Authored by Thomas Dowson
Lascaux Caves are a complex system of caves in southwestern France famous for Paleolithic cave paintings. The original caves are located near the village of Montignac, in the department of Dordogne. They contain some of the best-known Upper Paleolithic art.
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 the time. In 1979, Lascaux was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list along with other prehistoric sites in the Vézère valley. Today access is highly restricted, and very few have the opportunity to visit the original caves.
Following a few unsuccessful attempts to visit the cave of Lascaux, I am at last getting my 40 minutes of Ice Age glory. After all, Lascaux is to art what La Scala is to opera, or Glastonbury to summer music festivals.
Our group of five is met at an ordinary looking gate on the edge of a hill-side car-park, just outside the town of Montignac in the south west of France. We are led in silence to what seems like a top security portal to some underground WW2 bunker. A couple is holding hands, they look at each other and exchange an excited giggle. Best prehistoric ice age caves.
Otherwise, the aura of reverence that surrounds our group is so obviously at odds with the decidedly unremarkable entrance we are looking at. I try to imagine the thousands of visitors that once flocked to this very spot since the cave was discovered in September 1940. The same people who came to marvel were the ones who inadvertently were responsible for the destruction of the prehistoric images. And so in 1963 access to the cave was restricted to only a handful of visitors each week, with only a short time inside the cave itself.
Today we are that handful, this is our week. Visit Lascaux Cave.
Our guide is explaining the procedure of our visit, how we will pass through three successive chambers before entering the cave itself. These will help our body acclimatise to the cave’s 13°C and our eyes adjust to the darkness.
More crucially, however, passing through the sealed chambers will prevent the air outside, teaming with destructive fungal spores, from following us in and contaminating the heavily controlled environment within the cave.
Actually moving from one chamber to the next turns out to be much less prosaic. Each soulless room is one less hurdle before we finally feast our eyes on the 17,000 year old paintings. The five metre-long bulls, the graceful stags, the rutting bison, the very same prehistoric images discovered in 1940 that changed the history of art. Get Inside Lascaux Caves.
Our prior familiarity with these images now reproduced all around the World does nothing to diminish the obvious impact they have on each of us today.
Looking … no … staring at the majestic images I think of a friend of mine, a tough Indiana Jones type of archaeologist, whose eyes welled up when he stood where I am standing now. His 40 minutes passed in a watery blur.
Sadly those weekly slots are no more. Unfortunately restricting access to the cave did not have the desperately desired effect. Continued preservation problems forced the closure of the cave in 2008 to all but a few conservationists. Indefinitely. Ice Age Caves in France Lascaux.
Visit the Ice Age Caves While You Can
While scientists debate whether or not there should be human access to the Ice Age caves in France and Spain, go and see as many as you can before they are all closed. There are still a number of Ice Age decorated caves that are still open to the public. Are Lascaux caves open to the public.
Caves such as Font de Gaume, the last Stone Age cave with shaded polychrome paintings still open to the public, may be very different to Lascaux, but they are every bit as spectacular. Ice age caves open to the public.
At very least, visit the nearby replica of Lascaux. Lascaux II opened to the public in 1983 after over a decade of work reproducing a small part of the original cave. The accuracy of the reconstructed cave and reproduced imagery is measured in millimetres. Best cave drawings in the world.
The experience? Well, that is just as powerful with its own sense of drama – from buying your ticket to being ushered through the reproduced cave. From October 2012 a series of partial reproductions have been used in an exhibition, now called Lascaux III, that is travelling the World in the lead up to the opening of a more complete replica, Lascaux IV – set to open in autumn 2016.
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