The Lascaux caves are located in the Dordogne region of south west of France near the small town of Montignac which is in the Vezere valley. The cave entrance is 180 metres above sea level and 110 metres above the valley floor.
The caves were formed when cracks in the rock created shelters and crevaces. Then after freezing and drying out the caves became larger, eventually forming a long horizontal cave that humans could use. The total length of the Lascaux Cave is 235 metres. The main sections of the cave are: the Hall of the Bulls, the Axial Gallery, the Passage way, the Nave, the Chamber of the Felines, the Shaft and the Apse.
Ancient homonids inhabited the Lascaux caves because they were a save haven from predators and also a place to keep warm. From the date of the paintings and other remains found at the cave site, prehistorians believe that the Neanderthal inhabitants of this part of Europe used the caves around 17000 years ago during the last ice age.The archaeologists who have studied the caves found artists tools, knives and scraps of food. They also found flints , arrow heads, fish hooks and needles. Many of these items are made from reindeer bone from the reindeer that they hunted. For more on homonids see humans.
Paintings and carvings
How the paintings were made.
The artists used scaffolding to reach high up in the cave. They used stone lamps with wicks made of lichen and animal fat for fuel so that they could see.
The pigments used to make the pictures include yellow, red and black. These colours were made from minerals such as powdered hematite, calcium phosphate and manganese dioxide. The artists brought some of these from over 50 km away. The powders were mixed with reindeer fat to make it easy to use.
The paintings in the Lascaux cave are important because they tell us about how the Neanderthal people lived and hunted. The paintings also suggest something about their beliefs. The paintings are of bison, deer, cows, ibex, bulls and horses. Scientists who studied the art think that the paintings of the bulls are actually of Aurochs which have been extinct for more than 350 years. Because the paintings include hunting scenes these may have been painted to ensure a successful hunt. Many of the paintings also include arrows and spears.
Apart from the paintings there are more than 1500 carvings carved into the rock wall in the Passage of the Nave and the Apse. The carvings are of deer , cows and horses.
Rediscovering the cave
In 1940 a dog fell in a hole and the four boys who owned the dog went in after it and saw that it connected to more chambers and came back later with their teacher, rope and lanterns to explore the cave. Once the caves had been rediscovered they were open to the public and around 100000 people came to see the art every year.
The Lascaux Caves were originally open to public and soon had issues. Green algae and white lime stone deposits started to appear on the stone walls. This was caused by millions of visitors breathing out carbon dioxide. So they made a replica cave using the same materials the cavemen would have used. This second cave was called Lascaux II and was opened in 1983. The replica was built on a hillside 198m away from the actual cave. Inside there are copies of the paintings and carvings from the origional cave.
The layout of the Lascaux Caves
a cave painting of a horse in Lascaux Cave
The location of the Lascaux Caves in France