The Cave Paintings of the Lascaux Cave

Lascaux Cave Paintings Symposium

Chronicle of the Sessions

For the past few months, the scientific community has been upset by the news of potential threats upon the conservation of the Lascaux paintings. Following the replacement of the machine helping with the climate inside the cave, micro-organisms would have pervaded the environment and no efficient response would have been found to block their progress, thus threatening the conservation of paintings and engravings.

Presided by Jean Clottes and under the aegis of the Ministry of Culture and Communication, the symposium was organised in three sessions, besides a first introductory one. The sessions were centred about three themes directly connected with the problems identified: the environment (i.e. the geological, climatic and physical-chemical conditions for the biological dynamics in the cave); the micro-organisms (the micro-biological dynamics themselves) and the relation between conservation and the public (a central problem in heritage management).

Each session included several presentations on the state of the art, followed by a debate, for which experts from different countries and specialities were invited: these offered a first comment on the presentations, before the debate was opened to a larger audience of over one hundred researchers.

lascaux cave art paintings france
Hall of the Bulls
Photograph N. Aujoulat (2003) © MCC-CNP
The seminar was introduced by Jean Clottes, who set up the framework of the discussions: transparency, an open clear and international debate, aiming at reaching useful recommendations concerning the problems identified. It is not so frequent that such a framework of debate is set up in order to face problems and contradictions in heritage management, some preferring to simply offer 'criticisms' without any alternatives, often ad hominem and polemic. Science is something else altogether, though, and this symposium was a demonstration of it.

Marc Gauthier, the president of the cave's Scientific Committee, presented the history of research and the ongoing work and principles of the 25 members Committee, which are focused on clear short and middle term objectives (to treat the disease and to identify its causes) with the ability to act fast. Afterwards, Jean-Michel Geneste, director of the Centre National de Préhistoire, presented an overview of the main phases and events in the conservation of the cave, after its discovery in 1940.

lascaux cave art paintings france
Small Horses
Photograph N. Aujoulat (2003) © MCC-CNP
Globally, we thought that the discussion was clear and quite open, with the presence of several researchers that had, in a serious and firm way, criticised the action of the Scientific Committee. This enabled the participants to identify the axes of contradiction, but also those of convergence, an aim which must always be that of debates among scientists.

To start with the convergences, all speakers agreed to the need to give priority to the treatment of the disease. They considered that the irruption of white organisms, and later on of black ones, were the consequence of the change of the acclimatising machine, introduced in 2000 (some considering it as the main cause, whereas others judged it as a catalyst).

As for the contradictions, these were centred first in the account of the process leading to the decision to change the machine, some willing to concentrate the discussion on this point, before discussing the possible solutions for the future. One would argue that even if it is always important to assess the processes and to identify the persons responsible for past errors, too much time seems to have been spent on this which would have been better used on a discussion of the future.

In any case, the three thematic sessions enabled the participants to assess the state of the art and to define a frame of alternatives.

Lascaux Cave Introduction
Lascaux Cave Paintings Symposium | Page | 1 | 2 |
Lascaux Cave Symposium Conclusions
Lascaux Cave Symposium Results
Lascaux Cave Paintings - The Future
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