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12 September 2008

On this day in history: Lascaux cave paintings discovered, 1940

On 12th September 1940, four teenagers, Georges Agnel, Simon Coencas, Jacques Marsal, Marcel Ravidat were playing on a hill overlooking the village of Montignac in the Dordogne, France. The four boys noticed a hole in the ground created when a large pine tree fell some years before. They enlarged the hole and climbed in.

The group fell into an underground passage which led to a larger cave covered with paintings of animals. The boys returned the next day and used a rope to descend into the underground complex. They found a number of other caves with a variety of paintings and engravings on the walls.

On hearing about the discovery ither villagers explored the caves and they were soon joined by the leading archeologists of the day who excavated the main entrance to the site. Following the end of the Second World War the cave paintings, estimated to be 16,000 years old, became a major tourist attraction. By 1955, the caves attracted over a thousand visitors per day.

Around that time, scientists noticed that the carbon-dioxide from the breath of visitors was having an effect on the paintings. Consequently, the Ministry of Cultural Affairs closed the caves to the public in 1963 to protect the art. Twenty years later, the Lascaux II centre opened close to the caves containing a facsimile of part of the original complex.

Visit the official Cave of Lascaux website to learn more.