Lascaux is the setting of a complex of caves in south-western France famous for its Palaeolithic cave paintings. These paintings are estimated to be 17,300 years old.
They primarily consist of images of large animals, most of which are known from fossil evidence to have lived in the area at returned to the scene with three friends, Jacques Marsal, Georges Agnel, and Simon Coencas, and entered the cave by means of a long shaft.
The teenagers discovered that the cave walls were covered with depictions of animals. The cave was closed to the public in 1963 to preserve the art. After the cave was closed, the paintings were restored to their original state and were monitored daily.
In January 2008, authorities closed the cave for three months even to scientists and preservationists. A single individual was allowed to enter the cave for 20 minutes once a week to monitor climatic conditions.
In the late 1950s the appearance of lichens and crystals on the walls led to closure of the caves in 1963. This led to restriction of access to the real caves to a few visitors every week, and the creation of a replica cave for visitors to Lascaux.
In 2001, the authorities in charge of Lascaux changed the air conditioning system which resulted in regulation of the temperature and humidity. Estimated to be up to 20,000 years old, the paintings consist primarily of large animals, once native to the region.
Lascaux is located in the Vézère Valley where many other decorated caves have been found since the beginning of the 20th century (for example Les Combarelles and Font-de-Gaume in 1901, Bernifal in 1902).
Lascaux is a complex cave with several areas (Hall of the Bulls, Passage gallery). It was discovered on 12 September 1940 and given statutory historic monument protection in December of the same year.
There are no images of reindeer, even though that was the principal source of food for the artists. A painting referred to as ‘The Crossed Bison’, found in the chamber called the Nave, is often held as an example of the skill of the Palaeolithic cave painters. The crossed hind legs show the ability to use perspective.
Since the year 2000, Lascaux 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 2006, the situation became even graver – the cave saw the growth of black mould. The pigments used to paint Lascaux and other caves were derived from readily available minerals and include red, yellow, black, brown, and violet. No brushes have been found, so in all probability the broad black outlines were applied using mats of moss or hair, or even with chunks of raw colour.
Almost every square inch of its limestone walls and ceiling are covered with overlapping petroglyphs in the form of engraved drawings. In all, there are more than one thousand figures: some 500 animals (mostly deer) and 600 geometric signs or other abstract markings.
The Apse accounts for more than half of the decorative art in the entire cave. Curiously, the greatest density of images occurs in the deepest part of the chamber where the Apse meets the Shaft.