The Cave of Lascaux

There once was a cave. It had people in it. Those people wanted to tell stories, stories that would last. So they did. They filled the cave walls with images - pictures of bulls and aurochs, horses and hemiones, stags and ibexes, deer and bison, bears, birds, and felines. Apart from these large herds of animals, there are also certain regular dots and boxes with nine squares that puzzle onlookers. In a few scenes there are people.

The pictures are engraved or painted using natural pigments, mainly black and red. They fill the walls and the ceilings of the many rooms of the cave. Many of the animals are in motion - some are fighting, others appear to be swimming across a river. One large black cow seems to be falling. The simple lines depict round and plump, yet graceful figures.

The cave consists of one great chamber, a corridor, and three narrowing shafts. Different places seem to have different themes, with a greater amount of bulls in the first great hall, and more felines in one of the more distant shafts. There are more paintings in the more spacious rooms where making them would have been easier. In some of the most popular places, several layers of depictions are even covered by one another, indicating that the decoration of the cave was an ongoing process. We obviously don't know exactly why these people made their drawings, but they probably had a religious significance.

Lascaux, located in the Périgord region of France, is not the only place with a prehistoric cave to boast of. This portion of the Massif Central consists of porous limestone, just the thing for homeless troglodytes. However, none of the palaeolithic dwellings have exhibited as rich and well preserved decorations as the cave at Lascaux.

Like a lot of the caves, Lascaux was gradually blocked by eroded earth and lay forgotten for a long time before being rediscovered. This is how it happened - and if it's not true to the smallest detail, remember we're still telling stories here.

September, 1940. Four young boys were running through the forest, looking for adventure. One of them had brought his dog, a terrier called Robot. Suddenly the dog disappeared into a hole in the ground. It could not or would not come out, no matter how much they called for it.

What to do? The boys went back home and fetched shovels. They wanted to rescue the dog, and besides, there was the feeling of something bigger than a rat hole about the opening they had seen. They might find anything in there - stalactites, underwater lakes, hidden gold...

They found a treasure. In the light from their torches they saw animals, perfectly preserved through the millennia. The boys explored the whole cave, then, excitedly, went home and spread the news to the rest of the village.

Because of the war, the find was not publicised at once. Soon after the war ended, however, the cave was opened for tourists, who arrived in thousands. The newfound fame was not beneficial for the images of the cave. The lamps they brought in caused the images to fade, the carbon dioxide and water from the visitors' breaths corroded the walls, and green algae carried on their shoes started growing in the cave.

To prevent further destruction the cave was closed for visitors in 1963. The prehistoric cave art was saved. The inside climate of the cave is still monitored daily to make sure further damage may be prevented. In order to keep the tourists happy (and present), a model cave was built to substitute the real thing. Lascaux II, an exact replica of the original, was opened to visitors in 1983.