The caves at Lascaux

As of 2009 there are 890 designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including one approved in 1979 called Prehistoric Sites and Decorated Caves of the Vezere Valley in the Department of the Dordogne, Region of Aquitaine. The designation applies chiefly to the caves at Lascaux, which were discovered in 1940 by four teenagers (and a dog named Robot), and opened to the public just after WWII.

The Lascaux complex of caves offers a great contribution to the history of prehistoric art.  The paintings are more than 16,000 years old, and they are exceptional in their detail, colour and perspective, consisting of many groups of figures, almost all of them animals.  Possibly the largest cave painting ever discovered is a 17-foot long bull, one of a group of four in the Great Cave of Bulls.

It is interesting that among the 2,000 or so figures painted and etched on the walls of these caves, no landscape or vegetation can be found.  Most of the figures depict horses, with one bird, one bear, one rhinoceros etc. and only one human figure.  There is also no sign of reindeer, the creature assumed to be the chief source of food for these prehistoric humans.

At present, the Lascaux cave paintings are at risk from a fungus.  The origin is uncertain but experts claim several likely culprits.  Workers installing a new air-conditioning system may have introduced the spores, and the forced air may be a contributing factor in itself.  In addition, the huge number of visiting humans, and their transport parked on top of some portions of the caves has altered the air quality inside the caves.