Of all the world’s iconic archaeological sites, I consider myself extremely privileged to have been inside the cave of Lascaux, the original and the facsimile. Sadly, given the increasingly fragile state of the 17,000 year-old paintings and engravings, entering the cave of Lascaux grows ever more unlikely for most of us. Since 1983 visitors to the Dordogne region of France have had to be content with Lascaux II – an extraordinary replica of only part of the original cave situated not that far from the entrance to Lascaux. From October this year, however, a new set of reproductions of the paintings in Lascaux not included in the Lascaux II facsimile, will be the pièce de résistance of a major exhibition about the cave in the nearby city of Bordeaux, which will then travel the world until at least 2020.
It was in 1940, and quite by chance, that the splendours of Lascaux first came to light. The first prehistorians to see the art in the cave were overwhelmed, and soon after the end of World War II Lascaux began to attract significant numbers of visitors. Having survived in a very stable and somewhat sterile environment for 17,000 years, in a relatively short space of time the cave and its images were suddenly exposed to destructive elements that resulted in the forced closure of the cave in 1963.
From then on entry to Lascaux was severely restricted and closely monitored. Given the importance of Lascaux the French Government pledged to fund the creation of a replica. In 1983, after about 11 years of painstaking work Lascaux II opened to the public. Far from putting visitors off, the facsimile has proved to be every bit as popular as the original was. Today some 250,000 people visit Lascaux II each year, with about 5 million recorded visitors since its opening.
However, only a part of the cave was recreated for Lascaux II, namely the hall of bulls and what is called the ‘axial gallery’, which has that wonderful image of the upside down horse – said by some to represent a horse falling off a cliff. But, now Lascaux is set to go one better, for even as I type an additional five parts of the cave are being reproduced, including the exquisite frieze of swimming stags and the oft-repeated scene of the bison and wounded man. Completion of these is due for July 2012, they will form the focus of a major exhibition of the cave of Lascaux that will tour some of the leading museums of the World. At a cost of over 3 million Euros, the exhibition, already being dubbed Lascaux III, will cover all aspects of this iconic cave, from the chance ‘discovery’ of the art, what the cave has revealed through decades of interdisciplinary research, to the continued attempts to preserve the fragile imagery.
Lascaux Exhibition in Bordeaux
Bordeaux will be the first city to host the exhibition, and the date of 1″ October 2012 has been “fixed” for the opening. Given the extravagance that has been heaped on various celebrations surrounding Lascaux thus far, this is going to be a cultural event to remember. The exhibition will stay in Bordeaux until January 2013, when it will then travel the world – by sea apparently, not to return to France until 2020. The first scheduled stop is at the Field Museum in Chicago, where it will be on display from March to September 2013. Thereafter, the exhibition will travel to Montréal, and then San Francisco, after which the exhibition will head for Asia.
Dates for Lascaux 3 Exhibition World Tour
CAP Sciences, Bordeaux 13 October 2012 to 6 January 2013
Lascaux – exposition internationale
The Houston Museum of Natural Science, 18 October 2013 – 23 March 2014
Le Centre des Sciences – Montréal, 17 April to 14 September 2014
Musée du Cinquantenaire – Jubelparkmuseum – Brussels, 14 November 2014 to 15 March 2015 – EXTENDED to 12 April 2015
Parc des Expositions – Paris, 20 May – 30 August 2015
Porte de Versailles in Pavillon 8B (1 Place de la Porte de Versailles, 75015 Paris)
Take the Metros line 12 to the Porte de Versailles station, or via T2 and T3 on the Tramway, or Bus numbers 39 – 80
May & June: everyday (except Tuesday) from 10 am to 6.00 pm
July & August: everyday from 10 am to 7 pm
Ticket prices (which includes an audioguide):
Adultes 15,90€, Children 12 and under 12,90€, Family ticket 2 children and 2 adults 52€
Palexpo – Geneva, 1 October 2015 to 17 January 2016
National Museum of Nature and Science – Tokyo, 1 November 2016 to 19 January 2017
Kyushu National Museum – Fukuoka (Japan), 2 July to 3 September 2017
Please Note: Lascaux II is still open to the public in the Dordogne.
Books on Lascaux
If you are unable to get to Lascaux II or the new exhibition in Bordeaux, or anywhere else it calls after 2012, how about a good book? Not surprisingly given the iconic status of the cave, there are many, many books on Lascaux, both fiction and non-fiction. As far as non-fiction titles go, one of the most spectacular is Mario Ruspoli’s Cave of Lascaux: Final Photographic Record (1987). This is a lavishly produced volume, now only available second hand, that documented what was intended to be the final photographic record of the cave.
For a much more recent book, one that is at once as lavish as Ruspoli’s book as well as being up to date on the archaeology, I do not hesitate to recommend Norbert Aujoulat’s The Splendour of Lascaux.