The Cave Paintings of the Lascaux Cave

Lascaux Cave Paintings Symposium

Chronicle of the Sessions

The session on the geologic and climatic environment was lead by J. Delgado Rodrigues, with the presentation of the hydrogeologic (Roland Lastennet) and climatic (Philipe Malaurent) contexts, as well as that of an excellent virtual model (Delphine Lacanette). These papers allowed us to understand that the atmosphere regeneration machine set up in 1957 needed to be replaced, due to its ageing, by an identical one, although in the end this was not the case. It also became clear that the succeeding problems of conservation of the cave (the 'white disease' since 1955, the 'green disease' in 1960, white organisms since 2001, soon followed by black ones) were always caused by previous anthropic activity. This session was completed with a presentation on the conservation of the Altamira cave, which made it clear that the efforts devoted to Lascaux have no match elsewhere. The debate was widely participated in and enlivened by the audience (more than by the invited experts, including myself) and it ended so to speak without a distinct conclusion: whereas the speakers centred their interventions on the need to establish a machine to recover the climatic equilibrium prior to 2000, most of their critics were focused on the identification of responsibilities concerning the errors made in the past.

In the second session the central and most productive discussion of the symposium took place. It was on the Lascaux micro-organisms and was directed by Robert Koestler. Isabelle Pallot-Frossard and Geneviëve Orial presented the micro-biological context and the strategies chosen to control it (biocides and repeated actions, more than climatic management and cleanings), whereas Claude Alabouvette detailed the microbiotic ecology (stressing the augmentation of micro-biological diversity in the zones affected by anthropic activity). The work carried out at Lascaux was compared to the efforts of conservation of mural paintings in Japan (Takeshi Ishizaki). With this debate, it became clear that, for the hydrogeologists and climatologists, the main paradigm seems to be the recovery of the equilibrium prior to 2000, whereas for the microbiologists this is not possible, the aim being the search for a new equilibrium. The acceptance of the irreversibility of changes, as well as of the augmentation of diversity with each human intervention inside the cave, were the basic ideas of this discussion, with a proposal to look into areas less affected by the works, as the Shaft, for species long gone elsewhere that might thus be re-introduced. The contradiction between strategies to diminish (as suggested in the first session, but also by some in the second one) or to monitor the micro-biological activity (as proposed in the second session) thus became the heart of the discussion.

The last session, on the conservation of the painted caves and their wider knowledge by the public, introduced by a presentation on the Cantabrian caves and the risks they face (by Roberto Ontañon Peredo), not only stressed the technical dimension of the issue, but also the exemplary character of the Symposium. It is quite encouraging to see that, confronted with a complex and highly visible situation, the scientific community is capable of expressing itself in a forum, without hiding its differences but also without sticking to these as an aim in themselves. The presence of various experts, French or not, working in French and other painted caves, was particularly positive.

The overall conclusions of these two days are that, first of all, they were an exemplary exercise of transparent scientific seriousness, with the presence of the people currently in charge of the scientific management of the cave and of their academic opponents, in a context very efficiently coordinated by Jean Clottes. This is an example which unfortunately is not so frequent to find in other international contexts. Lascaux being a site of major cultural relevance, it is very positive that the Symposium should have been participated in by the scholars truly interested in its safeguarding, whichever opinions they might entertain. The presence of people heading many international organisations, from ICCROM (Mounir Bouchenaki, who rightly considered the symposium as an exemplary event) to UNESCO's World Heritage Committee, reflected such a reality. One wishes that, following this symposium, a future Scientific Committee (already announced by the Minister of Culture) should enlarge the diversity of the expertise (in particular geology) and act mainly with the aim to find new equilibriums based upon the growing diversity of life (as suggested by the microbiologists) rather than attempt to limit the micro-biologic diversity and to recover a long lost ecologic equilibrium. It is also desirable that the international organisms that were present might contribute in an active way for this purpose.

Secrétaire Général de l’UISPP (Union Internationale des Sciences Préhistoriques et Protohistoriques / Secretary General of IUPPS (International Union of Prehistoric and Protohistoric Sciences)
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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