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about the cave

The only painting of a human form depicts a bird-headed man, possibly a shaman, falling away from a bull he appears to have wounded with a spear. You can see a picture of this figure at the official Lascaux web site of the Ministry of Culture of the French government (see BACK page). Other well-known groups of figures in the cave include the Swimming Deer, a herd of horned deer shown in profile.

The scale of the paintings suggests that the artists must have used ladders and scaffolding, and archaeologists have discovered sockets for scaffolding beams in the walls of the cave. they also have found charcoal, lamps, spear points, pigments, and engraving tools on the floor.

Analysis of the charcoal and other organic materials suggests that the cave was in use from about 15,000 BCE to as late as 9000 BCE. Most of the artwork seems to date from the earliest part of this period. Archaeologists believe that although Stone Age people visited the cave for rituals; they did not live there.

There are many theories that attempt to explain the purpose and symbolic meaning of the art, but none that are agreed upon by scholars, who are still investigating the figures.

The paintings have deteriorated since the cave was opened to the public in 1948 because the hundreds of thousands of visitors disturbed the delicate balance of its environment. Prior to its opening, the stable moisture and temperature in the cave were ideal for preservation of the pigments over the many thousands of years since it was abandoned. Once opened to visitors, however, colors began to fade and green fungus grew over the pigments. So bad was the deterioration, the cave was closed in 1963 and a replica of the cave, known as Lascaux II, was constructed using the pigments and methods believed to have been used by the original artists. Today, visitors tour this replica.

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