12 September 2016
The paintings in the Lascaux caves were discovered by chance on 12 September 1940
On this day in history, 1940: the paintings in the Lascaux caves are discovered by chance by four boys. The boys noticed a hole in the ground, a tree having fallen in a storm, and decided to explore. Realising they had discovered a remarkable find, they got the local history teacher involved...
Dating to 15,000 BCE, these Palaeolithic images provide a haunting and tantalising glimpse of our distant ancestors’ lives and experiences. These were people who lived, hunted and fished together (but didn’t yet grow crops – much of Europe was plunged into the Ice Age for another few millennia to come). And the creativity of these small communities flourished (evidently) with cave paintings and sculptures being found in many places around the world from this era.
Why did they create these paintings of animals? Worshipping a much-needed source of food? Were those famous hand prints to record their existence, in a time when life was fragile, and glacial storms raged outside? These are things we will continue to wonder about, but never know for sure.
The caves themselves weren’t officially opened to the public until 1948 (in the intervening years, they were used by the French Resistance to hide supplies from the Nazi occupiers). Over the following decades, archaelogists and scientists have continued to work to explore and analyse these precious remains and from 1979 they have been a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Pictured: Aurochs, horses and deer paintings in the Lascaux Caves, by Prof Saxx and published under CC BY-SA 3.0