Lasko Cave is a temple of prehistoric art painting. The place for the paintings were not the ceilings of palaces and not the ceilings of churches, but the stone walls of the underground cave. It was a fluke, a chance in a million, that allowed these masterpieces of primitive and ancient art to be seen by contemporary people. It is difficult to overestimate the significance of this collection of Lascaux Cave rock art – it is about 18,000 years old.
History of origin and description of Lascaux Cave
If Altamira is the capital of cave painting, then Lascaux is its Versailles.
Antiquity expert Henri Breuil
The place of Perigord in the southern region of France became famous quite by accident. In September 1940, four boys from a neighboring village were walking their dog near the River Weser. The dog fell into a hole created by the fall of a tree struck by lightning. After pulling the dog out, the boys decided to take a better look at the fall and discovered the entrance to a cave. After entering it and seeing the cave paintings, the children realized they had stumbled upon something extraordinary. Their teacher, Leon Laval, was called in to help.
The teacher, appreciating the importance of the find, turned to a specialist in primitive history who had taken refuge from the Germans in the area. His name was Henri Breuil, and he was the first scientist to investigate the Lascaux Cave. Together with a group of other specialists, he spent several months exploring, describing and recording the finds. Breuil then left France, and during World War II, the study of the cave came to a halt. In 1949, Henri Breuil returned for further excavations.
In the process of studying the dungeon, many new drawings were discovered that had not been explored before. Scientists hoped to find burials of ancient people there, but the cave was only a place for creativity. The great luck for all mankind is that the Lascaux Cave belongs to the marble cave. In such caves, there is no moisture, no calcium deposits, no stalactites and stalagmites. The dry walls and vaults have allowed the paintings to remain unchanged for thousands of years.
The rock art has been preserved in remarkably good condition. When you look at it, it seems that it was drawn yesterday by the skillful hand of a modern artist. How then was the age of these drawings determined? If the drawings had been made by charcoal, then they would have been subjected to radioisotope analysis. But the images were painted on the rocks with manganese oxide, ochre and iron. The age was determined by using charcoal residue found in the lamps the artists used to illuminate their stone canvases.
This analysis showed that the images are about 15 thousand years old. Later an analysis was made of a wooden stick found in one of the corridors of the cave. It was dated back to 18.5 thousand years. In general, the scientists concluded that the cave was visited by ancient people in the late Paleolithic period. In addition to drawings, many ancient artifacts have been found in the cave. Various objects made of flint and bone, darts and incisors, shells with holes. Remains of dyes and lamps with grease were found.
So what is depicted on the walls of Lascaux Cave? Thousands of color and monochrome drawings made with natural pigments of orange, red and black hues. The artists depicted people, animals and certain symbols, regarded by scholars as ritual. The human figures are depicted very realistically – and these are the most ancient depictions of humans on the planet. People are drawn next to animals and separately. The paintings capture the imagination – they are drawn in motion.
Next to the bull, pierced by a spear, depicts a human figure lying on the ground. There are bison and mighty musk oxen grazing. Spotted prehistoric cats crouched on the ground, ready to hunt. A herd of black horses with fluttering manes rushes past a cow. Strikingly detailed drawings of rhinos, bears and deer cover the dungeon walls. There are also unusual images – unicorns or a man with a bird’s head. The meaning of geometric signs in the form of dots and stripes remains unclear.
It is assumed that these are ritual signs or an attempt to represent constellations. There is an interesting category of paintings made by engraving. A silhouette was scratched into the rock and the grooves were filled with dye, this is how the image of a reindeer with branching antlers was created. The rest of the drawings were made using a mixture of mineral substances and animal fat or water, a technique similar to watercolor painting. In all, more than 6 thousand images were left to us by the unknown ancient creators.
In 1948, Lascaux Cave was opened to tourists. For their convenience, stairs and viewing platforms were laid out, the entrance was equipped with lighting. Thousands of travelers flocked to the French backwater to see unique images created in the late Paleolithic. The little cave was visited by hundreds of people a day. And after 7 years of constant exploitation of the dungeon, the first consequences came. In 1955, scientists sounded the alarm.
The cave, which had been plugged up for centuries, had its own microclimate. A thin and transparent salt plaque preserved the images painted with natural dyes. An active tourist flow began to destroy this balance. Carbon dioxide, formed in excess from the breath of a large number of people, began to corrode the plaque that protected the frescoes. In 1957, an air purification system was installed in the cave in an attempt to remove excess moisture from the air.
