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LASCAUX CAVES – FRANCE

The best GPS for taxi drivers  is a very useful contraption to reach the caves of Lascaux, located close to the French village of Montignac on the Vézère River on the southwestern area of the country, in the department of Dordogne, in the region of Aquitaine.

Lascaux is a complex of caves that became famous due to the some of the most known Upper Paleolithic caves art and paintings that are assumed by the scholars to be 17,300 years old and that primarily consists of paintings of large animals; the fossil archaeological finds in the area is considered by the experts a proof that those animals lived at that place at period.

The caves together with other pre-historic sites in the Vézère valley were classified by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

The entrance of the caves and the paintings on the walls were discovered by chance by four young boys in 1940; the complex was opened to the public in 1948, but due to the damages  caused by the carbon dioxide produced by the large amount of visitors it has been necessary to close them for some periods of time to restore the paintings; since 1988 the caves were stricken by fungus, due to the air conditioning and lighting systems, and at this moment the access to the caves is restricted and subject to a prior authorization.

The scientists identified about 2,000 figures that are grouped into three main categories – animals, human figures and abstract signs.

The experts were able to identify that over 900 paintings represent animals, from which 605 could be identified with accuracy; other images represent equines (364 paintings), deer (90 paintings), bison, a bird, a bear, a rhinoceros, and a human. Some geometric images were also represented on the paintings.

There are no paintings showing the vegetation of that period neither of the surrounding landscape.

Although among the scientific community exists a large controversy about the meaning of the paintings, the actual theory, supported by some anthropologists and art historians, for the meaning of the paintings is that they intend to represent a kind of mystical ritual that would improve the venture of future hunting actions; this theory is reinforced by the fact that in some areas of the cave there is a superposition of images of groups of animals, giving the idea that some areas of the cave would be more powerful for hunting success.

The experts concluded that most of the images were painted using mineral pigments, although some images were engraved onto the stone; anyway it must be taken into account that many paintings are very faded away or even totally destroyed.

“The Great hall of the Bulls”, where are represented bulls, equines and deer is the most famous section of the Lascaux cave. There are figured 36 animals and four black bulls, or maybe aurochs dominate the painting; one of bulls, with 5.2 meters long is the largest animal discovered n the cave until this moment.

In the chamber called the Nave there is a painting usually referred as “The Crossed Bison” is often presented by the experts as one of the best examples of the ability of the Paleolithic painters.

Other important areas of the cave are the Abside (Apse), the Wheel and the Axial and the Feline Diverticula.

For regular visitors the authorities opened in 1983 a replica of two of the cave halls, known as “Lascaux II” 200m far from the original cave; this replica shows copies of the paintings of “The Great Hall of Bulls” and the “Painted Gallery”. At the “Centre of Prehistoric Art” at Le Thot, a few kilometers away from Montignac is possible to see reproductions of other works of the cave.

 

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