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TheLascaux cave is famous for the masterpieces of Palaeolithic art, among the most important ever discovered, which adorn its walls and ceiling. It was discovered in the Dordogne near Montignac when four children and a dog entered it for the first time in September 1940. On the walls appear high quality cave paintings. The walls were admired by many people from the day after the war. Unfortunately, a deterioration of the frescoes was caused by the presence of tourists. The room was therefore permanently closed to the public in 1963. Today, it is possible to visit the exact replica of the cave.
Content and date of the Lascaux cave
The paintings in the Lascaux cave were made during the Upper Paleolithic, between 17,000 BC. AD and 16,000 BC. AD dates that are determined, among other things, by the species represented in these places. Indeed, there is only one Interpretation reindeer observed on the walls. This species has disappeared from our regions following global warming which occurred around 20,000 BC. AD The other species represented lived in a temperate climate. The Lascaux cave would therefore have been frequented after global warming. Subsequently, the date was specified by other techniques, in particular that of carbon 14.
The cave stretches for a hundred meters. From the main gallery, called the rotunda room or room of the Bulls, appear bison, horses and deer painted in carbon black and yellow or red ink. The colors used are based on mineral oxides obtained from crushed earth and mixed with animal fat. The paint appears to be finger applied or propelled through a hollow tube, which gives the color a hazy appearance.
Some paintings are up to 5 m long. "At the level of the passage, as well as in the nave, bulls, heifers, ibex and deer are drawn with less precision. Another peculiarity lies in the presence of a reclining man and wounded near a bison In addition to animals, many geometric signs whose meaning remains unknown are observed.
Painting technique and interpretation
The general interpretation of Lascaux's paintings is open to discussion. It is possible that they are part of a religious art and that these caves are a sanctuary buried deep in a cave that is difficult to access. Since everything, even the geometric signs, seem to relate to animals, it is believed that this religion would be linked to hunting because, in Lascaux, no element refers to the cult of the dead or that of fertility. This cave would then have been visited only during periods when hunting is an important issue. The animal was important to humans because it was essential to its survival. It may even be feared, which would be reflected in the immense size of some of them. What is ignored by adopting the religious hypothesis is whether the celebrations took place after the paintings were completed or whether the very act of painting was a ritual.
It could also be that these paintings are merely decorative art. In this case, only the formal interest counts and the paintings of Lascaux, of a high artistic level, respond perfectly to this concern. These representations are often overloaded and recall the aesthetics respected in other caves. The art of this period could therefore be dominated by formal conventions.
A site in danger
The original cave discovered in 1940 was closed in 1963, to save it, by the Minister of Culture André Malraux. The breathing of the million visitors who had already passed through the cave altered his paintings. To date, only researchers, curators and technicians are authorized to access it, at the rate of some 800 human hours per year. and its environment remains tightly controlled. In order for the public to continue to admire the cave, the only alternative was to create a replica. The cave has been meticulously reproduced, wherever possible, using the same pigments and methods of mixing and application that appear to have been employed by the original artists. Lascaux II, as this reconstruction is called, was opened in 1985, and offers nearly 80% of the original frescoes, a few hundred meters from the original site.
Since 2000, the international committee for the preservation of Lascaux points to "a series of serious problems which endanger the paintings" of this cave listed as a World Heritage Site by Unesco, the proliferation of fungi, causing the appearance white and black stains on the walls. Since then, a scientific council headed by paleoanthropologist Yves Coppens has been responsible for monitoring the health condition of Lascaux and for organizing research programs to try to understand what is happening in the cave, in terms of climatology and microbiology. This monitoring committee must launch work and study programs to curb and control the biological contamination of Lascaux.
According to one specialist, it is men's fascination with Lascaux that is the cause of all ills and all setbacks. "Tunnels, the installation of openings sometimes with a jackhammer, all the equipment intended to lead tourists inside the cave, very early on, from the 1950s, upset the climatic environment and therefore the biological balance. from Lascaux. The last imbalances occurred during redevelopment. The human presence, but also lighting, introduced harmful germs into the archaeological site. Changing the microclimate of the cave during all these years was enough to permanently unbalance the fragile ecosystem of the Lascaux cave.
Lascaux 3: traveling exhibition
Lascaux 3 is atraveling exhibition which opened in Bordeaux in 2012 before traveling and crossing different continents. The aim of this traveling exhibition is to show the “Sistine Chapel” of Prehistory to all those who cannot move in the Dordogne and who wish to see the riches of this cave.
The 800m² exhibition space is a silent, dark immersion in a nave that has never been reproduced. The walls are reproduced life-size, down to the millimeter, on resin shells covered with stones. We find ourselves in front of the works as if we were these artists of the past lit by torches or oil lamps. All thanks to the vibrant lights that reproduce these conditions.
The exhibition also presents the only "man" of Lascaux: the simplified silhouette of a hunter facing a bison which, difficult to access at the bottom of the "Well" of the cave, was seen by very few men. Also reproduced are the so-called “Footprint” panel and the ibex frieze, the Black Cow panel, the back-to-back bison panel and the Frieze of the Stags swimming in the Nave. In addition to the reproduction of frescoes, the The exhibition offers a great deal of interactivity with sensory experiences, a view of the evolving frescoes, their details, and all the iconography of Lascaux, also black and white photos from 1940, models and 3D images of today.
Lascaux 4: International Center for Cave Art
On December 15, 2016, theInternational Center of Pariet Artl opens its doors to the public after three years of work and several months of waiting. Not only thisnew Lascaux 100% reproduces the original cave, thanks to the know-how and techniques of the Atelier des Fac-Similés du Périgord, but the Centre's project does not stop there ... Lascaux 4 reproduces the cave in its entirety, located away from the original site, which we want to protect from the flow of visitors to Lascaux 2, their cars, their pollution ...
Very modern, the use of new image and virtual technologies in the service of mediation are also at the center of this exceptional visit, from the 3D projection room to the so-called theaters, including the auditorium. interpretation designed to better understand the works of the cave but also to understand all the historical and cultural issues.
The tour is divided into six sequences:
(1) The Belvedere and the Shelter
(2) The Grotto
(3) L'Atelier de Lascaux
(4) The Cave Art Theater
(5) 3D Cinema
(6) The Galerie de l'Imaginaire and the Temporary Exhibition.
The International Center for Cave Art is the benchmark tourist and cultural facility for the enhancement of cave art from painted and engraved representations located in the Lascaux cave. The Dordogne thus confirms its positioning as a benchmark tourist destination in terms of prehistory. La Semitour Périgord, operator of the Center, includes this project in its prehistoric offer including the facsimile of Lascaux 2, Thot Espace Cro-Magnon and Laugerie Basse.
It is always possible to visit Lascaux II by reservation. More intimate and less "techno", this course will allow you to immerse yourself in a more realistic way in the atmosphere of the discovery of the cave.
- Lascaux, stories of a discovery, by Christian Jégou and Marylène Patou-Mathis. West-France, 2019.
- Lascaux, The Discovery of the Grotto, by Emily Arnold Mccully. Archimedes, 2011.
- Tout Lascaux, by Pedro Lima and Yves Coppens. Synops, 2017.