As soon as this problem was solved, a new and more serious problem began. Algae colonies began to spread along the cave walls. The blue-green microorganisms thrive in high humidity and artificial light. The direct threat to the preservation of the prehistoric frescoes forced the Ministry of Culture to close the Lascaux Cave to tourists. Since 1963 the cave is closed to the public. But 15 years of tourist boom is still affecting it.
In 2001, mold fungi appeared at the entrance of the cave. Their appearance is associated with the replacement of the air purification system on a more modern. The white mold began to spread to the images. In 2002, a commission was created to find a solution to the problem. As a result, by 2006 the mold was almost defeated with antibiotics and fungicides. But periodically its spores are activated, the cave is regularly treated with various substances to kill the fungus.
How to get to Lascaux Cave
Lascaux Cave is located in France, in the Dordogne department, 40 km southeast of the town of Perigueux. The nearest village is the small town of Montignac. To get to the cave Lascaux, you must first arrive in the capital of France. There are regular direct flights to Paris by Air France and Aeroflot. There are also flights with a connection in the Hungarian capital, Budapest. From Paris airport Charles de Gaulle should go to the next point – the city of Limoges.
From Paris to Limoges is about 400 km. You can get there by train – from station Paris Austerlitz, travel time 3 hours. Alternatively, you can get by bus at the station Paris City Centre – Bercy Seine, travel time 4.5 hours. Another way is to fly from Orly airport to the airport near Limoges, travel time 1 hour. From the airport to Limoges you can take a cab. It is possible to rent a car from a rental agency. On it the route Paris – Limoges takes about 5 hours of travel.
From Limoges you need to get to the city of Perigueux, which is about 100 km. You can get by train in Limoges Benedictins station; travel time is 1 hour. By rented car it takes 50 minutes. Perigueux is the last point from which the distance to Montignac is about 50 km. There is a bus from Place du 8 Mai Parking station, travel time 1 hour. Or you can hire a cab and get there in just 30 minutes. From Montignac it is only 1 km to the end point of the trip, the Lascaux Cave. You can walk it in 20 minutes or take a cab.
When best to visit Lascaux Cave
The Lascaux Cave itself is closed to the public. But the French Ministry of Culture decided not to deprive humanity of the opportunity to admire the unique frescoes. For this purpose, in the 70s, was created ambitious project – a copy of Lascaux Cave. At 200 meters from the original, a grotto was dug, in which specialists recreated an exact analogue of the two corridors of the original. In the cave Lasko-2 maintains the same microclimate as in the main cave. Air temperature here does not exceed 13 ° C all year round.
You can buy tickets to Lascaux-2 in the town of Montignac. They are sold in the town hall and tourist office. The cave copy is open to tourists all year round. The climate in the province of Dordogne is moderate, there is no extreme heat or frost. The caves are surrounded by an oak forest, which is beautiful at any time of year. In the fall, in addition to the cave you can walk around the neighborhood, and in winter you can warm up with the famous French soup with chestnuts, which is served in the surrounding cafes.
What do tourists need to know when visiting the cave Lascaux
One version of the purpose of the cave is the assumption that it was a sanctuary, a temple of primitive people. Like any other place of worship to deities, the Lascaux Cave consists of halls designed for drawings with different meanings. Henri Breuil, who was behind the discovery of the cave, classified its halls and galleries and gave them names. The first hall after the entrance is called the Rotunda. Both walls of the cave are painted with paintings of galloping bulls and horses.
The paintings go up to the ceiling and give the impression of herds running from wall to wall. That is why this hall is also called the Hall of the Bulls, after which the cave branches off. In a straight line it passes into the Axial Passage. There is a life-size image of a large black bull in it. To the side of the Rotunda runs away from the Passage corridor, where the frescoes are badly damaged. The Passage leads to the branch Nave. In these halls the walls are covered with images of colored buffalo, black cows and deer.
From the Nave, the corridor passes into the Lion’s Cloak with the rarest drawings of prehistoric cats. There are very few such images on the planet – primitive people were afraid of predators and, presumably, did not draw them because of superstitions. To the right of the Passage is a corridor called The Well. Here are the famous engravings, scratched and contoured. There are more than 1,000 images here. The well is considered a sacred place because it contains the only human image in the cave.
What else to see in the surroundings of Lascaux Cave
In addition to the Lascaux Cave, there are several other places with fossil paintings in the vicinity. Perige is called the cradle of humanity because of the large number of primitive sites located in this region. In the valley of the Weser River, 30 minutes from Perigue, is the cave of Cro-Magnon. In 1868, the skeletons of five Cro-Magnons, flint implements and jewelry were discovered here. The walls of the cave are painted with primitive drawings depicting animals and humans.
