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La Grotte De Lascaux

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La Grotte de Lascaux, translated into the Caves of Lascaux, is a cave network in the south of France, which contains some of the most impressive Paleolithic cave paintings in the world. Even though the paintings were created 15,000 years ago they are sometimes referred to as "the prehistoric Sistine Chapel".

The discovery of La Grotte de Lascaux is not very well documented. Lascaux is located on the west side of the river VÐ"©zÐ"Ёre in the south of France. This area is well known for having about 30 prehistoric sites. Though the dates are unclear it is safe to say that in early September of 1940 four teenage boys accidently discovered the caves. Some say that the hole was actually found by the boys' dog that got stuck, while others say the hole opened up when a tree fell on their property. What is for certain is the teenagers, Marcel Ravidat, Jacques Marsal, Georges Agnel and Simon Coencas had stumbled upon a very important discovery. They returned to visit the caves and soon after the news spread like wild fire.

At first the boys would have went down a very steep 20 meter slope. These walls, now known as Great Hall of the Bulls, are the most impressive. Both sides of the caves are covered in depictions of bulls, horses, and stags. The color black is dominant with only a few marking in red. Continuing through the cave brings you to The Painted Gallery which is about 30 meters long. This area is significant for its paintings on the ceiling and is even more vibrant in color. If instead of heading straight to The Painted Gallery and went right at the end of the Great Hall of the Bulls you would be entering the Lateral Passage. Straight ahead is the Main Gallery, made of five separate panels, and the Chamber of Felines which opens up the sometimes very narrow Main Gallery and is known for its depiction of six different Felines. However an extremity of the Lateral Passage is known as the Chamber of Engravings which stands out for its sheer number of engravings and paintings that overlap one another. A further extension is The Shaft of the Dead Man. After descending a few meters lies the idea of narration. The Shaft of the Dead Man has a comic strip like appearance in that it reads from left to right and tells a story.

Overall from room to room the paintings are very similar. They follow three themes that have been apparent in prehistoric caves throughout the world including Animals, Human Representations, and Signs. The dominant art on the cave walls is of animals; often times they are also the largest. Only a small number of the fauna known to prehistoric man are drawn; horses literally make up a quarter of the total drawings. Bison are also common, followed by Ibex, aurochs (extinct ancestor of the ox), stags, and mammoths. Even more rare include pictures of fish and bird species. Lascaux has bears and felines engraved and painted in the furthest reaches of the caves. Researchers have not yet come up with an explanation for this key fact.

True to normality Lascaux has only one painting of a human figure. It is very rare to have a prehistoric site with paintings of man, and even rarer is to have a cave with multiple representations. The one anthropomorphic representation at Lascaux is in the Shaft of the Dead Man. The figure is characteristic but has a strangely shaped bird head. It portrays the confrontation between man and a bison. The background and secondary elements are almost as interesting; they include a hook sign (may represent a spear thrower), an assegai or slender spear with a pointed tip, and bison entrails. Also noted is a stick topped with the profile of a bird, strangely similar to the human figure.

Lastly, all rooms have random "signs". Of which we divide up into two categories: simple shapes and more elaborate ones. Simple shapes include dots and linear striations which may have no particular meaning. The more elaborate shapes include triangles, circles, and sided figures. The shapes help to date the cave paintings by comparing them to similar ones, like the ones found in Gabillou.

Determining when the paintings were first created is very difficult task. Part of this reasoning is the position of the pictures and the geography of the cave. Ceiling paintings and steep slopes with narrow corridors make the carrying and setting up of very sensitive equipment impossible. Instead researchers use pigment fragments that have fallen to the floor. Using radiometry the samples can be analyzed. Recently this method has been used on paintings directly on the wall. Sadly this process can only be utilized to paintings of charcoal. The presence of metal oxides, iron, or manganese, renders this method impracticable.

More important knowledge of when these paintings were down is how were they done? When excavations were first carried out it was apparent that these caves did not serve as homes; if at all their time spent there was only temporary. This segregation of living space meant that the artifacts found and analyzed by researchers were very specific including but not limited to flint, wood, bone, and other workmanship materials. 158 coloring units were found, some of which were in powder form while others where small bits with signs of scraping. The colors are mineral based however organic pigments may have been used and simply eroded away. Most of the other tools have deteriorated besides the flint, mainly used to engrave. Engraving only took place in the Lateral Passage, the Chamber of Engravings, the Main Gallery, and the Chamber of Felines, due to the walls softness and fine grains. This was impossible



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