybe you read it, Jennifer. It showed that females were the sex dispersed to counter inbreeding, contrary to the pattern of most mammals. I could not have imagined that such information could be recovered.

    Similarly, to recover an accurate picture of the development of human art would seem to be very difficult. But that is what makes science exciting, no? Seems to me that a sense of art must accompany the ability for abstract thought, but that is linked to writing. This evidence says otherwise. I learned something.

    i am only an engineer, but here is evidence of my interest in the sciences in a post I did last year.


    1. Jennifer Lockett Post author

      Are you talking about this discovery on Sex-Based migration patterns in primates? It’s actually a not-uncommon primate practice – we see it in chimpanzees and such. We used the same science in a few digs I was on to determine where people were finding their mates (since enamel is set at a relatively young age).

      It’s actually been a while since I studied or taught paleoanthropology, but I try to keep up at least with the lay theories. The connection to writing… could it not simply be a connection to language not specifically writing? All language requires the ability of abstract thought and symbolic concepts. Of course, the mapping of the human brain is a science far beyond me.


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