12 September 2010


On 12 September 1940 teenagers, Marcel Ravidat, Jacques Marsal, Georges Agnel, and Simon Coencas, (and Marcel's dog Robot) discovered the Lascaux cave.

Located near the village of Montignac in the Dordogne the cave contains some of the best now images of Paleolithic art. It was declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO in1979

The cave contains nearly 2,000 figures, which can be grouped into three main categories — animals, human figures and abstract signs. Most of the major images have been painted onto the walls using mineral pigments, although some designs have also been incised into the stone. Many images are too faint to discern, while others have deteriorated.

Over 900 can be identified as animals, and 605 of these have been precisely identified. There are also many geometric figures. Of the animals horses predominate, with 364 images. There are 90 paintings of stags. Also represented are cattle and bison, each representing 4-5% of the images. A smattering of other images include seven felines, a bird, a bear, a rhinoceros, and a human. Among the most famous images are four huge, black bulls or aurochs in the Hall of the Bulls. There are no images of reindeer, even though that was the principal source of food for the artists

The most famous section of the cave is The Great Hall of the Bulls where bulls, equines and stags are depicted. But it is the four black bulls that are the dominant figures among the 36 animals represented here. One of the bulls is 17 feet (5.2 m) long — the largest animal discovered so far in cave art. Additionally, the bulls appear to be in motion.

A painting referred to as "The Crossed Bison" and found in the chamber called the Nave is often held as an example of the skill of the Paleolithic cave painters. The crossed hind legs show the ability to use perspective in a manner that wasn't seen again until the 15th century.

Since 1998 the cave has been beset with a fungus, variously blamed on a new air conditioning system that was installed in the caves, the use of high-powered lights, and the presence of too many visitors. As of 2008, the cave contained black mould which scientists were and still are trying to keep away from the paintings. Efforts to remove the mould have taken a toll, leaving dark patches and damaging the pigments on the walls.

I have never been to Lascaux but I have visited a cave in the Pyrenees which has impressive examples of prehistoric art (although we were only allowed to see reproductions, the originals being far to delicate to stand up to the damage that visitors would do),

Even if we may never have the chance to see them they are truly a vital part of our communal heritage.


CherryPie said...

I hope they manage to rescue them because it would be a tragedy if they got completely spoilt.

JD said...

they are indeed a vital part of our heritage and that is why they are trying to preserve them.
Other caves include zigzag markings and other geometric patterns which reminded me of migraines. Hildegard of Bingem was a famous migraine sufferer. I wonder does that mean that a migraine is a sign of spirituality or artistic temperament?

jams o donnell said...

It would be a huge loss Cherie

I aggre utterly JD. As for the migraines I couldn't say!

Sean Jeating said...

I do consider what has been found in Lascaux - as long as it's not been the PR gag of a yet unknown Pynchon-esques painter of the early 20th century - higher than the pyramids.
... Or would slaves paint pictures?

jams o donnell said...

The paintings are definitely a vital part of our communal heritage. The pyramids, Stonehenge and Avebury and many other sites and artefacts too.

We would be a lot poorer without them