Lascaux is the name of a region in France, most famous for its cave paintings. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and has been since 1979. The cave paintings are, without a doubt, the most famous in the world, and a visit to Lascaux is a must for anyone interested in Paleolithic art.
The paintings at Lascaux date back to the Upper Paleolithic period, and are all around 16,000 years old. They are some of the oldest remaining examples of art, and have captivated people since their discovery. Their images have become some of the most iconic artistic images in the world, and are easily spotted on everything from logos to pop art reproductions.
The Lascaux caves were first discovered 1940, by a group of French teenagers and their dog. Word quickly spread, and the Lascaux paintings made a huge splash in the academic world. Following World War II the site was opened to the general public, and it quickly became one of the most popular archeological attractions in the world.
Within only a few years, the art as Lascaux began to show signs of wear from the carbon dioxide produced by the constant stream of tourists. Lascaux was closed to the public, and the paintings were meticulously restored. The paintings as Lascaux are now under constant surveillance to make sure they don’t degrade any further, and in 2008 the cave was closed to everyone, including scientists, to further protect the images.
Many visitors are disappointed to learn that Lascaux is closed to the public, and in fact it has been since the 1960s. Recently, however, a perfect reproduction of two of the most important chambers of the cave has been created immediately adjacent to the actual Lascaux cave. This replica can be visited most of the year, and guided tours are available that last for just around an hour. The replica cave was created using what scientists believe were the original methods and materials, relying exclusively on natural pigments, such as charcoal, iron oxide, and ochre.
The two chambers reproduced as Lascaux are the two most famous: the Painted Gallery and the Great Hall of the Bulls. The Great Hall of the Bulls contains more than 35 different animals, of which four of them are large black bulls. One of these bulls is drawn 17 feet (5m) long, making it the largest animal found in a cave painting.
All told, there are more than 2000 distinct images represented at Lascaux. More than 900 of these are animals, and just over 600 of those have been precisely identified. Some non-figurative images at Lascaux seem to just be random dots, which some have speculated are representation of the stars in the night sky. Another intriguing figure is The Crossed Bison, an animal figure that makes striking use of perspective. The visual effect is one not reproduced widely again until sometime in the 15th century.
Although Lascaux may prove something of a disappointment for many, simply because the site isn’t fully open, the replica is a wonderful stand-in, and the information available at the site is fascinating. The area surrounding Lascaux is also rich in other Paleolithic sites, many of them caves that are less protected and sensitive than Lascaux, and so offer more opportunities for exploration.