Les Eisy-de-Tayac-Siruy is the name of a small commune in the Dordogne, located 50 km from Perigue. There are several caves with primitive sites. During excavations a lot of bone products, ancient fireplaces, stone tools of Paleolithic era were found. In the town there is a Prehistoric Museum with an exceptionally rich exposition, founded in 1918. It presents artifacts dating back some 500,000 years.
The Château de Commark is located near Les Eisy, on the road from Perigue. In the VII century it was a simple wooden tower erected on a rock at the request of the local abbot. The castle was subsequently taken over by the Beinac family whose members rebuilt the castle several times, constructing several towers of stone. A 600-meter paved road, surrounded by forest, leads uphill to the castle. It is now a monumental medieval structure open to the public.
The gardens of Érignac Manor are a beautiful garden in the Dordogne, not far from the Lascaux Caves. For half a century, the estate has been owned by the same family. But the estate is so called because “erynyak” means “place with flowing water” in the local dialect. The region is rather arid, so it’s not easy to maintain a magnificent garden with emerald lawns and shapely trees. Visitors to the garden can buy a ticket and walk around the huge manicured grounds from morning to evening.
The authentic Lascaux Cave is unlikely to ever be open to tourists. This ancient treasure of the planet is too fragile and exposed to the modern world. Having survived 18,000 years in isolation, it nearly perished in a matter of years when it was discovered. But mankind has done everything to preserve it for history and posterity. Cave Lascaux is a monument of French history since its discovery, and in 1979 it was included in the list of World Heritage Sites of UNESCO.
Lascaux Cave and Prehistoric Paintings
Ancient people knew a lot about painting. This is particularly well illustrated by the Grotte de Lascaux in France. The main feature of this place – thousands of rock paintings on the vaults of the cave, most of them done with amazing realism.
Ancient people were quite good at drawing.
Where is the Lascaux Cave
It lies 1 km south of the town of Montignac, not far from the River Vezère in southwestern France, in the Perigord region.
History of the discovery
The cave was found in September 1940 by four teenagers from the nearby settlement of Montignac. It would have remained hidden beneath the Earth’s surface if a pine tree had not fallen one day during a thunderstorm. It opened a small doorway for the inquisitive boys.
The boys, of course, dug into the cave and found a lot of ancient rock paintings. They told their teacher about it and since then, the place has been under the close attention of scientists.
One of the early photographs
The structure of the cave
Lascaux, located in a hill of limestone rocks, differs from most caves in the area in that it is quite dry. Massive marble layers prevent the ingress of moisture from the outside, so no calcite deposits form here.
In other words, you won’t find thousands of years of stalactites and stalagmites in this cave, like in the famous Cane Flute Cave in China.
Lascaux Cave is relatively modest in size and branched out.
Want to see a really big cave? Head to Shondong Cave in China. If you can’t get there right now, at least read about it.
The total length of the passages of the cave Lasko about 250 meters. The average height of the vaults is 30 meters. The volume of the entire cave is estimated at 1500 m 3
Paintings in Lascaux Cave
There are thousands of drawings, which are divided into 3 categories: animals, people and symbols. Most of the images are made in red, yellow and black from a complex variety of mineral pigments.
Of course, not all of the paintings are so well preserved.
Some are perfectly preserved, while others are damaged or completely destroyed. Now about 900 of them refer to animals (among them 364 horses and 90 deer).
The animals are shown not statically, but in motion. Herds of horses, mighty bulls and smooth, graceful representatives of the felines, bison and even rhinoceroses, all frozen in an elusive rush and ready to attack. However, there are no depictions of plants or natural landscapes in the cave. Some scholars have suggested that the drawings show an ancient star map with constellations. Others believe the cave was a sanctuary or a place of worship for ancient people.
An interesting fact: many prehistoric paintings have been preserved so well that it is difficult to believe their age. This phenomenon can be explained by the presence of a peculiar transparent crust of calcite salts on the vaults. It protects images like a varnish coating.
The Altamira Cave in Spain is no less interesting. There, the drawings have been preserved so well that at first they were thought to be faked.
Zones of Lascaux Cave
Scientists formally divide the cave into separate areas.
Hall of Bulls.
It is sometimes called the Rotunda. This section is 17 meters long, 6 meters wide and up to 7 meters high. Here are images of four huge black bulls. One of them is more than 5 meters in size. It is the largest rock art ever discovered by archaeologists. The bulls may have been drawn life-size.
