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Lascaux Landscapes

On September 12, 1940, close to the town of Lascaux, four teenaged boys enlarged the entrance to an old river cliff cave so they could explore. They found it to be so large and complex … they got their teacher involved and… anthropologist Henri Breuil … and the rest of France’s anthropology A-List. The cave was filled with prehistoric paintings as well as relics of various tools and implements of bone and stone.

The Vézère River is over 200 km (125 mi) long and cuts through a part of southwest France in a meander or wondering, curving route. Over the millennia, the water movement, freezing, thawing, and erosion has produced over 400 caves in the soluble bedrock along the Vézère valley. Lascaux is the largest of these.

Lascaux cave is larger than other European caves and its drawings, paintings, and engravings – over 2000 in total – were better preserved than in other caves. Lascaux seems to have seven sections in its rockshelter, all likely accessed from different entrances that have now disappeared in sedimentary fill, bedrock collapses, and landslides of broken rock fragments. Its Paleolithic paintings date from about 35,000 to 10,000 years ago. The vast collection of prehistoric artwork includes animals and geometric symbols.

The animals are arranged in seasonal sequences in each section of the Lascaux complex. Horses and cattle indicate domestication. Deer, stags, a black bear, ibexes, lions, a rhinoceros, and aurochs are graphic evidence of hunting, migration, and extinctions. These artists of antiquity have done more than depict animals. They have tried to compose their sectional work to capture colour, realism, and motion in grand scale in meter upon meter of vivid, vibrant life.

The Vézère valley holds over 140 prehistoric sites including 25 caves decorated with drawings and paintings. These are designated collectively a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Some of these caves held habitations of prehistoric people; others, their seasonal “recordings” of animals. The Lascaux Cave is now closed to the public. Decades of modern sightseers and site workers have inadvertently changed the humidity and composition of the cave’s air and have also introduced microorganisms that are spreading across the walls… that now endanger this priceless record of its former Paleolithic environment.

The French government’s Ministère de la Culture provides a THOROUGH AND VERY FINE VIRTUAL TOUR HERE. This virtual exploration of the Lascaux caves’ gallery system offers unique opportunities to “explore” specific figures close up. Explore!

B Bondar / Real World Content Advantage