Current topics in archaeology, cultural heritage & historic preservation

Friday, March 16, 2012

Good News From Lascaux!

The latest issue of the International Newsletter on Rock Art (INORA 62-2012) arrived with the wonderful news that the creeping decay of the cave's stunning images is, for the most part, in remission!

This is great news after years of frustration in fighting the nasty micro-organisms that were attempting to literally "eat" the 19,000 year-old paintings.

All the images (click them to enlarge) in this post were taken by the French Ministry of Culture and Communication on June 1, 2011 and are used with permission (please do not copy or reproduce them). The photos and captions are as they were originally published in INORA.

Although access to the cave is severely limited I was privileged to enter the original Lascaux in July, 2001 and view the images displayed here. These recent examinations and photos are very reassuring in that they show little or no apparent change since I saw the paintings 11 years ago...of course 11 years is insignificant in the lifespan of these ancient paintings...but the paintings were under aggressive attack by fungi and bacteria at the time.

French scientists, with advice from the international scientific community, have been fighting the degradation of the images since the 1960s. The cave, discovered in 1940 and opened to the public in 1947, was closed to the public in 1963 (an excellent reproduction, Lascaux II, is available and has been visited by millions of people). Scientists installed new ventilation systems, applied fungicides, antibiotics and even lime as they fought the algae, fungi, bacteria and molds that plagued the cave.

It appears that what finally stabilized the cave is a policy of non-intervention that has been in effect since 2008. The author of the INORA article, Pedro Lima, calls this a "natural remission" and it is supported by the current Lascaux Scientific Council. There is still some controversy about this approach but the images are being watched closely and any resurgence of problems would be quickly noted.

Via the internet you can view an excellent virtual tour of the cave by clicking Lascaux.

We offer a guarded congratulations to the scientists and the French government on this success in stabilizing Lascaux. With luck and continued vigilance we hope these unique paintings will be safe for another 19,000 years.

Referenced Article:
Lascaux: Back to Balance
by Pedro Lima
INORA No.62-2012, Pages 1-7

Thanks to Dr. Jean Clottes, Lascaux Curator Muriel Mauriac, and Dr. Jean-Michel Geneste for information and permissions used to create this post.

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