Google's latest VR app lets you gaze at prehistoric paintings

It's part of a new Google Arts & Culture collection called Chauvet: Meet the Ancestors.

Over the years, Google has digitized countless museums, galleries and landmarks for Arts & Culture, an encyclopaedic platform that anyone can access through a browser or mobile app. Today, the company is launching a new collection based on the Chauvet Cave in Ardèche, France, which contains some breathtaking prehistoric art. While the exact age of the paintings is unknown, radioactive dating has pinned the earliest to a period 36,000 years ago. The site was discovered in 1994 and, to prevent damage, closed off to the public that same year. Beyond a full-size replica, Google's new exhibit is the closest you'll ever get to standing inside the cave.

Chauvet: Meet the Ancestors contains 54 curated exhibits with over 350 digitized assets. These include 3D models of the iconic The Horses Fresco painting and a bear skull that was left behind by some of the cave's inhabitants. In addition, Google has created a 10-minute VR experience called Chauvet: The Dawn of Art for HTC Vive and Oculus Rift headsets. The free app has 12 explorable 'stations' that cover the surroundings of the cave and some of the site's most famous paintings. It's narrated by actors Daisy Ridley (English version) and Cécile de France (French version), and features expert commentary from some of the cave's scientific team.

If you don't have a VR headset, don't worry: Google is also releasing a non-interactive video version on YouTube. In addition, the Google Arts & Culture app will have an augmented reality 'Pocket Gallery' that lets you look around a life-size model of the site. Google Search 'Chauvet Cave,' meanwhile, and you will find an informative card that has a 'View in 3D' button. Click or tap it and Google will open a 3D model of the cave that can be spun around and zoomed into. Like the Pocket Gallery, you can also view this digitised version through your phone in augmented reality.


The cave render shown in the Pocket Gallery

It's not the first time that Google has used AR and VR to support its broader Arts & Culture work. Last September, for instance, the company used photogrammetry to create a virtual reality tour of the Château de Versailles in France. On the AR side, Google has made an app about the Big Bang and a special Pocket Gallery that included colour-themed art from 33 partner institutions. If you haven't checked out Google's Arts & Culture platform in a while, consider revisiting -- the website and native app are consistently updated with educational, interactive and reliably accurate material.

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