Hall of Bulls
This hall has the most impressive collection of images in the world. In addition to the bulls, there are a dozen horses, several deer and a bear. And also an incomprehensible animal with a horn on its forehead. Of course, it came to be called a unicorn (maybe they did exist after all?).
It follows immediately after the Hall of Bulls. Its length is also about 17 meters, but the width and height are less. Horses, deer and bulls can also be seen here. In addition, there are some simple symbols.
This area lies to the right of the axial passage. Most of the drawings here are damaged by constant air movement.
The path straight through the axial passageway leads to Neph. It is already higher, and is 20 meters long. The cow, deer and bison can be highlighted here. Plus there are many incomprehensible signs. In particular an area divided into squares. Presumably this is a dwelling, clothing made of scraps, and possibly a prehistoric animal trap.
Just beyond Neph there is a part of the cave where there are no drawings. Then follows a section called the Cat’s Claw. It is very narrow. Its length is 20 meters. Most of the images in this section show the feline family.
This part is a round grotto. It is located at the point where the “Axial passage” and the “Nave” converge. There are about 1,000 images of animals and various signs. Only in the Apsis you can see the only drawing of a reindeer in the entire cave Lascaux.
Or as it is also called “The Well” lies just after the Apsis. To get into it, you have to go down to the bottom of the caves at a depth of about 5 meters.
It is here that there is one of the most mysterious drawings in all of Lascaux Cave. It shows a man standing (or lying, or maybe falling) between a rhinoceros and a bison. And the man has a bird’s head, the buffalo is pierced with a small spear, and the rhinoceros, apparently unable to endure this madness, rushes to leave the surreal drawing. There is a theory that this is an illustration of some myth.
Perhaps it is an illustration of an ancient legend.
A schematic layout of the sites is shown in the figure below.
Archaeological Research of Lascaux Cave
During the study, archaeologists hoped to find traces of burials that would shed light on the lives of ancient people, but found only new and new drawings, as well as primitive objects of the ancient world.
To date, more than 1,900 rock drawings have been documented (some reports put their number at about 6,000). Most of the drawings you will see a variety of animals. Recall that they are depicted in motion.
The time of appearance of these rock paintings is unknown. But scientists believe that it is about the 18th-15th century BC. At first, they were attributed to the Madlena culture, but later they were associated with the early Solutrean culture.
Archaeologists found the most ancient tools in the cave. More than 400 stone objects, 28 bone tools, objects similar to jewelry, and traces of dyeing substances used for painting.
The Rise and Fall of Tourism in the Lascaux Cave
In 1948 the cave was opened to the public. Its popularity grew steadily. Land works were carried out, which changed the level and characteristics of the soil. A staircase was built and lighting was installed.
The daily number of visitors was approaching 1500. Unfortunately, this began to have a detrimental effect on the properties of the cave itself and especially its drawings.
The discovery of Lascaux Cave changed its microclimate. Tourists breathed out about 50 liters of water vapor and 2,500 liters of carbon dioxide daily, which reacted chemically and began to destroy thousands of years of protective layers of calcite deposits.
Mold colonies began to appear on the walls. In particular, so-called “white”, “green” and “black” diseases stood out. These are different kinds of fungus and mold, of corresponding colors.
Since we have a site “Sights of the World” and not “Biology”, we will not describe the Latin names of mold, bending and other destructive organisms. We will only say that the impact of an abundance of visitors has been detrimental to the cave.
In 1957, a system was installed to maintain the microclimate in the cave. But it was not up to the task. The cave was slowly deteriorating, and the drawings were deteriorating. Given the extreme importance of the cave for research, the authorities decided to close it in 1963.
Only in 1965-67 it was possible to stabilize the optimum temperature and humidity inside the cave. It is worth noting that to this day mold periodically forms in different parts of the cave. Now twice a month a team of specialists in protective suits with surgical precision manually cleans the vaults from the fungus.
15 years of tourist raids upset the delicate balance, which has preserved the cave for many thousands of years, and the unique prehistoric paintings are under threat of extinction.
Imitation of an ancient cave – Lascaux 2
After the real Lascaux Cave was closed, scientists took a lot of pictures of the painted vaults of the cave. To give people the opportunity to touch the ancient art, it was decided to recreate part of the cave in life-size. For this purpose they built a building, where they reproduced the painting of the ancient cave. The copy became known as Lascaux 2. It includes the Hall of Bulls and Axial Passage, and lies 200 meters from the original cave. It was opened to the public in July 1983.
Copies of the Lascaux cave paintings can be found in the Parc du Tote near Montignac.