Seventy-eight years ago today, on September 12th, 1940, only just fifteen miles away from the town Montignac, in southwest France, four French teenagers made a discovery of a lifetime, a cave decorated with prehistoric paintings of imposing animal figures.
This story first began four days earlier on the 8th September, when Marcel Ravidat, a seventeen year old apprentice mechanic, his trusty dog and a few friends set out in search of the Lascaux cave, for the fabled treasure they had heard about growing up. It was sometime during that day that they first stumbled across a hole hidden in undergrowth that was the entrance to the cave. Though with the days light fading by the evening, these amateur ‘Indiana Jones’ had to wait for another day to explore the cave.
Four days later, Marcel Ravidat returned with three friends, Jacques Marsal, Georges Agnel, and Simon Coencas, and entered the cave via a long flint-scattered shaft. As the boys pushed through the cave they reached a narrow passage. It is said that when Ravidat raised his crude home-made lamp above his head, they were all staggered to see a wonderful array of painted horses and bulls covering the whole roof cave.
For the next two days, the boys explore the cave before they agreed to share their find with their former school teacher, Leon Laval. It was Laval, who subsequently sent sketches of some of the amazing animals that adorned the cave walls, to scholar Henri Breuil, who immediately recognized the Lascaux cave art as an extraordinary discovery.
Breuil would go onto study the cave paintings for three months in late 1940. During that time the world would come to hear about the discovery of the Lascaux paintings. Years later after the Second World War, Lascaux would be opened to the public for viewing, but by I963, the cave would unfortunately close as an attraction because excessive heat and light had damaged the 15,000 to 17,000 year-old paintings. Today, there is a stunning replica of the cave’s paintings built only a short distance away.
Photo credit: The image of cave paintings of aurochs, horses and deer at Lascaux is used under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 license.
Great article Robert…those cave paintings are so fascinating and mysterious!