A cave painting at Chauvet // . (Getty, AFP)

Larger image

A cave painting at Chauvet

Dating from? 30,000BC
Found where? France

After removing rubble blocking the entrance, three cavers discovered a 400-metre-long, multichambered gallery of wall paintings in a cave in France's Ardèche valley in 1994. They were amazed to find, after sending tiny charcoal samples to a French lab, that some of the well-preserved animal paintings were twice as old as the famed Altamira (in Spain) and Lascaux (France) cave galleries.

Some scientists and art experts dispute the accuracy of the carbon dating, arguing that such sophisticated artistic techniques, including edge-etching to create a 3D effect, wouldn't have been known then. But even so, most sceptics begrudgingly concede the paintings at Chauvet-Pont-d'Arc cave are the world's oldest known.

cave is now state-owned and anyone permitted entry is required to wear a protective suit to avoid a repeat of Altamira and Lascaux, where the paintings are fast eroding due to recent human disturbance. According to the cave's website, work is under way to give the public more access.

In pictures: world's greatest feats of engineering
In pictures: amazing lost cities
30 natural marvels you probably don't know about
The world's 50 most beautiful things
For quirky travel stories galore, follow MSN Travel on twitter