Ancient History (60,000 BC - 650 AD) |

Teens Discover Ancient Cave Art - 9/12/1940

On September 12th of 1940, thousands of ancient works of art were discovered on the walls of a cave now known as Lascaux Grotto. The cave was discovered when four teenagers had followed their dog down a narrow passageway. The artworks, mostly representing animals, are believed to be at least fifteen thousand years old, created during the Upper Paleolithic period.

The main cavern of the Lascaux Grotto is sixty-six feet wide and sixteen feet in height. It is part of a network of caverns located in southwestern France, near the village of Montignac. The walls are adorned with about 600 paintings and drawings, along with about 1,500 engravings where the rock is softer.

Detailed depictions of animals appear everywhere you look, including horses, bison, red deer, stags, cats, cows, mythical creatures, and even a man with a bird's head. Fossil evidence shows that many of the creatures drawn on the walls lived in that area in Paleolithic times. The bird-headed man is the only human figure among these works of art. The walls of the cavern also feature many abstract signs and geometric shapes. Out of more than 900 positively identified images, 364 of them are horses, and 90 of them are stags. One is a rhinoceros. Researchers have spent all these years trying to interpret the images on the walls of the Lascaux Grotto.

Archeologists believe the cave was used as a headquarters for hunting expeditions, and maybe even a temple for religious rites. On the other hand, maybe four ancient, long forgotten, teenage tattoo artists hung out there, smoked leaves, and graffitied the walls. Or maybe a little bit of both. Perhaps we'll never know. In any case, the images were expertly designed, magnificently preserved, and prolifically created, not to mention old!

The Lascaux Grotto was opened to the public in 1948. Scores of tourists flocked to France from all over the world to see it. The cavern had at least 1,200 visitors each day. Unfortunately, the Grotto was closed in 1963, because light had faded the vibrant colors, in the same way that merchandise is bleached lighter colors when it sits in store window displays.

In 1983, a replica of the Lascaux Grotto was opened nearby the original. This little tourist trap sees tens of thousands of visitors each year.

Unfortunately, the original cave continued to decay. Once the snowball is rolling, there's no stopping it. Despite herculean efforts at preservation, many of the paintings were visibly damaged, and some of them had even started to grow algae. Since 1998, the cave has been attacked by a fungus. In 2001, the authorities changed the air conditioning system, hoping it would help, but it only made things worse. White mold spread fast across the cave walls and ceiling. In 2008, black mold was discovered there. These days, not even scientists and preservationists are allowed to enter the cave.

The discovery of the Lascaux Grotto is considered to be one of the greatest finds of the 20th century. 

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Mark Hinderberg

Writer

Retired History Professor at Vanderbilt University. Love taking a portal through time and sharing my knowledge with anyone else who loves reading about history. It is my passion and my greatest hobby.