Lascaux Caves, France

Via Scoop.itMediaMentor

The Lascaux Caves (or Lascaux Grottoes) in southwest France contain some of the oldest and finest prehistoric art in the world. The cave paintings, which mainly depict animals, are some 17,000 years old and seem to have a ritual purpose. For preservation reasons, the public may only visit a well-executed replica called Lascaux II. History Radiocarbon dating of charcoal and other artifacts found in the cave complex has led most scholars to date the Lascaux paintings to c.15,000 BC, making them some of the oldest paintings in the world. The majority view is that the paintings were completed over a period of a few centuries at most, while others believe the work was carried out over a much longer period. Given the lack of written records, the purpose of the cave paintings cannot be known for certain. However, the high quality of the work and the amount of effort involved (scaffolding must have been used to reach the highest part of the walls, for instance) suggests it was a sacred place that may have been used for rituals. The cave complex was closed up shortly after its decoration and it remained blocked up until September 1940, when four local boys stumbled on it while looking for a dog. The site was first studied by the French archaeologist Henri Breuil (1877-1961), a renowned expert in prehistoric art. Having been hidden for 17,000 years, the Lascaux Caves were in perfect condition when they were discovered. Unfortunately, however, the caves were opened to an enthusiastic public in 1948 without any thought to preservation. The combined effects of artificial lighting and 100,000 visitors per year soon caused great damage to the site. Much valuable archaeological information was lost, the bright colors of the paintings faded, and destructive layers of algae, bacteria and opaque calcite crystals formed on the walls.

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