‘Lullaby’ by Chorus of Tribes
HE LASCAUX CAVES
were discovered purely by chance. On 12 September 1940 four boys were roaming through the woods above Montignac in the Vezere Valley, when suddenly their little dog disappeared in front of them. Terrified, they ran to the spot where he had been and discovered a small crevice in the ground — thus began the adventure related above.
Caves were the first type of permanent housing for human beings, when they were still active as hunters and gatherers at the dawn of history. Around 15,000 ВС, several groups seem to have settled near each other in the south-western region of Dordogne in France. In nearly zoo caves, prehistoric remains have been discovered. Due to the unusual atmospheric conditions present in these caves, an astonishing number of palaeolithic paintings have been preserved in excellent condition.
The discovery made by the four boys affected the history of art as nothing had ever done before. In the Lascaux Caves, which are about 100 metres long, more than 1,500 palaeolithic incised drawings and roughly 600 realistic paintings — of bison, stag, ox and other animals — were discovered. Nowhere else have so many prehistoric pictures been found preserved in one place. Researchers assume that for about 5,000 years people have inhabited these caves, painting the walls over and over again — ultimately leaving; behind a “prehistoric art museum”.
Some of these pictures are extremely large: the walls of the biggest cavern (The Great Hall) is decorated with some bulls measuring five metres in length. Unique in their vitality and remarkable in the skill with which they were executed, these pictures dramatically changed our view of art history. Until well into the nineteenth century, it was thought that art had developed gradually and in stages over time, similar to the way a child’s art develops — from awkward beginnings to more polished forms.
In fact, when the first cave paintings were discovered in 1879 at Altamira in northern Spain, they were regarded as fakes. Further discoveries, above all the paintings at Lascaux, removed all doubts: as early as 15,000 BC painting was already a “fine art”.